More pointing-and-clicking wanted

When Jonez from NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog nominated Later Levels for a Real Neat Blog Award, he asked bloggers to share which video game series they’d choose to revive. My pick: give the rights to Monkey Island back to Ron Gilbert so it can be restored to its former glory.

There’s always a high risk that a revived franchise will never live up to expectations, but this doesn’t stop me from wanting to see Guybrush Threepwood star in another point-and-click. Sure, it could be terrible and leave players disappointed – or it could be the best instalment in the series yet, and we’ll never know unless it’s made. Giving the intellectual property (IP) back to the original creators would mean that it could be developed by people who adore it as much as the fans do and who know what makes it so special.

Today’s post is a follow-on from that article back in January and is once again dedicated to Jonez as a thank you for another Real Neat Blog Award nomination last month. Let’s forget about Monkey Island for a moment (although that’s pretty difficult for me to do): which other games and series would I like to see brought back to life? I’ve concentrated on the adventure genre below to make answering the question slightly easier, plus there’s a bonus answer from my other-half which might surprise anybody who’s joined us for a Twitch stream.

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller

Cognition, An Erica Reed Thriller, Erica Reed, FBI, face, gunI love Cognition for two main reasons. First, it’s far gritter and has a darker storyline than what you’d usually expect from most point-and-clicks; and second, FBI Agent Erica Reed is one of my favourite female characters. There’s so much potential here for a sequel and it would be great to see where her potent powers take her next. Sadly though, Phoenix Online Studios haven’t released a title since 2014 and seem more interested in the publishing side of the business nowadays. Turning Cognition into a series therefore seems unlikely but a girl can dream.

Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today

Dead Synchronicity, Tomorrow Comes Today, video game, wasteland, man, boys, watch tower, apocalypseI backed Fictiorama Studios’ crowdfunding campaign for Dead Synchronicity in March 2014 and really enjoyed the title when it was released in April the following year. If you enjoy stories about dystopian futures and weird illnesses (ahem) then I’d recommend checking this one out – but prepare yourself for an ending where a sequel is teased but not delivered. Although the next instalment was announced in December 2016, reports of financial problems for publisher Daedalic Entertainment could mean we’ll be waiting a while for a follow-up.

The Gabriel Knight series

Gabriel Knights, Sins of the Fathers, 20th Anniversary Edition, video gamesGabriel Knight is one of the most sardonic, selfish and sexist protagonists within a point-and-click but for all his faults, it’s impossible not to be fond of him – particularly when he’s voiced by Tim Curry. The fact that the character is played by another voice-actor in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition was the main reason I didn’t on with the 2014 remake. Jane Jensen has voiced hopes of reviving the series with her company Pinkerton Road Studio over the years, but the website doesn’t seem to exist any longer and she’s more focused on writing fiction nowadays.

Kathy Rain

Kathy Rain, video game, female, girl, Kathy, cemeteryKathy Rain is a must-play for any adventure fans who enjoy atmospheric detective stories with a Twin Peaks vibe. Prepare yourself for a lot of questions though, because things take a turn for the weird towards the end and the hinted-at follow-up hasn’t arrived yet to give us the answers. Clifftop Games confirmed on Steam in January 2017 that it was likely they’d start working on a sequel following on from Whispers of a Machine (another point-and-click I’d recommend) but things have been quiet since it was released in April last year.

Moebius: Empire Rising

Every now and again, a title comes along that’s so bad you end up quite enjoying it. That’s how I felt about Moebius and I kind of want to see protagonist Malachi Rector return for another instalment just to see how annoying he can get. How many eyebrow-raises and sarcastic comments could we expect from him in a sequel? However, if Jane Jensen and Phoenix Online Studios do decide to get together for another project in the future: bump this guy into second place and concentrate on Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller first please!


