Snap Judgements on the Humble Originals

The Humble Bundle is a pretty fantastic thing. Get yourself a curated selection of games, plenty of which are probably completely new, unfamiliar, and surprising to you, and drop some money towards charity while you’re at it. A while back, they started up their Humble Monthly, a sort of book club for games, wherein you get a bunch of mostly mystery games every month as long as you subscribe.

Humble Monthly did well enough that they were able to bring a bit of funding to bear for the purposes of producing games. Doesn’t seem to be all that much, as all the games produced under that banner seem to be very small projects, but it has brought to life plenty of games that might not have seen the light otherwise. They’re all relatively small games, but they trend towards the experimental, the risky, and the unusual experiences.

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And these Humble Originals, as they’re called, are somewhat exclusive. Only a handful of them have seen release outside of the Humble channels. It used to be they were divvied up, granted one per month through the Humble Monthly releases, but now, they’re part of the collection of games offered for free download for any Humble Monthly subscriber. And this month, and this month only, I’ve got access to them.

And as always, my gain is everyone else’s gain too. Given that these games aren’t available for most of the general audience, I thought I’d do my part to let everyone know what’s going on here. Build up that good old public repository of knowledge. Of video games. Important stuff. I’ve played all of them. Some of them, all the way through, some of them until I got bored, and some, I only got a taste of. Here’s my quick impressions of what the Humble Original catalog has in store.

I can’t wait to get started. Can you imagine? Free of the traditional game funding structures, this is where the true High Art of gaming can flourish! I’m looking forward to a lot of incredibly deep experiences with multifaceted plotlines and intensely crafted atmospheres and…

Cat Girl without Salad

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Yesssssssssssss. High. Art. Achieved.

Cat Girl without Salad originally started life as an April Fool’s joke from Wayforward, developers of the Shantae series and a lot of surprisingly good classic game revivals. Way, way back in the prehistoric days of 2013, they had announced this game as a Fool’s Day gag, promising to build a game that combined elements of pretty much every genre out there. Then April Fool’s was over, everybody forgot about it, the end.

Until years later when those Humble guys started throwing money around, and brought this to life. This silly, ridiculous game idea. And you know what? It’s one of my favorites of this collection.

It still brings elements of all sorts of game genres together. Sort of. It’s primarily a side-scrolling shooter, but all your weapon pick ups are from different industries. I didn’t get to play long, but in the course of my time there, I picked up a sports gun, which used classic golf game mechanics to fire, a puzzle gun, where you matched orbs a la bubble bobble to clear the screen, a rhythm gun, where you had to play DDR to fire your weapon, and more.

You may guess it’s pretty silly. You’d guess write. The dialogue backs this up. It feels like playing a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s creative and funny and manic. So yeah.

The art is pretty neat, if a bit simple. Animation is nonexistent, everything is just a static sprite. Sometimes, they’ll switch to a different pose, but no actual movement. The game’s pretty short too, just three levels as far as I can tell. But I had a great time with it. This is already on my list to play more later.

Disc Room

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It’s a challenge game, akin to Super Meat Boy or 10 Second Run. You’re in a room with a bunch of spinning saw blades. They move around and bounce off the walls. Some have special properties. Your goal is to survive 30 seconds. Which all sounds like a typical Tuesday, really. Do so, and you unlock different challenge rooms with new fun ways to murder you with saws. Yay. Fail, and you’re pretty much right back in the action right away. It’s a really snappy game.

I enjoyed it, but this isn’t a type of game I typically spend a whole lot of time plugging into. I can see myself playing it in short spurts when the mood strikes, but not really giving it a dedicated play session.

Copoka

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If you ever wanted to be a bird in a totalitarian country, (I know I’ve dreamed of that every single day), then Copoka is the game for you.

Yeah. You’re a bird. Just a bird. You fly around. Pick up stuff for your nest. Eavesdrop into the dreary, horrible lives of the general populace. That last bit is where the real meat of this game lies. It’s an environmental narrative or art game or walking simulator of whatever the blazes you want to call it. Not much in the way of actual gameplay unless you really, really like flying aimlessly, but you can follow the breadcrumbs to pick up little glimpses into the lives of the citizenry of the oppressive regime.

