The watchword for today’s selection of games is cute. All of these titles feature a cartoon-influenced style, as distinguished from the decidedly darker titles that tend to populate my collection. It’s easy to assume that a cute game must be an easy title for a younger audience, but make no assumptions — some of these titles have hidden claws.
As always, if you want to clue me in on an overlooked indie title, you can leave a comment here or send me a message on my site.
Watch the games in action:
Randy Becker — 2021 — $4.99
Beginning our exploration of the cute and cartoony is Unit Down, a game about four adorable mutant super soldiers on a quest to invade Earth and destroy the government that’s holding society together. It’s cuter in context.
While billed as an arcade throwback, Unit Down is more of a hybrid title split into two parts. The game opens in the big picture overworld section, where the player decides what to do first. As charmingly dimwitted wolfman Lars, the player must protect the mothership while it breaks through Earth’s defensive barrier with three attacks (each one summoning a boss), then lead the invasion personally. Earth isn’t taking this lying down — the humans are busy setting up countermeasures on other planets, including torpedoes that can destroy the mothership and fighters that hunt Lars down. Lars must hop from planet to planet to keep the humans in check.
Once Lars lands, the game switches over to a gallery shooter mode. Enemy soldiers spawn in at regular intervals, along with various elite enemy types with special attack patterns or defenses. Defeating enemy units diminishes the human presence on that planet, which can stop them from attacking the mothership. But the game keeps going on the overworld, and a player who spends too much time on one planet might get an unexpected game over if the humans are able to launch a successful counterattack.
Efficiency is the watchword in Unit Down. As with My Night Job, managing the different areas is critical, but in the long term, it’s a losing battle. The Earth forces get stronger the longer one plays, resulting in tougher enemies and faster spawns. Lars can upgrade his gear, but just barely enough to keep pace with the humans. A player who can’t finish the game quickly will end up overwhelmed.
While there are a lot of rough spots here, Unit Down has enough novelty to get a recommendation.
Kucing Rembes — 2017 — $4.99
In the last Indie Excavation, I showed off a game called Polyroll. Here I am today with MagiCat, another 2D platformer with discreet levels and branching paths a la Mario 3. Both games are retro-styled without being based on any specific game; both have the player scouring each level for hidden gems; both start very easy but get brutal by the end.
So what’s the difference? Let’s start with this: MagiCat is enormous, easily one of the largest neo-retro platformers I’ve ever seen. There are 63 levels in all, each with a unique boss and a time attack mode in case that’s still not enough for you. Most of the levels are built around a novel gimmick, similar to what one might see in some of the Donkey Kong Country games. Add in the wide variety of tilesets, and MagiCat is a game that revels in variety.
Probably the most interesting feature in MagiCat is the items. The player can use gems found in the levels to purchase power-up items that enhance gameplay in various ways. Most of these are about what you’d expect, but there are two very special items that can only be used on the overworld — a hammer that can destroy obstacles and a bridge that can create platforms over gaps. These tools amount to a dev-designed sequence-breaking kit that can allow a clever player to bypass most of the levels while reaching shops and secrets early.
And being able to sequence-break is a nice feature, because this cute little game gets sadistically hard in the back half. The bosses in particular turn into bullet hell marathon matches demanding ever-more precision. The devs have given you these tools — don’t be ashamed to bypass a level (or eight) that you just can’t quite finish.
Guin Entertainment — 2020 — $14.99
Who is this “Chris” fella? He’s a fat, video game-obsessed 90’s kid from the American South — already a lot more relatable than most video game protagonists. The adventure part kicks off one evening when he is abruptly teleported to a birthday party for the world’s most petulant vampire and turned into a helium balloon to serve as living decor. Upon accidentally being cut free, he decides to use his somewhat questionable new superpower to rescue six other children who have also been turned into toys and left in the possession of a group of peculiar supervillains.
It’s not a game that takes itself too seriously, is what I’m saying.
Adventures of Chris is a platformer in which the protagonist starts off with the gift of flight, albeit not an especially graceful or dignified form of flight. After some training by the King of Lost Balloons (just roll with it), he gains the ability to float and deflate himself at will. The mechanic is similar to gravity mechanics in games like VVVVV, but more forgiving than those tend to be.
The levels are built around this concept — Chris pushes himself along ceilings, activates carefully timed inflations to drift through spiked-lined corridors, and deflates to drop quickly and avoid attacks. It takes some getting used to — and a controller is highly recommended — but Adventures of Chris is not a terribly difficult game, so nearly anyone can master the mechanic.
The game is fairly short, but there’s plenty of replay value for those who want a greater challenge. Mean Mode offers a new set of levels with harder platforming challenges (while also giving Chris a chance to float right over the fourth wall with his dialogue), while Developer Commentary is just what it says on the tin. And if you think the game would be better if you died twice as fast? Well, there’s an aptly-named option for that, too.
Adventures of Chris is recommended for anyone who appreciates it when things get good and silly.
Sign in or become a SUPERJUMP member to join the conversation.