Indies for the weekend

2023-02-24 by George P

Stick to the Plan

Stick to the Plan is a minimalist Sokoban-like puzzle game that despite its goofy-looking protagonist offers a series of clever brainteasers with a surprising amount of design depth. In the game, you take the role of an adorable tiny dog who has one simple goal in his mind: carry a stick to the finish line! What appears as an easy task will quickly prove much more challenging as our little silly character has chosen a stick much larger than his own size. As a player, you will have to navigate our tiny friend through a series of floating islands filled with all kinds of obstacles as you carefully calculate the route that will not get you stuck. Stick to the Plan was a game that very much surprised me as I initially expected a very casual and simplistic experience but was met with something very different. The game uses the stick as its mechanical foundation and combines it with four directional movement and rotational controls.

Through smart level design and well-thought-out additions (such as falling bridges) the game is able to produce a great level of engaging complexity through a very basic foundation. It is apparent that the game takes significant inspiration from the “new wave” of Sokoban-likes such as Stephen’s Sausage Roll or A Monster’s Expedition which are characterized by similar traits. The only issue I had with the game was that the controls were not as responsive as they could be, and on many occasions, movement and rotation felt either floaty or delayed. This is of course not ideal in a tile-based puzzle game of this kind as unresponsive controls can get frustrating in longer playtime periods. But beyond that, this is a game that once again proves how a very simple mechanical foundation united with well- thought-out level design can produce a very engaging and challenging puzzle experience. The author states at the end of the game that more levels (maybe in the form of a larger game) are being developed; which is great to hear as I very much enjoyed Stick to the Plan and the minimal but clever concept behind it.
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BABBDI is the kind of game that is basically impossible to describe in a few words or place in a specific genre. “Exploration”, “parkour”, “experimental design”, “walking simulator”, or “surreal horror” are all words and phrases that one could use to describe it. And while all would be simultaneously correct, they still would not tell the full story. In BABBDI you enter a faded world that evokes a sense of melancholia, liminality, and, most of all, oppressiveness. The brutalist architecture of the giant concrete structures, the rusty machinery, the strange inhabitants, the dimly lit corridors, the enigmatic aura. When you start the game, the one and only objective you are presented with is to find a ticket and leave the city. This is a world that does not ask you to explore, discover, or achieve, it is one that asks you to depart. But sooner or later, while in pursuit of an exit, the player will realize that there is more than meets the eye in this strange city and that the suffocating concrete landscape also hides opportunity.

At this point, I would usually provide some hints or examples of what these elusive gameplay discoveries could be but there are occasions where some things are better left untold as the game contains a very unique and cryptic atmosphere that I would not want to ruin. And while a short adventure, BABBDI has already managed to cultivate a small cult following and I would not be surprised if the team behind the game has already embarked on a much larger project. This game is exactly my cup of tea and if you also enjoy more experimental gaming experiences then BABBDI is certainly worth your time.
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Spent Shells

Spent Shells is a roguelike 2D bullet hell shooter that offers a challenging dungeon crawling experience and a surprising amount of replayability. Enter a procedurally generated never- ending labyrinth of rooms and corridors filled with all types of enemies, from fiery imps to deadly spiders to multiplying slimes to ghosts and... bees? Spent Shells is a really fun and addicting roguelike shooter that, interestingly enough, executes numerous elements much more gracefully than many of its fully fledged paid counterparts. Due to numerous game design choices the core gameplay loop feels very smooth, fast-paced, and uninterruptable. There is never a moment that feels dull or slow as the game prioritizes momentum and continuity over anything else. The other aspect that I think Spent Shells simply gets right is progression.

The progression systems (both the temporary and permanent ones) are very well designed as they are impactful and engaging without ever feeling tedious or grindy (a common issue in roguelites). Speaking of progression, beyond the endless rooms of the hostile dungeon, players also have access to a base hub where they will be able to purchase new guns, characters, and upgrades. This addition really helps improve replayability and there are numerous potential builds that players can discover through experimentation. The author of the Spent Shells points out how the project is based on the Binding of Isaac, and while the inspiration is clear throughout the experience, the game more accurately resembles titles such as Enter the Gungeon or Nuclear Throne due to the 360-degree rotation. Spent Shells is a simple but great roguelike that I would highly recommend but be careful if you have any important tasks to complete this weekend as the game is pretty addicting!
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