This week's FIGRR is all about games that are old-new (or new-old, if you like) school. Each celebrates a different vital, yet largely taken for granted, aspect of video game history in the decidedly new-school world of indie games. Their titles betray them. Blocks That Matter is all about blocks. Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is all about item shops. Neither are particularly sexy aspects of gaming, but both are ubiquitous elements of great games that can stand on their own.
The debut game by French indie developer Swing Swing Submarine, Blocks That Matter is a love letter to the most taken for granted (but extremely necessary) element of many video games: the block. There would be no Tetris, no Mario, no Minecraft, no thousands of other games without these little item-containing, doorway-access-preventing, or platform-jump-enabling cubes.
Even the plot is a pure expression of block-love: Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov and Minecraft creator Notch (in-game likenesses pictured in thumbnail, from left to right) have been kidnapped by a mysterious foe, and their only hope of escape is remotely guiding their robot pal, Tetrobot to their location.
Blocks That Matter plays like a cross between Minecraft and Tetris, but with good 2D platforming and designed puzzles thrown in. Each level is a puzzle, requiring players controlling Tetrobot to mine, place, and otherwise manipulate different types of blocks in order to create a path to the exit. The ways in which they can do so are straight out of the game's inspiration, and include building tetrominoes out of mined blocks and lining up rows of eight blocks vertically to make them disappear.
There are also bonus blocks to collect in every level that add a historically significant video game block of the past to your collection for later admiration. Reaching the exit is seldom too challenging, but getting all the special blocks and earning a Star on every level for doing it perfectly are mindbendingly difficult tasks. At $5 on Steam or only $3 on XBLA, this game is a must for any puzzle-platformer fan or anyone overburdened by game nostalgia like myself.
Japanese indie developer EasyGameStation have teamed up with US indie localization house and IGI favorite Carpe Fulgar to bring their PC-only JRPG Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale to the West. I've been meaning to review it for some time as it's one of my favorite games from the last year, but other duties and newer releases have pushed it aside until now.
The protagonist is a naive young girl named Recette, whose famous adventurer father has been gone for months. One day a fairy named Tear (thus the title) comes to the family home to inform Recette that her father has disappeared and left a massive debt behind. Thus, Recette is compelled to turn her house into an item shop for adventurers much like the item shops located in almost every town in almost every RPG ever made.
Does running an item store for adventurers sound more fun to you than actually adventuring? Probably not. But EasyGameStation has made it work, largely by conceding that actually going on adventures is fun, too. The objective of the game to make increasingly large weekly payments against your debt by making money selling items at the store. That can be done by buying low from merchants and selling high at your store, and also by hiring heroes to go on dungeon-crawling adventures and net you free items to sell. During these sections, players control the heroes as they fight through dungeons. The Zelda-like combat plays really well, and breaks up the potential monotony of the item shop business nicely.
Overall, the game does a nice job of slowly widening the scope of gameplay as it goes along, never allowing the player to get bored or comfortable in a routine. It feels a bit like the Rune Factory series as far as gameplay goes, but with more charm (the script is hilarious) and much better adventuring sections. It takes what's considered by many the most boring part of any game, the inventory management system, and puts it front and center, executed well enough to make the game utterly remarkable.
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