Little Red Lie

Little Red Lie is a game about lying. Lying to your parents; lying to the world; even lying to yourself. It’s a game about that moment when your entire world has gone to shit and you say to yourself “tomorrow will be better”, but you know it won’t, because you’ve been saying the same thing for years and it never gets any better. Ironically, this make it one of the most honest games I’ve ever played. The game tells a Brutal Truth, one that’s hard to sit through but well worth the effort.

The number of ways the game asks you to lie is pretty impressive

The story centers around two protagonist, Sarah Stone and Arthur Fox, who live in vastly different worlds, but who both soon find themselves struggling with debt and the oncoming of poverty as the game goes on. The circumstance and outcomes of this are as vastly different as the two characters are themselves, and the game paints a bleak picture with the juxtaposition of its two leads.

Little Red Lie isn’t a fun game. Hell, it’s not even a pleasant one. But it is gripping, engaging, and honest.

Sarah is a 30-something woman living with her parents and younger sister. As Sarah struggles to keep hidden the fact that she was recently fired, her family struggles with the mounting medical debts due to both her mother and sister needing expensive medications. She feels like she’s a disappointment to her family and tries to not let the guilt of that overwhelm her. But as things go from bad to worse, you begin to see desperation take hold. There’s so much tension, depression, and anxiety that you end up waiting for her to either explode or simply give into nihilism and just up and outright die emotionally.

There’s a really great scene where one of her parents ends up in the hospital. Sarah exposits that she knows the nurses are overworked and that they can’t care about her and her loved one as people. They’re patients, one of many. But to Sarah, the nurses are still a bunch of cunts for not helping faster, for not putting her needs first. It’s disheartening, but it’s human, it’s honest and it’s understandable. We all have our selfish moments, especially when it comes to our loved ones. On top of that, she’s not just feeling powerless to help those she loves, but you know in the back of her mind that she’s thinking “If I was smarter, if I was a better worker, if I had saved up wiser; they’d be in a better hospital, able to get some real help.”


Arthur Fox, on the other hand, is a wealthy financial guru who writes self-help books he doesn’t read, gives talks to people he doesn’t care about and uses his wealth to do as much blow and hookers as he possibly can. He’s Jordan Belfort by way of Donald Trump. He spends most of the game talking down to people and being the exact kind of rich asshole you’re expecting. The game easily makes you want to see him fall from grace, but when it comes it’s not as cathartic has you might have hoped.

As I said earlier, Little Red Lie’s biggest strength is how honest its story is. Arthur Fox is an ass, and creator Will O’Neill clearly has no love for how unaccountable the wealthy have become. But the character is also a man gripped by addiction, and the game never treats this fact like anything other than what it is. The game doesn’t use this to excuse Arthur’s actions (and he does some truly inexcusable things), nor does the game use the fact that he’s an ass to undermine how painful addiction is. That kind of extreme honesty, mixed with how impeccably well written the game is, made it hard to get through at times.

At around 8 hours long I should have been able to beat this is an afternoon, but it took me the better part of a week to get through it as the experience was so damn emotionally draining.

I can wholeheartedly recommend Little Red Lie based on how strong the writing and narrative is alone, but there are a few things I have an issue with; first, the gameplay. Like with most interactive fiction, you don’t really do much. All interactions are based on a lie of one form or another. You move around an environment, find an object or NPC you can interact with and you lie. You lie about remembering someone, or you lie about wanting something or you lie about the effects of something. But all you, the player, are really doing is finding the objects that will prompt the character to monologue or speak. At times the game offers you a choice of a characters internal thoughts, but this has no real effect on what they say or do afterwords.

To the games credit, it’s not as easy to say here that “this would have been better as a passive medium” as with other games of this type. The ability to know what a character is really thinking and feeling, to parse out the lies by coloring them red gives each line more depth and nuance than could be achieved in other forms of media. In the end though, I still wish more games with something to say found a better way to convey it without limiting interactivity.


If you do decide that limited interaction is the best way to tell your story, at least polish what’s there. This isn’t a very big issue, but for a game with as little to do here, it was far too common for me to get stuck on the set dressing. On top of that, the objects and NPC’s force you to be at a certain angle before you can interact with them. This forced me to spend way too much time going back and forth, trying to get in the right spot in order to get the character’s insight. While this is a relatively minor issue, it really began to get on my nerves over the course of game.

Little Red Lie isn’t a fun game. Hell, it’s not even a pleasant one. But it is gripping, engaging, and honest. Brutally, dreadfully honest. It’s one of those rare games that has something to say, and says it with an elegance often unseen in the medium. The game’s writing is both down to earth and darkly poetic in equal measure. It’s a game that resonates with me in ways I can honestly say I wish it didn’t. I wish I could talk more about how poignant and heartbreaking this game is, but to do so would make it a vastly less interesting experience. Characters ask themselves questions that I’ve asked myself and feel ashamed for, and talk about people the way I feared my friends and family talked about me. Little Red Lie has a laser focus on own my fears and anxieties, and represents them with an accuracy unlike anything else I’ve ever witnessed.