I kind of like the way things are told through this game. I think it’s interesting being a completely unconcerned observer just casually picking up a bunch of tidbits of life behind the wall as you’re going along. I just wish it was deeper. The totalitarian government is same typical one you find in storytelling, the wrongs being inflicted on it’s people aren’t anything different from what you’ve seen before, and the game doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to actually say on it’s subject matter. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to walk away with. Look at these sad people and be sad too? Totalitarianism is bad? Not much room for insight in this tale.

Elephant in the Room

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Continuing the animal-themed games, in Elephant in the Room, you are an elephant. In the room. This is about as self-explanatory as games get. Your job is to make it out of the house without being acknowledged. There’s a party going on, and you’ve got to stealth your way through. If you’re spotted, you have to trample whoever sees you before they can tell anyone else you’re there. That is exactly how I make my way through parties, so I can relate to this concept.

I’m not convinced the house actually has any doors to the outside. I haven’t found one yet. Although I haven’t tried very hard. This game just doesn’t feel very good to play. The controls aren’t horrible, but for whatever reason, it just feels wrong, tactilely. It’s missing some kind of mechanical cohesiveness that would bring it all together. It doesn’t help that there’s a fair amount your elephant can do, but all you have as far as a guide goes is a quick controls screen when you first start up that you’ll likely forget half of pretty quickly.

So yeah. Not recommended.

Gunmetal Arcadia Zero

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This is a giant love letter to the NES era. Oddly enough, rather than aping the most well known titles of the generation that everyone remembers, Gunmetal Arcadia Zero feels a lot more like the average game your grandma would have bought you from the random garage sale going on down the street. Rather than aping the classics from Nintendo, Konami, or Capcom, this game feels like it draws more inspiration from the likes of Sunsoft or Data East. I’m not sure where I’m picking up that distinction, but honestly, it feels very nostalgic to me, and it draws me back to my childhood a lot more than the average Castlevania clone would.

Design, sound, most everything presentation-wise feels very much like an old NES game. The only thing that really seems out of place is the text. The phrasing is not nearly as awkward as those old NES games always were, and it’s pretty clear that the developers were not under a memory limitation in how they plotted things out. It’s not a bad thing, having dialogue and a plot that’s actually parsable, though, so I’ll forgive them this one diversion from the old school.

Otherwise, the game is fun. Lots of equipment and upgrade options that actually impact gameplay, the action-platforming is fun and responsive, and the whole experience feels very well designed. I’m not a fan of the lives system, I feel that’s a gameplay feature the industry outgrew for a reason and it doesn’t really jive well with the more limited time I have to play these days, but at least the checkpoints don’t seem horribly far apart.

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Eh, it’s a puzzle-platformer where you’re a 2d character situated on a 3d cube that you can rotate and navigate according to a fixed perspective. It’s got a lot of character. There’s a very solid visual design going throughout. I gave up on it pretty quickly though, as I lost track of where to go next and I found the navigation and the way the game would completely reset your progress every time you fell off the cube to be rather frustrating. It’s one of the things that’s part of the way I play games now vs. the way I played years ago. I hate having to repeat myself. And it may be coming from my lack of grasp of this games level rotation mechanics, but I just lost patience with having to do things over and over again.

Keyboard Sports

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Do you love your keyboard? I love your keyboard. This is a game that’s a big love letter to your keyboard, before the preponderance of gadgets such as phones and tablets make it obsolete. You play it with the entire keyboard. Forget your WASD, you’ve got to use all your QWERTY here.

It’s a very simple concept. Press a key, and your character moves to that relative position on your screen. It’s applied in so many creative ways, though, and that builds quality into it. Keyboard Sports is creative and varied and always fun and way too short. Luckily, the developers seem to be using this as a proof-of-concept for a full game, so we may be seeing more keyboard goodness some day.

