Reviews by Team: Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality

Reviewing the largest indie bundle in history

4 stars
Entertaining Quasiprogramming Game

Gladiabots is a strategy game where you program a team of robots to win battles. There is 3 different game modes, elimination, domination and collection. The single player is lengthy with many levels of increasing difficulty with the layout of the arena and enemy team varying enough to keep it interesting.

The gameplay is half programming, half watching your team do battle. The programming is easy to get started with as every thing is done visually. You layout commands with the leftmost having the most priority. As you try to make your robots behavior more specific, the visual programming becomes a hinderence and anybody whos written code will be yearning to play the game by actually programming. Watching the battles stays fairly entertaining since you can speed up or slow down to only watch the parts that show if your programming is working.

There’s definitely bugs where the game doesn’t execute the programming properly, but they’re rare enough not to impact gameplay. The game also wants you to sign into an account to share your score and will ask you to sign in after EVERY game if you don’t. The game also comes with data collection for the Unreal engine turned on. On Linux, you can see the settings in .config/unity3d/GFX47/Gladiabots/prefs. There was no notice about this either. I only happened to find it while trying to debug a bad build of the game.

     <pref name="data.analyticsEnabled" type="int">1</pref>
    <pref name="data.deviceStatsEnabled" type="int">1</pref>
    <pref name="data.limitUserTracking" type="int">0</pref>
    <pref name="data.optOut" type="int">0</pref>
    <pref name="data.performanceReportingEnabled" type="int">1</pref>
    <pref name="unity.cloud_userid" type="string">ZGVlOTlkNDBhYzc0NzQzNGE5NThiN2JhOThiMGYyZDk=</pref>
    <pref name="unity.player_session_count" type="string">MTE=</pref>
    <pref name="unity.player_sessionid" type="string">MTYxNTUyNjIwOTAyNzUzOTA3OQ==</pref>

Unplayed: Multiplayer, Collection Mode

Overall, its worth a play.

4 stars
A good loop to get stuck in

Your Future Self is an interactive story developed by Contortionist Games, which as of this writing is one developer, Andrew Hirst, based in Sheffield, UK. The game presents itself in a CRT aesthetic with many flicker effects, similar to Pony Island.

The premise is that you’re stuck in a time looping bubble with your future self and have to convince them not to commit an act that will kill thousands of people, but which your future self clearly considered justifiable. Every dialog choice can succeed or fail. If you ultimately don’t succeed, the loop starts again.

As you pick from different strategies to engage with “yourself”, the story unfolds. You can’t pick the exact words you want to say to yourself—your choices are always to be rational, empathetic, or assertive, and the game decides what that means in a given context.

There’s a light RPG-like mechanic at play here, where your “skill” at being rational, empathetic, or assertive is measured against your future self’s skills and receptivity in those areas. If you turned on “helper mode” on the start screen, the game shows you the likelihood that a given choice will succeed.

The success or failure of your attempts to persuade your future self is visualized, and is subject to a simple RPG-like mechanic. The CRT scanline effect, curved screen, and center glare are in-game visuals. (Credit: Contortionist Games. Fair use.)

There are, of course, additional layers to the story, and the game employs intense visual effects to keep things interesting. It also has an excellent chiptune soundtrack. Check out Rebels to the Rescue and Your Future Self (Remix).

The time loop mechanic can get a bit tedious if you have to click through the same loop a couple of times to find the right answers—in retrospect I think I would have enjoyed the game more if I had enabled “Helper mode”. The story was interesting enough to keep me engaged until the ending (I think I played for about 1-2 hours).

I’d give it 4 stars—the game mechanics and story aren’t perfect, but the excellent soundtrack and atmosphere make up for most of the game’s weaknesses.

4 stars
A short story told through clues and messages

You get to browse websites, read IMs and emails and explore apps, all of which reveal layers of the game’s story. (Credit: Accidental Queens / Dear Villagers. Fair use.) Many games incorporate phones you can interact with into the game; in A Normal Lost Phone, the phone is the game. With little introduction, you get to snoop around the apps and messages stored in a lost phone that supposedly belongs to a kid named Sam who just celebrated their 18th birthday.

