Lord Winklebottom Investigates: The Case of the Expired Axolotl
Detective stories are not exactly rare within the adventure genre. Whilst its title suggests this game is another that treads the same well-worn path, even a quick glance confirms that there is a decidedly unusual aspect to Cave Monsters’ The Case of the Expired Axolotl. That’s because the eponymous Lord Winklebottom is a gentleman giraffe. Bedecked in a fine suit, with a monocle and top hat on his head, his outfit is the very epitome of the English gentry. Accompanied by his companion Dr Reginald Frumple (who is a hippo), he must get to the bottom of a dastardly murder. Admiral Gilfrey (the expired axolotl in question) had invited his old friend to his island estate promising exciting news, but met his demise before he could deliver it. Can Lord Winklebottom solve the mystery of his death?
The action takes place in third-person (third-mammal?) view, though you don’t actually move the protagonist around, merely click on items of interest. The demo took place in two rooms of the deceased's manor, the drawing room and conservatory. Despite the relatively small space, these locations were packed with puzzles, including a locked box and an old sea-mate of the Admiral's blocking your way. Control is handled through a verb coin, with items dragged in for use from an on-screen inventory.
Insofar as a gentleman giraffe is realistic, the hand-drawn graphics are done in a realistic, brightly coloured style. The game is fully voiced to a very high standard with distictly British accents, and accompanied by old-style dance music (until you change the record as part of a puzzle solution, that is). The humour has a light touch to it, the action largely played straight against the oddity of the premise.
As every good demo should, this one definitely left me wanting more. The game’s display table was even enhanced by a delightful model of Lord Winklebottom himself, made from an ordinary giraffe toy with hand-crafted accoutrements from indie developer Charlotte Sutherland herself.
A Kickstarter is planned for January/February 2019, with the aim to release the game in late 2019 or early 2020. The Case of the Expired Axolotl will get a PC release at least, but consoles are possible as well. More information can be found on the developer's website.
LUNA: The Shadow Dust
If anything proves what a wonderful event AdventureX is, it is the origin of LUNA: The Shadow Dust. Beidi Guo, the lead developer and sole member of the team attending this year, met two other people at the conference back in 2015, and they talked about making a game. Whilst the individuals involved were scattered across the globe, this chance meeting led to Lantern Studio being formed.
Their first game is heavily inspired by the Studio Ghibli films of Hayao Miyazaki, particularly Howl's Moving Castle. This is most evident in the graphic style, a hand-painted cartoon presentation with the feel of fairy tale illustrations. Beidi also cited an early experience playing The Neverhood as an influence. She especially enjoyed the fact that the game did not make use of dialogue, so LUNA has been made deliberately without any text at all.
Whilst I was able to watch several other people play LUNA, it proved a difficult game to get my own hands on. It is a testament to the pleasure it gave people that many would sit there for a long time rather than quickly moving on. Even as an observer, however, I was able to enjoy the smoothness of the animation and a sample of the puzzles hidden in the gorgeous visuals. Finally getting the chance to play the demo myself post-convention, I can confirm that it has a relaxed atmosphere, with a beautifully simple soundtrack of harps and gentle flutes.
The central premise is that a young boy with a bunny ear hood, controlled in third-person, has to climb a magical tower to fix a great disaster. He is assisted in this by a small creature rescued from some fallen planks of wood early in the game. This companion was originally envisaged as a cat, but whilst retaining a four-legged frame it has become a more mystical creature to suit the setting. Once found, you can switch to controlling this creature to accomplish a collective task or reach places a human cannot. The interface is single-button point-and-click, though the simplicity of the controls does not mean the challenges are equally simple. The puzzles I saw embraced their magical setting, with coloured lights, whose buttons you control, affecting where a doorway leads.
LUNA: The Shadow Dust is to be released on Windows, Mac and Linux, as well as iOS and Android devices. The aim is to complete the game in early summer 2019. More detail, including a link to the same demo I played, can be found on the developer’s website.
Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou and Danny Wadeson
Whilst Polygon Treehouse is based in Cambridge, the studio’s first game is set a long way from those dreaming spires. Röki takes place in a remote area of Sweden, following a family living in a small wooden cabin in a snowy landscape. You take the role of young Tove, protective sister to little Lars. The developers have adopted a fairly minimalist artistic style, fitting with the bleak location and creating the appropriate tone. The game is also nicely animated, and the background sound is a suitably simple ambient tone.
The demo got off to a gentle start, with players needing to escort Tove’s brother to the outdoor loo. As Tove, I had to work out how to clear away the crows that frightened him from going outside. This worked well to introduce the verb-coin based controls and characters.
Once back in our shared upstairs bedroom, the titular monster arrived with an enormous roar. Having seen the creature’s pictures on banners and business cards, I expected it to be the size of a large bear. I was thus somewhat taken aback when a clawed hand the size of a car crashed through the roof. To further demonstrate its power, the whole screen shook and the controller vibrated as it tore into the building. Whilst there didn't seem any way to be killed by the monster, this did nothing to reduce the tension of subsequently trying to evade its grasping limbs. The journey down through the house as it's slowly being torn apart by its enormous attacker proved an exciting one, with some interesting puzzles along the way. The final challenge, to knock down a sled I could not reach myself, was especially satisfying.
The plan is for Röki to be launched in late 2019. The game will definitely be available on PC, but the team hope to release it on consoles as well, though no specific platforms have been confirmed as yet. To learn more, visit the developer's website for additional information.
Perseids or, All This Will Go On Forever
Freya Campbell’s Perseids or, All This Will Go On Forever is a free game made for Trans Gal Jam 2, which took place in June and July 2018. The goal of this jam, obviously, was to encourage development by transgendered women. Making the game about such women was an optional theme, but one that many of the entrants embraced. A total of 23 games were submitted, a significant advance on the 7 entries in the first event. With a focus on inclusion, there was no voting or prizes, simply encouragement for individuals who might otherwise be wary of making a game to do so.
Using a modified version of the Twine text engine, Perseids tells the story of four trans women on a road trip, with the player taking the role of one of the travellers. You can enter a name at the start of the story, which will be used by the other characters later. There are no graphics included, but the text presentation is easy on the eye with a soft pastel background highlighting the text comfortably. There is also musical accompaniment, representing the various radio stations you tune into on your way. These include rock music and gentler guitar riffs.
Player control is somewhat limited, consisting solely of selecting from the occasional list of choices to progress the story. The writing makes up for this restriction, drawing four realistic personalities through relatively simple interactions. As stated in a warning at the start, there are some adult themes, including a sexual scene and some low-level drug use.