Paradigm, video game, caravan, shop, computers for sale, dogReluctant heroes tend to be thoroughly irritating (I’m looking at you, Sadwick) but Paradigm is one character who’s far from that. He has a positive outlook despite his situation and a self-deprecating sense of humour, and I want to see him come back for another game along with Doug the beatboxing eggplant so I can laugh at their antics all over again. Unfortunately developer Jacob Janerka has said it will probably never happen though, although there’s the possibility of an animated series to look forward to. Aww yiss!

The Longest Journey series

Dreamfall, The Longest Journey, April Ryan, face, womanWe all have that one series we love but just can’t finish and for me it’s The Longest Journey by Red Thread Games. I might not have been able to complete Dreamfall Chapters yet because I don’t want the story to end, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing for another title. With the Kickstarter campaign for the game failing to reach a stretch goal and Ragnar Tørnquist saying ‘The Longest Journey Home will probably never happen’, it seems unlikely; but I’d love to find out what happened to April Ryan in the years between the first and second releases.

Pete’s choice: Maize

Maize, video game, bear, Vladdy, robot, animatronicAnyone who’s ever joined us for a stream will know how much my other-half enjoys anything involving plenty of ‘pew-pew’, but he’s hiding a dark secret: he also likes an adventure occasionally (gasp!). Maize was one such release and he chose it when I asked him which title he’d like to see a follow-up to. If you’re in the mood for a bit of silliness – along with a brilliant track about top-secret experiments – I’d highly recommend giving Finish Line Games’ project a go. I’m not sure how a sequel would work based on the ending, but I wouldn’t say no.

Bonus: Beneath a Steel Sky

Always wanted a sequel to Beneath a Steel Sky? Well you won’t have to wait too much longer, because Revolution Games are due to release their new title this year. I had the opportunity to play a demo of Beyond a Steel Sky at EGX in October (back when we could attend expos in person) and it was great. The puzzles were logical yet enjoyable, the environments looked lovely, and the voice-acting and music suited them perfectly. We’ve had to wait a very long time for a follow-up but it seems as though we’re finally going to get a worthy successor.

Thank you once again to Jonez for a very kind Real Neat Blog Award, and for giving me the chance to talk about all the adventures I’d love to see make a comeback. Now over to you: which sequels do you keep hoping for?

Beginner’s guide to indie (2019): part one

Almost three years after starting Later Levels, I’m still a huge fan of indie video games. Independent developers aren’t afraid to take creative risks to bring us something new; and their smaller releases aren’t as daunting as tackling a large, big-budget experience.

Two years ago, Dan from asked for indie game suggestions and this resulted in a short series of ‘beginners guide’ posts. A recent ‘this time in 2017’ tweet then prompted him to ask whether I’d considered doing a follow-up – so I’m back once again thanks to Dan! I tend to favour adventures or titles with strong narratives and this will be obvious from the following list, but hopefully everyone will find something that piqued their interest. Let’s dig into the updated beginner’s guide to indie (part one).

2014: J.U.L.I.A: Among the Stars

Although it has a completely different setting and premise, I kept being reminded of playing Myst for the first time all over again when I began J.U.L.I.A: Among the Stars by CBE Software. It was that sensation of stepping into new worlds, and being confronted with strange contraptions and mysterious structures – albeit in the stars and through AI companions. The developer is currently working on their next title, Someday You’ll Return, and it’s one I’m eagerly awaiting the release of.

2016: Kona

James from Killer Robotics very kindly gave me a key for Kona by Parabole in October last year and, although this chilly walking simulator won’t be to everyone’s taste, I really enjoyed it. One of the reasons for this is the game’s narrator. This nameless voice has a wonderful personality about it and the script was written in such a way that you’re never quite sure whether he’s being solemn or joking in his observations. For a title that’s set in a blizzard with a theme of isolation, it lightens the mood when things start to get serious.

2016: Maize

It’s hard to explain what Maize is about for two reasons. Firstly, it’s difficult to hint at several plot points without spoiling the whole thing; and secondly, this title by Finish Line Games is just so weird. Trying to summarise the story here would make a lot of readers think it was probably best left in a dark corner of my library but I encourage you to give it a go if you’re a fan of the slightly bizarre. A game doesn’t need to be serious or challenging to make it worthwhile, and Maize is proof that sometimes a bit of silliness can hit the spot.

