Monday, December 31, 2012

TRAUMA and Tower of Heaven

I'm going to talk about two games I played yesterday. I actually played a lot of games yesterday, but these were the two that stayed with me the most.


I'm going to start with a link to the soundtrack's BandCamp page. Listening to it will give you a good feel for the kind of atmosphere it gives off.

TRAUMA is a point and click adventure game that requires you to explore the environment to acquire photographs. There are 4 stages to explore, and 9 photographs are hidden within each one. Each stage is a dreamscape that the injured--and unnamed--main character explores in her subconscious. The main character is recovering in a hospital from a car accident.

In order to explore the environment, the player learns to paint a number of symbols with light. Interestingly, the light looks a lot like a car's headlights, in reference to the trauma the main character has suffered.

The game's difficulty isn't particularly high, but some of the photographs can be in tricky, out-of-reach places. Each stage has three separate alternate endings, brought on by symbols that are learned in other levels. What this means is that if you learn the symbol to cut something for one stage, it will be integral for the original finale of that stage. You can, however, use it in other stages to produce a different ending. Once you achieve all three alternate endings and the original ending in a stage, you unlock a photo radar that will help you track down any missing photos. This is extremely useful as some of them are hidden very well.

What I find interesting about this game is that it explores some facets of the main character's identity, but it's all very subtle. She doesn't come out and say much, but the player can tell she's disgruntled with her parents for forcing her down a path she didn't want to take, and not supporting her with other desires she had in the past. She was always struggling to meet their expectations, but perhaps they were too high. The "What they expect" stage is very implicit of this. Because the game rarely says anything outright, it makes some narrative decisions that allow the players to draw their own conclusions.

Reading other reviews online, I noticed that the voice actress, Anja Jazeschann, was criticised, in some circles, for not putting enough emotion into the narrative and thereby distancing the player. I would like to take this opportunity to disagree. The character in this game is not just recovering from her trauma, but also stuck in a period of deep unhappiness that, to me, sounds like she's been suffering from for awhile, but hasn't really begun to address it until she is hospitalised. The alternate ending implies that her problems are there to stay, as well. As such, the voice actress' hopeless tone is both accurate and immersive.

This game was somewhat reminiscent of MYST for me. When I was playing MYST, I always found the intense puzzles to be a distraction from what, in my mind, was the true star of the game: the moody and atmospheric environments. This game delivered what I've been wanting for a long time.

Tower of Heaven

This game was simply beautiful, and I mean that in the most literal way possible: the graphics were simple, boasting a palette akin to that of an old school GameBoy (and, in fact, inspiring the palette for this blog), but still managing to achieve stunning visual effects. The music was almost too good to be true. For chiptunes, they achieved a beauty and quality that I didn't expect. If you want to see what I mean, here is the soundtrack, also available for purchase on BandCamp. I love the soundtrack; it's one of the main highlights for me, especially the track Indignant Divinity. Wow.

One of the first things I noticed about this game was how hard it was. The creator even has a disclaimer stating as much. You will probably get frustrated getting to the end, but it will be worth it. You'll feel accomplished, too. You get unlimited lives, which is great, because you'll probably need them.

Imagine if you will: you're on a timer to defeat the already dangerous level, then you're told you can't touch a certain colour of block, the sides of any blocks, nor can you walk left. If you do any of these things, you will die. Also, touching so much as a vine or a blade of grass will kill you in later levels. Oh, and you're timed, too. That is what happens in this game. You receive a tally of deaths at the end. I got 297. Yikes.

You start the game and you're alone on the stairs to a tower where a deity lives. This deity is insulted at your insolence for daring to climb up his tower, and he threatens you with smiting if you don't get to the next level in the right amount of time.

It's a platformer with some puzzle elements. Usually the levels are arranged in such a way that it becomes very difficult for you to complete them without dying at least once. Or at least five times.

I very much enjoyed the game, particularly for the atmospheric quality the soundtrack and graphics give it. Some levels were frustrating because I'm really bad at games but that made it all the more satisfying when I got to the end. What I liked about the difficulty level was that while yes, the game was very hard, it was never hard to a point that I didn't think I could do it. The unlimited lives helped with that, I think.

Here's a clip of a Let's Play of it, as it's a Newgrounds game and it sadly doesn't have a trailer. It's not a very long game, so if you really want to get the full experience I recommend only watching a few minutes.

That's it for those two games! I recommend trying them both. If you have any recommendations for me to play, give me a shout in the comments section.

This is the first actual post here at thisindiegameblog, so I wanted to take this opportunity to say thanks for reading. I'm a big lover of indie games and I feel that the more indie games are talked about, the more they'll be played, and the more they're played, the better the creators will be recognised. Happy New Year! May 2013 be filled with many new wonderful indie games for us all to play!


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