You discover who Sam appears to be to their friends and family; as you peel away layers of clues (“which number is the password to this app?”), you also discover new layers to Sam’s story. The story is engaging and handles mature themes of tolerance and identity well, but it is a bit predictable. It’s a short game (1-3 hours, depending on how much time you spend reading every bit of flavor text).

There’s some great artwork to discover, and a nice soundtrack that’s accessible through the phone’s music player.

It’s hard to categorize A Normal Lost Phone, but if you enjoy story-based games like Gone Home that progress quickly with very light puzzles, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this one, too. 3.5 stars, rated up because of the high quality art and music and the smooth interface.

5 stars
Lovingly told interactive story about change, death and friendship

Night in the Woods is an adventure game available for virtually all platforms (as of this writing: Windows, macOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Switch). The game mostly takes place from the perspective of college drop-out Mae Borowski, whose return to her hometown of Possum Springs leads to reunions, conflicts, weird dreams, and a gradually unfolding mystery.

The town is inhabited by anthropomorphic animals (and, oddly, by some actual animals); Mae herself is a 20-year-old cat. The player controls Mae in a manner similar to a jump-and-run game, but with the sense of safety of a point-and-click adventure. While there are areas of the game world that can be a bit tricky to reach, there is very little puzzle-solving.

From time to time, a scene turns into a mini-game (playing the bass guitar, stealing an item from a shop, hitting objects with a baseball bat). You often only get one shot at these games, and whether you succeed or fail will reveal small variations in the story.

While the story is more or less on rails, the game’s characters keep you engaged. There’s Mae’s old friend Gregg, a fox whose short attention span doesn’t seem to get in the way of his employment at the “Snack Falcon”. As time goes on, the depth of his love for his boyfriend, a bear named Angus, is revealed, who seems to be Gregg’s best hope of growing up.

From left to right: Germ, Bea, Angus, Mae, and Gregg at band practice. (Credit: Infinite Fall. Fair use.)

There’s Beatrice “Bea” Santello, a goth who seems initially hostile but who opens up after Mae spends more time with her. And of course there are Mae’s parents, who struggle to get their daughter to tell them what exactly caused her to drop out of college.

When speaking with other characters, you are often given multiple dialog options, but what you can say is constrained by Mae’s perspective on the world as a 20-year-old with … issues. After many experiences, Mae automatically scribbles notes into her personal journal, which are observations like “GREGG RULZ OK” or “THOUGHT: THIS PLACE IS FALLING APART”, often accompanied by cartoons.

As the game progresses, Mae draws little notes in her journal. (Credit: Infinite Fall. Fair use.)

Over time, the mystery at the heart of the story gradually becomes apparent. Mae experiences weird dreams and a growing sense of anxiety, and she witnesses strange goings-on in Possum Springs. The ultimate “reveal” is less important than Mae’s struggle to come to terms with her own fragility. There are discussions of death and religion, but they are meditative, not proselytizing.

Night in the Woods is a gorgeous game: the characters, landscapes and animations are simple but beautiful, enriched by context-specific background music (listen to the soundtrack). The writing is terrific and the pacing is generally good; the early game can feel a bit drawn out.

The main controls are easy to master, though some of the mini-games can feel a bit unfair the first time around. You’ll probably get at least one replay out of the game, to discover hidden branches of the story you missed the first time around, and to master the various mini-games.

On the Nintendo Switch, which is the version we played, the load times can be a bit frustrating: going from one screen to another can trigger a five second “loading” animation, and it’s in the nature of the game’s controls that you might do so accidentally a few times.

The Verdict

I highly recommend giving this game a chance, unless you’re put off by some of the themes of young adult drama and prefer your games to be more challenging. Currently, the game goes for $20 on Steam, which is a decent price for the amount of content that’s packed in here. While the game is not without its minor frustrations, I would give it 4.5 out of 5 stars, rounded up.