Indie Insights Vol. 35 – Talking to the Dead Cute

It’s time for more video games. A phrase that is basically my mantra. This week’s games seem to be all about mysteries and anthropomorphic animals. A mix of taxing puzzles and fuzzy, wuzzy friends awaits. It continues to be the most stressful time for everyone in gaming, be it developers, studios, or journalists, so let’s shout about small games while we can.

Here’s this week’s treasure trove.


Cryptmaster sentinel eye
Image Credit: Paul Hart, Lee Williams, and Akupara Games.

The full version of the typing dungeon diver adventure from Paul Hart, Lee Williams, and Akupara Games is finally here. As a long-dead warrior, you awaken in a crypt thanks to the power of The Cryptmaster (think Skeletor’s dustier cousin.) Your only weapon is words; you must type commands to attack, defend, explore, and cast spells. They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but in my case, the single digit of keyboard poking is what will save me. I must use my chicken-pecking-feed typing technique to defeat or aid the evil, insult rats, and summon crabs.

The Cryptmaster needs you and your merry band of undead misfits to obtain his Soulstone, the source of his power, and transport it and thus him to the surface. Your team of adventurers consists of Joro the Warrior, Syn the Thief, Maz the Bard, and Nix the Sea Witch. Each team member has a plethora of skills and memories to uncover. To do this, you will have to gather letters and souls from enemies you dispatch. You can also munch down bugs for a little extra soul food. You unlock abilities when collecting all the letters of the word or guess it. For example, Jorro has the ability BOOT, Syn has TRAP, Maz has SOOTHE, and Nix has CRABS, to name but a tiny sampling of their powers. To use these in battle, you must type them out. Each ability will cost an amount of souls you have collected, and each party member has a cooldown after using something.

You also have to carefully note your foe’s weaknesses and strengths. Some will be vulnerable to certain letters, others can block words containing letters, and some may grow if you use their designated character. Does that cube of goo have a floating P inside it? If you use any words containing P during combat against it, it will grow in size and HP.

There are many hidden little treats around the world. Chests containing letters/souls/items can be found and interacted with. However, the contents can only be obtained after a game of questions with The Cryptmaster. Type one-word actions like Describe and The Cryptmaster will give clues about what is inside. If you guess correctly then you get the content, if you don’t then you lose your chance at the content. There are also skulls hiding in corners that will propose riddles to you. If you solve them, you get letters and souls. Curse this game for making me have to use my vocabulary. Brain power? In this economy? There has only been one chest riddle that I have been unable to answer, so I at least have some synapses left.

There are many colorful characters to find. For example, there are Australian rats, long-dead royalty, really stupid Sentinels, and randy living royalty. All of this is from the early portion of the game, too. There’s a rich tapestry of weirdness available to those who seek it. It’s all wrapped up in detailed art and an excellent soundtrack and delivered by a sardonic DM who just convinced four randos into a campaign. It’s a clever visual and aural delight backed up by a very silly social media team, who, as I was writing this review, tweeted out The Cryptmaster reading passages from Twilight.  

Cryptmaster is out now on Steam.

Duck Detective

Duck Detective Laura
Image Credit: Happy Broccoli Games.

It’s time to rise to the occasion, follow the breadcrumbs, and knead suspects for clues in this hard-baked neo-noir game from Happy Broccoli Games. Take on the role of the Duck Detective, currently in a crummy state after a recent divorce and bread addiction has left him virtually penniless. Luckily, a payday is on the horizon. A crime has been committed. The most heinous of crimes. Lunch theft.

Called to the BearBus headquarters by an unknown client, Duck Detective wastes no time scoping out the scene for clues. Well, he has to waste some time because the giraffe at the reception desk won’t let him in. It’s time to learn the art of de-duck-tion. People can be talked to and inspected. Use your magnifying glass to scan them for clues, then add them to your notebook. The same thing can be done for objects around the environment. Compiling all the clues in an area will help to solve the mystery, whether it’s a small part of the mystery, like the name of the suspect, or a clue to the overarching mystery.

In your notebook, there will be a page for all the characters. You can use the clues on this page to select a character’s name. It will tell you when you are wrong or right. Yes, you can brute force it if necessary, but I assure you there is no need. Duck Detective is a simple game. Not in a bad way, mind you. Uncovering clues from people and objects is easy, and the story is well thought out. The pacing of the revelations is well done. The game is only two to three hours long, and at no point does it drag or feel like it’s going too quickly.

Of course, the lunch theft is only the tip of the lunch meat iceberg, as a much deeper conspiracy unfolds in the transit hub. There’s mystery, intrigue, and terrible books about sexy aliens to be found. The game is fully voice-acted by an excellent cast, all of whom understood the assignment. It’s a very silly game that is a great pastiche on the 1940s noir detective story. I hope this is only the first of many outings for the quaking detective.

