A few hundred indie games are released every week, but most are likely safely ignored. Lost in the flow are some really special games, however. Our job is to fish them out and tell you about them. Your job is to play them and have a good weekend.
This week we have three new games in three very different settings, but each one is worth your time and money for different reasons. These games may not be getting all the buzz, but they certainly deserve at least some of it. We’re going to start off with A Short Hike, a game about being a bird whose biggest worry is enjoying their vacation.
A Short Hike
A day on the island
This is the pure joy of writing a column like this, and the whole reason why I will play through any amount of dross if it increases the chance of stumbling upon something as wonderful as A Short Hike. This adorable, peaceful game has immediately become one of my top games of 2019, and I absolutely implore you to take a look.
You play the part of Claire, a teenage bird visiting her aunt on a very special island. Aunt May encourages you to make the hike to the very peak of the island, mostly to get you off your birdy butt to enjoy your vacation. I presumed I was playing a tiny narrative game as I made my way along the linear path, but I was entirely wrong.
The game is just a few hours long, but it takes place on a wonderfully open island that’s yours to explore at your own pace, along with a pile of other activities to enjoy. I was taught to fish, participated in a new sport called “Beachstickball,” and, perhaps most importantly, learned the art of climbing while collecting golden feathers.
The island is packed with other animals, some asking you to take part in races, others giving you some throwaway (but fun!) fetch quests, but most are just there for the chat. And all of them have well-sketched personalities that makes meeting the new characters feel fun.
It’s just completely delightful! There are coins to collect, shells to find, dozens of hidden areas, secrets, and treasures to dig up, but there is no pressure to race around finding them. This is about gentle exploration, climbing up to a new area, and then soaring back down via the game’s absolutely perfect flying and gliding. Flying in games is almost always disappointing, so for a wee little indie like this to absolutely bloody nail the feel of the air under your wings is a rare and special thing.
It’s very pretty, too, and the visuals are accompanied by a lovely original score by Mark Sparling. Completely family friendly, funny, sweet, and infectiously cheerful, this is the bee’s knees.
A Short Hike is available on Mac, Linux and Windows PC via Steam and Itch for $7.99
The Church in the Darkness
Don’t drink the diet Kool-Aid
Announced three years ago, The Church in the Darkness immediately suggested something that could be fairly controversial. Set in 1977, your character is infiltrating a Christian-esque cult base in the South American jungle to rescue your nephew. You’re there to sneak your way through the environment and rescue him, but first you’ll need to find him.
The result is oddly uncontroversial, perhaps simply because of how brazenly the story is presented, but it’s interesting all the same.
The layout of the cult’s jungle base is redrawn every time you start a game, and the individual tasks you need to complete are also changed, moved, or remixed somehow. You need to find certain people within the map, choosing whether to take a completely silent, deathless approach, or charge about shooting cultists in the face, then hiding until their friends get over it.
With the amnesiac guards, and ability to wantonly murder your way through the camp, the game is less serious than I was expecting. But that doesn’t mean it lacks charm. It feels almost silly to be shot by one of the many armed guards, especially since you get two further chances to carry on after escaping the flimsy cages constructed of sticks.
There’s just so much wrong with The Church in the Darkness, and yet I keep having another go. Which is ridiculous, but I can’t deny it’s happening. It feels simple, but succeeding in my quest to rescue my nephew still eludes me, and I still want to keep playing. Clearly it’s doing something right.
The Church in the Darkness is available on Mac and Windows PC, Switch, Xbox One and PS4 for $15.99.
Gibbous: A Cthulhu Adventure
The call of the sea
There was a time when a fully voiced, meticulously animated point-and-click adventure like this was a big deal. That time was, admittedly, 30 years ago or so. I still can’t help but be thrilled when someone puts in the effort to make one of these well, and that was certainly done in the case of Gibbous.
Yes, I’m as fed up of bloody Lovecraftian games as any other elder god, and good grief, it’s about time everyone tried to have a smidgeon more imagination than regurgitating the ghastly old racist’s three ideas. I mean, how hard is it to come up with a different name for a magic book, and have your monsters have, I dunno, loads of claws instead of tentacles? But I’ve decided to give Gibbous a pass on this one, maybe the final pass, as it is at least broadly knowing in its overuse of these hoary tropes.
The tale of a librarian — Buzz Kerwan — on a mission to rescue a detective who was kidnapped in his library is extremely light-hearted. Very early on, after accidentally discovering the book of the dead, he mistakenly gives his cat the gift of speech. The cat is most displeased by this, and only accompanies you on your adventures to force you to find a cure for her condition.
She becomes a UI option for every item, inviting as many cat jokes as you could possibly imagine. The gags are gentle, fun, and plentiful. I especially loved a throwaway gag near the start where the woefully cliché private eye tosses his vape cigarette over his shoulder like a used butt, and it smashes on the ground.
It certainly relies a little too heavily on the burdensome inclusion of “I’m a game!” lines and adventure gaming history references — Monkey Island was released 29 years ago, by the way. But there are so many jokes, including at least two for every item, plus more with the cat, and multiple characters to play as, which is even more impressive since the game comes a first-time indie team in Transylvania. This was a labor of love, through and through.
So no, it’s no longer the ’90s, and games like this no longer cause much fanfare. But Gibbous is good enough that I think it could have stood its ground in that era, and it’s a pleasure to have it today.
Gibbous: A Cthulhu Adventure is available on Mac, Linux and Windows PC via Steam and GOG for $19.99.
All three of this week’s games were reviewed using final retail downloads, via a Steam press account.