Note: The price tags listed are at time of purchase which may have been during a limited sale.
Emma: Lost in Memories
This is the type of game that’s perfect for me and also terrible for me. What begins with a quote from Luis Buñuel, the great surrealist filmmaker, ends with my need to be absolutely perfect and playing a level for what seems like an eternity.
The concept of Emma is simple, but brilliant. It’s a side scrolling game with no scrolling. You are presented with a side view of the stage. When you tap “X”, Emma is off to the races, shooting forward in a full sprint and never looking back or stopping. Why? Because like in a dream, everything she touches disappears behind her, or ahead of her, or above her; every floor, wall, ceiling, all disappearing at different speeds. It’s your job to make her jump, double jump, jump off walls to switch her trajectory, climb, and slide, but if you’re not careful, you may touch something too soon and it will disappear before you need it. Using these few maneuvers, you need to get from point A on the screen to a glowing point B, and if you have what it takes, there are these purple feathers on each level that you can grab.
And just when you start getting used to her powers, they take one away!
This game gives me nightmares of the hours I spent as a youth trying to make the perfect jump in Ninja Gaiden or Mega Man. You get so far, you SWEAR you tapped the button at the right time only to - frozen in perfect jumping position - plummet to your death and have to start over at the beginning. It’s fun… but, oh man, I could sit there all night trying to get things perfect. The moral being that sometimes you need to step away and refresh your brain, then suddenly something that seemed impossible, you skirt through like it was the first level.
There is also something about following a snow owl that feels like something out of a children’s book. It’s nice to have there but doesn’t really motivate you to want to finish the game. The sole motivation for defeating the game comes from wanting to prove that you can trample on the creators’ puzzles. The music is fine, though after a while I was happy that it ended, leaving me in the silence of my misery as I tried to figure out a sequence of disappearing ice walls. The general look and feel of the game are quite lovely. Like a lot of other recent indie games, they create an epic fantastical feel by littering giants in the background, in this case just their heads. There are 50 levels. I’m on level 12.
Final Word: Yeah. It will drive you crazy, but if you like the sense of accomplishment that you feel when you solve something that feels at first insurmountable, it’s worth the $5-7 price tag.
Price Tag at Time of Purchase: $6.79
Developers: SandBloom Studio, JanduSoft S.L
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch, X-Box One
Publishers: SandBloom Studio, EastAsiaSoft
The Inner Friend
This game is terrifying.
I could end my review there. You either like games that spook the hell out of you, or you don’t.
I feel like the Luis Buñuel quote at the beginning of Emma would be more apropos here. The setup is abstract, as you zoom in on what seems to be a man lying in his bed suffering from his nightmares and you disappear into his face, which is a hollow void. You start in a sparsely filled bedroom with what appears to be that of a kid’s. You play the Inner Friend, a husk, a white Paper Mache avatar that literally dives into a dream world wherein you undo traumas on the subconscious level. Each environment represents a different period in the man’s life as a young teenager. As you do face your traumas, the boy’s room fills up with good memories again.
This game is less about the gameplay and more about the experience. There is no tutorial, you just go for it, figuring out that to do certain things you push the one button to do it, and there is only ever one button to push. The game draws you in more because of that. I don’t want to give too much away, but the first level is of an empty, nightmarish high school. What high school experience wasn’t traumatic for everyone, at least on some level? In each memory, there appears to be an item that you can take ownership of again, like turning a bad memory good.
The developers understand that the expectation of something happening is far scarier than something immediately happening. They build dread and fear. The bosses are less something to defeat and more something to avoid as long as you can and then outwit. I’ve never wanted my game avatar to run faster in my entire life than during the third confrontation. I was constantly reminded of the Pale Man from Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth or any nightmarish character from a Clive Barker film.
Final Word: I love things that genuinely frighten me, so a resounding yes. I haven’t been this terrified since Alien: Isolation. The sound effects, the beautiful environmental designs which transport you to different locations and that always feel fresh and alive, the surreal, dreamlike/nightmarish quality of everything. Roger Ebert (whom I dearly love) said video games could never be art… this is a good start for an argument against that.
Price Tag at Time of Purchase: $14.99
Designer: Laszlo Ricciardi
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows