Indie Insights Vol. 33 LudoNarraCon Special

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Welcome to a special edition of Indie Insights! This fortnight, I was lucky enough to get early access to demos that will be taking part in LudoNarraCon, May 9th through the 13th on Steam.

With a selection of almost 50 demos, including some I have covered before, I played as many as possible and whittled it down to my six favorites.

Let the ludonarrative dissonance begin!

Great God Grove

Great God Grove puppet cooking
Image Credit: Limbo Lane.

Are you a fan of folklore? Perhaps you enjoy puppets? Maybe you are a fan of stealing the words of others and using them for your own purposes. If any or all of these statements apply to you, you are in luck! Developers Limbo Lane have a game for you.

Set in a world of Gods and humans where things have gone awry, it’s up to you, a newly arrived resident of Great God Grove, to put the world to rights. With only a missing God’s mail-delivering megaphone (the Megapon) at your side, it’s time to stop the apocalypse.

In the tradition of Animal Crossing, the game begins with you heading to Great God Grove by boat. The ship’s Captain is a weird and forgetful fellow explaining everything you need to know. Every 33 years, a rift opens above the land. A festival occurs where the Gods work together to close the rift and potentially ascend a new human to God status. Unfortunately, one of the Gods, King, appears to have gone rogue. Once one of the most beloved Gods, King was also the mail carrier. Recently, he disappeared. Fear not, as he has also been sending mean letters to others. He has destroyed the balance of the Grove and caused his love, fellow God Ms. Mittenacht, to cry endlessly and flood the Grove with her tears.

For those that have played their previous game, Smile for Me, the unhinged, Mighty Boosh-tinged art style will be familiar. As will the silent protagonist. In Smile for Me, you could communicate through head nods and shakes. In Great God Grove, you use the Megapon to fire words at people. There is always the option to fire yes or no off, but there is also the ability to steal phrases from people. When talking to a character, if any of their dialog appears with dotted lines around it, you can suck it up and keep it in the tank.

Tom the Postgirl

Tom the Postgirl arson
Image credit: Oopsie Daisies.

From developer Oopsie Daisies comes this bizarre little demo for their upcoming mail delivery game. You play as Tom the postgirl, an interesting child who arrived at a house via mail one day and has now taken it upon herself to deliver packages to people. The art is styled like an Eastern European animated film from the 1970s with the fever dream feel to boot. It’s an avant-garde journey told through the lens of a small stalker. It’s weird, guys.

While Tom has a mail delivery job to perform, she also has to peep at every person in the village. You can peer through windows and stand there staring in perpetuity but risk getting caught. You can choose to deliver people’s packages, or you can choose to open them. I naturally chose violence. When you choose to open a package, Tom immediately takes the contents and uses them for evil. Fire extinguisher? That horse is getting sprayed with foam while the barn burns behind me. Disco ball? I’m hanging it in a tree and having a squirrel party.

It’s a very short experience but an endlessly intriguing one. The combination of style, substance, and surrealism only left me wanting more. The full game has no release date yet, but I will eagerly await more madness.

The Horror at Highrook

The Horror at Highrook board
Image Credit: Nullpointer Games.

If you are a fan of board games, The Horror at Highrook looks like the game for you. This cosmic horror investigative adventure from Nullpointer Games utilizes cards, statistics, and resource management to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a well-to-do family. A team of eclectic occult investigators is sent to the abandoned home of the Ackeron family, who had been linked to the cultist group Seekers Communion before disappearing.

Now, it’s up to the Scholar, the Mecanist, the Thug, and the Plague Doctor to unearth the truth of the formerly esteemed family through investigation, crafting, exploration, and perhaps some dalliance in the darker arts. Each character has specific talents and attributes that will aid in different aspects of the story. The Scholar can decode texts and research, the Mecanist is good with machines and gadgets, the Thug has hunting and scavenging skills, and the Plague Doctor has a mind for science and an alcohol problem.

The good doctor’s substance problems are important because characters will get fatigued and injured, making them less able to perform tasks correctly. To remedy this, characters must sleep, eat a meal, or consume a healing elixir. All of these need to be crafted in their respective rooms by someone with the correct talents. For example, food needs to be cooked in the kitchen by someone with an affinity for cooking, and elixirs need to be brewed in the lab. Of course, food and ingredients need to be scavenged for, and some supplies have a limited time to be used before disappearing.

I’m not going to lie; there is a lot of information to absorb up top, which can be confusing at first. Different types of cards can only be used in certain spaces by certain people. It can be difficult at first to figure out how to progress and process all the rules, especially for someone who doesn’t play board games frequently. However, those familiar with games of this type will likely have a few issues, and once you have completed a few tasks, it is much easier to grasp.

The demo covers the game’s first chapter. The story is compelling, albeit familiar. There are hints of a mysterious illness, occult rituals, and something beyond our veil of existence. In an ideal world, a more user-friendly tutorial will be introduced before launch because I think the large info dump up top will put off a large selection of players. Regardless, I’ll keep an eye on this and will likely return to Highrook to solve its mysteries.

Tavern Talk

Tavern Talk drinks recipes
Image Credit: Gentle Troll Entertainment.

Welcome to the Waykeeper Inn, the setting of this visual novel where the choices matter and the drinks do more than just intoxicate. Developer Gentle Troll Entertainment has created a Dungeons and Dragons-inspired adventure with a cozy atmosphere that shows what goes on between the quests. You take on the role of innkeeper, a mysterious individual known only as Innkeep to those they deal drinks. The demo focuses on introducing a long-time regular customer, an Elf named Fable, who has self-esteem issues.

