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The Pop Culture Wing of Hot Corner Harbor

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Halfway Through 2021, Sill No Other Game Than Ikenfell I’d Rather Be Recommending

On some level, it was probably overdetermined that I would like Ikenfell. The basic pitch, a turn-based RPG about students at a magic university solving mysteries, is extremely my jam. I dug the art style and snippets of music I got from trailers. And there were some good indications that I would vibe with the approach, seeing as the game’s creator, Chevy Ray Johnston, is close friends and ex-roommates with Greg Lobanov and Maddie Thorson, both of whom made games that I loved and already wrote about (specifically, Wandersong and Celeste).*

*In fact, I think that one of them mentioning Ikenfell somewhere might have been where I first heard about it, while researching things for one of those earlier articles? Either way, Wandersong includes small cameos of characters from both of the other games as well, and Johnston recently announced they were working with Extremely OK Games on the team’s next game, the recently-announced Earthblade (source).

But I didn’t just like it, it more than surpassed my high expectations. Happy Ray Games’ Ikenfell is probably my favorite game of the year, at the halfway point.*

*Yes, it technically came out at the end of last year, but time is fake and I can’t always play things right away.

So let’s go back and take it from the top. Ikenfell begins with a girl named Maritte, who’s lost in the woods as she searches for the titular magic school. Her older sister, Safina, is a star pupil of the institution who has totally vanished off the face of the earth while doing off-semester research there, and Maritte is determined to figure out what’s going on. Unfortunately, Maritte is not magical, and clashes with the school’s various magical defenses to keep out Ordinaries… until she suddenly shoots a fireball, ancient magic that none of the school’s guardians even recognize. With this, she is allowed to pass with the warning that something major is afoot, and Maritte is certain that her sister’s disappearance is connected.
 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Monster Sanctuary Review: Mazes and Monsters and Min-Maxing, Oh My...

A little while ago, I began breaking down some of the video games from my 2020 Wrap-Up, offering a fuller appraisal of Phoenotopia: Awakening. Today, we’re hitting a second game from that year-end review, as I go more in depth on Moi Rai Games’ Monster Sanctuary.

For those who didn’t read the blurb for it in the Wrap-Up, the basic pitch for Monster Sanctuary is that it combines two fairly distinct game genres, something that I’ve written about here a few times. In this case, the two genres are Metroidvanias (another thing I’ve covered a lot) and Monster Taming* games (something that I haven’t covered, but which is exactly what it sounds like: think things like Pokémon, that involve collecting and/or training monsters).

*I’ve usually heard this term used, but it’s probably also worth noting that Steam uses the tag “Creature Collector” for this genre. I’m sure there are multiple other terms that people use as well, but these are the main ones that I’ll be sticking with.

This is a really novel combination, from what I can tell, which is actually kind of weird. Those two elements have always seemed like natural matches, in my mind. Growing up playing the 2D Pokémon games, they struck me in a lot of ways like the 2D Zelda games, just with HMs like Cut and Surf replacing Link’s equipment. And those 2D Zelda games and their genre-mates, at their best, seemed a lot like Metroidvanias that you controlled on a different axis. Think about it; they’d plop you down in an overworld with arbitrary obstacles, which you could overcome as you explored and found new gear and found secret branches to new areas… Pokémon quit never went that far, using its obstacles as plain roadblocks along a linear path. But they could have, if they wanted to, as could any aspiring game developer.

Monday, May 10, 2021

A Round-Up of Small & Interesting 3D Platformers

If you’re a regular reader here at Out of Left Field, you are probably aware of my love of 3D platformers as a genre. And even if you aren’t a regular reader, you may know of my affinity for covering indie games (see, for instance, my new master post of indie game reviews!). So, naturally, I love looking for indie studios’ 3D platformers to try and write about.

This is a field that had been fairly open in the recent past, but that’s rapidly becoming no longer the case. There are of course the big names that have achieved the lion’s share of attention, particularly Gears for Breakfast’s A Hat in Time and Playtonic’s Yooka-Laylee. And deservedly so; I played and loved both of them! I’ve even covered both of them in the past here (the former, and the latter), and I’m super excited to see their upcoming endeavors in the genre: Gears for Breakfast has already shown some of their next game, Here Comes Niko!, while Playtonic has added a publishing unit to their studio and has announced they’ll be handling Fabraz’s forthcoming 2021 release Demon Turf.

And they’re hardly alone in this space, now. There have been a lot of other major releases here in recent memory, a group that I would say includes titles like Playful Studios’ New Super Lucky Tale, ROBI Studios’ Blue Fire, and Nicolas Meyssonnier’s Pumpkin Jack. These are all interesting titles in their own right, and I may even be writing about one or more of them later.

But right now, I want to look at even smaller titles; think of it perhaps as a tier below them as far as notoriety goes. These games have had even less attention, and while it’s understandable in these cases, I do think a lot of them also have interesting elements to them, and I think it’s worth highlighting them in some capacity, explaining what they do well while also discussing their shortcomings. And if nothing else ,if you’re in the hunt for fun bargain titles, these all provide a solid bang for your buck! So join me now, in this round-up of the smaller names of the genre; all of these are titles that I’ve played and enjoyed.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Indie Game Review Page Launch!

