bytesized, Q1 2019

This series of posts will be a review of whatever digestible digital experiences I played through, posted every quarter. For this first post, I discuss the following games.

  1. Baba Is You
  2. Subsurface Circular/Quarantine Circular
  3. Deltarune: Chapter 1
  4. Rocket League†

Baba is You

Instead of explaining what Baba is You is, it’s probably just easier to show you:

Baba Is You is a puzzle game with changing victory conditions that you solve by manipulating variables on the fly. In addition to giving your character different objects to interact with, you can change the property of those objects on the fly to do what you need to do to reach the item that “IS WIN”.

For example, say your character is boxed in by a wall, and you find the words “WALL IS STOP” floating nearby. Merely move the “STOP” out of the statement to find the wall now traversable. Baba Is You is constantly teasing you in this manner, encouraging you to disregard decades of pre-installed video game logic. There was one puzzle that I totally stuck on until I realized there was nothing explicitly saying that a closed DOOR I was stuck behind wasn’t LOCK, like I assumed it must have been.

My favorite solutions though, are the ones where you feel like you are really breaking the conventions of the game itself. There are times where the game’s engine seems to take a performance hit under the weight of your harebrained solution. I can’t tell if it’s intentional stylistic decision, or an actual case of the game being laggy, but regardless it sells the “breaking the game” mindset that you need in order to solve the harder puzzles

This game straddles the line of devilishly hard and incredibly satisfying in the way that only the best puzzle games do. It scratches an analytical itch that I haven’t really had since struggling with programming classes in undergrad. I’ve ended most nights the past couple weeks drinking a cup of Chamomile Tea, banging my head against a particularly brutal Baba is You puzzle for a half hour, and immediately putting my wounded, tired brain to sleep.

Subsurface Circular/Quarantine Circular

Subsurface Circular and Quarantine Circular are a pair of narrative-focused visual novels—without the anime-trappings that genre is typically burdened with.

In Subsurface Circular, you are a detective drone whose “beat” is to ride around a subway car, interrogating a lot of other similar, but distinctive looking droids that hop on and off at each stop.

Quarantine Circular has a similar narrative hook to keep you grounded to a single location: as a team of scientists you must interview and assess if the first UFO to arrive on Earth is trustworthy as it stays trapped in an open-air laser cage in the middle of an oceanbound.

What I am especially impressed about with each of these games is how they “use every part of the buffalo” as a part of their game design. It all feels very clever. The storylines are all credibly crafted to keep the developer’s technical debt in check, preventing them from having to create a huge variety of set pieces, music tracks or character models.

But it never feels cheap. The cleverly recycled assets ooze with a distinctive look and charm that makes the game feel like a higher budget experience than it actually is. The sheer strength of the small vertical slice they show you, in conjunction with the novel-tier narrative and dialog, allows you to easily visualize the wider universe each game resides in.

Both games are take about three hours, and are well worth the couple of bucks they each cost. They both read as perfectly digestible dystopian short stories that are richly told and present a variety of deep philosophical scenarios to ponder over. There was more then one occasion where I spent five minutes or so, staring at a screen, carefully weighing what to say next. These games pulled a bigger emotional investment from me than I’ve gotten from most sixty dollar video games, let alone a three dollar one.

Deltarune: Chapter 1

Undertale was clearly a game that left a mark on me, so of course I prioritized playing through a free version of it’s spiritual successor when it dropped on the Switch. After Chapter 1 though, it’s hard to tell if Deltarune will have the same impact.

The actual battle system is a fair bit more complex then the first game, as now you are managing a party of three instead of just one. Similar to the first game though, you have the option of either maiming or sparing enemies, all while avoiding attacks in bite-sized bullet hell sequences. I especially like the gimmick where one of your party members is constantly trying to kill your enemies, which could be problematic if your preference (as mine is) to play the game as a pacifist. That all being said, it’s hard to say if the added complexity makes the game actually better in any way. I personally kind of prefer Undertale’s simplicity of one protagonist against the world.

Even more disappointingly, the storyline feels a little staid. Without delving into spoilers, the particularly Undertale-y portion of the game kind of feels like a generic repackaging of the first game, where the same themes and beats are explored with much less of an impact. The ending, while mildly disconcerting, didn’t feel nearly as creepy as unsettling as the depths of what Undertale was capable of. Given how expectation-defying Undertale was, I almost wonder if Chapter 1 is playing it intentionally safe before it completely flips the script on you in later chapters.

One thing I absolutely do like, is that the setting for the “real world” portion of the game doesn’t seem to exist before or after Undertale, yet contains the same cast of characters. In a charming bit of fan service, the characters from Undertale exist in this universe in similar but different ways, divorced from the events of Undertale. Given how much I sweat Majora’s Mask, games that remix things you are familiar with and tease your priors are 100% my shit.

The new additions are great as well. Susie, the equally menacing and vulnerable mean girl, is as fully-fleshed out and well written as anything in Undertale.
Soundtrack still slaps.

I guess it’s hard to judge anything on it’s first pass. I will obviously see Deltarune through upon it’s release, but I expected a little more from it given it’s pedigree.

Dope Rocket League Shit

I didn’t invest in Season Pass 2 so my brief flirtation with playing at the Platinum level is over. I am certified ass at this game again, as evidenced by when I played with a coworker and single-handedly lost him so many double’s matches that I clawed his ass down to Gold.

Anyways here was some shit that looked cool in the margins:

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