Fable longs for adventure but lacks confidence in herself and her abilities. Couple that with the pressure from her family to toe the line and do what she has always done, and Fable feels trapped. Luckily for her, you are her biggest champion and you encourage her to follow her heart, you won’t know unless you try.

To help Fable and other patrons, you can mix drinks. In your notebook is a list of recipes for drinks that are tasty and attribute-enhancing. Your patrons will order drinks by telling you what they want to feel. Whether it’s something to beef up defense, increase swiftness, or make your silver tongue shinier, there’s a recipe for that. To mix drinks, you must pay attention to the chart on your screen and match it to the recipe in your notebook to create the desired effect. If you mess up, you have a weird little pet friend called Andu that you can feed your failures to.

Also, coming with the territory is the overhearing of rumors and worries. As a bartender, people tend to spill their souls to you, and you can collect these rumors and tidbits in your notebook. Some can be pieced together to create quests that you can post for your patrons to take up. Some of these scraps of insight hint at a greater evil possibly taking hold across the land. I loved my short time at the Waykeeper Inn and am already invested in the few characters I met in the demo. The full game comes out sometime in 2024. I will definitely be coming back for a round of drinks or 12.

Sorry We’re Closed

Sorry We're Closed demon entrance
Image Credit: à la mode games.

I’ve followed this debut from developers à la mode games for some time. The promise of the third eye mysticism, neon characters, and demons drew me in when it came across my social media. I’ve finally played the demo. I need the full game now. Usually, I keep that reveal for closer to the end of my write-ups, but the demo was just that good.

You play as Michelle, a brightly colored character living in a dingy world with other neon denizens. Michelle is still hung up on her ex, who left three years ago, and despite her friend Robyn’s efforts to get her to let it go, she continues to brood. After going to bed, Michelle awakes in the middle of the night to a loud bang. Unable to move but conscious, she sees her apartment door open, a glowing neon green light pouring from it. Then, through the door comes a demon—a demon with an unspecified offer for her. Refusing, she sees Michelle thrown into a demon dimension, now cursed by the demon and with a shiny new third eye in the middle of her forehead.

In the demon dimension, Michelle finds Robyn, who has been a demon all along. Robyn offers to help her out, which means it’s tutorial time. Using your third eye will allow you to see previously hidden things, help you overcome obstacles, and find weak points on enemies. The game utilizes a top-down fixed camera but lets you go into first-person with a right mouse click. However, you can’t move in first-person, so make your observations quickly.

The place you find yourself in is a decaying and abandoned subway station. Using your third eye transforms the area in its small field of view back into something that looks like the normal world. Thorny blockages disappear, enabling you to pass through previously shut-off routes. Notes from the real world appear on walls. Objects stuck in dangerous and unreachable places become accessible.

Of course, nothing is that simple. Lurking around every corner are horrible, angular, fleshy monsters. Combat takes place in first person, with a variety of demonic weapons. In third-eye mode, you can only damage enemies by hitting their weak points. With regular vision, you can damage them anywhere. However, hitting weak points will take enemies down with fewer hits and save ammo for ranged weapons.

What sets Sorry We’re Closed apart from other games is its unique visual style and stellar implementation of its mechanics. It feels like a Silent Hill game (one of the good ones.) I actually got scared by some encounters; the terror of the monstrous enemies was tangible and persistent. It’s a clash of neon and nightmares that is simultaneously familiar and fresh. Sorry We’re Closed is set to release sometime in 2024. I will be first in line.

The Drifter

The Drifter grave digging
Image credit: Powerhoof and Dave Lloyd.

This point-and-click mystery from developers Powerhoof and Dave Lloyd is shaping to be a wild ride if this demo is anything to go by. You play as Mick, a drifter who is returning home to help plan his mother’s funeral. In traditional fashion, Mick has snuck aboard a freight train to get him where he needs to go. The game starts as the train pulls into Mick’s destination. Mick narrates the game, his Australian accent inviting and expressive. The door to the train car is too stiff to open alone, but a second traveler is sleeping underneath a tarp. It’s just a case of waking him up.

Your cursor indicates what can and can’t be interacted with, changing to different symbols if they can be examined or if someone can be talked to. Looking at the shape under the tarp, you can pull it off and save it for later. The man remains sleeping—time for a wake-up call. Shaking him awake proves to be more dramatic than intended as he brandishes a crowbar and rants about breaking the cycle. Mick needs that crowbar to open the door, so it’s up to you to figure out what you can use and how. Once you have the crowbar, you wrench the carriage door open. A bright green light fills the space, and Mick assumes the transport police have busted them. That is, until your unhinged travel companion is riddled with bullets.

Escaping leads you to an embankment, where Mick finds his old friend Bill. He also finds more homeless people taking refuge in the nearby tunnel and a young reporter trying to get an interview. It turns out that many members of the homeless community have been disappearing, and there has been an increase in incidents of mental illness. Something strange is going on. Reports of fiery-eyed demons appearing in the night to abduct homeless people are rife amongst the community. Mick just wants to charge his phone. Now, he seems to be involved in a dangerous mystery that will change his life and death.

I was absolutely engrossed in this demo. When it ended, I was actively annoyed that I couldn’t see what was going to happen next. The demo covers the story’s first chapter, is well-written, suspenseful, and left me with many unanswered questions. The Drifter is due for release sometime in 2024.

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Written by Emma Oakman

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