The year may have just a mere 3 weeks left, but there is no let up in the Indie scene. We are still getting games that would have been on many a Game of the Year list if they had come out a little earlier, or delayed into next year. So let’s kick this week off with one such game shall we!
A Highland Song
I know I am meant to write about why you should check a game out. However A Highland Song often left me lost for words, just in how beautiful and delightful it is. Everything from the visuals and the audio, right through to the core mechanics of traversing through the world. It just took my breath away.
Initially it appears A Highland Song was going to be a visual and audio showcase, with some rather straightforward platform puzzling, such as the excellent Planet of Lana, which would have been great still. However, what Inkle manages to do is make the platforming, the light puzzles, the survival, etc all as engaging as everything else. Yes, there is an element of frustration that the main character feels and you feel along with them, but I don’t mean frustration in a negative way, like trying to solve a puzzle that doesn’t have a logical solution, just for the sake of ‘toughness’. But the frustration Moira feels when reaching certain parts that slow the journey.
The fact that the scenery is so beautiful, but you do need to content with some awful weather throughout is something that adds to the rollercoaster of emotion. It can hit you with some almighty downers. Yet it can bring ultimate joy when the weather breaks. It is quite astonishing the peaks and troughs of emotion conveyed here, with such a simple mechanic.
The musical cues help with this and draw you in, much in the same way the best scored movies do. It is quite a remarkable feat. There are rhythm sections but thanks to some well implemented accessibility options, they can be tweaked and even somewhat ignored allowing you to enjoy the experience if you struggle with such things.
This is meant to be a short roundup, but there is so much to A Highland Song that it’ll be discussed at length in a podcast. From the way it encourages exploration, to the survival elements that make sense, to the mapping of the land, right through to the multiple possible options encouraging further plays.
Whilst the game has an overall positive feel, it knows how to balance those with some lows. These are generally placed such that they enhance the positivity in such a wonderful way.
Quite simply this is such a standout title in a year of standout titles. I will never do it justice with my words, so this is one you need to play as soon as possible.
Edit: I say revoke the 2023 Game Awards, because without A Highland Song, they should be null and void!
Trying to keep up with Zen’s offerings for Pinball seems to be getting a bit more confusing with each passing year. With Pinball FX3 and Pinball FX both viable options, plus various other spin-off series, it seems adding another into the mix might be a bit much.
Look honestly, I’d love Zen to release a front-end that just allowed me to pick a table and launch it in whatever system it works FX3, FX, Star Wars, etc. But alas not yet and now with Pinball M, we have another front-end to manage with further tables… 5 of them in fact all with a horror theme.
The initial download is free and with that you do get a single table, Wrath of the Elder Gods: Director’s Cut, which is a pretty decent table to get you going with plenty of scope for high-scoring. Yet I don’t think it is one you’ll spend much time on if you plan on picking up any of the other tables on offer.
For £4.59 per table you can get
Pinball M – Duke Nukem’s Big Shot Pinball
Pinball M – Dead by Daylight™ Pinball
Pinball M – The Thing Pinball
Pinball M – Chucky’s Killer Pinball
All are pretty decent, but for me the standout of the four is Chucky’s Killer Pinball, as it feels the most like an actual table that might have been released alongside one of the movies.
However, it isn’t all good, as the table’s are all pretty difficult to play. Even as someone who plays a lot of pinball (more digital these days, but also used to do a lot of physical tables too), I found myself losing the ball dead centre of the table between flippers amd whilst I know techniques to avoid this, I couldn’t get this to work in a way I’d expect and felt it was much more luck of the draw.
Zen continue to make very interesting ‘fantasy’ tables, but they do highlight just how good the masters at Williams, Stern, etc really were.
Worth picking up if you are a digital pinball completionist, but not essential.
Chess never used to be cool… well that’s what the kids at school would say, but they were wrong! Chess is a fantastic game and the core concept behind it, is also behind many other things in the gaming industry. But we’re actually seeing more and more games lean heavily into the chess system to create new things.
Just look at the likes of Shotgun King, Sokochess, Lazy Chess, etc/ Well Chessarama could become a new addiction. It uses the core ideas of chess, such as how pieces move and creates some very unique puzzles around them. Each with their own specific theme.
From farming to football, there are eight variations to get through, with each needing a different approach, based on the enmd goal and the pieces available. It really makes you think about strategy and thinking ahead, all vital components of a real game of chess.
It is very bright and breezy in presentation, but can get brutally difficult the further you go, but without ever feeling like there is a sudden incling in the learning curve. Which is always great design in puzzle based games.
It even has a traditional chess board and mode included if you wanted to put some of your learned strategies to the test. Which I think is a very welcome addition. My main worry was longevity, but there are daily and weekly challenges, which are great for popping back to.
I fantastic addition to your library, especially on a handheld like the Steam Deck or Switch!
Army of Ruin
Army of Ruin may be an ‘older’ game in some respects, having released in 2022 on some formats, but after rinsing Vampire Survivors and not being able to find another in the genre that reallt grabbed me as much, I thought I was one and done with VS. Too many full clones and not enough differences.
Well Army of Ruin has changed everything. Yes it is generally the same gameplay loop, as it is a VS-like, so you get the auto-combat, weapons to level up during a run, etc, etc. However What I like about Army of Ruin is the structure.
The initial runs are much shorter than other games. I don’t mean you’ll die sooner, if anything it is easy to get that first win and get some rewards and unlocks. Which is something I really appreciate as someone with ADHD, as it allows me to get that dopamine hit and know I ‘can’ get it again pretty quickly. Whereas others seem to want to hold back the rewards behind longer runs.
Now Vampire Survivors is the GOAT, there is no denying that. It has managed to spark to life a genre in the way Castlevania and Metroid managed, or Dark Souls. It’s not an easy thing to achieve. But that doesn’t mean there is no room for other takes. Army of Ruin does this by feeling much more relaxed and less intimidating. Vampire Survivors has so much content now that I find it overwhelming and that puts me off wanting to just pick it up, as I fear I need at least a good solid hour or so each time to get into things properly.
Yet here in Army of Ruin, I find myself happily picking up the Steam Deck (who am I kidding it is already in my hands) before dinner, or going out, going to bed when I have 10-15 minutes and just rattling off a level to farm some coins and unlocks.
Whilst there are technically only a few maps, just like VS, the ‘ruins’ add extra challenge should you want it, with the extra challenge offering more rewards, it is enough of a hook that I don’t think you could get bored of it easily and that adds to the addiction.
It’s so dangerous on the Steam Deck, because it is always there!