Towards the end of 2022, I was trying to think of any games that I had wanted to write about, but just hadn’t gotten around to. It felt like things got a little backed up in my games writing last year, between some personal life delays, writers block on the Neon White article, and my non-games writing (like baseball and playlists) just taking up more time than anticipated. I might still end up writing a little more about games that I played last year (especially if playing them bled into this year), but at the start of 2023, when I thought about everything I played over the last twelve months and any lingering thoughts I had on them, there was one game that I kept returning to.
For a while, though, I wasn’t actually sure exactly what I wanted to say about Tinykin. I really enjoyed it, but there are only so many ways that you can say variations of “it’s good” and “I like it” before a review becomes boring, and I was a little busy sorting through other thoughts to pull together more than that. But over time I kept thinking about it, and I eventually realized that I did have a little bit more to say than just basic praise!
So, let’s start at the top: Tinykin is a 2022 3D platformer from developers Splashteam. It comes with a pretty simple pitch: what if Pikmin was a collect-a-thon platformer instead of a real-time strategy game? As far as basic crossover pitches go for a game idea, that one feels like it has a lot of promise; and it turns out, that’s pretty much dead-on! Of course, like any good cross-pollination of ideas, there are a lot of things that can’t be carried over one-to-one, and I think that Tinykin nails those elements in a way that gives it a lot of its own character and makes it even better than its simplistic idea sounds.
It starts at the beginning, really; protagonist Milo is a small person who finds himself stuck on an Earth that’s much too big for him. Unlike the protagonists of Pikmin, though, Milo is a scientist, searching for the origins of his people and planet. And his search strands him not outdoors, but in a house that looks stuck sometime in the 1990s, with VHS tapes and dated appliances everywhere. And inside, he finds these small creatures, the titular Tinykin, who are drawn to him; as you might have guessed from the Pikmin comparison, each variation has special abilities that he can make use of.
2023 Has finally arrived, but before we get too far along into the new year, I’d like to close out 2022 with some music. That’s right, it’s time for my third annual End of the Year Playlist and accompanying article! I’ve had a fun time finding new music and writing about it the last few months, and honestly, this size feels much more manageable for what I’m trying to do with this series. I might even split my normal Summer Playlist into two smaller ones since it’s been getting more and more unwieldy, we’ll see.
Once again, I’ve assembled the playlist in both Youtube and Spotify so that you can follow along.
Notes: The YouTube playlist is more complete than the Spotify one, missing 5 songs to 13. Of those five, “Under the Sun” and “Milk & Moon” can be found on full albums on YouTube. I couldn’t find much of 7mai on either service, so here are Soundcloud links to the full EP releases of the two songs of theirs that I reference: “Strawberry Mousse”, “Celestial”. The only place that I can find “Spring Cleaning” is on Sir Babygirl’s Bandcamp page.
With all of that out of the way, onto the article:
My Favorite Albums of the Playlist:
-St. Lucia St. Lucia dropped a lot of their new album, Utopia, early as pre-release singles in the run-up to the full release, and I’m always a little mixed about that strategy. I understand that constantly dripping out new material is a good way to stay at the forefront of people’s minds, which is becoming increasingly important in music. But it does feel like it can sometimes dull the impact of the full album; finding new surprises to enjoy on your first or second listen of a full record is one of the things that I like most, and knowing most of the songs early undercuts it.
But it didn’t seem to matter here, thankfully. On the one hand, Utopia is great, and no amount of pre-release familiarity was going to dull its impact. I still stand by “Touch” being maybe my favorite track of theirs (which I said when it made my last playlist article), and it’s backed up by a ton of other strong tracks, like “Take Me Away”, “Another Lifetime”, “Rockets on My Feet”, and so on. Few other artists have as good an ear for big soundscapes and ringing, triumphant choruses that you can shout along to, in my opinion.
But on the other hand… maybe it’s just too good of an album for surprise to totally wear it down? The group has a strong track record, and I love all four of their albums. But maybe I’d be saying Utopia easily stands above the others if I heard it mostly at once with only one or two singles, as I did their first three (When the Night, Matter, and Hyperion). I guess all I can do at this point is keep re-listening over time and see if my opinion on it grows as much over time as it has for the others.
-Fickle Friends Every now and again, maybe once or twice a year, I’ll stumble upon a new album from an artist that I haven’t heard of or don’t really follow, and fall in love with it, leading me to go back through their older work and discover that 1) there’s a decent amount of stuff to listen to, and 2) I love it as well. At that point, I just end up kind of stuck on that artist for a few weeks, maybe trying some other stuff but always circling back to them. And that is why there’s so much Fickle Friends on my End of 2022 Playlist.