Yojimbrawl

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This is a multiplayer-only game and I am too intense to have friends, so I’ll let you guess what my experience with it was.

Kimmy

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Kimmy is a visual novel with a unique art style where you’re babysitting the titular Kimmy and helping the shy, reserved child make friends by teaching all the neighborhood kids how to play classic schoolyard games lack jacks, kick the can, and bloody knuckles, which is appropriate for young children apparently.

I played it for a couple of in-game days, and its story never got to a hook. There’s obviously something going on with Kimmy and her family, how her mom works two jobs while her father’s at home all day and Kimmy doesn’t want to be alone with her dad, but details on any overarcing plot are very sparsely distributed. Most of the game is just explaining the rules of kids games, which yes, I remember, good for me, but it wasn’t compelling.

To be honest, I’m probably not going to be the best at judging a visual novel at the moment. The same issue I’m dealing with that’s changed the way I’m writing posts has also affected my ability to read, so take this impression with a grain of salt.

Oh Deer!

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So Oh Deer calls back to all those great driving games of the 16 bit era, such as… um… I’ve got this, just give me a moment…. errr….

This is… it is certainly a game. You drive. Sometimes there are lines of deer. You can drive right through them. Or not. It really doesn’t matter. At first I thought there were only two levels, because I always ran out of gas in the middle of the second area. Eventually, I learned to powerslide, which is a more fuel efficient way of moving about, and I ran out of gas sometime later in the second area. I don’t know if it’s actually possible to proceed. I don’t know if there’s any real objective here. I don’t know about this game.

Uurnog

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What, you can’t tell exactly what this game is from the name? It seemed obvious to me.

Uurnog is a very visually stylized puzzle-platformer, mechanically similar to Super Mario Bros 2. I didn’t get the chance to play very much of it, but what I did, I enjoyed. You pick up stuff. You put down stuff. All the stuff you pick up has some sort of special function you can use to alter the surrounding area. I saw some weapons to pick up, so I’m guessing there’s combat which… kind of feels like it might be a pain in the ass, but other than that? It’s charming, the earliest puzzles at least were simple without being brainless and I enjoyed my time with it. Another game I’m looking forward to spending more time with later.

Jawns

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A strategy board game. If you’ve ever played stratego, it’s like that, with all the pieces revealed and the board scaled down. Every piece has a number. Pieces beat other pieces of a lower number. It’s kind of like checkers, simple on the surface, but I could see it getting some real strategy to it. Jawns does have a single-player ‘practice’ mode, but the AI is very simple, so you’d have to pull in a friend to get the full experience. I invite you to check out an earlier description for my position with regards to friends.

A2Be

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All these Humble Originals are obviously small experiences. Didn’t have a huge team or a huge budget, and creativity is valued here over spectacle or in-depth mechanics, for the most part. Apparently, it’s valued over playtesting, too. Apparently, after the intro, something went wrong with the game’s code and it placed me in the very last area of the game, rather than the first. So I saw the intro, and I saw the final scene and the ending, and nothing in between. Kind of color’s one’s perspective on the game.

It’s a sci-fi point and click adventure. Seems very dialogue heavy, from the bits that I saw. From the presentation and the ending, I would imagine it has a lot more emphasis on dialogue and storytelling than on traditional gameplay. Full of purple prose, more emphasis on saying something poetically than saying it clearly, but it did explore some interesting, if not exactly novel, ideas in the bits I played.

I did get it working properly, but between the frustration I had with that weird glitch and my current problems in reading such a dialogue heavy game, eh. Not going to give it a recommendation.

Tiny Echo

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A point and click… environmental narrative, I think? I hesitate to call it an adventure. Nothing I’d really consider puzzles, seems most things are on a course. Which, yeah, it’s environmental as all get out. The experience just oozes somber and surreal. You’re in an odd land, delivering mail to the souls of odd beings, all beautifully arted and sounded. It’s an interesting experience. I wouldn’t imagine you’d enjoy this if you’re not into environmental narratives already, but I found it rather fascinating. I’m calling out a few other art games on this list for their lack of substance, but I don’t think this one fits that denigration. It doesn’t give many details, but it does trigger my imagination in a way that others here have failed at.