2017: Stories Untold

If you loved text-adventures as a kid, you need to check out Stories Untold by No Code. It was recommended to me by Bradley from Cheap Boss Attack and ended up being my favourite game of 2017. The fear slowly rises as you make your way through four episodes and see connections until the hairs stand up on the back of your neck every time you’re asked to enter a new command. It’s difficult to say more without spoiling the game for future players except that the developer has crafted some very special, atmospheric moments.

2017: Paradigm

One of Paradigm’s highlights is its comedy but this is also the reason why some won’t enjoy it. There are plenty of jokes about drug use, addiction, deformities and other sensitive subjects so if any of those topics are likely to offend, I’d recommend finding another adventure. But if you’re a fan of the absurd and can overlook how close-to-the-bone some of the gags are, there’s plenty of silliness here in Jacob Janerka’s release that will likely appeal to you – and the awesome Ellen from Livid Lightning agrees.

2017: The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker

Full-motion video (FMV) games are like Marmite: you either love them or hate them. I’m in the former camp and have been lapping up the titles published by Wales Interactive over the past year. D’Avekki Studios’ The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker has been my favourite so far because its characters have a way of sucking you in: will you, a psychiatrist, be able to solve your predecessor’s murder and fix the chaos he left behind? Be careful, because the questions you ask your patients will determine their fate and your own.

2017: Finding Paradise

To The Moon was included in my original beginner’s guide and it’s one of my favourite games. I’ve played it multiple times because I love its emotional story; the ending still manages to inspire all the feels because it’s just so bittersweet. When Freebird Games released the follow-up, Finding Paradise, fellow fan Chris from OverThinker Y and I got together to have a long discussion about the series so far. The title contains some hints about what’s going to happen in the third instalment and I can’t wait!

2018: The Red Strings Club

Let’s finish off today’s list with one of my favourite games from 2018: The Red Strings Club. It’s a release that asks the player how far they’re willing to go to suppress the worst aspects of our personalities for the good of the population, and whether it’s worth sacrificing negative emotions such as sadness and anger. Do our feelings make us who we are, are we shaped by our suffering, and is happiness at the cost of free will ultimately worth it? Deconstructeam has given us an experience that questions who the real villain is.

That’s it for today, so hopefully you’ve managed to find something new for your wishlist! For not if you haven’t though: I’ll be back on Wednesday with part two and eight more indie games worth checking out.

The cutest creatures in gaming

Spring is finally here and it’s my favourite time of year. Easter is not far over the horizon too with its promise of family get-togethers and too-much-chocolate, as well as additional time to dedicate to video games over an extended weekend.

These aren’t the only reasons why it’s my favourite season however. There’s another, fluffier element which puts spring on top: all the newborn animals which will soon be hopping about. From downy chicks and paddling ducklings, to bouncing lambs and fluttering butterflies, there’s plenty to get all gooey-eyed over during the next few months. Here’s a round-up of some of the cutest animals in video games in honour this time of year and all things adorable.

The Dog from Fable

I might be a cat person myself but even I can appreciate just how gorgeous the Dog from the Fable series is. After saving him from a bully at the start of the second title, he’ll loyally remain by your side through all sorts of battles and you can show him he’s a ‘good boy’ by petting him. His appearance will change in line with your Hero’s alignment, turning him into happy, friendly companion who looks like a yellow Labrador if you’re very good. Forget a sword – this is one Dog who’s definitely a Hero’s best friend.

Chocobos from Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy X, video game, Chocobo, bird, chickenAs mentioned in a recent post, I’ve played very little of the Final Fantasy series – but even I know what a Chocobo is. My favourite spring animal are fluffy chicks so this is an excellent entry for our list! They’re incredibly cute when young and grow up to be intelligent and friendly, helping characters on their journeys by allowing themselves to be ridden. They also demonstrate an ability to communicate with other sentient creatures and can be ferocious in combat; they’d be the perfect animal to take along on your daily commute to work.

