Scarlett Shiloh ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
As a college student, on-sale stuff is one of my favorite things. (Right next to another favorite thing of mine, free stuff.) So when my e-mail blew up telling me about all the games on Steam I wanted that were on sale, my first thought was “Oh boy, there goes my Hanukkah money.” There were many great games I had yet to play, and I was hyped to play some of the titles I had wanted to pick up, but didn’t have the money to get.
Today, I’ll be talking about the top three games (no particular order) I binge purchased during the Steam Winter Sale.
- Pony Island
This one’s a doozy. A cult classic, Pony Island came out a year ago now, and I love games that turn out to be the exact opposite of what you were expecting (i.e. Undertale.) I watched a few Let’s Plays of it, so I thought I’d try it out for myself, and boy, am I enjoying it!
Pony Island’s menu screen is of a purple pony jumping happily in the sunset in a valley, but when you press that Start Game button, the world turns into a computer screen, playing a gray and white pixelated game called Pony Island.
You’re unable to start the game like usual, so you have to go into options to fix some stuff up. Then you can play the game. Except, then a force inside the computer starts talking to you. You can play through Pony Island a few times – essentially nothing more than an autoscrolling level where you complete mundane jumping tasks – and then it asks you for your soul. Now, you can’t actually insert your soul into the game, but you can click a red, blue and white glitchy square that takes you to a programming puzzle – these puzzles are unique to Pony Island and are used throughout the rest of the game.
The levels get more and more complex as the game goes by, and you have to use wings to cross rivers and lasers to defeat enemies all while a frustrated demon calls you a cheater and laments why you can’t just play his game normally. You help lost souls, you torment demons and you, at one point, go on an adventure and become a crusader – how could it get better?
Pony Island features the neat mechanic of acting as a computer screen. You can click on files, play mini games, and use messenger to talk to a lonesome soul or to Satan. Not only that, you can hack your way into other users and wreak havoc in their files – all the power a computer programmer could ever want!
The balance between the levels and the puzzles is really nice. There’s never too much of one thing, and both advance the plot nicely. While it isn’t a horror game, there are some horror elements, such as being trapped in a computer, the pony being decapitated or impaled, or the fury of the demon as you continue to defy him. The environment compliments the plot nicely, and I look forward to continue playing the game!
- Fran Bow
When lots of movies and games make villains mentally ill as their motivation and spit on mentally ill people in general, Fran Bow is a refreshing experience.
In Fran Bow, you control a small girl suffering from hallucinations and delusions whose parents were killed and lost her kitty, Mr. Midnight. She is taken to a mental institution where she is forced to take medication and attends weekly therapy where she recalls her parent’s death.
Upon taking new medication, she suffers intense, gory hallucinations and passes out. She envisions Mr. Midnight telling her that the medications will help her escape, so she steals them and uses the hallucination world and the real world to interact with things and people to progress the plot.
(Note: I don’t have schizophrenia or any hallucination-inducing disorders, so I cannot speak for those experiences.)
I was a little nervous when I first decided to pick up Fran Bow, because of the inevitable triggers and because I was nervous it would fetishize or demonize mental illness, as many other horror video games do. While I was right to be wary about the first, Fran Bow does a beautiful job of incorporating mental illness into the gameplay and plot without making mental illness the enemy.
Fran, herself, is really adorable. She’s helpful to her fellow inmates and assists them with their own mental disorders. She has a bit of a rebellious streak, escaping her room multiple times and throwing coffee on a security guard. And she’s sympathetic, too – hearing about what happens to her (saying she’s been chained down for acting out, and starved for “misbehaving”) and getting to experience her cute little lines of dialogue, which are akin to what any eleven-year-old would think if they were in Fran’s shoes, all makes us feel awful for what she has to do on her journey (having to kill things in self defense, for instance).
The one thing I’m not so fond of in Fran Bow are the puzzles. Many of them are too challenging or time consuming – luckily, they let you skip past a maze that took me 15 minutes to make attempts at, but with a certain puzzle where you have to align gears, I still haven’t figured it out, even with watching gameplay videos. If you’re into puzzles, great! I haven’t played many point-and-click games, so maybe this is standard for them and I’m just not used to them. (Hopefully I can figure it out soon so I can continue the game.)
- Aviary Attorney
If you’re looking for Ace Attorney meets Hatoful Boyfriend in nineteenth century France, Aviary Attorney’s got your beak.
Aviary Attorney is a detective visual novel point and click game where you play as two bird lawyers amongst a world of animals in nineteenth century France. In this game, you’re tasked with defending clients and solving mysteries behind murder cases.
Aviary Attorney is like a love letter to the other lawyer simulator (for those who don’t know, I wrote a throwback review on Ace Attorney a while ago, because I was late to the party) – it contains many references to its predecessor, such as ladder vs. stepladder jokes, the investigative evidence gathering segments, and the intense court scenes where the player must find the true culprit.
However, one thing that differentiates Aviary Attorney from Ace Attorney is your use of time. Some areas take an entire day to investigate, moving the story along. This would be generic if it weren’t the case that there are sometimes too many places to visit before the trial, making it so you have to allocate your time effectively. This raises the stakes a fair amount, and makes it more challenging to defend your clients. While I find this a refreshing change from Ace Attorney, where you’re given enough time to collect every single piece of evidence, it makes it difficult to play without a walkthrough – fortunately, the game allows you to go back to any previous day and redo it.
Another thing I like with Aviary Attorney is the dialogue. The writing is filled with wit and good characterization that makes the characters relatable. You often find yourself rooting for the main character – even though you’re playing him! Another thing I found interesting, and a refreshing change, was that not all of your clients are actually innocent. This leads to a moral question where you must decide if you want to defend them properly and let an innocent person sit in jail, doing your job, or follow your moral compass.
If you liked Ace Attorney and Hatoful Boyfriend, you’ll definitely want to pick up Aviary Attorney – both for what’s similar and what’s different.
(In case you’re curious, the other games I got were Saints Row IV, Klocki, Oxenfree, Melody’s Escape, The Swapper, and Rocketsrocketsrockets.)