“Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all it’s flavour.” – William Cowper
Indiepocalypse is a monthly bundle-zine by PIZZAPRANKS; on the first Friday of every month 10 games and a PDF zine complete with comics, mini-zines, puzzles and more are made available on itch and Patreon for just $15.00. (You can find much more information about the project in our earlier piece ‘Indiepocalypse: Monthly Indie Game bundle and Zine‘).
This review looks at the 14th, 15th and 16th issues of Indiepocalypse and highlights a few top picks from each month. You can also read about our favourite titles from issues #2-4, issues #5-7, issues #8-10 and issues 11-13!
Top Picks from Indiepocalypse Issue #14
Days Dark is a literal walking (and running) simulator. The protagonist is a character with bandage-wrapped legs and a skull for a face and is controlled by pressing Q and R alternately to take individual steps and F to pick up turnips. The movement is quite laborious but this is entirely intentional and fits well with the themes and narrative of the game.
The player must trudge through repeating landscapes and scenes regularly paying their due to the ruler that has enslaved them in the form of turnips. The changes in each scene give a sense of the decades that are passing for the protagonist and the repetition of both the environments and the abstract and macabre text narration reflects the drudgery of their existence.
There are a couple of different enemies in the game and the player must escape them with the same controls that are used to walk, only they must be pressed much much quicker. Death is possible (though not harshly punished) and these sections of the game can get rather intense adding an element of excitement to the experience.
Days Dark has a unique art style including colourful background with a canvas texture with everything else being presented in a hand-drawn black and white style creating a nice contrast. The music is minimal and mostly amounts to melancholy droning but this was well suited to the themes along with the slightly overbearing footstep sound effects.
Overall, this game is an interesting and emotive experience. It pairs its mechanics and narrative perfectly and the act of playing the game really brings the player into the experience of the protagonist in a way that’s really rare. Days Dark is definitely worth 15 minutes of anybody’s time!
Ghost Story is a short game that will only take a few minutes to complete. It has a small fixed resolution but luckily this works well since everything takes place within a chat window consisting of simple but effective pixel art avatars and text on a black background. There is no music but sound effects for message notifications help create a little immersion.
Due to the short length, it is difficult to say too much about the narrative without spoilers but the game tells a simple story of a small group of friends with a clever and surprising twist at the end. Really, Ghost Story is more of an experience than a game as there is not really any interactivity but this is intentional and another great example of mechanics being used as a narrative tool.
Overall, Ghost Story is a great little visual novel that makes clever use of its minimal playtime and I’d recommend it to fans of the genre and newcomers alike!
Top Picks from Indiepocalypse Issue #15
Winter is a short but intriguing interactive fiction about sex, trans insecurity and a girl with a skull for a face (yes, another one!). Players take on the role of Meredith who begins the game at a party, however, upon seeing someone with whom she has a mysterious history, she leaves the party, upset. Enter Winter, with her skeletal face, a listening ear and a bottle of wine! The pair talk through the night, discussing their problems and agree to help each other.
The bulk of the game is made up of conversations and encounters between the pair with the overarching theme being Meredith’s inner turmoil regarding her sexual desires. There are plenty of dialogue choices to increase the level of interactivity but most of these do not seem to be of any major consequence.
The experience is largely text-based with some slightly trippy artwork made up of extremely pixelated and colourised photos with some illustrative hand drawing over the top in a couple of places such as Winter’s skull. There is no voice acting but diegetic background music and ambient sound effects really add to the sense of immersion.
Winter will take 20-30 minutes to complete, it is a heartfelt, emotive and somewhat abstract visual novel. Its surreal narrative elements teamed with the eerily stylised visuals make for a unique experience and though the subject matter can be a bit heavy in places (the game comes with a content warning) it is certainly worth a try if you are a fan of the genre.
Minimalist Mastery was created for the BlackThornProd #3 game jam which had the theme ‘less is more’. The game scored well in a number of categories and ranked at 57 out of over 1,100 entries overall! It sees players take on the role of an artist in the middle of the last century, finding themselves unenamoured with the more traditional paintings of their past and as such, decide to adopt a more minimalistic style in the hope of impressing the gallery owner.
When getting to work on paintings for the upcoming exhibition players choose a colour palette of three different shades and are presented with a canvas full of geometric shapes, they must create art by subtraction and remove certain shapes by clicking on them. The catch is that it is also a puzzle and the completed artwork must meet certain goals such as the total number of sides and the number of shapes of each colour. Puzzle sections are interrupted with narrative interludes in which the player can peruse their recent creations.
The puzzle difficulty does increase exponentially and the game gets rather challenging as it progresses. However, each puzzle can be reset at any time meaning mistakes are largely unpunished. In addition, the minimal styling and pastel colour palette along with the calm, twinkling piano music make for a relaxing experience.
Overall Minimalist Mastery is an original puzzle game with an interesting theme and simple mechanics. I’d recommend it to anyone that’s looking for a stress-free challenge!
Riba was originally created for the Málaga Jam in which it ranked #8 overall! It is an atmospheric interactive experience that pulls the heartstrings with its short but emotive narrative.
Players can sit back and enjoy the process of casting a line and waiting patiently to click and see what has been caught. Will it be a fish or part of the protagonist’s grandmother’s remains? As different bones are pulled from the pond the narrative is drip-fed via text and lets the player know about the relationship between the two characters.
The detailed cartoon style artwork in a muted colour palette of serene teals and calming vintage pinks alongside the beautiful soundtrack consisting of gentle guitar and soothing vocals helps to add to the level of emotion and immersion and are both standout features of this game.
Riba will only take a few minutes to play but they are a powerful few minutes in which every element works together to create a thoughtful and relatable piece of interactive fiction.
Top Picks from Indiepocalypse Issue #16
Video Tennis but the Computer Asks About Your Ex-Girlfriend
Video Tennis but the Computer Asks About Your Ex-Girlfriend is a strange and original mix of retro (vintage) gaming and voice-acted narrative experience. The player is faced with an old-school tennis game (think pong) and can play against the computer as the pair have a lengthy but casual conversation about the protagonist’s relationship history!
The discussion that takes place between the protagonist and the computer is very well voice acted and comes across like two old friends having a good catch up, complete with banter and diversions. Despite happening automatically and without player input, this makes up the bulk of the experience with the tennis game being more of a side note, there is no penalty for not doing well here!
The minimalistic visuals consist of a few 2D images creating the look of a desk and computer screen around the playable tennis area. They do not add a huge amount to the experience but are quite adequate and help ground the player.
Overall, Video Tennis but the Computer Asks About Your Ex-Girlfriend is a short experience and unlike anything, I have played before. If you like a good ‘everyday’ story then this is a great way to spend twenty minutes or so.
Indiepocalypse provides a diverse range of games each month for a variety of platforms, and while this means that it’s unlikely a buyer will like everything, it provides a well-rounded overview of indie and solo game development and there is almost always, something for everyone. Additionally, as a lot of the games included are available free or on a ‘name your own price’ basis, purchasing the bundle-zine is a great way to support the developers as well as the writers, comic and cover artists, puzzle-makers and curators that contribute to its production.
The above selection is a list of just 6 of my personal favourites from over 30 games that were distributed with issues #14, #15 and #16 so I’d definitely recommend taking a closer look at each bundle-zine and deciding which ones you like best!
If you’d like to know more about Indiepocalypse,
why not check out this interview with the zine’s creator, Pizza Pranks?
Indie Game Industry: Interview with Indiepocalypse Creator ‘Pizza Pranks’