Vladdy from Maize

Maize, video game, bear, Vladdy, robot, animatronicSo Vladdy might not technically be a ‘creature’ seeing as he’s a robot you make partway through Maize, but he’s still awesome because he’s always there to remind you how ridiculous everything is. He bears (pun intended) a striking resemblance to an animatronic toy from our childhoods but he isn’t as sickly-sweet; here’s a character who throws constant insults at you in his Russian accent while stomping around the room, squeaking as he goes. It turns out to be a beautiful love-hate relationship, and his grumpiness just makes him even more endearing.

The Minions from Overlord

Overlord, video game, town, Spree, Minions, goblins, beer, drinkingThis entry on our list is a lovable mix of naughty and nice: the Minions from Overlord get up to all sorts if mischief through the series but they’re weirdly cute while doing so. Sure, they’re a bit scaly with murderous intentions; like guzzling down beer before weeing everywhere; and want to eat the ‘sheepies’ and club the baby deals to death. But their zest for life and questionable fashion-sense make them strangely adorable despite all that, and their funny little sayings are bound to put a smile on anyone’s face.

Slimes from Slime Rancher

Slime Rancher, video game, Pink Slimes, blobs, cute, aliensSlimes are gelatinous bell-shaped aliens that live in the Far, Far Range and their permanently happy expressions and high-pitched voices make them one seriously adorable creature. They’re soft, squishy and very happy to be around people; plus their plorts (diamond-shaped items they produce after being fed) are used to manufacture everything from food products to household cleaners, therefore making them incredibly useful too. Don’t tell me you can look at that image and then not want to give them a cuddle.

Trico from The Last Guardian

The Last Guardian, video game, Trico, animal, beast, phoenix, griffin, boyAt the start of The Last Guardian, Trico can be a little intimidating: he’s absolutely huge, terribly distressed and not entirely pleased about your attention. Over the course of the game however he turns into a loyal companion who doesn’t leave your side. That makes him all the more cute; Trico might be far bigger than a lot of the other creatures on this list and doesn’t always do as he’s told, but it’s hard to resist those gorgeous eyes and playful nature as he plays like a kitten with objects in the environment.

The cat from The Preposterous Awesomeness of Everything

The Preposterous Awesomeness of Everything, TPAoE, cat pops up, cat, kitten, menu screenThe Preposterous Awesomeness of Everything not only has one of the longest names in gaming, it also has one of the quirkiest styles. Its cut-and-paste design and offbeat humour make it a delight to play if you have a few hours to spare. And even if you don’t, it’s still worth installing and loading up because there’s a nice little surprise waiting on the menu screen: click on the ‘cat pops up’ option and that’s exactly what happens. What’s even better is that that fluffy little kitten greets you for no reason other than to make you laugh.

Pretty much any creature from Botanicula

Botanicula, video game, creatures, tadpoles, plantsBotanicula is a funny little adventure game about five friends: tiny creatures who set out on an amazing journey to save the last seed from their home tree from horrible evil parasites. Amanita Design have such a way with characters and almost every single one in this title is has its own style of cuteness. Click on them and they’ll react in a variety of ways, from a humorous animation to a quirky human-made sound; and they manage to tell an entire story without saying a single word. Just go and play it.

Now don’t tell me you didn’t say ‘Aw!’ at least once while reading through that list. If you know of any adorable creatures which should be added, please do let everyone know in the comments below!

Adventures: not even their final form

Adventures: video games with amazing stories, colourful characters and challenging puzzles. The genre may have its flaws but it has also been one of the longest-running, giving birth to classics from Zork to Grim Fandango and attracting a following of fans across the world.

For any regular Later Levels visitors, it’s obvious I’m one of them and love a good point-and-click. They’re the titles I’ve continuously returned to for almost 30 years now, ever since finding The Secret of Monkey Island as a young child and realising that fantastic worlds full of extraordinary tales could be told so well through pixels. Even for all their moon-logic and backtracking, there’s just something special and captivating that lies within the puzzles and at the heart of an adventure.

