Periodically on this blog I highlight a handful of tabletop and digital games to spread the word about interesting experiences and support other creators. Here's a roundup for this spring!
Platforms: PlayStation4, Windows
Detroit: Become Human is a narrative-driven adventure game set in a world where tensions between humans and androids are on the verge of coming to a head. Players alternate between controlling three key android characters, each with a different personality and role within the story and human society. Gameplay consists mainly of accomplishing tasks, choosing dialogue, and making other decisions that affect the story, as well as a handful of guided action sequences. While Detroit was very enjoyable as a narrative experience, I found myself wishing the creators pushed the envelope further in terms of mechanics, as it seemed like there was a lot of potential to do more. Some quality of life improvements (such as 360 degree camera angle and smoother walking) would have also made for a more pleasant experience. Nevertheless, I did find myself invested in the storylines (although two of the three characters were considerably more interesting to follow than the third) and at times found myself torn when having to make an important choice, which is usually the sign of a good story. Fans of Telltale Games and the Life is Strange series will likely enjoy this.
The Vandermist Dossier by Diorama
After stumbling through the original Dutch version (Het Boekanier Dossier) several years ago, I’ve been waiting for this game to be released in English, and I was not disappointed. The Vandermist Dossier is a standout among narrative tabletop puzzle games, seamlessly blending puzzles and story without any artificial gating. The narrative feels both big and personal all at once—there is international intrigue (which we will undoubtedly uncover more of in the two sequels) as well as the story of a family torn apart, adding a sense of empathy to the excitement that comes with high stakes. The puzzles were generally well-signposted and satisfying to solve—not too easy, but not so challenging that it would be off-putting to beginners (though Diorama also offers an excellent hint system if you do get a little lost.) Last but not least, all the items in the game were beautifully crafted and realistic-looking. This added to the immersion, but there was even more to the objects than what you could see at face value… no spoilers though, just pick up a copy and see for yourself!
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation4, Xbox One, Mac, Windows, Linux
A Short Hike is a sweet little game about a bird trying to get to the peak of a mountain, consisting mainly of exploration and completing some small item quests. This is a lightweight game in a cute low-poly style that you can play in a single sitting, and although you might not know where you are half of the time, you’ll find that it doesn’t matter at all, because you’re really there for the atmosphere. While there wasn’t anything mindblowing in this game, there were certainly a few delightful moments, and it was a pleasant and relaxing way to spend a couple of hours.
Letters to Margaret is a graphic novel with and about crosswords that offers the perspective of two distinct characters on the same events. Although I’m not a huge crossword fan myself, I picked up this book because I was intrigued by the premise of the story, which examines the use and evolution of language in our culture and how that is extended through word puzzles, both from the perspective of the designers as well as the public. The result is an interesting dialogue that is relevant to our time, which will be particularly enjoyable to those interested in language, culture, and the impact editorialship can have on the public consciousness. It is also a worthwhile read if you like wordplay, puns, and of course, crosswords, of which there are several throughout the book.
Time: 2h+ Depends on how much crossword solving you do and your experience level.
Difficulty: Most of the book is reading—so technically 0/5. The crosswords can probably best be described as medium difficulty, but as a crossword novice, I was not close to finishing any of them. That said, it didn’t matter, as it wasn’t essential to the story, but those who do enjoy crosswords will get even more out of this book.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation4, Xbox One, Windows
A Memoir Blue is a narrative-driven game about the relationship of a mother and a daughter. The gameplay consists mainly of small tasks and object manipulations that reveal memories, with interactions alternating between realistic/literal and dreamy/abstract. It was an excellent example of wordless storytelling in the form of “show, don’t tell,” although some small improvements in feedback and user interface would go a long way in smoothing out the overall gameplay experience. Fans of Gone Home and Old Man's Journey may enjoy this one, but note that if you’re normally a console user, I would recommend playing this one on a computer.
Platforms: iOS, PlayStation4, Windows
Erica is an interactive story told through video clips and affected by player choices. It features a dark narrative (more haunting than horror), with nearly seamless transitions between interactions and live action scenes, which is impressive in its own right. Playing this game was akin to experiencing a mystery/suspense film in which you get to actually participate and make some decisions, and by the end, it may leave you questioning what reality is. This was an exciting and enjoyable experience, and my only “complaint” is that I wish there was a Chapter Select option to revisit previous scenes once you complete the game. I realize the lack of this feature is very intentional, but it would still be pretty nice to see other outcomes of the story without replaying through the entire thing. That said, it’s not that long of a game, so it may be worth a replay anyway. Fans of Her Story and Life is Strange will probably enjoy this one, but I recommend playing it on a mobile device.
Time: ~2h for the basic story, more if you replay for different choices
What have you been playing lately?