We’re taking a look at three lesser-known releases today, with Eastasiasoft’s Kingdom of Arcadia, Cozy Grove from the Quantum Astrophysicists Guild and ASH’s The Longing, which is now available on the Switch as well.
Kingdom of Arcadia
Continuing their recent run of multi-platform indie releases, Eastasiasoft has just released Kingdom of Arcadia, a retro-influenced metroidvania title that we took a look at on the PlayStation 4.
In Kingdoms of Arcadia, there’s a narrative that can be summed up as “fantasy Jumanji”. You’re a young boy called Sam who loves videogames, and starts playing on his dad’s old arcade machine. The machine sucks him into a pixelated game world that looks decidedly 8-bit, and to get out and back to reality you’ll have to defeat the game, which features several fantasy locations, wizards and mostly formulaic tropes – but it’s a fun addition to otherwise relatively generic gameplay.
Sam is controlled using easy and intuitive controls if you’ve ever played a similar game before. You can (double) jump, attack, or use projectiles to engage in platforming, combat and boss fights. You can gradually increase your skill level to fight stronger enemies, but the gameplay mechanics remain unchanged – with the exception of bosses that have their own tactics in battle.
Kingdom of Arcade features an audiovisual style that evokes memories of the NES era, which is of course something we’ve seen a lot in the indie scene over the years. The audiovisual design is relatively barebones here, with nothing that really stands out in the visual sense and mostly generic sound effects.
The game is mostly just functional and fun, but unremarkable in many ways. Luckily, the gentle price tag certainly helps if you’re looking for a quick diversion within the genre.
Cozy Grove from the Quantum Astrophysicists Guild is a multiplatform release that’s out now on all current consoles, including the next gen ones through compatibility. It’s more than a little bit like Animals Crossing, but with a haunted mansion kind of flavor to it for something that’s visually and thematically different enough to be worth a look.
In the game, you’re helping out ghosts who are stuck on a remote island by doing little chores for them. This allows you to collect resources, craft items that you need and of course progress through the various narrative strands of the game. But where games like this can grow repetitive during long stretches, Cozy Grove follows a tiered approach, where you naturally run into parts that require you to wait – sometimes literally for the next day to arrive.
This is less prevalent later on in the game where you’re exploring several avenues at once and can just switch to a different one when you hit a built-in pause during a quest. There’s also a range of side/optional activities you can always engage in that can help you find more resources, so if you really want that long gameplay session to keep going, you can make it happen.
Strangely enough, the pleasant and almost pedestrian pace of the game (which is very much a stress-free experience by design) can have its immersion broken for a moment when the game runs into slight performance issues. Although the hand-drawn imagery is lovely to look at, Cozy Grove is hardly the visual powerhouse that should bring the PS4 to its knees after having run games like The Last of Us – Part II just a day earlier. Something that’ll be fixed in an upcoming patch, we’d hope.
For those not on the Switch and without access to Animal Crossing, this is a lovely alternative that’s easy to sink dozens of hours into.
The Longing – out now on the Switch
Application Systems Heidelberg has released The Longing on the Nintendo Switch after an earlier version on Steam, and it’s certainly a title worth noticing and remembering because it’s so different from the videogame norm.
It looks and feels like a traditional point-and-click adventure game, but it has a narrative hook that naturally made me curious. Based on a old German folk tale, it’s about a king who goes to sleep in a cave for 400 days to regain his energy and will bring order and joy to the land upon his awakening. During this lengthy slumber, you’re a loyal servant called the Shade, joining him in this underground cavern.
Your job, essentially, is to make these 400 days go by. And yes, in an unexpected twist, you could do this by literally turning off the system and checking back in after 400 real life days have gone by – breaking the fourth wall in an imaginative way. If that doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time though (and why would it?), then you can also help the Shade pass the time a lot quicker by providing distractions.
You’ll explore parts of a big cavern system and while doing so you’ll uncover items that include handy resources, things you can use to decorate the little part of the cave you call home, or items that will let you explore more of the cave system. In some cases, exploring more means opening a door – which in itself might take minutes, emphasizing the long wait period that’s central to the experience.
Over time, the Shade will ponder over things like loneliness and deep thought, partly aided by some of the texts he finds. These even include literary classics, which he’ll read while you do something else. I haven’t gotten to the end of my 400 day wait yet, but I’ve never encountered a game that presents ‘waiting’ in such a thoughtful and evocative way.