Not everybody agrees with me on this however. Early last month I came across an article on the NewStatesman website entitled The rise and fall of the point-and-click adventure game, in which author Ed Jefferson gave a brief overview of the genre’s history. He rounded off the post by saying: “It’s hard to argue that the genre has much appeal beyond nostalgia at this point… Thanks for the memories, but it turns out that in 2018, maybe clicking on hats just isn’t enough anymore.”

Has the adventure really had its day? This statement surprised me greatly and it was a situation I’d never considered before. Sure, the genre had had it’s ups-and-downs over the years, going through a decline in the early 2000s when it couldn’t compete with louder releases before picking back up again in popularity thanks to crowdfunding platforms in 2012; but was it truly over? Jefferson’s divisive statement prompted me to ask the question on Twitter and see what others thought.

A few days later, an article was published on Rendermonkee’s Gaming Blog called The Rise, Fall and Rise of the Adventure Game. There was an audible sigh of relief when I read this and saw confirmation that there were others out there who still believed in the genre! As written by Rendermonkee themselves: “The adventure genre has undergone incredible hardship over a 20-year period, but I believe times have changed… The future of the adventure game is in very safe hands. Long live the adventure game.”

In a brief conversation with this blogger on Twitter last month, they said something which stuck with me: that the point-and-click isn’t dead. It has simply evolved into new forms, incorporating elements from other genres and changing its appearance depending on the angle of the light. In the same way those louder releases mentioned above have taken narrative design tips from adventures and improved their storytelling, my beloved genre has done the same in reverse and undergone a transformation.

The Red Strings Club, video game, bar, woman, Larissa, bartender, Donovan, android, Akara

There are so many new titles which have kept the heart of the adventure game while adding something new to it. Last year’s Unavowed retained everything we’d come to expect from a Wadjet Eye Games’ release but threw in some ingenious party mechanics. 2017’s Stories Untold recalled the feeling of playing an old-school text-adventure but gave it a twist to create a very unique experience. And The Red Strings Club – possibly my favourite release of 2018 – focused on moral questions asked through conversation and answered through mixing drinks.

There are some who will say that these aren’t strictly point-and-clicks – but wait, there are more examples. Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller from 2012 stays true to its genre’s roots but tells a gritty story which isn’t for children. 2016’s Kathy Rain is great for anyone who loves a Twin-Peaks-vibe and pixel artwork. If you’re looking for something lighter with more comedy, try Maize from the same year. And more recently, the upcoming Guard Duty pays tribute to the classics but gives us an adventure suitable for the modern day.

2019 is looking bright for the genre, and Rendermonkee’s post mentions several future titles which are now on my wishlist. Afterparty by Night School Studio, the developer of Oxenfree, is one of their four picks for the year; and Röki from Polygon Treehouse is showing plenty of promise for a debut title. Then there are the projects that made appearances at recent expos: 3 Minutes to Midnight by Scarecrow Studio and The Occupation by White Paper Games. How can you not get excited by all that adventure goodness?

It may be worth Jefferson playing these titles and finding out for himself what the genre has become. You see, pointing-and-clicking can be enough; but adventure games can also be so much more than that and haven’t yet reached their final form. To quote Rendermonkee once more: long live the adventure game.

On the ninth day of Blogmas

Our choir of gaming Christmas carollers is back again for the second day of Blogmas, where creative conductor Athena from AmbiGaming is leading us in a rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas – but with a video game twist. Check out her blog to see what she’s written for her ninth answer, and keep your eyes peeled for all of the other bloggers out there taking part.

