We’ve neglected video games up to this point on JK Geekly because readers might get confused between video game and tabletop game reviews or news, but I don’t see why we can’t have the occasional video game post. So let’s begin a series of posts that cover quirky video games. We read plenty of reviews or thoughts about mainstream, big budget games, so let’s explore some weird.
These quirky games are ones that have interesting mechanics, stories, or tackle seldom discussed or covered topics. Some are great, others are not so good, and there may be a few that I’ll discuss that some readers won’t even consider a “game,” but all of them are intriguing on some level. The great thing is that a fair number of these under-the-radar games have a small price tag. That’s part of the appeal—my tabletop game habit leaves me a little cash poor. Without further ado, let’s get to this week’s quirky video games.
The Stanley Parable
This one’s not really an under-the-radar game. Video game enthusiasts often mention The Stanley Parable when discussing bizarre video games. Even though you may want to slap the smug look off of their face—and I imagine that some of you are thinking the same thing about me right now—when a video game aficionado says you should try The Stanley Parable, they aren’t wrong. You should try The Stanley Parable.
You play as the titular Stanley as he attempts to escape his drab office space and soul crushing job. A voice-over narrates his every action, and The Stanley Parable does a great job of marrying voice acting with the action on the screen. The unnerving narration functions as comedic relief one moment and bone chilling dread the next. If you download The Stanley Parable from Steam, you’ll even experience a little meta-gaming. You’ll find such achievements as don’t play The Stanley Parable for a year, play The Stanley Parable for the duration of a Tuesday, and click on office 430’s door five times, but the narrator berates you for trying to earn such an easy achievement and coaxes you into doing more tasks.
I probably said too much already. I don’t want to spoil anything else but let’s just say that The Stanley Parable is equal part slipstream and modern Aesop’s fable. It fits the bill for a quirky video game.
Life is Strange
It’s difficult to discuss a storytelling episodic video game without mentioning Telltale Games, because they invented the genre, but I’ll try to limit my mentioning of Telltale while covering Life is Strange.
Life is Strange may have perfected the Telltale Games episodic model. This game tweaked a single mechanic: you can reverse time. Life is Strange’s protagonist can turn back time the duration of a scene—about 5-10 minutes—so you can see what the short term effects of a decision are, but since you can’t reverse time to any moment in the game’s narrative, you won’t know the long-term ramifications of your actions.
Adding that twist could make it sound as if decision making in Life is Strange would be easier than your typical Telltale Game, but it’s the opposite. There are moments where you agonize over which course of action is the best. During an interview, one of Telltale Game’s executives said, and I paraphrase, that Telltale judges the writing of their games based on whether or not gamers will have close to a 50% split between two disparate actions in a scenario. Since you can see these percentages at the end of each episode (for both Telltale and Life is Strange), you can tell that there are three to eight decisions where Telltale episodic game series yield an even split. Life is Strange has five to eight decisions each episode that meet those statistics. Life is Strange out does Telltale in the one statistic Telltale Games uses to gauge the effectiveness of their writing.
Okay. Let’s put a pin in Telltale talk and discuss over aspects of Life is Strange. The time reversal mechanism also yields some interesting puzzles. You control time, not space, so you can walk some place, warp back in time, and you’re elsewhere when the rest of the world catches up to you. That’s trippy, and the resulting puzzles and problem solving are fun. You also have to show how observant you are so you can convince people of your powers. Those moments presented a nice memory game. In fact, there were plenty of subplots and side games to be had with Life is Strange. The writing—for the most part—and the gameplay’s variety are strengths. You play as a teenage girl, and Life is Strange captures what it’s like to be a teenager. That could be a good or bad thing, but regardless, Life is Strange is an earnest game.
It isn’t all sunshine. The voice acting leaves a little to be desired. The lip syncing between the audio and visuals can be distracting too. I don’t mind it when voices don’t match lips—that could be an anime fan thing—but since I noticed the lips not syncing, that could be a deal breaker for some folks. Life is Strange also suffers from the inevitable time travel plot holes, and the last episode, to be polite, was shaky in the writing department, but the overall experience is top notch. If you have any interest in episodic storytelling games, you should give Life is Strange a try.
the static speaks my name
The last quirky video game for this week may be one of those “games” that aren’t really games. the static speaks my name is more of an experience that plays out in ten minutes. Seriously, you’ve spent more time reading this post than the time it’ll take to play this game. I just heard some of you groan through cyber space and appreciate you guys reading this post. Really, I do.
Anyway—the static speaks my name is dark and morbid. You play as a man who’s obsessed with a painting of twin palm trees on a small island. You learn more about him and his mental state (similar to Stanley in The Stanley Parable), and I’ll stop there so I don’t spoil it for you. the static speaks my name is a free game on Steam and you can play the “game” as quickly as I can ruin the ending.
I will say that the real psychological game comes at the very end. I know that what I’m about to say is fuzzy (if you haven’t played the game), but if you play this game, take your time during the ending. It’s disturbing, but you could discover something about yourself.
That’s all I have for Geekly’s quirky video games. Hopefully, this will be an ongoing post. Thanks for reading.