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Unique AND Emotional; Game Soup For Your Gamer Soul

February 19, 2023

What do you mean it’s been over a month since last time!! Well anyway. I’ve been able to rack up three games (plus an honorable mention at the end) to talk about this time! They’re all pretty different in style and content, but I really enjoyed all of them, and I especially enjoyed the different ways they did their story-telling, so I'm gonna talk a lot about each of 'em!


First of all. Beacon Pines. Holy cow did I like this game even more than I thought I would. I looove love love the artstyle and loved it from the get-go, but was wondering how much I would actually like the choose-your-own-adventure format. Turns out I loved that too!

I was uncertain about the narration at first, but I soon got comfy and accustomed to it, and I think the genuinely good voice-acting really sells the performance. It also stands out nicely from the noise-speak of the characters (y’know, the Animal Crossing/Banjo Kazooie thing) and the difference in voices is a fun way to separate the layers of meta there. In general I really love the music, sound effects, and overall sound work of the game too. Together with the narration, the sound alone makes this one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever heard. And it’s a whole game on top of that!

It should be noted that while this game’s artstyle can be described as charming and cute, and it has immaculate storybook aesthetics, it isn’t necessarily a game for kids (or trying to disguise itself as such). I know gamers everywhere are already getting nauseous over the mere mention of the “cute thing is actually messed up” genre that’s risen to popularity as of late, but I don't think Beacon Pines sets out to pull that trick at all, and it’s more just an assumption one might make because of the art. Still, I don’t think any kid older than ten will have any issues playing this one, just something I thought was worth mentioning.

I also want to talk a little bit about the game’s central mechanic, which is basically a choose-your-own-adventure type system where you can choose different words (based on various phrases or ideas you pick up on during the course of your playthrough) to use to affect the branching path of the story. I really like how when you have an opportunity to affect the story in this way, the game only shows you the options that will actually do something in the situation you're in, and then lets you choose from that selection. It seems like a no-brainer design choice, but from other games I’ve played I can easily imagine a scenario where instead at these parts they would just make you plug in any and all of your charms at random to see what actually works. Sometimes it's good to figure things out by yourself, but these situations in specific can easily get aggravating and feel like a waste of time. Beacon Pines never once had me frustrated or confused on what to do next. I consider a smooth experience like that a rare and wonderful thing!

Overall, while it threatened to end a liiiittle anticlimactically, in the end I think Beacon Pines delivers on being a fulfilling and well-rounded story. It has plenty of interesting turns and twists while maintaining a thought-out solid plot structure, especially for something that branches off into multiple paths and timelines like it does. At a solid around 6 hours, this game is the perfect length to be finished in one sitting on a free day or a nice long evening. That's what I went with, and still I think it’s the best option, but it can certainly be played in a few short sessions too. The ending had me tearing up. That's a significant recommendation in itself, so go check it out if it sounds up your alley!


Next I played a game that I expected to be relatively simple but actually surprised me: Unpacking. To be fair a lot of this game is exactly what it seems to be; the gameplay is about unpacking a bunch of different boxes and filling a living space with all your various things. The game is gorgeous, just a glorious motherlode of colorful pixel-art, and it is indeed very nice, satisfying and relaxing to put things away in their proper place (until that last minute when you can’t figure out where some odd object goes, but you figure it out. Eventually). That’s really all I expected and all Unpacking really needed to be to be appealing; a cute little relaxing feel-good game is a demographic goldmine, and you don’t need to go beyond that to be successful, so some games just don’t. I was delighted to realize over the course of my playing that I wasn’t unpacking the belongings of random people in random situations, but was actually unpacking each chronological new move in this one character’s life.

I can see getting a little disappointed that there isn’t as much variety as there might be in my first assumed scenario, but I’m really happy they took this approach, because it let me really focus on this one character and how they change over time. It made me introspect on how much of our lives are defined by the stuff we surround ourselves with, the clothes we wear, the cooking utensils we use, and to that extent, how much we can infer about other peoples’ lives just by looking at what they own. It also made me think about what exactly you do to a living space that makes it a home; what exactly makes it our home. (Something I've had multiple film class teachers enthuse about is the importance of a character's house, and more specifically, their bedroom, which is the space most likely to have things they chose and like in it. This game made me think about that tidbit a lot.)