Yesterday we looked at five games we’ve played more than once (and are likely to do so again). With the choir clearing their throats and warming up in the background, let’s see what the subject of today’s verse is:

On the ninth day of Blogmas, the gamers said to me:
What are your 12 favourite gaming memories?
Tell us 11 games you love!
What are ten reasons you’d play a game?
Give us nine games on your to-play list!
Who are eight characters you love?
Share seven of your favorite posts!
What are your six gaming or blogging resolutions?
What are five games you’ve played more than once?
Share four dramatic or memorable game moments!

The following post contains spoilers for Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, To The Moon, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and Maize. If you haven’t played these games yet, I’d highly recommend doing so before reading on.

1991: LeChuck reveals himself to be Guybrush’s brother

In the tunnel system underneath Dinky Island during the final scenes of Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck’s Revenge, an incapacitated LeChuck tells Guybrush to take off his mask to reveal the ‘true face’ of his nemesis. He’s then revealed to be none other than… wait for it… his long-lost brother Chuckie. As the game ends however, Chuckie looks at the camera with glowing red eyes dancing with evil magic; and the player is left wondering whether not everything is as it seems.

I remember being totally blown away by this moment when I first played the title as a kid – and then being left completely confused. Are Guybrush and LeChuck brothers though or is this all an elaborate spell? It’s never officially explained and it’s not even made clear in the rest of the Monkey Island series, but in a chat interview published on 21 July 2003, Ron Gilbert said: “In one sense, yes they are brothers, in another way, they are not. If you get what I mean.” No, unfortunately I don’t.

2011: Johnny finally realises his dream of going to the moon

To The Moon’s story starts when doctors Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts are tasked with fulfilling the dream of dying patient Johnny Wyles: he wants to go to the moon but can’t remember why. They insert themselves into an interactive compilation of his memories and traverse backwards through his life to uncover the source of this wish, so they can implant a desire for space-travel in order to make him think it came true before he passes away. (It’s a little more complicated than this but you get the gist.)

It’s later revealed that Johnny wants to visit the moon because of a promise he made to his now-deceased wife, River, when they were children. After meeting at a carnival they agreed it’s where they would meet again if they were ever separated. Sadly Johnny didn’t remember this promise due to a sad event in his history, but he felt enough for River to know that it was where he needed to get to. And damn if that isn’t one of the most heart-wrenching stories ever.

2013: Naiee faces his inability to swim

In Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, the siblings must embark on an arduous journey to reach the Tree of Life in order to save their ill father. Each brother is controlled by one of the joysticks on a controller and the player must use both in tandem to progress through the game. Naia is the stronger of the two and can pull levers by himself while younger Naiee is smaller and can fit into tighter spaces; and when it comes to swimming, Naiee’s fear of water sees him climb onto his sibling’s back.

Towards the end of the title however, the younger brother is on his own and must face this phobia alone. At first it isn’t clear what you need to do because his right joystick isn’t working; but once you realise you need to use both joysticks together, similar to what you’d do if Naia was there, a bolt of emotion hits. It’s a beautiful way of reminding us that even though the people we love may have gone, we’ll never forget them and can use the memory of them to give us strength when we most need it.

2016: A disco in the middle of a field saves the world

Although it may not have made my favourites list on DAY, Maize is one of the best titles I finally got around to playing this year. It’s so weird but in a good way: the developers have left the game’s description deliberately vague and I can only guess they made this decision so as not to put anybody off. Trying to summarise a story about sentient corn and what happens when two scientists misinterpret a government memo here would make a lot of readers think it was something best left in that dark corner of my library.

The title ends on a plot-twist so bizarre that it’s almost not a shock after everything else you’ve witnessed. The final battle involves a sequence like a Dance Dance Revolution round to an upbeat track about top secret experiments and it’s such a fitting way to round off a game as crazy as this one. Partying with sentient corn and scarecrows in the middle of a field, dancing to an 80s-style song while trying to save their world – now that sounds just like my kind of shindig.

It’s time for the choir to take a short break so we’ll be back for the tenth day of Blogmas tomorrow, with three things we want gamers to know about video games for the new year. In the meantime, why not tell us your own memorable moments in gaming in the comments below?