Duck Detective is out now on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox.

Cozy Caravan

cozy caravan Mr. Jumpy
Image credit: 5 Live Studios.

Cozy Caravan from 5 Live Studios dropped in early access on Steam last week. I already had my peepers trained on it due to the adorableness factor being high, so I knew I had to dive in. It’s a very relaxed farming/cooking/market sim filled with various crops to discover, recipes to learn, and friends to make. There’s also a gigantic Lovecraftian frog called Mr. Jumpy, who may be an Eldritch horror from the deep that talks like Jabba the Hut.

When you start the game, you get to pick your anthropomorphic animal character. There are several to choose from, such as goats, cows, raccoons, and axolotls. There is no crab character, so I initially chose a frogsona. However, I hated its face and quickly started a new game as a pink cow. You can pick from a few different skin colors/patterns and a few different outfits, as well as pick your character’s voice. They don’t actually say words; it’s more of an Animal Crossing meets Simlish stream of sounds.

As for actual gameplay, you play as a freshly minted Market Guild rookie. You are about to embark on your adventure as a traveling merchant, with your caravan as a home away from home. You are also joined by your frog friend Bubba, who only says his own name like a Pokémon. Pulling your caravan is an upsettingly giant but cute bee called Rigby. Traveling through different towns and stops will allow you to help farmers by picking their produce. Once you pick everything in their field, drop it off to them before leaving. They will then reward you with some of the harvest. There are also some wild crops like apples throughout the currently quite small loop of a map.

When it comes to the local population, you can greet them with a wave, filling up your kindness meter. Each time the bar fills up, you earn a guild token. You can exchange these tokens for upgrades to your caravan, either cosmetically or in terms of cooking equipment. Stopping and chatting with some characters will give you fetch quests, requests for recipes, or spawn a quick mini-game such as playing hopscotch. On top of this, you will find tiny froglets around the map. Talk to them, and they will join you on your caravan for a ride back home to their gigantic nightmare father, Mr. Jumpy.

Collect ingredients, uncover recipes, and cook dishes throughout the week to sell on the designated market days of Saturday and Sunday. You can only set up a market on these days, and only in bigger towns. If in doubt, Bubba will pipe up as you drive into town on a market day if you can set up shop there. Selling will also fill up your kindness bar and gain tokens, with certain ingredients and dishes being especially sought after in different locations and week to week.

As an early access title, Cozy Caravan has the makings of a fun and addictive game. However, it is very buggy right now, and the controls need tweaking. The cooking mini-games are either fine or completely unresponsive; small things like names don’t match characters that are talking, and sometimes the camera will get stuck, meaning you can’t go anywhere and have to re-load. There is also no manual save feature in its current iteration. To the developer’s credit, they have been releasing small patches almost every day since it was released, but there is still some way to go when it comes to smoothness of movement and accessibility for some of the cooking games.

Also, one of the recurring quests you encounter when driving around is herding bees. Bees in this universe are more dog-sized, although Rigby is horse-sized. I will scream if I have to herd one more massive bee toward an incompetent farmer or bee walker once the full version is released. Escort missions are bad enough without the incessant high-pitched buzzing of Eldritch bees and their uncanny ability to simply ignore where you are walking and getting stuck on things.

Cozy Caravan is now in early access on Steam.

Cyber Manhunt 2: New World

cyber manhunt 2

First, I have never played the first Cyber Manhunt game from Aluba Studio. So when I was approached to try out the sequel in early access, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I got an engrossing investigative mystery game surrounding AI and the people who create it. You play as a recently reactivated older model AI Assistant tasked to assist an executive at Titan, a tech company pioneering innovations.

Someone is selling trade secrets to a competitor, so you’re once again online. As an AI, you can access all the information on the internet and are the perfect detective. Your job is to gather information about suspects, collate it, and deduce the truth. To do this, you will search databases, social media, and private messages to obtain clues about different subjects.

Generally, you begin with a suspect’s name. From there, you can search for them in your web browser and find any relevant pages. Then, it’s time to scour those pages for clues. Be thorough; look through pictures, user info, and comments to gather more pieces of the puzzle. When you come across important information, it will be highlighted, and you can add it to the dossier for each character. Once you have basic information, you can obtain further insight by cracking passwords, hacking apps, sending phishing emails to their personal devices to create backdoors, and even creating synthetic voices to make phone calls.

The game is very detailed, with labyrinthine data trails to follow, a well-written plot, and some hard-hitting subject matter to wrestle with. The early access version contains a prologue, and the first three chapters have more to come. Now that I have played this, I will go back to play the first game, as there seems to be some crossover. I highly recommend this for fans of mystery-solving.

Cyber Manhunt 2: New World is now in early access on Steam.

For more indie coverage, check out our weekly roundup of new indie game releases

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Written by Emma Oakman

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