You know, I’m not above making the odd wisecrack about the indie gaming scene. I might say it’s populated by hipsters churning out titles with faux-retro graphics, stacks of physics platformers and pretentious arty adventures where gameplay basically amounts to “click to continue”. This, however, is unkind of me! I should feel bad about being so snarky. The Indies do in fact do valuable work in producing innovative and imaginative games. That’s something we need as mainstream AAA stuff concentrates ever more on generic war shooters, MMOs and, I dunno, lots of Asassins Creeds?
So I thought I should take this time, in between my retro gaming adventures, to tell you of a couple of great indie games I’ve played lately. Both, for the record, on an android tablet.
One is Monument Valley, in which you navigate Princess Ida around a series of towers and other large structures. Various parts of the towers must be shifted and rotated to give her a clear path. The novel feature here is use of optical illusions and impossible level geometry, based on the sort of screwing around with perspective you can do when drawing a 3D space on a flat screen. It’s all a bit like walking around an MC Escher drawing. You can freely rotate your view of each level and, for example if it looks like two platforms are touching, then they are and you can walk across. Even if when looked at from another angle you know they’re nowhere near each other.
It’s a very short and easy game; none of the puzzles are that difficult and there aren’t many levels either. Still, it’s all quite charming and relaxing. The artwork is abstract, lending the monuments a rather mysterious air. Sound, both ambient and little chords that play as you take actions, is used effectively to provide a soothing ambience. The only enemies are crows that just squawk and make a minor nuisance of itself. The game even manages to somehow make you feel attached to what’s basically a friendly chunk of Masonry. So altogether, a wonderful way to relax for an evening. Also at £2.50 I can hardly complain if it doesn’t keep me occupied for hours.
Also there’s The Room. This one is based around a series of wooden chests and boxes, each with multiple locks and elaborate mechanisms built in. Your goal is simply to get to the heart of each box. So you might be aligning sliding pieces on a panel, rotating dials to certain positions, or finding a key in a hidden compartment and trying to figure out where it goes. As you open one part of the box, some new puzzle is revealed. The interface maps finger movements to actions on the screen in an intuitive manner, so that you can easily open panels, push parts into place and so on.
It’s the sort of thing where you have to be quite thorough, checking each part of the box for anything that can be interacted with. It’s not too frustrating though, just as long as you take the time to carefully check the boxes over from each side and work methodically. Ultimately it’s all quite satisfying when you figure something out, and hear the whirring noises as another part of the box unlocks.
Apart from the mechanisms being fascinating to fathom out, the game is also rather atmospheric. To begin with it’s a matter of the wood and brass chests and the dark, dusty rooms in which they sit. You can almost smell the varnish, and feel the aged oak under your fingers. There’s a sense of it all being rather old and forgotten, locked away in a basement for years.
Things then become even more mysterious when you put together a special eyepiece. This, when worn casts everything into shadow but also shows hidden markings such as fingerprints and occult-looking runes. This helps with certain puzzles, but also heigtens the feeling of something odd going on.
Then there’s the game’s backstory, which progresses through a series of handwritten note secreted around the boxes. Apparently the writer stumbled across a fifth Classical Element (ie to go with fire\earth\air\water). Honestly this aspect is kind of tacked on, but apparently the note writer was pretty scared of what he had discovered, and perhaps that’s why the boxes are so elaborate, to hide his findings. It probably also explains the eyepiece. So the story lends an extra layer of creepiness to the proceedings, as you follow the mysterious scientist down a path to something very strange.
Honestly I’m not sure that, at the end, I really knew much more about what’s going on than when I started. Then again, refraining from explaining too much is part of how the game becomes kind of unsettling. Your imagination is left to speculate in the gaps as to what exactly is going on, but you know whatever the truth is, it’s probably going to be disturbing. If that sounds inadequate and we still want more answers then, well, I’m guessing the sequel tells us a bit more.
If I have another criticism it would be that again the game isn’t especially long. However, it’s again cheap! So, a thumbs up to both games. Keep it up, industrious indie guys. Anyone reading, do feel free to comment and let us know of any other puzzles or adventures that are inexpensive and not too frustratingly difficult.