Scratching the Itch.io: Winter Wonder (No Man's) Land15 Dec 2017 0
We’re closing in on the holidays now, but there’s a severe lack of Christmas strategy games on Itch.io. It’s no surprise, really, but if you’re really looking for that Christmas skirmish, consider a wintery mod slapped on top of your favourite title, or beg someone to turn Die Hard into some kind of RTS. Yes, Die Hard is absolutely a viable Christmas movie. It even has some Home Alone moments toward the end. That’s what Christmas family entertainment is all about. It’ll come on right after the Queen’s speech, just you wait.
So what are we looking at this week, then? As promised (vaguely) toward the end of our last Itch.io dumpster dive, we’ve taking a look at strategy games with a soft artstyle and somewhat relaxing gameplay. If soldiers could find it within their hearts to stop slaughtering each other on Christmas day during the Great War, we can find the time to manage plants, claim a pond and… fend off alien decimation.
Absolutely going in that specific order, we’re looking at Treelogy first. We’ve probably all seen something akin to this in Eufloria and its various HD re-releases, but this one feels more technical, confusing and, sadly, poorly documented. Still, it fits this week’s criteria and is actually fairly addictive.
Treelogy starts off with a simple choice – where do you want to plant your seed? Don’t worry; you’ll get to toss out the rest of your seeds in due time, but let’s just get acquainted with one for now. Highlight the various different locations around the world and you’ll notice a difference in the ecosystem of each, with luminosity and humidity cycles dictating how your plant grows as the conditions change quickly over time. Pick a spot, plant your sapling, and work out how best to balance energy gathered by your branches and water collected by your roots.
The aim is just as simple as the premise; grow into a magnificent tree and populate the world with your offspring. As creepy as that sounds, plants are pretty scary things when you remember how far those roots can go. Keeping a close eye on weather cycles and rummaging around for water beneath the earth is what it boils down to. Striking a balance between the two creates the sap you use to grow and branch out your extremities. The rule is that dividing a root is more expensive than extending it, while the opposite is true for branches. Once you’ve figured it all out, you can have your tree bloom flowers to create seeds and go from there.
I couldn’t manage to do either of these things very well, honestly, and the game’s feedback page suggests others had the same problem. Another thread used to showcase people’s achievements, however, proved that at least one player managed to replicate the developer’s green thumb. Take a look at my sorry attempt and absolutely 1-up me in the comments below. Make me feel stupid.
This one is for those down under; may your Christmas be warm and your New Year be like one of those beautiful firework scenes you seen in soppy anime. No, the visuals don’t scream ‘Australia’, but hopping across a pond that isn’t frozen solid seems like something that’s only going to fly in a place that’s still red hot in December.
Stuck in a 2-player configuration, I couldn’t give this a legitimate playthrough. Just like playing Chess against yourself thinking it can somehow better your perception, Across the Pond is less Chess and more Othello from what I can gather. Two sides commandeer the same set of aquatic creatures; a frog, turtle, a catfish thing, and a school of fish. Vying for control over the majority of the pond, each team takes turns moving their creatures to claim land and strategically placing their turtle in a way that allows their frog to hop across to a place they couldn’t easily reach before.
It isn’t very clear how a player can move their units before the turn is automatically passed onto the next, but you definitely have to plan things out before you waste a move and lose your footing. A frog claims every space adjacent to its landing spot and can make use of turtles, lillypads, and rocks to get around. The catfish/crawfish looking thing (I don’t do fish) travels a large distance in the target direction and claims whichever squares it passes through. Rocks are, as you’d expected, impassable. Turtles are used as moveable lillypads for a literal game of leapfrog. As for the school of fish, I’m not sure what they do, but I imagine they’re used to block certain units from fulfilling their roles.
There isn’t a whole to go off here, but it’s a simple game of turn-based turf war between two players. The absence of any sound is a little sad, but the gameplay lends itself to some metal music. Set up your favourite recording software, break out the editing suite and make some seriously over the top montage of this supposedly relaxing proof of concept. Just don’t land your frog on your friend’s. They won’t be able to move theirs and you won’t want to think why.
Which brings us to our last Itch before Christmas – and yes, I am calling them itches from now on. Invasion may not sound like the most relaxing time you can have playing a video game, but it’s a somewhat unique take on the tower defence genre that fits the idea of soft visuals. The only game to feature any could of sound design in this entire round-up, it’s an ultra-basic guitar sample that, somehow, feels more out of place because of the topic rather than the scientific basis of sound in space.
Taking place on another round planet, Invasion is a little like Space Invaders mixed with tower defence and deck strategy elements – because we can’t have a strategy title without a slice of RNG these days, can we? You use one resource to draw cards and place their corresponding towers on your globe, use another to research a new card, and the final button to take out a card from the draw pile when you know you won’t be needing it. Different towers gather these three resources, but you’ll need various types of offensive towers to fend off the tri-coloured combatants orbiting your planet. Coloured towers can’t damage foes of the same colour, so drawing the right cards and swapping out your turret selection on-the-fly is your best course of action. While most tower defence games are somewhat autonomous, firing your cannons is a manual affair, so there’s a lot to manage between deciding on optimal tower spread.
With a tutorial sloppy enough to rival Treelogy’s complicated explanations, this one throws 4-5 annotated slides in your face the moment you fire it up. It gives you a rough idea of what to expect, but some kind of optional interactive demo would clear a lot of things up.
So that’s that. 3 more games to slot into your Christmas wind-down. The strongest of the bunch here is well and treely Treelogy (see what I did there?). Its latest update was in July, but the developer has been chatting with players over the last few months, responding to feedback, and admitting certain explanations don’t do it much good.
Join us in the New Year as we attempt to cover ‘The Future’. I have my eyes on a title already, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find two more knocking around Itch.io somewhere. Merry Christmas!