God is in the Radio is a short visual novel made in ReníPy, and with its heavy emphasis on the visual side stands out from the crowd. (This is no mean feat given the number of high-quality games in this yearís Ectocomp!) The story focuses on an unnamed cult centered around the Major Arcana of the Tarot, who have just been told by their High Priestess that they can hear a message from God of they complete a ritual involving a radio. The plot is mostly on rails, with the protagonist Death being given a few choices to decide how they feel or react to the whole ritual situation - these wonít change things immediately, but will affect what ending you get.
Despite the relative lack of interactivity, I had no trouble staying engaged with the plot. Part of this is because the story is well-written and well-paced, with tension slowly rising at every step. The other part is due to some kind of writing wizardry, because there are 22(!!!) characters including the protagonist - one for every Major Arcana in the Tarot. They all have unique portraits and uniquely defined characterization, and somehow despite being a short game with this many characters it doesnít feel overstuffed. Mostly I think this is because the full cast only participates in the ritual, with a more limited number being part of the rising tension beforehand. Even with that it would be easy for the ritual portion to outstay its welcome so I am deeply impressed.
My only gripe with this game is how the endings are managed - the three choices are spread out throughout the game, and as far as I can tell different choices wonít change anything until you get a different ending. Because of this I wasnít motivated to play through again in the hope of seeing the other endings (I got ending 2), but I donít think this is necessarily a flaw in the game, per se. Most VNs Iíve played are like this (i.e. with long sections of non-interactive text between choices) but most of them make up for it by allowing you to skip text youíve already seen, effectively fast-forwarding you to important choices and/or new content. God is in the Radio was written in four and a half hours and is a phenomenal game given that restriction, but I think it could be elevated further if the author implemented a similar feature.
This is a quick but surprisingly deep (heh) Twine game about trying to survive a hurricane in your attic. Thereís only one puzzle (concerning what to do when the waters rise too far), but thereís plenty to see. While Iíve luckily never had any similar personal experiences, I didnít mind too much because it makes sense. How many puzzles can you solve trapped in an attic? Instead, most of the game focuses on passing the time while you wait out the storm. Incidentally (and appropriately for Ectocomp) there is a whole lot of supernatural freaky stuff happening, but also a decent amount of regular weird stuff that comes along with your town flooding to the rafters. The regular-weird and supernatural-weird blend together nicely against the surreal natural disaster backdrop, helped out by the protagonistís commentary.
This is an excellent little game full of mood and vibes, and it kept me playing until I ran out of endings. Great job!
I love weird concept games! And this one is pretty darned weird, being inspired by a dream the author had. Props to them for rolling with it, I am so here for Antarctic plant horror. The writing backs it up too, descriptive and suspenseful. Most of the game is spent introducing the player to the central concept (military fungal killing machines that require a human handler to prevent them from eating each other) and then slowly building up to the PC actually meeting one of these monsters in the flesh(?).
The game also features a lot of Bengali phrases as the PC primarily speaks the language, with the option to look at a translation and get a pronunciation guide. I thought this was pretty neat, and I think some of the vocabulary is going to stick with me. (Not much, unfortunately, but thatís a me problem again. I am not good with languages.)
Thereís a lot of potential here, but unfortunately itís not all realized. After the intro, the gameplay consists of a handful of tasks that you can choose to do or not do in order to affect how your meeting with your assigned Hyphaen goes, which then determines which of three endings you get. I got two (including the good end), but thereís quite a lot of text to get through before you get back to any choices so I didnít go in for a third round. Iíd really love to see a more expanded version of this game, since it currently just feels like the introduction to something really cool.
The Haunted Help Desk has the scariest real-world premise yet: dealing with your companyís IT department. (I kid, I kid!) The conceit is that the IT department is haunted, but you really, really, REALLY need to get your tablet to connect to the wifi, so youíre willing to brave the horrible IT maze to find someone who can help you. (Which, minus the haunting, sounds like every IT experience Iíve ever had).
The game squeezes as much out of the concept as inhumanly possible, with the ghoulies and ghosties of the maze all still happy to help you find the one guy who can fix your tablet. Of course, Haunted IT is a lot more dangerous than regular IT, so thereís pitfalls waiting for you at every corner. Luckily, the author has mercifully enabled the back button here, changing your numerous deaths from something frustrating to a comedy punchline.
Overall, this game feels like playing through a Halloween SNL sketch, and I mean that in the best way. Great job!
