Monday, June 29, 2009

demo monday: blueberry garden

blueberrygardenposter We like the indie games here at Charge Shot!!!. They’re short, they’re often innovative, they often scratch an itch that $60 explosion-and-boob-fests just can’t. Also, most of them can be had for a song, which fits well into my budget (given that I have far more songs than I have dollars).

Erik Svedäng’s Blueberry Garden won the Best Independent Game award at the Independent Games Festival (IGF) this year, and I wanted to see how it stacked up against other 2009 IGF contestants.

For starters, I don’t feel like this is the sort of game that can really have a demo as such. It’s just a sliver of the game world, which I understand to be one continuous map – it’s a decently well-contained slice, but the demo suffers because it can’t offer the full experience.

That being said, you do have a solid idea of what that full experience will be. You play a sort of bird man thing in people clothes and a rakish hat who is tasked with, I assume, climbing to the top of the map to do something about a faucet which has been left on. I say I assume because, like many old school games of yore, it begins with little fanfare, dropping you in the middle of things and asking you to learn about the game world on your own. It’s a good way to start, I think, and you’ll spend your first chunk of time in Garden just figuring out what everything does. Initially you’ll feel a little lost and aimless, but play around enough and you’ll get it.

Allow me to ruin some of that initial mystery for you by talking about it: you’ll discover pretty early on that there are large objects scattered throughout the game world – apples, pieces of cheese, dice and so forth. Find these objects and stand next to them for long enough, and they’ll begin to reappear at your “home” position and stack up. Climbing them allows you to jump and fly further, discovering new objects and stacking them so you can go higher.

Many of these large objects, however, are placed out of reach or behind hazards. You can surmount these obstacles by finding and eating pieces of fruit, each of which has a different effect on your character. I won’t go into more detail on what fruit does what, mostly for your benefit – again, experimenting is the best way to figure out the game world, and is a key part of the game’s design. Suffice it to say that discovering how to use the fruit to get to new places is made very satisfying by the fact that the game doesn’t always show you the path.

As for music and overall presentation, well, with every indie game I look at, I begin to see more and more of a pattern, a sort of checklist that most acclaimed independent games use. Graphics are hardly ever a selling point, but distinctive art direction is a must. Music should be ambient and pleasant, never bombastic or distracting. The game can’t be long, but it has to be satisfying, and if it has a story to tell it should try to do it in a unique way.

Blueberry Garden can safely check all of those requirements, and it passes the Things You Need in Your Indie Game test with flying colors. None of these factors are to the game’s detriment, but it’s interesting to see such formulas developing even in genre-bending indie games – this formula is especially noticeable when a game tries but falls short, as with And Yet It Moves. Hopefully developers keep pushing the envelope, finding ways to keep the form fresh but still fun.

And that’s all I have to say about the Blueberry Garden demo. Starting this week, I’ve decided to stop giving “buy” or “pass” recommendations, partly because I tend to gravitate toward demos I think I’ll like and I just ending up telling you all to buy everything I play. If you want someone to tell you how to spend your money, go to IGN and look at the games rated 8.0 and above. Here, my goal is to expose myself (and you!) to a variety of new experiences on the cheap, and if I inspire you to download them and try them out yourselves, that’s good enough for me.

Erik Svedäng’s Blueberry Garden is currently available via Steam for $4.99. Played demo for about half an hour.