SOLITUNE (Short Subject Saturdays)


Hey look, I remembered that Short Subject Saturdays is a thing. Short subjects, to match my ever-shortening attention span. The idea is every Saturday I’ll review a short-subject indie game. I define a “Short Subject Indie Game” as a linear, typically story-based game that is meant to be fully-experienced without missing anything in under an hour. You can suggest games for the next Short Subject Saturday in the comments or directed at my Twitter. They can be free or paid games, as long as they are meant to be fully consumed within an hour. Now cue a few dozen people who say “well this isn’t exactly an hour, but you can finish (name of game) in three hours or so.” It happens every time. You know, I can’t imagine where the reputation that gamers are morons comes from. I really, truly can’t.

SOLITUNE by Rat King Entertainment (nice to hear a third-string Ninja Turtles villain/ally has found a new career as a game developer) is an art-house journey through finding a new path in life. Taking the role of a woman who aspires to become a “shepherd” who gets people to join her “flock”, it’s advertised as a game about escapism. But I found the implications to be a bit darker. I think the point they may have been aiming for is she wants to help her fellow humans out, be a source of inspiration and guidance for them.

But, the way the game actually plays out, that’s not what I got out of it. And I’m not even joking with what I’m about to say. This is not played for humor. This is what I got out of SOLITUNE:

You’re forming a cult.

Get back to me when the dog in question is a service dog that spent every minute by your side for over a decade and then died on Christmas morning, you pussy.

The minimalist nature of SOLITUNE (the title is in all-caps so remember to imagine me shouting it when you read it) seems to want to leave some of it to your imagination, but I don’t see how else you can interpret it, based on the visuals and clues we’re presented. The protagonist is sick of the daily grind of her life and decides to start anew in the world as a shepherd. Along the way, you meet various people from different walks of life who have issues or personality quirks that need to be worked on. You solve very rudimentary puzzles to unlock being able to talk them into joining you, and open the exit to the next room, with the each person you met coming along.

Only they don’t just join you. They literally transform into sheep.

Those sheep walk around the outside of whatever room you’re in, making sheep noises, while you accumulate more members of your flock. You also gather a new attire that looks in one way like an actual shepherd, but in another way like a crazy cult leader. Because that’s what you are. And after a small handful of rooms you have your flock. The game ends in a room where they all wander around aimlessly until they lie in front of you (actually it almost looks like they might be groveling), at which point you click them individually, and they disintegrate into a cloud or a puff of smoke or a ghost or a spirit or something and fade away.

It’s creepy. Seriously, SERIOUSLY creepy. Like, what the hell is this?

Perhaps this person is a Houston Rockets fan who lit himself on fire after he found out they were signing Carmelo Anthony. Seems like a reasonable response to me.

I don’t know if that’s what Rat King Entertainment was aiming for. Probably not. In fact, it probably says more about me (and not in a good way) that I read into it like that. I don’t know. I do know that SOLITUNE is insanely boring and just not really good as a video game or an art-house type of story. It only lasts fifteen minutes and there’s no replay value at all, which is probably a good thing. When you go the abstract route, it’s best to either do something to ground the proceedings into reality somehow or give reality the finger and aim for a completely surreal experience (like Plug & Play did). SOLITUNE tries the grounding method, but the dialog is so poorly written, with nothing clever about it. Very on-the-nose. Very basic. It doesn’t match the fantastic settings some of the rooms have, only using different fonts to give characters personality. A short subject should be quick and punchy, but the plot and characters make this a slog. Fifteen-minute-long games should NOT be sloggish. It shouldn’t even be possible.

So yea, I didn’t really like SOLITUNE at all. It has a neat graphics style, I’ll give it that. I didn’t say I liked the style, but it is neat. That’s pretty much the only nice thing I can say about it. I look more for storytelling and an interesting premise in these short subject games. The story for SOLITUNE, no matter what they were trying to convey, felt disconnected and impersonal. It also looked like it might have clever puzzles going off the screenshots, but really you just click things in each room until the door opens. The hardest one for me was figuring out that I had to click the sheep instead of stuff in the room, and that took me all of about 30 seconds to figure out. If SOLITUNE were an escape room, it’d be one of those really bad ones where you have more trouble getting a good parking space than you do getting out of the room.