So, just to establish where I personally am coming from in this review - Iím a gay cis woman. I donít consider myself trans or nonbinary, so by necessity this is going to be an ďoutside looking inĒ type perspective, but Iím also not entirely a stranger to grappling with gender identity/presentation/etc. issues. Some of this is because the idea of gender and sexuality being different things is fairly recent and thereís still a lot of cultural baggage hanging around the concept that any queer person is going to have to deal with, but also because I have a complicated relationship with femininity. I could spend a while talking about it but Iíll leave it as I prefer to present masc of center but still feminine, and have spent a lot of my life figuring out exactly what that means. (I also work in a male-dominated field, which means I have ďhow do I present at workĒ as an additional confusing gender-related issue). So instead of having a fully outside perspective, I guess I have one arm hanging through an open window or something?
Now that Iím done talking about myself and torturing metaphors to death, letís talk about the game. Euphoria Brighter Than a Comet follows Bekcj, an alien attending the uncomfortably-heteronormative St. Andrewís College to get an Earthian college degree. Everyone already treats bem like an outsider because of beir alien experience, and also because as a Plutonian bey donít conceive of gender the same way that we do. The only thing making beir time at St. Andrewís bearable is their best and only friend Aaron. So when bey receive an invite to the biggest, hottest frat Halloween party (as the guest of honor, no less!) beyíre torn between wanting to fit in and navigate Halloween, ďthe most gendered of holidaysĒÖ
This is the first moment I came up short, since this assertion doesnít like up with my experience for two reasons. One is mostly down to my personal experience, since most of the college parties I attended were populated mostly with theater kids. (In addition to being a very queer group of people, even the straightest cis theater kids are pretty comfortable with crossdressing). So Iím willing to chalk that one up to luck that I was able to have a college experience very much the opposite of St. Andrewís, but my second gripe is a little less of a personal opinion. Isnít the most gendered holiday Valentineís Day? I think one certainly could make an argument for Halloween being the more-gendered holiday at least in certain contexts, so I was curious to see how the author would spin it, but the spin never came. Apart from some background comments from the party goers about Beckjís gender presentation (ranging from ignorant to rude to cruel), thereís hardly any exploration of gender and Halloween to be found. Some of the meathead frat bros are described as wearing very masculine costumes, and Aaronís more gender-ambiguous choice of party wear is good foreshadowing for the rest of their character arc, but thatís about it. (Surely thereís something to be said about female Halloween costumes, even? The game only gives us a look at the masculine side, which seems like a missed opportunity for a game about the gender binary). The frat boys also predictably have not invited Beckj to be their guest of honor for wholesome reasons and subject bem to public humiliation because beyíre a ďfreakĒ, but I didnít get the sense that they found Beckj to be freakish because of beir gender or lack thereof, only because of their alien status. I think the author needed the ďalien as metaphor for the nonbinary experienceĒ to be more developed by this stage than it actually was, since this didnít ring thematically sound for me even though I can see what the story is going for.
The rest of the game follows Beckj and Aaron dealing with the aftermath of the awful thing Beckj has just gone through, and opening up more to each other personally in the process. I found this part sweet but also kind of flat. Part of this is I donít think the character writing is quite up to snuff - everyone in this story has a very similar narrative voice (minus the cartoonish frat bros) and Aaronís characterization doesnít stretch much beyond sweet, supportive of Beckj, and (Spoiler - click to show)nonbinary. The other part is that the ensuing gender discussion frankly doesnít go much deeper than it has elsewhere in the story. Beckj does give an interesting account of how gender works on Pluto, which I would have loved to hear more about, but then explains how Plutonian pronouns work in a way that doesnít quite line up. (Spoiler - click to show)(Plutonian gender is constantly reinterpreted throughout their life and depending on context, but Beckj then says the Plutonian pronouns are best translated as versions of English pronouns with the first letter changed to a B - his to bis, hers to bers, theirs to beirs. However, thereís no explanation of how or when a human would know which pronoun to use, which made Aaronís vow to use Beckjís correct pronouns in private seem like a Sisyphean task.) That said, the euphoria of thinking youíre alone in the world and finding out thereís someone else exactly like you is deeply relatable, which for me was the best part of this segment. (Full disclosure, I skipped the sex scene, an option for which I am grateful to have but I think needed a bit of extra writing to do a proper fade to back.)
As an addendum, I also found the white text on a light blue background hard to read, and the background image didnít resize properly to my screen. The author did mention they intend to release a choice-based version of this game later, so Iím putting these out there in the hopes theyíll get tweaked for the next version.
Thereís a lot of good ideas here, and quite a few things that rang authentic to my experience (the number of friends I made while closeted that turned out to also be closeted is way higher than it should be by random chance, so I deeply appreciated Aaron and Beckjís pre-party relationship), but I think it needs stronger thematic cohesion and more attentive character writing to really work for me