I saw their new album from earlier in 2022, Are We Gonna Be Alright?, while browsing for something I hadn’t heard before, and immediately latched on. It wound up being one of my favorite albums of the year, just 40 minutes and a dozen songs of tight, bouncy, catchy synthpop. I had it on loop for days, dancing and singing along to songs like “Glow”, “Pretty Great”, “IRL”, “Love You to Death”... there something about it that all works perfectly, the hooks are so memorable and tight, and the lyrics stick in my mind simply capturing moments of love and relationships and loneliness.
And from there, I went back through their back-catalog. Their debut album You Are Someone Else was a little less polished, but still displayed all of their talent beautifully. Their two Weird Years EPs served as a perfect pandemic-era bridge between the two. All of the B-sides and early EPs were similarly fun, all the way back to their first one in 2014. I can’t believe I missed them for this long, they really are straight up my alley! And I spent a lot of the end of 2022 just getting caught up on them, so they end up making a lot of this playlist.
In the past, I’ve tried to limit my picks from a single artist somewhat, but… these lists are at least partly for me to revisit, too, so I’d like it to reflect what I was listening to at the time. And I honestly was just listening to Fickle Friends for a while this year!
-Carly Rae Jepsen I was a little worried about The Loneliest Time; following up two absolute classic albums like Emotion and Dedicated seems like it would be a tall order. Thankfully, The Loneliest Time lived up to it; it helps that it moved into its own sort of territory, separate from those two albums, lower key while still somehow full of big, emotional moments. But like those two, it's just a bunch of top-notch bangers throughout, with a few 11/10 songs (“Shooting Star” and the title track duet with Rufus Wainwright) highlighting the experience. And now, we can once again return to anxiously awaiting the arrival of The Loneliest Time B Sides.
Before I get into the article proper, I’d like to repeat my previous housekeeping announcement: Blogger’s email update feature has broken, so I took the opportunity to start a new mailing list for Out of Left Field! This will probably be the single best way to follow updates here; my plan is to only send out something when I have a new article to post. Hopefully, I’ll get to test it out again soon, as I have both an End-of-the-Year Playlist and another Indie Game article in the works. You can sign up in the box below or in the bar at the top (and if you’d like similar updates for my baseball articles, go check out Hot Corner Harbor for that list!
Ever since I finished this game a few months ago, I’ve been working on this article in fits and starts, alternating between bursts of inspiration where I had so many ideas I wanted to discuss and roadblocks both from writer's block and just personal life scheduling. After a while, I wasn’t even sure if it was worth finishing this anymore, as so many other writers found ways to talk it up. But in the end, I think there are just so many good things in this game that get overshadowed, since so much of it is fantastic, and now seemed like as good a time as any to finish it off, since it’s almost certainly my Game of the Year!
There aren’t many games that I’ve been looking forward to over the last few years more than Neon White. Way back in 2019, I played a fun little puzzle-and-comedy game called Donut County; if you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you might even remember me mentioning it back then in my Year-End Roundup. If not, it was a fun little game with a cute, cartoon-y art style about moving a hole around, and watching as it grew with each object that fell in. There’s more to it than that on the story side (it was pretty funny, as you might guess from the silly premise), but gameplay-wise, it was mostly just that rewarding little loop: move hole, swallow objects, get bigger, swallow bigger things, repeat until everything in the level is gone.
I loved the experience, and as I do when I like an indie game, I decided to follow the game’s developer, Ben Esposito. Sometime after doing so, he announced his follow-up project: a stylish-as-hell, fast-paced first person shooter about a colorful cast of assassins being allowed into Heaven as part of a demon-exterminating competition, developed by his new studio Angel Matrix. A bit of a shift in styles maybe (to put it mildly), but I had only good experiences so far, and it looked extremely up-my-alley, so I was all aboard the hype train from that point.
And holy shit, did Neon White live up to my hopes and dreams.
For those who need a little bit more of a description, Neon White is one part First Person Shooter, and one part fast-paced 3D Parkour Platformer; you try to complete every level as fast as you can, while shooting every single demon along the way. The main gameplay mechanic is an ingenious combination of the two sides: the guns in-game are represented by magical cards that you pick up as you find them in the level, sometimes dropped by defeated enemies, sometimes just laying about.
Each one works like a standard gun, with a set amount of ammo… but you can also choose to “discard” the weapon. That loses you a demon-slaying option, but gives you some sort of bonus movement in compensation, depending on what type of gun you’re throwing out. So, to provide a basic example, if you can take out all of the demons with five of the six bullets in a pistol, you can discard what remains of it for an extra jump, which you can then use to find shortcuts and improve on your level times.
From there, the game builds up its library of tools and obstacles, which become easy to learn and master over the course of a playthrough. You immediately pick up what each type of gun each card is, how much damage it does, how it fires, and what special movement it grants you. And you get a stable of demons to go with it, learning how they’ll attack you, how much damage they take, and the best way to dispatch them and move forward.