Unpacking also invokes a crazy amount of… what I can only describe as nostalgia and longing, at the same time. It probably helps that the main character grows up in a timeframe that’s not exactly the same as my own but close enough that many of the things they own are familiar to me, and are things that I own/owned myself. The later sections, the ones where they get farther into adulthood than I have, are also similarly evocative, but these obviously invoke more longing and excitement than nostalgia. I try not to spoil too much, since half the joy is slowly uncovering this person’s life as they grow up, but there’s a level where the main character moves in with their assumed romantic partner, and that was something that really scratched a particular itch in my brain. I daydream about these sorts of simple domestic pleasures from time to time, but the idea of putting your shirts and socks next to those of the person you love and sharing a space in this way kind of made my brain explode (in a good way!). On that note, there came a point in the story where I forgot which characters' items were which (specifically clothing items). I worried momentarily about mingling the wrong clothes together, just throwing everyone’s shirts and underwear together. But in a little revelation, I realized that might be the point; the game never tells you it's wrong to put those clothes together, even when you do it intentionally (and believe me, it’s not too shy about telling you where stuff should go). I was struck with the impression of a relationship where it doesn't matter if I mix the shirts and socks together by accident, and they were close enough that things like those could be shared easily. It's enough to SHATTER A MAN!! I really liked it.

…Though, as you move from place to place, from apartment to a big ol’ house, I will admit a small pang of envy sets in near the end. How many of those who play this game and live a similar life, like me, will ever reach such a grandiose stage of housing in the future, and will share it with the people we love in the present? It's a sweet taste of wish fulfillment, but with a little bittersweetness to it. But I earnestly think it’s a wonderful dream to step into, one way or the other. No matter where I end up unpacking my things in the future, it will be home as long as I get to put my socks next to a pair belonging to someone I love, and that’s what I got out of Unpacking (especially the ending). I didn’t expect to feel or think about anything like this from such an unassuming game, but I’m really glad it put in the work to deliver that experience.


Speaking of unassuming, the last game I finished recently was The Eternal Cylinder! Just one glance at this will probably make you think of Spore, and yes, this game is very Spore-like in many ways, particularly in central mechanics and general style. You control a bunch of little aliens called Trebhum, and while you can’t throw them into a character creator and mold their bones like Play-Dough, you can obtain consumables that change their appearances and give them unique abilities. Also notably similar to Spore is the distinctly “alien-looking” world the Trebhum live in, which is strange and colorful and covered in delightfully weird creatures (I think you could also compare its similarity to No Man’s Sky, though admittedly I haven’t played much of that one myself). What’s unique about this game is, well, The Eternal Cylinder, which is the main antagonist of the game, and also is a literal giant metal cylinder that steamrolls the land for miles across as your Trebhum do their best to outrun it whenever it starts rolling again. As silly as this sounds (and to be fair this is all very silly so far and great for its silliness) there is actually a very heartwarming story at the core of it all. The game stresses the importance of family (not necessarily of blood but of friends and allies), and of surviving and keeping yourself and culture alive.

Similar to Beacon Pines, there is a narrator here as well, and similarly I was worried that the voice-over would become annoying after a while. I’m very pleased to say that it, too, only enhanced my playing experience. Beacon Pines leans much more heavily into the storybook theme than The Eternal Cylinder does, but the narration here uses a very nice touch of those cozy dramatics to tie the strange wonders of the game with the more plot driven and touching narrative. I see mainly two common complaints when hearing about the game, and one of them is about the narrator; people tend to argue that the game tells too much when it should be showing, and the Narrator explains too much. While I sort of understand where this is coming from, I never really felt like this was a problem while I was playing? I felt like occasionally the game nudges you a little in the right direction when it could probably be fine leaving you to your own devices, but I actually felt that sometimes the game doesn’t explain enough to you, particularly when it comes to a couple puzzles and boss fights, though honestly I think these were pretty minor cases and I could figure everything out on my own pretty easily. The narrator explains a good bit of “lore” to you, for certain, but I could not fathom how they would communicate this level of knowledge to the player without outright saying it, so I never really felt upset that I did so, especially because it let me understand the circumstances of the story as it unfolded and helped me connect and feel for the characters of the story (including my little Trebhums). The second usual complaint is a little more grounded in my eyes, and that is the sort of janky difficulty that the game struggles with at times. I had my fair few moments of frustration with the game, and most of it came from struggling to deal with the various creatures that hunt you even when you think you can rest safely. I’ve also seen people get frustrated that certain enemies take your consumable abilities away, worrying that it will prevent them from proceeding in the game. While these elements can be, from my own experience, annoying, I found that a lot of this annoyance is very easily circumvented. The truth is that the game has a function to save and load almost wherever and whenever you want (except in certain areas, presumably to prevent softlocking), making it incredibly easy to retry over and over if you found yourself in a situation you don’t want to be in, or if you want a different outcome than what you got. This is both a blessing and a curse, since players tend to reload saves over and over to keep all their Trebhums alive when the game is best experienced by just going with the flow, even if you lose a few friends along the way (which you can actually resurrect at multiple opportunities later in the game anyway). The abilities, while being important to solving puzzles, will always be available when you need them, whether by being unlocked permanently without the need for a consumable item, or just because every time the game needs you to use one of these abilities to solve something, there will always be plenty of the consumable nearby, so you never really have to stress about losing them. I feel like understanding this can help you relax and really enjoy your time with The Eternal Cylinder, instead of stressing too hard about it.

