Welcome to 100+ short reviews of short games #2 – getting longer edition.
Since purchasing the bundle I’ve been steadily paging through it and playing as many short games as I can. I have now surpassed 200 (mostly) short games either substantially/fully completed or, for games without storylines/goals, I spent about a half hour with them. I decided to write a review for each game that I played, so here are the next batch of reviews. The first batch can be found here.
I've sorted them into groups (5/4 stars, 3 stars, 2 stars, 1/0 stars) and then sorted those groups into very broad categories to maybe help you narrow down the kind of thing you're interested in.
Disclaimer: The reviews reflect my own biases and preferences. Feel free to completely disagree with my opinions.
I’m pretty sure I’ve largely exhausted the sub-15-minutes games from the bundle, but there are still plenty more games that look to be on the relatively short (1-2 hour) side. So, as I haven’t gotten tired of playing and reviewing games yet, I’m going to keep at it for now. It'll likely be a longer wait until I'm ready to make the next post, though. No complaints here, but the end of lockdown means going back to work, which means a lot less free time to play games.
My top recommendations: Games I rated 5 or 4 stars (Games I really enjoyed or loved) (no goals) D.M.T.
No objectives walking simulator. Wander through surreal, colorful dreamscapes with an electronic soundtrack that adjusts over time as you pick up ‘sound effect’ blocks. Spend a few minutes just looking for the portals to reach each of the 6 worlds, or spend a few hours admiring the trippy graphics and exploring every nook and cranny the game has to offer. There's nothing to collect or unlock, just walking through weird, hypnotic worlds that can be drenched in neon colors or pulsating patterns as desired using the effects blocks. Recommended for fans of aimless exploration and crazy visuals. Islands: Non-Places
Islands: Non-Places is an interactive art installation about finding the surreal in liminal non-destinations, the spaces that you pass through on your way to somewhere else. A bus station, a fountain in the middle of a square, the hallway vending machine, hotel lobbies. Clicking on the flashing lights will trigger imaginative animations. It takes between a half hour and one hour to complete. There's no real gameplay or story. It's all about the surreal visuals and soundscapes. Some are absurd, some are mildly anxiety-inducing, others are haunting and dreamlike. It's a fascinating world of haze, shadow, and lights where you can never predict exactly what the next click will bring. Recommended for: Anyone interested in games as art. Shutter Stroll
Shutter Stroll is a relaxing exploration game with a photography element. You can visit and explore small islands which are generated based on whatever eight numbers are input for coordinates. This means that anyone who puts in the same coordinates will see the same island. You can also visit the "Island of the Day," which uses the day's date (ex. 27-08-20-20) as the seed for generation. While you explore the island, use the game's camera function to take a picture documenting your visit. The camera function allows for adjusting zoom, depth, and applying some filters. The game has a fun community aspect with the "island of the day" and also promoting the hashtag #ShutterStroll in-game so fans can share and compare their favorite photos. A downside to the game is that it doesn't have a huge amount of variability in features, so if you visit multiple islands in a row you may start to feel some deja vu. (levels/tasks to complete) A Wish Upon a Star
A casual puzzle game about a little girl who wants to be an astronaut. It takes about 1-3 hours to complete depending on whether you get stuck on some of the trickier levels or not. Each level is made up of a series of adjustable columns that need to be raised and lowered to provide a path for the girl from the starting point to the target. New twists to the gameplay are added the further you go, like sliders which move an entire row of columns back and forth, or levels where the goal is hidden beneath the ground and you need to carefully uncover it. No timers, no pressure, just solve at your own pace. Four-Sided Fantasy
A 1-2 hour puzzle game with platforming elements, where gameplay wraps around the edge of the screen. You control/swap two characters and use the screen wrapping mechanic to get them both past obstacles in the environment (e.g. moving character 1 past the left edge of the screen makes character 2 appear on the right side of the screen to avoid a barrier in the middle). As the game continues, the mechanics get changed up a little - swapping gravity orientation as well as character, shifting between foreground and background, or adding splitscreen effect between two separate locations that need to be correctly aligned to progress. The music is calming and the game incorporates relaxing natural sounds like wind, birdsong, rain, and crickets. The art is kept charmingly simple, with more emphasis on the backgrounds than the two little characters. The one thing missing from this game is a story. Even so, I still recommend this game because it's a relaxing and imaginative short puzzle game, the perfect sort of thing to play as a break from whatever else you have going on or to fill an empty hour. GNOG
A VR capable casual puzzle box game which takes about 2 hours to complete. The cheerful, colorful visuals will appeal to both adults and kids. The game is a collection of 9 puzzle boxes which need to be fiddled with to unlock whimsical music and animations. Each box has a different theme and unique puzzles to solve. The game gives no directions, but encourages fiddling with everything to learn how the puzzles operate and intuitively determine how to solve them. I’m a huge fan of the imaginative use of music, growing and changing as you get closer and closer to completing the puzzle, until the box bursts into triumphant song. Recommended for fans of unique, delightful visuals and light puzzles. Hotel Paradise
This quirky "hotel room finding simulator" imagines a bland-looking budget hotel interior where the illogical interconnected layout means you have to hunt around for your assigned room. In every playthrough the layout is different and you are deposited in a different location with only your numbered room key for reference. This means that some playthroughs will take little more than two minutes if you've been lucky enough to be placed near the assigned room, or up to a half hour if you need to cover every inch of the hotel. An eclectic combination of photos and art line the walls for you to admire and the bgm features some cool tunes like 80s-inspired tropical lounge-y jams. When you finally find your room, you are rewarded with your very own vaporwave neon paradise. If you like walking simulators and weird/silly games, this one is a good choice. Luna
A VR capable casual puzzle game that takes about one hour to complete, appropriate for children and adults. It has richly colored and patterned nature settings and beautiful soothing music. The background story to the game is a fable-like tale about a little bird who is convinced to eat a piece of the moon by a mysterious owl. This causes the bird to get blown away from its home and it has to complete a journey back, meeting other animals and restoring pieces of the moon along the way. The gameplay is simple and meditative with some easy puzzles and flowetree planting to restore the lands you visit. One thing that I wasn’t a fan of was the narrated story, which I didn't realize you can turn off until after I already finished the game. The voice over detracts from listening to the beautiful score, and the narration is very hand-holdy about what to do next. Come to find out, when the game was originally released there was no narrated story, it was an entirely visual/music-based experience. I guess a lot of people felt the storyline was too vague so they added a written narrative, complete with voiceover, on re-release? Personally, I think the game is much more magical without words. I wish there was an option on the title screen (like "play original mode / play storybook mode") rather than hiding it in the settings, so I would have experienced it as originally intended the first time around. Magic Trick
A cute game suitable for kids or for just anyone who is looking for some adorable no-pressure skateboarding fun with some collectibles and a couple of very small quests. Using their radical magic skateboarding tricks, Wizkid (you) can explore the small town, make new friends, collect trading cards, and learn how to make some magic graffiti to decorate the blank buildings. It takes place in a soft, cheerful world with rainbow colors and friendly animal characters. There's no pressure or scoring system, just fun skateboarding with sparkly, triumphant animation/audio effects for successfully pulling off or stringing together skateboard combos. Collecting the trading cards is a fun gameplay element that encourages you to figure out how to get to areas that at first appear inaccessible. A controller is recommended, but I didn't have any trouble playing with a keyboard. Old Man’s Journey
This game is about an old man who gets a letter and goes on a journey in response. The main draws are the beautiful artwork and also the evocative soundtrack by scntfc (who is perhaps better known for the music in Oxenfree). The minimal story itself takes a back seat. It features light puzzles that require shaping the landscape, moving the hilly terrain up and down so the old man has a connected path to travel on. It takes about 1.5-2 hours to complete fully and auto-saves after the completion of each cutscene. Recommended for people of all ages who like low-stress puzzles and hand-drawn artwork. Vignettes
Vignettes is a relaxing casual puzzle game that takes about 4 hours to 100% complete. The majority of the puzzles consist of rotating 3D objects until you land on the exact angle that matches/unlocks the silhouette of the next 3D object. You are helped along the way by a diagram giving you clues about how many new objects can be unlocked based on the object you're working with. The "secret" puzzles require a little bit more thought but don't ever rise to a truly difficult level, and reward you with fun animations that are cartoonish and whimsical. Background music changes as you transition to new objects and often echoes the themes of the objects themselves - the jeweled/kaleidoscope objects feature glittering chimes and the witch's house features dry bone-like rattling. This game was clearly designed to be played on a touch screen, but I had no issues using a mouse. Recommended for people of any age who want some casual, imaginative fun without serious challenges. (Short narratives) Karambola
Karambola is a whimsical, surreal little short story about how a village of fruit/vegetable people use music, nature, and love to overcome their insecurities and fears. It takes 10-20 minutes to complete. The art is weird and beautiful; I love the detailed strangeness of the plant-head characters and the little clues in some of the background art about how to solve the puzzles. The music is fitting for each scene, a bit folksy sometimes. The puzzles aren't hard but reward attention to detail. It's a great small game that I recommend for anyone who likes surrealism, beautiful music, and unique illustrations.
Monster Pub (Chapter 1
, Chapter 2
, & Chapter 3
) A cozy friend-making, card-game-playing episodic story. There are three episodes (each downloadable as separate games) and each takes about an hour to play through. In this game, you are the new monster in town and you end up at the monster pub, where you make some new friends. You can increase your relationship levels by chatting with the regulars and also by winning at cards. Raise the level high enough and you'll get a little bit of special dialogue at the end of chapter 3. The game has a cute cartoon pixel art style with fun, unique character designs for each individual monster. The regulars that you get to know all have their own backstories, interests, and personalities. The card game that you play with most of the characters is simple and easy to get the hang of, and actually turns out to be a fun challenge because the winning combos are different for each character. Recommended for people looking for a game that will give you some warm, fuzzy friendship feels or who likes playing card games. (Text-focused games) American Election
A 1-2 hour interactive story about a young woman working on the presidential campaign to elect “Truman Glass,” a very thinly veiled fictionalization of Donald Trump. As the story continues, you get to witness and participate in the slow trainwreck that is her personal and professional life, set against the wider stage of the 2016 election. The story is very well-written, emotionally charged, and really gets you into the headspace of the main character. It’s tense, it’s unfair, it’s hopeless. It’s an excellently structured, evocative piece of fiction that deserves a high rating and that I have no desire to play again. Once was enough. Recommended for: anyone who feels like they’re emotionally up for a gut-puncher of a narrative. Masks
A twine-based interactive short story (around 5 minutes to finish) about protesting against an authoritarian government, not tied to any specific country or political movement but inspired by the Hong Kong student protests. This evocative game makes good use of twine mechanics in a way that I haven't seen done before in the other twine games I've played from the bundle. Things like countdown timers and graphical representations of air quality/noise meters create an increasing sense of tension. The scenery and emotions of the MC are very well conveyed despite the brevity of the work. (Games with horror elements) 1,000 Heads Among the Trees
A walking simulatoexploration game with light atmospheric horror elements, set in the real "witch city" of Cachiche, Peru. It can take anywhere from 1-3 hours to complete depending on whether you want to peer around every single corner or not. You play as a photographer visiting a small town in Peru known for its supernatural activity and supposed descent from witches. Gameplay consists of wandering the town and some nearby areas at night, taking pictures of the things you see, and then showing the pictures to the locals and other tourists you encounter to get their mostly-randomized reactions. The graphics are trippy in a rough, uncanny valley sort of way. The background soundscape features ambient night noises with eerie overtones. This game is absolutely not for everyone. Don't go into it expecting horror scares, an unfolding narrative, or even any explanations. It's a true walking simulator all about atmosphere over story (very minimal), puzzles (none), or goals (your character has a journal in which you write a to-do list as the game progresses, but it doesn't really serve a purpose and there's no reward for completing things). Recommended for walking simulator enthusiasts looking for a mildly creepy experience - Throughout the game you're followed by the sense of being an unwelcome outsider, tolerated only for the tourist dollars you bring with you and only so long as you don't pry too deeply into the town's secrets - and all you're doing right now is prying. Midnight Manor
