Indies for the weekened: Halloween edition

2023-10-27 by George P


Enter the Cursed Forest. A grim place not for the frail and faint-hearted. Cursed spirits wander through the forest’s gloomy pathways and a nefarious dark aura covers every last tree and every last blade of grass. Thankfully, the game’s little hooded protagonist is equipped with a bow and most importantly, the Soliflare arrow. A magical object that can be utilized not only as a weapon against the forest’s malevolent inhabitants but also as a tool to light your path. But beware! You only hold a single Soliflare arrow. This seemingly small but deceptively clever detail completely alters the way Lightdancer plays. It creates a frantically exciting gameplay loop where you have to be constantly on the move to keep retrieving and firing the arrow. In that loop, you will have to eliminate the wicked spirits that hunt you while simultaneously ensuring that you are not engulfed by the pervasive darkness. Through this loop and equipped with nothing more than a minimalist low-res art style, Lightdancer is able to generate a truly mind-boggling amount of gameplay tension. In no other game have I ever felt more relieved while reaching a bonfire, the game’s only reliable source of light that does not extinguish over time. Lightdancer is exactly the kind of experience that I love to see in a short jam game. It has all the right ingredients. An incredibly simple concept. Minimal mechanics. Gameplay depth achieved through smart design choices rather than convoluted systems. And a laser- focused vision executed perfectly. Lightdancer adopts a basic and straightforward premise and manages to transform it into something engaging, intense, and really addictive. It is a game that I could easily see myself playing for hours without a break as it succeeds in hooking you in. I was therefore quite disappointed when met with the end credits. The only aspect that I thought was a bit of a letdown was the final boss fight. It was appropriately created with consideration to the game's core mechanics but did not have the level of heart-pumping tension that would allow for a satisfying conclusion. With more levels, enemy types, bosses, and an improved overall visual presentation, Ι could easily see Lightdancer becoming an absolute hit!

With Halloween right around the corner, it is paramount to recommend a few spooky titles suitable for an eerie weekend. Horror is undoubtedly one of the most popular indie genres. While most projects within that genre are fairly generic and predictable there are numerous hidden gems released every year that manage to subvert expectations in clever ways.


IN-TERROR-GATION is a unique horror experience and candidate for the puniest title in this series so far. In the game, you assume the role of a psychiatrist working at Innsmount Prison Hospital tasked with interrogating one of the facility’s patients. The subject is a victim of a kidnapping. A bizarre case that has puzzled the authorities and has not yet been solved. All events, from her rescue to her arrival and stay at the Hospital have been surrounded by baffling questions and strange occurrences. The job you have been given is to break the patient’s traumatic barriers and discover clues that might be able to assist the facility in piecing together the events of her past. However, soon into the interrogation, you will realize that the testimonies of your patient contradict recorded evidence. As the mystery gets increasingly tangled you will have to be smart and decipher the ways that these contradictions can help you crack this perplexing conundrum. And ultimately figure out who, or what, is actually sitting in front of you at the other end of the table. The gameplay of IN-TERROR-GATION is interestingly reminiscent of Papers Please. You are equipped with the data of the subject as well as a comprehensive file of the case’s timeline. You will have to compare and contrast the available evidence with the sayings of your patient to identify inconsistencies in her statements. You will then use these contradictions in order to fill the case’s gaps and arrive at conclusions. But things will not be so simple. A lethal threat haunts the room, the clock is ticking, and every word you say could alter the course of this confrontation. The atmosphere of IN-TERROR-GATION feels creepy and frighteningly uncanny from start to finish. It is an experience where you never feel safe. Worth noting here that the game includes strong elements of body horror so if that is something that you are sensitive to then it could be wise to skip this one. IN-TERROR-GATION is also fully voice-acted. While the performances might appear slightly amateurish, I found them fitting to the atmosphere and thought that they enhanced the game’s storytelling aspect. There are multiple endings to discover and each one expands the player’s understanding of the world’s lore. Overall, IN-TERROR-GATION is a highly unique experience that is able to both scare and intrigue. Additionally, it is a game that presents a compelling formula that could be utilized in future horror projects.

Pumpkin Panic

The screams of a cawing crow wake you up. You find yourself inside a warm and cosy wooden hut. Outside, a series of fenced-off arable fields are surrounded by a seemingly endless forest. Your job is to farm. Plant seeds, water the land, harvest the crops, sell the yield, upgrade your equipment, expand your territory, and repeat. A familiar loop present in countless games. From Stardew Valley to Minecraft, to Slime Rancher, and many more. So, what makes Pumpkin Panic stand out? The familiarity of this common gameplay loop will be quickly undermined by the realization that you are not alone in this strange land. Malicious danger lurks in every corner and your farming duties may not be as easy as they originally appeared. You will have to balance your main agriculture objectives with both understanding the intricacies of this odd place and avoiding its many threats. Some of these dangers are pretty obvious while others are much less so. What Pumpkin Panic is brilliantly able to evoke is a sense of paranoia. You will reach a point in the game where you will start to be suspicious of everything, no matter how innocent they might appear. This constant distrust will nonetheless aid you in this experience as looks can be deceiving and things that may seem harmless are far from it. Beyond the clever scares, what I found really surprising in Pumpkin Panic is how well-thought- out the game is in terms of optimization and mechanical harmony. Horror games are not well known for their careful and well-designed balance. But that is exactly what Pumpkin Panic offers. From the farming systems to the upgrade tree, to the time it takes to walk between areas, to the sound cues of the different enemies, to the various mechanics of the different threats. Everything has been optimized to allow for an engaging, challenging, and fair experience. Pumpkin Panic is a good horror game while simultaneously managing to also be a good resource management game. That combination is able to generate a level of satisfying tension for the player that ranges between hectic and scary. Overall, one of the best games that I have played that follows this type of hybrid formula.