Some more indie games on Steam

Yes, I’m still at it, spending bits and pieces of my free time slowly whittling away at the massive backlog of games that I have sitting in my Steam account. Today, we’re going to take itty-bitty peeks at a couple that I didn’t feel really stood up to snuff. Or at least, I felt no satisfaction from playing and opted to just pass on them before investing too much time. And then also one really good game, because I don’t want to be a complete Negative Nancy.

We begin with Red’s Kingdom. The game opens with an evil king squirrel barging into Red’s house and stealing his acorn stash right out from under him, and then you have to go out and reclaim your acorns. This… seems familiar. Oh, it’s Donkey Kong Country. Probably countless other games, as well, but it makes me think of DKC.

Then you get onto the gameplay, in which you roll Red around the stages, avoiding obstacles and collecting nuts. It’s exactly like those slippery-slidey mazes in so many video games (there’s at least one in every core Pokémon game) where you move in a direction and get locked moving that way until you hit something. You know the type. I’m describing it badly, but you know it.

It’s an entire game of just that. I find those puzzles extremely aggravating when they make up one room or part of a dungeon, so you can imagine that I was not smitten with the idea of putting up with it for a whole game. Nope. I was willing to give it a shot, but 20 minutes in, I could feel my aggravation levels rising far past the recommended level, so I called it quits.

To its credit, Red’s Kingdom is a very pretty game, with really nice, colourful graphics. The cutscenes are cute and mildly humorous, and it seems like as you progress, there will be more depth to the gameplay than just sliding around from one room to the next. I’m sure that for many people, this could be a great game, but it’s definitely not for me.

Candy Thieves: Tale of Gnomes is another obvious port from a mobile phone game. The awarding of an up-to-three-stars ranking at the end of each stage is a dead giveaway. And it’s one of those mobile phone game ports that was very clearly not developed by an English-speaking team. Because the translation is a little shoddy, you see. Not the worst I’ve seen, but the grammatical errors definitely stand out.

The tale, in this case, is of a family moving into their grandfather’s house after he mysteriously disappeared. I’m sure that will be resolved in a happy ending, because so far this has seemed like a family-friendly kind of game. I don’t know, maybe it’s like Frog Fractions and goes completely off the rails after a while. In which case I’d be sad that I gave up on it after only ten minutes. But I guess I’ll never know anyway. So whatever!

Uh, back to the plot, the young boy who is our protagonist finds a mysterious box under his bed that magically produces candy. He is initially elated, but then gnomes show up and try to steal the candy. So I guess what happens is that he goes on a chase though a mystical fantasy land to stop the thieving gnomes. Again, I gave up on this one, so I really have no idea.

The gameplay is this: drag jelly blobs to the machines in the corner to produce a candy. After so long, gnomes will start pouring out of the set dressing to try to steal candy from your pile. You click on gnomes to pop them. Sometimes they have balloons or fishing rods to aid in their thievery. So it’s basically a tower defence game, except that if you pop a gnome who is absconding with a candy, you can drag that candy back to the safety of the pile. It’s a little more forgiving that most games in the genre.

There’s also a feature where you can lay out traps to help defend against the gnomes, but I got bored before earning more than the basic spring, which launches any gnome that steps on it to his doom. Honestly, I think I may have had slightly more fun with this if I’d played on an iPad or something. It’s definitely designed with the idea that you’ll be poking and swiping with your fingers, not a mouse cursor. But even then, it’s just so bland and boring that I can’t imagine that it would have held my attention much longer even on the intended computing machine.

Lastly, we have VOI. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be pronounced “voy” or “vee-oh-eye.” I suppose it really doesn’t matter, since this thing is written and nobody would know if I’m pronouncing it wrong anyway.

V-O-I has something in common with the two other games on this list. You’ve probably already guessed it: this is a port of a mobile phone game. Or at least that’s what I’m assuming. It has all the hallmarks: minimalist design, gameplay made for touch controls, a simple UI, and bite-sized puzzles. There’s no way this wasn’t an iOS darling for a week at some point.

However! VOI also has a significant feature that separates it from Red’s Kingdom and Candy Thieves: it’s actually fun to play. The puzzles are simple and most of them took me less than a minute to solve, but I was hooked almost instantaneously. And then once the game started pulling out some of its trickier puzzles, I found myself in a wonderland of puzzley goodness.

Despite the game’s simplicity, VOI’s gameplay is a little more complex to describe. It’s a little like tangrams, but instead of mashing all the pieces into a larger shape, you have to layer them on top of each other to replicate a pattern. But it’s not that simple! When you lay one of the black pieces on top of another, any area where they intersect becomes white. Add a third piece to the pile, and it becomes black again. So you have a sort of mix-and-match thing going on where not only do you have to align the black pieces correctly, but you also have to make sure that certain parts get whited out.

Like I said, it’s not overly challenging, but it feels very rewarding to solve these puzzles. I will admit that on a couple of them, I resorted to somewhat brute-forcing my way through, just randomly slapping pieces down to see what happens. For the most part, though, I was able to look at the pattern and pieces and visualize what went where.

I had so much fun with VOI, in fact, that when I finished the 66th and final puzzle, it hit me like a ton a bricks and I was left a little disappointed that it was already over. I still think that if you have a buck-fifty burning a hole in your pocket and an hour to kill, VOI is an excellent way to spend both your extra time and money. Highly recommended!

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