Lavender & Black Roses

Game Reviews -- 2022

04/29/22 -- ART SQOOL

Price: $6.99

In Bundle: Racial Justice, Palestinian Aid, Ukraine

ART SQOOL is part game, part art program, and part creative prompt generator. You play as a FROSHMIN at the titular sqool, having assignments doled out and graded by your AI professor. Along the way, you can explore the campus to find new color swatches and brushes to create your masterpieces.

The drawing interface is deliberately limited, and in combination with the interesting prompts I found it effective for breaking through art block. I also found myself inspired by the surreal neon-pop aesthetics of the campus itself and the chill soundtrack. However, for a game focused on exploration, the movement controls felt rather unwieldy, and the best method of getting around being "flight" by jumping infinitely rather awkward.

As for the AI, I suspect it to be nonexistent, or at least functionally random, with no correlation between the categories evaluated and my final grade. I wouldn't worry too much about it, as there seemed to be no consequence to the grades themselves.

All in all, there's at least a couple hours or more of gameplay here, depending on how inspired you feel to hunt out brushes and complete the prompts (50 out of a possible 200 according to the store page). I can recommend this game if you're looking for a way to muscle through creative block, and your typical online prompt generator isn't doing it for you.

04/11/22 -- Everyday Enchanter & Enchanted Blend

Price: $2 each

In Bundle: Trans Rights in Texas, Ukraine

Today's review is a double feature, since these are two small "games", or rather journalling/visualization exercises. Everyday Enchanter teaches you to imbue the objects around you with positive magic, making them into tools to help you with your everyday life. I used the method to make a Bracelet of Grounding; the author cites an example of glasses enchanted with Vibrancy to help her wake up in the morning.

Enchanted Blend, meanwhile, is directly inspired by Everday Enchanter and focuses specifically on adding magic to your favorite hot drinks. Both games include random tables, and this one in particular has a bit of visualization to help you get into the appropriate mindset.

As someone who practices atheist witchcraft, I enjoy looking for ways to add ritual to my routine. It can be hard sometimes, though, for me to embrace the mindset and let the magic of positive thinking work for me, so I appreciate the gamified versions found here. Regardless of your beliefs, I think these two games are worth checking out if you're interested in working a bit more positivity into your day.

03/26/22 -- Hypnagogia 無限の夢 Boundless Dreams

Price: $9.99

In Bundle: Ukraine

Hypnagogia 無限の夢 Boundless Dreams is a 3D adventure game. You play a dreamer exploring the various worlds of the dreamscape. But the dream's protector has been kidnapped, and the worlds begin to twist into nightmares...

First and foremost, this is a gorgeous game, with stylistic trappings reminiscent of the PS1/Dreamcast era -- though it looks more beautiful than even my most nostalgia-brushed memories of those games. The strong art direction and sound design do a lot to immerse you into the dream vignettes, and the fun characters help to propel you onward to unravel the game's story.

I'd estimate the runtime at roughly 5-6 hours, depending on how much time you spend running around looking for secrets *cough*. Gameplay is somewhere between a platformer and walking simulator. There's no life count, and generous checkpoints. There are choices in dialogue, but most are inconsequential. It can leave you feeling like more of a passive observer in the worlds than anything-- there were times when I would have liked a bit more interactivity.

The horror elements fade in and out, never overwhelming but enough to lend an eerie feeling to even the game's lighter moments. There is a flashing light warning, and some low-poly gore, just to be aware.

Still, this is definitely a game worth experiencing, and I heartily recommend it, especially if you're a fan of the early 3D aesthetic or you like surreal exploration games like Yume Nikki or LSD Dream Simulator.

03/12/22 -- Global Dragon Egg Conservation

Price: PWYW

In Bundle: Trans Rights in Texas

Unlike my previous reviews, Global Dragon Egg Conservation is a solo-TTRPG, and (at the time of this writing) still available as part of the charity bundle TTRPGs for Trans Rights in Texas.

The player assumes the role as a member of the GDEC, tasked with raising a trio of dragon eggs of randomly-generated species. Play is divided into a series of prompts, separated by "days" -- though the author stresses that you can do the prompts at your own pace. Said prompts may have you drawing cards to decide things like your eggs' preferred habitat, or issues you encounter while raising them.

The presentation is simple yet readable, and each prompt is fairly lightweight. I played over the course of a week, and found that I looked forward to each day's encounter as a light, fluffy bit of creative writing. It also scratched some of the "pet-raising" itch for me, a genre I enjoy -- though in the end, I had to say farewell to my hatchling dragons. I recommend this game if you enjoy a bit of wholesome journalling, and the theming appeals to you.

01/19/22 -- Mendel

Price: $10.00

In Bundle: Racial Justice

Mendel is a sandbox game set on a distant alien planet. The player, piloting a probe, studies and experiments with the flora of this strange place, breeding and mutating flowers in a peaceful, stress-free environment.

True to the store page description, Mendel is a very relaxing game. There are no quests, objectives, or fail states--it's just a sandbox to experiment and see what cool plants you can produce. The only surprises are the mutations and combinations your plant-breeding create, or what new plants sprout up each time you boot up the game and return to your island.

It's a very calm and chill time; the only issue I can think of is that movement feels pretty sluggish (but then, you are remotely piloting a space probe).

The aesthetic is very lo-fi, but it works; I found the vibrant colors helped sell the alien setting, and made breeding cool rainbow plants more fun. The music is as chill as the gameplay.

All in all, there's a few hours of entertainment to be had, and replayability in terms of new plants cropping up from session to session. I recommend it if you're looking for a relaxing garden to putter in, or if you want to support games that promote scientific understanding.

01/10/22 -- Celestial Hacker Girl Jessica

Price: $1.99

In Bundle: Racial Justice

From the store page description:

jessica is a magical girl who is also a marble and she hacks computers and dodges lasers and eats cake and also she's in space!

That about sums it up. Celestial Hacker Girl Jessica is a Marble Blast-esque game that look like a vaporwave album cover populated by a helping of unity store assets.

What's most remarkable is that this bizarre asset-flip aesthetic somehow works, making its thirty-six levels of marble-rolling cake-eating goodness all the more surreal and cool to explore, with enough secrets and strangeness to occupy a good few hours.

I might not be the best judge in terms of difficulty. I'm bad at platforming at the best of times, and I definitely struggled on some levels. Yet it was never so hard that I felt discouraged from continuing, and even I managed to beat the game.

I enjoyed this one a lot. If you're looking for vibes, this game has it in spades. Just keep an eye on those color-noise skeletons.

01/05/22 -- GNOG

Price: $9.99

In Bundle: Racial Justice, Palestinian Aid, Ukraine

GNOG is a series of colorful puzzle boxes inspired by toys, which the player must push, pull, spin, and otherwise fiddle with to solve.

It's a vibrant, beautifully stylized game, and manipulating the boxes feels very tactile even with a mouse and keyboard (though this is clearly a game meant for VR). The excellent sound design adds to the joy of solving the levels, from the music to the feedback of your actions.

The puzzles are for the most part not very difficult, and the entire game will probably take you about an hour or two, which can make it hard to justify spending a full ten bucks on it at full price. If you're on mouse and keyboard, a chunk of that time may be just from fighting with the controls, as the manipulations you need to make are not always intuitive.

GNOG is great, though, and I definitely recommend it as an experience. Just maybe wait for a sale on itch or steam.