An Ode To The Games I Didn’t Finish (But Want To Tell You About Anyway)
2021 contained many, many fantastic games. It’s tough to fully cover every single one – there are only so many hours in a day! For the dozens of reviews and articles I brought you this year, there are still a handful of games that I played at least partially, and while that time isn’t enough to go “full review” on them, I think these are worthy of your attention.
Smelter wants to be the Actraiser successor that SolSeraph wasn’t, and I think it largely succeeds at that. I’m not used to the more deliberate style of play the sidescroller sections employ, but I suspect Mega-Man fans would feel right at home here.
The base building side of things seems kind of neat, though again I just didn’t make it in far enough to see it fleshed out enough. That combined with the pretty wild premise – Eve of Adam and Eve fame loses her boyfriend and must don magical shapeshifting armour to rescue him. I’m fairly sure you’re working for the bad guys here, but all that combined makes up for a sweet game worth checking out for a very specific audience.
Calico was a game I tried desperately to squeeze into my 2020 Indie Spotlight series, but simply ran out of time. As the new owner of a cat cafe on a magical island full of witches and animals, you can wander around and help people in need, decorate your cafe as you see fit and just generally vibe.
It’s got some indie jank going on, but given it’s not a game really about overcoming challenges, it’s never really an issue. The low stakes of just wandering about helping cat-people out just is perfectly chill. The magical elements of the game are also fun to mess around with and a delight to discover. Plus, you can ride around on big cats. Like, what’s not to like?
With only a few hours under my belt before being pulled elsewhere, The Ascent is probably the game I wish I had had more time to dive into the most. The run and gun gameplay reminded me of, of all things, Apocalypse on the PS1. Yup, the PS1 top down shooter starring Bruce Willis no one remembers.
Going back and reading it’s critical reception it seems like that game was panned, which come to think about it is probably how I ended up with a copy of it as it was likely a bargain bin grab, but I spent hours upon hours in that industrialised future hells cape and it’s obsession with murder. The Ascent leans into that cyberpunk dystopia in ways better than that PS1 game ever did, with an atmosphere you don’t really expect of a game with such a zoomed-out perspective.
There’s also something there, this idea that was swimming around in my head after even just the first 30 minutes. Ascending the corporate ladder… Ascending passed human limits with cybernetics… Even just the way The Ascent gives you the advantage from low cover instead of the traditional high cover (your regular shot is at waist level, but you can hold a button to hold your gun above your head, giving you the ability to shoot up stairs where your enemies bullets just whizz above your head). Even months since I’ve picked the game up, I still think about that fascinating concept and the ways in which the game really embodies the “Ascent” moniker.
This South African made point and click game snuck out on Switch earlier this year, and despite only getting a smudge in the unique alt-history sci-fi setting the game sets up is truly fascinating. I’m not usually one for point and click style games, but the need to know what in the world is going on is strong with this one.
Bright Memory Infinite
I think Bright Memory: Infinite is not really a game that reviews particularly well, because the review process is to get in, see the game through to credits, then write up your piece. It’s what I did at first, but then – given the game is quite short – I played through it once more from start to finish. Knowing what was coming, I settled into a much smoother rhythm.
Your first time through Infinite is training wheels. You’re getting the feel for the quite expansive toolkit the game gives you, the enemies they throw at you and the set piece moments you’re going to face. There’s a quite terrible stealth section. The story is nonsensical. You can use the cool abilities, but you can also just pump the bullet sponge enemies full of bullets and trod forward.
When you roll credits, you’re given a completion time. “You did alright, but you could do better,” it seems to say. Infinite is built for you to run through multiple times, mastering it’s systems and becoming an absolute demon. As a side note, main character Shelia is weirdly unfazed by much of the bonkers stuff that happens throughout your playthrough. Without going into spoilers, there’s somewhat of a loose justification for all this. It’s not some brilliant twist that will have you gasping, but it’s enough justification for a game made by a single guy with some outsourced help. Especially given the fidelity and fun Infinite pulls off. It may not quite be the next Titanfall, but the fact that it is in that wheelhouse speaks volumes.
Ok, so, I actually finished Inscryption, but I just have to talk about it. This game is as fantastic as you’ve probably read elsewhere, including our own wonderful coverage. But this game man… this game.
Mullens is known by now for his meta-textual layering, and while Inscryption does not disappoint in this arena, it’s actually the card battling mechanics that I love the most. It’s not really that interested in being a “balanced” experience – it instead tips the scales in favour of the player an incredible amount with the strategic possibilities you can come up with, but also will tip them back away from you if it wants you to go do something else for a bit. Crucially, this never feels unfair – it just feels like part of the game. Because it is.
I’m going to dance around some spoilers here because I really think you should experience this for yourself, but the way the card game evolves is constantly keeping you engaged. There is no settling into a rhythm, falling back on old habits etc – the game is constantly shifting the possibility space along with your understanding. But it’s always an evolution on where you’re at – new rules that build on what you know, rather than pulling the rug out from under you.
I haven’t played The Hex, but Mullen’s breakout hit Pony Island is an excellent game while also not necessarily being all that fun to play. In Inscryption he has nailed not only his signature unexpected twisting storytelling style once more, but also gives you an actual genuinely very fun game to play. I already want to play it through again for purely that reason.