The only few things I really have to note personally on the negative side of things is that the jankiness and repetitiveness the game will display at times, in a sort of way that reminded me of my personal frustrations with trying to make functional 3D games with premade assets in Unity (imagine my surprise when I saw it was made in Unreal Engine 4! I’ve never used it though, it could be an extremely similar engine for all I know). I could tell there’s a bit of bugginess that, while not ruining the experience by any means, you may notice while playing when a Trebhum gets too close to the motionless Cylinder and randomly dies or something. Again, those easy loads and saves are really helpful. The repetitiveness isn't egregious but I did note that general areas and building structures in particular are kind of copy-pasted, and after 20 hours of seeing the same small interior or cave structure it just gets a bit boring. I noticed from the dev logs that they are continuing to update this game over time, mostly with a few new creatures here and there, so I would love it if they increased the variety in upgrade shrines and caves to help keep the game feeling fresh for all of its long runtime. Overall though, The Eternal Cylinder is a delightful and surprisingly sweet tale of perseverance against all odds, and I think it’s definitely worth experiencing. I say at least pop a nice no-commentary playthrough on in the background sometime if you get the chance, it’s worth your while.


And finally, my wrap-up…except surprise!! There's a random extra game I want to talk about, which is MOONPONG: Tales of Epic Lunacy! This one only gets a mini paragraph here because admittedly I haven’t beaten it completely, and I probably won’t be doing so, since while there are more difficulties besides the one I’ve beaten (normal mode) it seems like it’s all the same content but with less HP/more damage taken/etcetera. BUT I want to mention it here anyway because the game just looks and sounds fantastic. The gameplay is fun too, but with only about 7 short levels to beat (though technically 4? Because the first 3 levels are randomly picked before the boss level, which is the same each time) it’s not a lot to dig into personally. I just wanted to throw it out there because for like a week this game’s music was all I could think about before I fell asleep at night. “Ear candy” is one of the weirder turns of phrase out there but if anything deserves it (in a good way) it’s MOONPONG’s soundtrack. While I enjoy MOONPONG for the fun little game that it is, I’m admittedly a little sad the game is fairly short. I would have loved some more of what it had to offer, but from looking at the publisher page it seems like they publish a new game every month, so I guess I can’t be surprised that it’s not as fleshed out and realized as it could have been. Ah well! I only hope that game-devs who set themselves to such fast-paced schedules give themselves time to breathe in the midst of it all. :-]

Spinning arrow pointing down THE GAMES! Spinning arrow pointing down

Promotional image for Beacon Pines

Beacon Pines is available for $19.99 on: Itchio, Steam , Nintendo SwitchNintendo Switch Logo icon, Xbox

Promotional image for Unpacking

Unpacking is available for $19.99 on: Steam, HumbleBundle, GOG (and just about every currently relevant game console under the sun)

Promotional image for The Eternal Cylinder

The Eternal Cylinder is available for $24.99 on: Steam, Epic Games , Playstation 4/5, Xbox

Promotional image for MOONPONG

MOONPONG: Tales of Epic Lunacy is available for $6.00 on: Itchio, Steam