Game Reviews -- 2021
12/31/21 -- Calico
In Bundle: Palestinian Aid
Calico is a casual life sim. You've moved to a magical island where you've inherited an old cat cafe. Revitalizing it goes alongside befriending your neighbors and the local animal life in a very cute, low-stakes environment.
There's a heavy focus on customization. You can change everything from the gradient of your hair to your run cycle, and tune the placement of patterns on everything. There's a lot of work to make things inclusive, too, so you can customize your shape freely without arbitrary gender designations.
While it's a powerful system, I did have trouble at times working the controls to actually make something look good -- this is definitely a game meant to be played with a controller.
The gameplay is a very low-stress and open-ended. There are no timers, and your only expenses are purchasing new clothes and furniture. Stocking your cafe is as simple as creating a recipe once -- the rest is literally magic. The focus is on decorating, exploring the map, and helping your neighbors out with various quests.
Said map is large and teeming with all kinds of species of animals to befriend, from cats and dogs to birds and capybaras. The NPCs are cute, though I found the quests and progression got pretty repetitive over time.
The low-stress gameplay does have the effect of making the experience rather shallow. Though I'm definitely on the casual side of the gamer spectrum, even I found myself wishing for some lightweight management mechanics to keep things more engaging.
Still, I enjoyed my time with Calico. It's a very fluffy and wholesome experience, and I'd recommend it for casual gamers who might find the time-management and upkeep of games like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley to detract from their fun.
12/21/21 -- Luck Be A Landlord
In Bundle: Palestinian Aid
You've got 1g to your name, a landlord breathing down your neck, and hopefully some luck to make it through. Luck Be A Landlord is at its core a roguelike deckbuilder game with slots themeing: as you play, you assemble new symbols on the wheels, and the interactions between these are the core of whether you earn enough gold to make rent or get thrown out onto the street.
The name of the game is learning the synergies between symbols and managing your wheels. Rounds go by pretty quickly, and in true roguelike fashion, you will probably lose a few times before pulling together a win. Last long enough, though, and you just might be able to turn the tables on your heartless landlord.
The presentation is pretty simple, as you'll mostly be staring at the wheels throughout your play. There's just enough in terms of animation and sound effects to keep the continuous spins from feeling too monotonous. Thankfully, the little characters are pretty charming in and of themselves, from the thief's smug grin to the adorable caricatures of the dev's pet bunnies. And it's always fun to guillotine a billionaire.
I enjoy this game a ton and find its gameplay loop addicting: to illustrate, I fired it up with the intention of just grabbing the above screenshot and ended up playing through several rounds. There's a good bit of replay value too, since you progressively unlock higher difficulties with each win. All in all, I wholeheartedly recommend this game, even if you're someone like me who doesn't normally "click" with roguelikes.
12/15/21 -- plant daddy
Price: Free/Name Your Own
In Bundle: Racial Justice
plant daddy is a chill idle-ish game about raising various kinds of plants. Through caring for them, you earn currency with which you can buy furniture, decorations, and yet more plants.
The simulation aspect is very laid-back: there's no failstate and you can't kill your plants, who will wait patiently for you to water or repot them as long as it takes you to return to the window or browser tab.
The presentation supports the chill atmosphere; you can open your windows to hear the ambient soundscape, see your plants gently sway in the wind, or close them and hear the soft tap of rain on the glass.
There is progression in terms of unlocking new plants, furniture, and even an additional growing room, as well as accomplishing goals on your to-do list. The plants themselves have randomly generated colors and traits, including rare ones. Eventually you gain the ability to see the rng seed of your plants, and even import ones from other players--the itch.io page links to a thread where many people have posted theirs.
For a free game, there's a good amount of content; it took me a couple days to accomplish all the tasks. I would have liked a few more plant types, as it was a bit disappointing to unlock the new room with only a final two new plants to go with it. The later tasks also encourage you to keep a lot of plants, until your apartment resembles a very aesthetic hoarder home.
Overall, I had more fun with this game than I expected. I'd definitely recommend it if you like idle games or want something low-stress to keep on another monitor or tab.