2000:1: A Space Felony

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Take a look at that name. I’ll give you one guess as to what movie it takes after. I’ll also give you one guess as to what game it takes after. Ok, maybe that second one is a bit harder.

This is 2001: a Space Odyssey meets Phoenix Wright. And as far as the film influence goes, homage is an understatement. The serial numbers aren’t filed off, there’s just a clear piece of packing tape over them. They changed things from the film the minimum amount required to maybe not get sued. I mean, I only saw the film once. And I was drunk then. And the wholesale borrowing was still very blatant to me.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad experience. I actually quite enjoyed it. Basically, you’re a detective, investigating this spacecraft that has been out of contact for a while. The only thing still active on the craft is it’s AI, Mal. You collect evidence, confront Mal with it, and point out holes in his testimony by presenting conflicting evidence. If you find he’s behind any foul play on board, it’s your job to deactivate him.

The writing is sharp and clever. A lot of dry humor that I really resonated with. The mystery isn’t exactly hard to uncover, and the controls can be very persnickety, but I enjoyed it for what it was. Not exactly a lot of replay value here and it’s over really quickly, but it’s a good experience for as long as it lasts.

Quiet City

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I’m at a real risk of spending more time writing about this game than I did playing it, so I’ll have to be brief.

Quiet City is an art game, almost without a subject. You make stuff happen. Then it stops. There is no substance here. Nothing to say or consider or think about. When you’re pushing riskier games, not all of them are going to work out, and for me, this was a massive swing and a miss.

Volantia: Kingdom in the Sky

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I believe this is the most recent Humble Original. And it’s a really solid one. It’s a city management sim, set in a land floating in the sky. You need to pull in other floating islands to grow your kingdom, take advantage of their resources, and eventually connect your landmass with the ziggurats that keep everything from falling apart again.
This game is deeper than any of the others here except for possibly Uurnog and Gunmetal Arcadia Zero. Resource management is the game of the day, and you’ve got a lot of resources to play with there. The game evolves significantly as you play it, as you exhaust the simple resources and have to move down your tech tree to build up more complicated ways of building and maintaining the necessities you need. It seems all your functions are interrelated, and it takes a lot of balancing in order to keep your city stable. You need fruit to keep your workers going but that same fruit is the easiest way to produce your building material once your dust trees run dry, often leading to choices on whether to devote fruit toward more efficient production or to growing your city in other ways. And that runs completely down the line.

The game is beautiful too. Very well developed and charming visuals, it carries a very interesting appeal. I really liked this one. I did reach the point where my city was no longer in danger of collapsing to the earth below after an hour of play, and wasn’t really compelled to play on after that, but if you’re motivated by something different than I am, you may enjoy yourself even longer than that.

And that’s the Humble Originals. When you’re specifically bringing the more experimental and risky games to fruition, you’re going to land a couple of downers, and there are definitely some disappointments here. But there are also a few real gems. And really, they’re all interesting, in their own way. I’m glad Humble Originals is around to bring these to life, even if they’re not all that accessible most of the time.

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5 responses to “Snap Judgements on the Humble Originals

  1. I remember back in the late nineties getting a CD called “Amazing Mazes” that had a bunch of games of varying quality. Actually, in hindsight, it’s probably more accurate to describe it as a shareware compilation, so… yeah, it wasn’t that great.

    I think Copoka is one of those games I would find irritating. I’m more than alright with a game that’s mostly story, but walking simulators tend to lose me because we’re piecing together something that’s already happened to somebody else rather than attempting to overcome a conflict. I don’t think the ability to fly would change my mind.

    The vibe I’m getting from Oh Deer! is that it’s like Carmageddon only lame.