I finally decided to create a page to serve as a directory for all of my Indie Game Reviews here at Out of Left Field, complete with one-sentence blurbs previewing each one. There's also now a link to the page in the site header, for ease of access. Go check it out, and be on the look out for a few new posts in the near future (to be added to said page as they go up)!

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Music Monday: End of 2020 Supplemental Playlist

I got asked about doing a follow-up to my Summer Playlist post from last year, basically filling in the gaps of the rest of 2020. I enjoy doing these, and only covering a few months seemed like it would be easier and quicker than the last one, so I decided why not. I have a Spotify link below, but there’s also a full track listing at the end of this post. In the meantime, I’ve included a few random thoughts about some of the music.

[Spotify Link]

Monday, March 1, 2021

Phoenotopia: Awakening is a Great Game, and an Even Greater Experience

Today, we return to focus on a game that I first mentioned back in my 2020 year-end roundup, Phoenotopia: Awakening, by developer Cape Cosmic.

I knew very little about Phoenotopia (pronounced “FEE-no-topia”, like “Phoenix”) going in. I first saw it when it popped up on the “Upcoming Games” section of the Nintendo Switch eShop last year, and unlike some other indie games, it hadn’t been released on other platforms yet (it was released on Steam finally earlier this year). But something about it drew me in. It looked beautiful, rendered in gorgeous pixel art with beautifully-detailed backdrops, and the story promised some sort of mystery set in an expansive world. Compared to a lot of other game releases, there just wasn’t a lot to go on pre-release, but I was intrigued, and picked it up pretty quickly after it came out.

And what I found was pretty incredible! In fact, it went on to become one of my most-played games of the year. So, what exactly is it? Well, that’s hard to describe briefly, so bear with me for a second.

Phoenotopia: Awakening actually has a pretty substantial history that I wasn’t aware of until after I started playing it and looked around even more. It was largely the project of a single person, developer Quang “Quells” Tran, and was preceded by another game simply called Phoenotopia, which was uploaded to Newgrounds back in 2014. Awakening is something between a remake and improvement of the original game that was worked on for the next six years, expanding on and changing around various things as needed, until it was something new and substantially bigger, with only a general outline of the plot in common.

With all of that real-world background out of the way, we can move on to the story itself. In the distant future, humanity’s ever-escalating wars and weaponry eventually destroyed a lot of the Earth’s surface, driving humans underground. After centuries below ground, humans eventually re-emerged to find that the planet had recovered enough to sustain life once more. Society began to reform, and hundreds of years after that, there are once again towns and nations in a world that’s largely medieval-style agrarian towns, but with a number of technologies from the modern day around helping everyone out.

That’s all just the opening text scroll establishing the world. The story in question follows a teenager named Gail, from the quiet farming town of Panselo. After retreating into the nearby forest to round up the local children for dinner, the group witnesses a UFO visit the town. After rushing back, they find the entire town empty, with the only clue being some machinery from space they found in the forest after it fell to earth the previous day. As the eldest remaining person from Panselo, Gail sets off across the continent in search of anyone who can help them find their missing neighbors.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

2020 Video Game Recommendation Roundup


I did a lot more writing on video games in 2020 than I have in the past, which was a nice goal that I had wanted to hit for a while. But it still didn’t cover all of the interesting things that I played this year. So, to that end, here’s my annual “Everything Else that I Wanted to Talk About” video games post. But first, if you missed it, here’s everything from this past year that already got its own post:


One Step from Eden (Thomas Moon Kang)-A roguelike, deckbuilding action game about colorful characters traversing an ambiguous apocalypse landscape that takes the long-discarded battle style of Megaman Battle Network and refines it to perfection. If I were doing rankings for this group, this would probably be the runner-up.

A Fold Apart (Lightning Rod Games)-A cute little puzzle platformer that sees you guiding a long-distance couple through their relationship challenges made physical.

Super Mega Baseball 3 (Metalhead Software)-The new edition of my favorite baseball game right now, now with a franchise mode!

Underhero (Paper Castle Games)-You play as a video game minion who has accidentally defeated the hero too early, and is now torn between listening to the hero’s talking sword, who’s pushing you to take up his mission, and your boss, the big bad, who seems to be planning more than he’s letting on. A fun platformer RPG, especially recommended for fans of the classic Paper Mario entries.

Murder by Numbers (Mediatonic)-A fun little detective visual novel starring a ‘90s TV detective moonlighting as a real detective and her amnesiac robot friend, where you find clues by solving picross puzzles.

Yooka-Laylee (Playtonic Games), plus A Hat in Time DLC levels (Gears for Breakfast)-The new Hat in Time levels make an already great game even better. Yooka-Laylee didn’t quite reach those heights, but it’s still a solid entry in the canon of 3D Platformers.

Lenna’s Inception (Bytten Studio)-Probably my game of the year. A 2D Zelda-style roguelike that shuffles the map and dungeons every time you play it, telling the story of a schoolteacher trying to save her students from an otherworldly force that is slowly tearing apart her world. If I were doing rankings for this group, this one would take Game of the Year.


With those out of the way, let move on to everything else: