I’ve been playing a bunch of point-and-click adventure games lately, in part because I’m working on one myself and enjoy seeking inspiration, but also because it’s nice to kick back and play a game for fun, sometimes. I don’t know if it’s just me, but sometimes, I get so wrapped up in my own stuff that I forget to actually play videogames, and then find myself feeling out of touch with the rest of the videogame blogosphere/twitterati/wherever it is they hang out these days.
Of course, I still feel out of touch, because I continue to not be interested in many big-budget studio releases, at least not enough to update my hardware — there’s only so much my four-year-old Mac can run without complaining. Fortunately for me, that’s not as much of a problem when it comes to indie-er, auteur-driven, story-based stuff, and the fact that the games themselves are usually cheaper (I got two of the games being reviewed here off of a pay-what-you-want bundle) also helps.
So, these aren’t going to really be proper reviews; they’ll probably tell you more about me than they will about the games themselves. But hey, it’s my blog, not a proper review site, yada yada yada. Let’s get on with it, shall we?
Resonance, by Vince Twelve, and published by Wadjet Eye
I’ll start this off with an obligatory disclaimer: I have dialogue-writing credit on this game, though my contributions are constrained to the first act, and even then, a bunch of what I wrote has since been edited. Given that I turned in my work in 2009-2010 or thereabouts, there are a few things I wish I could go back and fix  but overall, I’m happy with it, and particularly proud that they kept the word “pulchritudinous” in there, despite reports that the voice actor had trouble with it.
Aside from dialogue, and access to early versions of the first scenes in the game, I came to the finished version of Resonance relatively fresh. I did know most of the major plot twists going in, but since, as a writer, I care little about spoilers and more about execution, I enjoyed seeing how everything played out, particularly with the addition of puzzles and world exploration. And if you’re a logic puzzle enthusiast like I am, you’re in for quite a treat, since Vince Twelve is, after all, the same guy who wrote the fantastically puzzley What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed. If you’re not, fortunately, a lot of the hardest puzzles in the game are skippable via alternate solutions.
I enjoyed the game very much as a narrative experience as well — it’s got a great “ensemble cast” feel to it, and the main characters are of varied racial and ethnic backgrounds, which I enjoy encouraging more of in games. The cast is a bit male-dominated — Resonance only barely passes the Bechdel test, thanks to a flashback with Anna (the one playable female character) and her mother — but it’s hardly the most egregious offender in this regard. I thought the voice acting was fantastic, and was really impressed by the detail put into the pixel art animations. The developer commentary was interesting to listen to as well, though I might be a bit biased because I had background knowledge about the game and wanted to know why certain decisions were made. 
I should also add a trigger warning to this game, as one character’s backstory deals with the difficult subject of child abuse, so if you’re not in the right head space for that, you may want to give it a pass until you are.
Gemini Rue, by Joshua Nuernberger, also published by Wadjet Eye
This was an excellent dystopian futuristic cyberpunk game, with lots of great atmospheric touches throughout. The story’s really interesting and gripping, with one big plot twist I can’t say particularly surprised me, but since, like I said, the execution is what counts, I wasn’t disappointed, and I thought the twist was pretty well foreshadowed.
I have to say, I’m impressed by how long Joshua Nuernberger worked on this game — about 3-4 years, if I’m not mistaken. Granted, the same applies to Vince with respect to Resonance (and he took more than five years) but in Joshua’s case, it’s the fact that he started working on the game in his senior year of high school that strikes me as interesting. I was making games at that age too, but not with anywhere near that degree of polish; my ideas have a tendency to grow much faster than my development speed, so I’ve wound up mostly doing short form work, and on things that aren’t terribly commercially viable, at that. Taking just one year to finish a game feels like a long time, and I’d rather keep it to less than two if I can help it. Different development styles and priorities, and all that, but still… impressive.
I did find that the story was more “genre fiction”-like (for lack of a better descriptor) than Resonance, in that the latter had enough slice-of-life-ish character interaction to feel like it took place in a world similar enough to ours to feel familiar. Gemini Rue, on the other hand, felt more like a movie, and a bit more abstract than immediate. This isn’t necessarily a bad storytelling approach, but one I’m less interested in as a writer, these days. I also don’t recall a great deal of diversity in the cast to the same extent as Resonance had, which I feel may have contributed to the less realistic feel.
I wasn’t terribly fond of the combat puzzles, but there’s an easy mode, at least, so yay for that.
Also, I’m probably the only person in the universe who prefers the original title of the game, which was Boryokudan Rue, to its current one. And this, folks, is why none of my games have ever been wildly commercially successful.
The Sea Will Claim Everything, by Jonas Kyratzes
Of the games I played, this was the one that felt the most like something I would write. Extremely whimsical and silly on the surface, but with an underlying message relevant to important social issues and current events, and just all around beautiful. The writing is way funnier than anything I’ve ever produced — the game contains a roll of toilet paper based on the works of Slavoj Žižek, for instance — which is a good thing, given there’s a lot of writing to go with all the describable objects in the game.
The gameplay itself feels quite “hidden object”-like, and I was sometimes prone to getting stuck or lost by missing an object I needed to click on or an entrance to a room I didn’t notice. Fortunately, the process of exploration itself was enjoyable for me that I didn’t mind so much, like I might have in a less well-written game.
One thing I found particularly lovely about this game was that at the very end, you have the opportunity to go back and say goodbye to all the cute, mostly animal or alien-like characters you met and helped out throughout the game. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an effective example of dénouement in a videogame before. Really made me go “d’aww”.
There are apparently earlier, freeware games that take place in the same universe, which I haven’t played. As far as I can tell, TSWCE stands well enough on its own that it feels like a complete story, so I have no idea how much having played the earlier games would add to the story experience. I’m vaguely curious, though.