This game tells the story of a man who takes refuge in a creepy mansion and begins to carry out a series of tasks for the gentleman he meets there. The gameplay involves jumping up and down the various levels of the mansion, stacking boxes to help you reach higher floors and collecting keys to unlock rooms. The game is designed with speedrunning in mind so there are no set paths through the mansion, and there are also some hidden/unmarked shortcuts between floors for you to discover which can help you plan your optimum route. A leisurely first playthrough can take about an hour, but practiced speedrunners can get 100% complete in around five minutes. The pixel art is simple but quality and the music gets steadily creepier as the game progresses. I especially enjoyed the sometimes-distorted track that plays in the basement. The game's page recommends playing with a controller, but I played with keyboard and experienced no difficulties or bugs. Recommended for: Speedrunners, people looking for a short horror story. Sagebrush
An exploration/walking sim game about searching for answers at a desolate cult compound. Learn about the dark secrets of the cult and why the player character was drawn here. It takes about 2 hours to play through. This isn't a true horror game, but there's plenty of horrifying details to uncover about life in the cult. The retro looking lo-fi graphics give an eerie distance to everything as the sun slowly sets during gameplay, backed by an atmospheric desert soundscape. Gameplay is a linear progression looking for keys and unlocking buildings, where you'll find the notes and recordings that reveal the story. Voice acting wasn't the best, it sounded like someone reading lines rather than recounting a lived experience. Even so, the game is great at building an unsettling atmosphere. The story (despite clichés) kept me engaged. I sort of guessed at the ending much earlier in the game, but the way that it actually played out led me to question a lot of what I'd just seen and experienced - how much of what I saw was really still there in the abandoned compound, how much of it was a product of MC's mind? Recommended for anyone who has ever found themselves feeling both horrified and intrigued when hearing about famous cults like Jonestown or the Branch Davidians. (Point and Click) Milkmaid of the Milky Way
A charming, pixel art point and click adventure game about a milkmaid from rural Norway who gets drawn into a sci-fantasy conflict against an extraterrestrial despot. The game takes about 1-2 hours to complete and mostly consists of inventory challenge puzzles. The pixel art with rich backgrounds and the point-and-click style gave me the nostalgic feeling of playing LucasArts adventure games as a kid. The story is engaging and imaginative, with an interesting Indian-influenced culture for the alien visitors. I found almost all the inventory puzzles intuitive rather than illogical. I think I'm in the minority in that I personally wasn't a fan of the rhyming narration, I found it a little distracting, but it didn't interfere with how much I enjoyed the game as a whole and I still recommend it wholeheartedly for fans of fantastical speculative stories. Panmorphia
A point-and-click fantasy with beautiful graphics and lots of puzzles. It that takes between 2-4 hours to complete, depending on your familiarity with the genre and your puzzle-solving skills. In the game, you find yourself on an island and need to solve all the puzzles to unlock the island's magic and return home. While solving puzzles, you will undergo some magic transformations which will give you different views of the island and change what areas are accessible. Positive aspects of the game: A wide variety of point and click puzzles such as sliding blocks, rotating images, and codes to break based on patterns hidden elsewhere in the game. Beautiful graphics. Negative aspects of the game: inventory challenges aren't always logical or prompted, so it suffers a little from "try everything on everything until something works" that you often find in the point-and-click genre. But because every scene is so detailed and there's no visual indication that you're hovering over an interactable item, there's also a fair lot of "click absolutely everything just in case you can pick it up/use an item on it." Despite these drawbacks I still highly recommend this game for people who like point and click style puzzles which encourage attention to detail. Winterlore
This beautifully illustrated and eerie point and click story is based on Romanian folklore. It is "Chapter One" in the story of a young woman whose beloved grandmother has just passed away. It takes about one hour to play through. As directed by her grandmother's last message to her, the young woman completes a series of traditional handicrafts and puts them into the dowry chest by her bed. Throughout this process, interacting with items in the house slowly reveals pieces of a possibly supernatural mystery surrounding her family. The puzzles require some thought and attention but aren't too difficult, which I felt was the perfect level of challenge for a game like this which is more about the atmosphere and piecing together the story than it is about pure puzzle solving. Because this is only Chapter One, the story does not come to a firm conclusion and ends with more questions that it started with. Recommended for: People who like traditional fairy tales and folklore, beautiful artwork, and who don't mind ending on a bit of a cliffhanger. (RPG/Adventure) Ominous!