Little Red Lie was developed Will O’Neill

Point of Sale: Steam

$9.99: This game is totally not worth the asking price.

 

William Shelton has awarded Little Red Lie the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval

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Embers of Mirrim

Like its playable character, Embers of Mirrim is a game of two halves. One half is a fun platformer built on a solid and interesting set of mechanics, while the other  is a steaming pile of shit left behind from the dog/bird/thing you play as. (Editor’s Note: And that’s another mark on the swear tally…) This game has some of the worst set pieces I have ever played through. The section leading up to the last boss is one of the most agonizing gaming experiences I’ve ever had. And yet, I still think Embers of Mirrim is well worth your time.

The game starts with two groups of cat/dragons things meeting to find that an asteroid is heading for earth and that the only safe space is one they have to share together. However, the bird brains decide they’d rather die than not be racist, so the two groups leave. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have the happy ending of “all the racists fucks get blown up”, and instead we get the much more videogame-y “one from each group merge into each other”. Now, this may be a stretch, but I think the game is trying to say that mixed race children can end racism.

Like I said, the little ferret/eagle thing you play as is half-white, half-black, with the best qualities of both; and the game ends with the player character bringing both groups together. Then again, the late game set pieces are constantly trying to fuck you too, so maybe what the game is really advocating for bestiality. I say it’s best to not think about it 

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WHAT THE FUCK ARE THESE THINGS?

Snark or social commentary aside (I’m still not sure myself), the Mirrim‘s story isn’t too much to get excited about. The wordless storytelling isn’t bad per-say, and there are a few nice moments, but there isn’t a lot to get invested in either. The big heart wrenching moment is well done, but there’s not a lot leading up to it to give the scene any real weight. Even the Mirrim‘s opening, which easily drew me in, had me wondering why one of the rat/pigeons was able to get both groups together despite their obvious hate for each other, and why it grew magic deer horns that turned on a futuristic hologram system. I’m not joking about that – that actually happens. That’s more or less the game’s story in a nut shell; well constructed moments without anything substantial to invest the player.

Once the two furry snake/parrots merge, the game seems to go out of its way to make full use of its core mechanics. On top of the usual sprint, glide, and ground pound moves, you can also split the squirrel/penguins into balls of light and dark “embers” that you control independently. What’s truly impressive is how much developer Creative Bytes Studios manages to do with those mechanics. Certain objects react differently to each ember, meaning you are constantly splitting and recombining to solve puzzles. Embers of Mirrim is constantly throwing new ideas at the player, so even with it’s short run time it never feels redundant.

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The game has some issues with scale. I can never tell how large these damn things are supposed to be.

That is, until somebody somewhere had to pip in with “You know what this really needs? Boss battles and chase scenes!” It’s here where the game’s indie nature really comes to bite it (and you) in the ass. (Editor’s Note: Find way to convert Will’s swearing into an alternative energy source for eternal life. Also, delete this note.) One boss requires you to attack its front and back as it moves across the screen, but you have no way of knowing which ember will effect either part until it’s on screen. To make matters worse, the boss moves just fast enough to make hitting its front half an utter chore. Still, the worst part is the chase leading up to the final boss.

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The game does a lot with the “embers” mechanic.  If you’ve ever played a game before the screen is always easy to read. This makes the wealth of ideas easy to follow.

For a long stretch of the chase, you’re forced to separate and are kept in confined areas that force you to restart if you try to exit them. Behind you lies a swarm of bugs that force you to restart on contact, demanding you constantly move forward. In front of you, the boss fires projectiles with ridiculously large hit boxes that (you guessed it!) make you restart if they hit you.

Once you’re out of that, you then have to have each ember hit these little nodes that refill your energy. Miss too many, and the embers won’t move any more, forcing you to restart. If that’s not bad enough, these nodes are constantly shifting, which really fucked with my hand-eye coordination. This section throws so much visual information at the player that I often had a hard time following what I was supposed to do. It wasn’t quite as bad as a bullet hell game, but it was too close for my comfort.

But once all of that is done and the game goes back to just being a platformer I really enjoyed it. It might not be a classic, but you could do a whole lot worse. You may want to hold off until it’s on sale, but Embers of Mirrim is well worth burning for a while. (Editor’s Note: I’m gonna need some ice from that pun…)

Oh, and… something something Heavy Metal! here’s a song with Embers in the title.

4Embers of Mirrim was developed by Creative Bytes Studios

Point of Sale: Steam, PS4, Xbox One

the seal

                William Shelton has awarded Embers of Mirrim the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval

$19.99. You may want to wait until those embers burn the price down a little however.

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Viktor a Steampunk Adventure

Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure is a deceptively emotionally complex adventure game. It introduces itself as a story about a boar named Viktor, who after years of service to the Austria-Hungarian Empire, has grown tired of being a poor nobody. Viktor is a nasty little boar of a person who kicks and screams at everyone who makes him unhappy in his life. Viktor is convinced that with his experience as a peasant, he has the know-how to become Emperor, and sets out to take the throne after the game’s short introductory cutscene.