Maize: killing them with corniness

My other-half and I decided to pick something from our Steam backlogs to keep us entertained for a few spare hours recently. We had plenty to choose from and after considering several options, we finally settled on Maize: a first-person adventure about what happens when two scientists misinterpret a memo from the US Government.

It was a title I’d picked up during a sale at some point after hearing positive things about it from Will at geeksleeprinserepeat and watching one of his gameplay videos. However, it had sat untouched in the back of my library for a year waiting to be installed. Pete didn’t look overly keen when I told him the Steam page said it involved ‘sentient corn’ but he gave in after a promise of chocolate; so after a quick trip to the corner-shop, we settled down on the sofa.

It’s hard to explain what Maize is about for two reasons. Firstly, as is the case with many narrative-driven releases, it’s difficult to hint at several plot points without spoiling the whole thing; and secondly, it’s just so damn weird. The developers have left the game’s description deliberately vague and I can only guess they made this decision so as not to put anybody off. Trying to summarise the story here would make a lot of readers think it was something best left in that dark corner of my library.

But doing so would have meant I missed out on what was one of the most enjoyable – and certainly the strangest – titles I’ve played in 2018 so far. I’ve read a few reviews since finishing it and most of them aren’t completely favourable, mentioning mundane puzzles and a certain ‘annoying’ teddy-bear, but Maize turned out to be just what we needed that evening. Who knew that messing around with government conspiracies and sentient corn could be so much fun?

Finish Line Games’ project definitely won’t be for everyone and I’d advise you to stay away if you’re looking for something serious or challenging. For those who love mad adventures, point-and-clicks and casts of bizarre protagonists however, you might find something here that tickles your fancy. Just be prepared before going in: your character opening their eyes to see a corn-field at the beginning of the title is the end of anything remotely normal happening.

Maize is a release which manages to make fun of itself and the adventure genre as a whole (although I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure whether this was intentional). Rather than trying to avoid filling up your inventory with useless objects, it puts 75 items with pointless information into your ‘folio’; and instead of trying to disguise the fact you’re being steered down a path, it blocks off routes with bright orange filing boxes. Their existence is explained in one of the documents found lying around the farmhouse but it’s still totally outlandish!

Vladdy, a robotic bear you construct partway through your journey, is there to remind you how ridiculous this all is and insult you in his Russian accent. Not only does he bear a striking resemblance to an animatronic toy from our childhoods, in some ways he reminds me of Murray from the Monkey Island series: at first it seems as though he’s going to be enemy but then a beautiful love-hate relationship forms. Although many reviewers quickly grew tired of him hurling abuse at them, Vladdy won me over and I was sad to see him leave.

Speaking of Monkey Island, there are several puzzles within Maize which bear (no pun intended) a resemblance to the cutscene Governor’s Mansion where Guybrush goes up against the tremendous dangerous-looking yak (take a look at this video if you’re not sure what I’m talking about). Sending Vladdy into a vent to unlock a door for you results in loud crashes and bangs from behind the wall before he tumbles out and once again calls you a stupid idiot. Charming.

As mentioned above, the main criticism of this game seems to be the lack of challenge when it comes to those puzzles and granted, we didn’t come across anything which had us scratching our heads for too long. But that was exactly what we needed after being at work all day. It was good just to be swept along in the current of the story, to not have to think too hard about what was happening in front of us and just enjoy it for what it was: humorous and silly storytelling.

In fact, the title ends on a plot-twist so bizarre that it’s almost not a shock after everything else you’ve witnessed. And with a final battle which involves a sequence like a Dance Dance Revolution round to an upbeat track about top secret experiments, it’s such a fitting way to round off a game such as Maize. Partying with sentient corn and scarecrows in the middle of a field, dancing to an 80s-style song while trying to save their world – now that sounds just like my kind of shindig.

Sometimes a game doesn’t need to be serious or challenging to make it worthwhile. The smile on Pete’s face by the end of the game was proof that sometimes a bit of silliness (or ‘corniness’ if you will) can really hit the spot.