Although this game primarily uses stock assets, if you like RPG maker games it's definitely worth checking out. Ominous! is a fully voiced fantasy/satire RPG featuring a profoundly stupid MC. Voice acting is mediocre but can be turned off. It takes about one hour for a single playthrough. It packs a surprising amount of replayability into its small size. There's a carnival with mini-games, an optional side quest, and a secret dungeon with a hidden boss that's only unlockable after multiple playthroughs. There are 4 endings and a lot of in-game achievements (called "Doom Tokens"), most of them based on finding all the myriad of ways to get the MC prematurely killed. But don't worry about having to restart, the game is told in flashback and he'll say "nah, that's not actually what happened" and let you pick up where you left off. If you want to 100% the game I can say it takes about 4 hours to get almost all the achievements, but the last two non-death-based Doom Tokens are hidden well enough that I still haven't found them. (Platforming) Celestial Hacker Girl Jessica
In this 3D platformer you are a pink marble named Jessica. Roll and jump around the vaporwave-influenced, assemblage-style settings overcoming obstacles, unlocking areas, avoiding enemy lasers, discovering collectibles, and finding the cake to clear the levels. It will likely take about 2 hours for a first playthrough. Practiced speedrunning will take anywhere from 3 to 20 minutes, depending on if you use the warp zone to skip levels or not. The game is challenging but not punishingly so, leading to an overall fun experience where you can enjoy the feeling of accomplishment on completing a tricky maneuver or finally nabbing a difficult-to-reach collectible. All graphic assets are from Unity store, giving the final product a surreal pasted-together feel. Fitting with the name "Celestial hacker girl," a number of the levels/assets are cyberpunk influenced (like tron-influenced neon grid textures) or they are unabashedly girly, embracing magical girl aesthetics. There are plenty of electronic beats of various styles and even a vocaloid song as background music to add variety as you're rolling around. Besides the cool, weird visuals (what other game has a giant rainbow-static skeleton show up to poof you into non-existence when you fall into the abyss?), there are lots of collectibles - CDs with background music tracks to be played on demand, color reskins for Jessica, soda cans that unlock warp ability to each level - some of which require tricky moves or throwing yourself off the level to obtain. It took me around an extra 2 hours of gameplay to nearly 100% all collectibles (there's one soda can I haven't quite managed to get), but I admit I did use a guide to find a few of them. They're very well hidden! Satan Loves Cake
Satan Loves Cake is a relatively short metroidvania platformer starring an adorable chibi devil lord on a quest to pick up more cakes from the bakery. I really enjoyed how polished this game looks and feels, from the retro limited-color pixel art style and various chiptune bgm tracks to the responsive controls. The game includes the ability to toggle a speedrun timer and to save your game if you don't want to play it all in one sitting. A first playthrough is likely to take 1-2 hours - unless it turns out that you're as inept as I was at performing a "charge jump" (the game's version of double jumping), which added an extra hour to my playtime as I tried and failed to master the technique. The charge jump mechanic is my only issue with the game - the timing can be a bit tricky to get a solid handle on, but there's no location to practice the skill without risking death (leading to the repetitive retries). I still recommend the game for fans of platformers, metroidvanias, and retro style art.
Reviews of games rated 3 stars and below to follow in comments.