While the art style mimics the look of a cheap children’s cartoon, the subject matter of the game is tricky to label. After all, having your main character introduce the setting of the game as a world where “all stereotypes are true” is an awfully bold claim. (Editor’s Note: Oh, this is gonna end well…) This is a game attempting to balance racist jokes with insight, something we don’t see in most media these days. While playing the game, it often felt like we weren’t seeing the developer mocking minorities, but instead they were poking fun at their and Viktor’s small world views.

As the game progresses, we meet a wonderfully bizarre cast of caricatures based on real world cultures and famous writers of the early 1900s. Each character is voiced in a Banjo-Kazooie style where real voice actors record imitations of noises or accents with no audible words being said. The amount of work Studio Spektar put into the huge list of ridiculous characters is impressive, especially for such a small studio. Just after the tutorial we’re introduced to the following cast of characters:

  • A kilt wearing “Jewish Scotsman” dog who alternates each sentence between using a Hebrew term or Scottish accent
  • A toga wearing, deeply philosophical, alcoholic Greek frog
  • A turban wearing Indian rhino who knows even more about poverty than Viktor
  • A Japanese rabbit girl riding a mech, who adds overly complicated emoticons to every sentence

These are just a few examples of all the characters you encounter in the game. There is a long list of unique people that will abuse or manipulate Viktor through a number of varied locations. I’m sure a lot of people would call this game ignorant or even hateful in its mockery of cultures. Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure is a game that is so thoroughly filled with heart, jokes, and detail that I don’t think it’s fair to make a quick judgement to dismiss it or its creators.

Aside from the details of the writing, Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure is quite a strong adventure game. Puzzle rooms are small and brisk to work through, and with most puzzles offering a good challenge. There is even a hint system, where Viktor calls his buddy Martin – an owl smoking a hookah pipe in the bath who claims to be psychic. Viktor will have the choice to ask about specific obstacles in the game, and Martin will respond with a joke or some advice that the player usually can make sense of to solve the immediate puzzles.

That said, I did run into an issue with one ridiculously complex puzzle that had me stuck for quite a while. I definitely recommend keeping a guide handy, but truthfully, I say that about every adventure game. I definitely recommend fans of the adventure genre to give Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure a playthrough. With its unique art style, wide range of characters, and some damn funny writing, this might be one of my favorite adventure games in a long while.

Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure was developed by Studio Spektar

Point of Sale: Steam

Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure is available for $11.99 on Steam.

A review code was provided by the developer for the purpose of this article

Sam has awarded Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure The Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval. 

Sam Adonis is passionate about a number of things, least of which include indie games, disability advocacy, and his MMO addictions.

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Optika

I’m just going to get to the point straight away – Optika hurt my brain. I get it. Puzzle games are technically supposed to do that; particularly that through difficulty and mind-bending problems. In Optika‘s case? This game basically killed my brain repeatedly,  and not in the way that a puzzle game is supposed to. (Editor’s Note: Need to recharge my Mercy ult for next time…) I’m getting a bit ahead of myself though.

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Optika is a puzzle game that has you bouncing light-particles to hit various goals; the puzzle bit comes from the various different ways to reflect, refract and mess about with the particles in order to get them where you want them. It’s a perfectly normal puzzle mechanic, but issues arise right from the very beginning thanks to the game shoving about twenty different tutorial levels at you, with well over twenty different mechanics all thrown at you one after the other. Different types of mirror, different ways of moving things, different types of beam splitters – it’s just too much to take in all at once.

By the time I had ended the tutorial levels, I felt like I had taken some sort of punishing night school course. Naturally, I managed to forget half of these mechanics as I made my way through the game, and the lack of any easily accessed reference guide in the options menu didn’t help.

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This tutorial mess manages to muck with the rest of the game as the game assumes you remember every little last mechanic, which in turn causes the difficulty to be up and down like a roller-coaster where punishingly difficult puzzles are sandwiched between baby-easy ones. The difficulty also comes in the form of inaccurate, downright bad, controls. Sometimes just dragging basic bits and pieces across the play-field fails completely, with clicks failing to register and hold-clicks stopping seemingly at random. (Editor’s Note: For those of you keeping score – we’ve officially found a game that can’t do clicking and dragging properly. This job never ceases to amaze.)

The biggest control issue though is just how finicky the rotations of some of the mirrors and beam splitters can be. Too many times would I wind up playing through a puzzle, feeling that I had everything in the right order, all failing just because one piece was a pixel or two off-place. This in turn completely negated any feeling of ‘I DID IT’ that a tough puzzle should give me, instead adding further frustration that my hard work was being negated by trial and error.

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And that’s all I really felt – frustration through and through. Sure the graphics are kind of pretty, but I can get the same effect by sticking my head in front of a music visualizer.

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Optika was developed by Vadim Ledyaev

Point of Sale: Steam

$4.99; Your mileage will vary heavily based on your feelings on repetition.

A commercial copy of Optika was purchased by James via an IndieGala games bundle (that has since ended) for this review.

James B has broken the 5k games barrier on steam and is currently looking for the nearest games hoarding recovery group. You know, right after he buys another 3 bundles of games he maybe will play. Someday.

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