    The vibe I got from a name like Uurnog is that it would be a visually stylized puzzle-platformer, not unlike Super Mario Bros 2, though I think I may have had help from somewhere to formulate that theory. To be honest, it does sound like the name of a puzzle game; it’s that genre that seems to spawn a lot of out-there names. It certainly has a good art style to it.

    Your experience with A2Be reminds me of how during my playthrough of Grim Fandango, I would spawn in a future area if it had trouble loading the appropriate room.

    Quiet City seems to be a case of hiding behind minimalism as an excuse for why the game lacks substance. That’s one of the problems I had with Limbo.

    All in all, I like the experimentation going on here. There are some few duds, but I can appreciate what they try to do even if it doesn’t always work out.

    • I remember the odd download compilation like that, once the internet got a bit more powerful, although if I remember correctly, all the games I actually liked out of those just ended up being demos, so, yeah, not a good way of packaging things.

      I actually think Copoka has a leg up on most of the bad walking simulators in that it actually gives you something to do. You not just trying to wander around and find the event flags, you’re looking for shiny stuff to put in your nest, and that just happens to take you past the story beats. That said, yeah, it’s absolutely about exploring a story that’s already happened rather than being part of the experience. If that’s not a thing for you, there’s absolutely nothing in Copoka that would change your mind.

      I don’t care if you may have come across it before, if you could figure out something about Uurnog from it’s name, you have my respect. I think I would have guessed it as an odd turn-based strategy. I see you point on how the genre does go for the odd names, though. Although come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever actually played a 2D puzzle-platformer I’ve really enjoyed. I’ve had a brief attempt Braid, played Limbo, gone through a few online flash games… Maybe I should be exploring this one a bit more fully, given that I did at least enjoy it’s opening.

      I’m in an odd position in regards to Quiet City. I’d be enraged if it were any longer than it was. There is literally nothing to it. But it’s there, it’s gone, it’s done in like five minutes. I don’t get a pretentious feel from it at all, but it’s just.. nothing. It reminds me more of the ‘games’ I made as projects in my high school programming class than anything else. I kind of feel the designer was more focused on an idea that he wanted to make more than something he thought the audience would like to see, but if that’s the case, why even release it to the public?

      Yeah, that’s a really interesting development sphere I think these games are in. They get a bit of funding, so they can be more than the starving artist experimentations, and they have a guaranteed audience, too. But, at the same time, nobody who gets these through the Humble system is paying money for these games alone, so that releases them from the expectations usually in place and lets them be more experimental. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but I’d rather see them explore ideas and fail then stick to something tried so many times over.

      • From the few puzzle-platformers I’ve played, my guess is that the genre is really hard to pull off successfully because it combines elements from two diametrically opposed genres. Platfomers tend to rely on reflexes and fast thinking while puzzle games require players to contemplate a situation and react accordingly. One is fast-paced while the other usually gives you time to think, and combining them can result in a frustrating experience (i.e. Limbo). To be honest, Braid does come closer to being a quality product in that genre, but it ended up truncating in favor of weaving an incomprehensible narrative. I have been playing one game lately that could be considered a puzzle-platformer that blows both of them out of the water: Wario Land II. Granted, it’s a bit more on the “platformer” side of the equation, but there’s an emphasis on exploration and using enemies to your advantage, and I could tell it and Braid were cut from the same cloth. Where it beats Limbo is that you can’t actually die, so mistakes aren’t punished too severely. Despite this, it’s still somewhat challenging – especially if you’re shooting for 100% completion.

  2. I think I am burnt out on indie games. There are so many of the things these days that they no longer feel unique/creative. At least the Humble Bundles are curated and the money generated goes to a good cause. From this collection Keyboard Sports looks like it could be fun. Kingdom in the Sky is the title I would most like to play from this list.

    • Both of them are pretty solid recommendations. Of course, neither of them are available outside of Humble, and if you’re not interested in indie games the monthly service is probably not worth it to you, so… Fun to think about, I guess? Keyboard Sports is supposed to be the early version of a larger game, so maybe that will get a larger release later on.

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