SOLITINE was developed by Rat King Entertainment
Point of Sale: Steam

$1.99 said, meh, still better than Shephy in the making of this review. Seriously, why do sheep-based games suck? Sheep for PS1 was fine but it was all downhill from there.

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Short Subject Saturdays: Plug & Play and The Plan

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In my review of The Old Tree, I said I would like to see more indies tackle short subjects. This got me thinking: why don’t I do a feature where I look for these games? So, I put out a call on Twitter asking for suggestions on games that could be finished in under twenty minutes. I didn’t really think this through all that much. Most developers pitched their own games under the guise that hypothetically, if you never make a single mistake and do none of the side quests, a game could be finished in twenty minutes. Or people pointed me at arcade style games that can be played in bursts of a minute at a time if I so wished. Sigh.

So, here’s my unofficial definition on a short subject indie game. A game with a beginning and an ending that unfolds in a linear fashion, where a player can see 99% of the content in a single play-through, all in under twenty minutes.

Every Saturday, I’ll take a look at a couple such titles. You can hit me on Twitter with your suggestions.

First up is Plug & Play. Originally, my definition of short subject indie games mentioned that they were story driven, but I realized that didn’t apply to this one. There really isn’t a story. Plug & Play is a series of vignettes. Take power plugs, stick them into sockets. Or there are Plug People: anamorphic plugs and sockets that you might end up having to plug into each other. Even David Lynch was like “whoa, slow down there, bro, that’s too weird.”

Human Centiplug?

 Plug & Play. Human Centiplug?

Plug & Play was developed by Mario von Rickenbach and Michael Frei ($2.99 were similtanntious creeped out and turned on in the making of this review. Available now on Steam)

Plug & Play was developed by Mario von Rickenbach and Michael Frei ($2.99 was simultaneously creeped out and turned on in the making of this review. Available now on Steam)

Plug & Play is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Plug & Play is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Gameplay is just typical point and click puzzle fare. I really wish more short subject indies would incorporate conventional gameplay mechanics into their work. But what’s here is enjoyable enough. It successfully got me to shake my head and say “wow” several times, which I’m guessing was its goal. Heck, it even caused me to laugh out loud a few times. Is there a point? No. Is it worth ten minutes of your time? I think so. Is it worth $3? Maybe not. When I tweeted that I enjoyed this title a lot, many of my fans balked at paying $2.99 for a game that takes ten minutes to finish and has no replay value. If this had been my title, I would have priced it at a dollar. $1 feels more comfortable for a game that is, for better or worse, a novelty. It’s not meant to compete against the likes of Shovel Knight or Super Meat Boy. It’s meant to compete against over-sized gumballs and temporary tattoos. $1 for a game falls into the realm of impulse buy. $3 puts you head-to-head with some more lengthy titles. Why compete against them when you don’t have to?

Jeff Goldblum was unavailable for comment.

The Plan. Jeff Goldblum was unavailable for comment.

Not that being cheap is an indication of having value. I nearly died from boredom playing this next title, which is free on Steam. The Plan puts you in the role of a fly who has to, well, fly. You fly up. At one point you escape from a spiderweb. Then you fly up some more. Than something happens and the game ends. It lasts about five minutes, and I thought it was boring. It felt more like a tech demo. A “get your feet wet coding your first game” experience. Solid graphics, and maybe it was trying to make a point, but I didn’t get it if it was. The Plan is one of those art for the sake of art titles that some people get and others don’t. Those that don’t get it and call it fart-sniffing, pretentious fluff are right. But those that are moved by it and call it a work of genius are also right, because art is always in the eye of the beholder. But I thought it was duller than being trapped in a conversation with Siri.

The PlanThe Plan was developed by Krillbite Studio
Available for free on Steam.

Thank you to Nate for creating the Short Subject Saturdays logo!

 

 

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