Vegetables

Vegetables (ベジタブルズ, Bejitaburuzu) (Demo), by Vegetables Cultivation Committee (Bejitaburuzu Saibai Iinkai) (2014)

A demo for a self-declared homage to “legendary free game” Cave Story that still isn’t out four years later, this one-stage trial version of Vegetables has enough going on in it to commend it on its own merits. An action platformer with a relentlessly cute, lo-fi pixel art aesthetic, you take on the role of Lop Holland, a furry rabbit and fighter for the 08th Special Forces Squadron, a specialist with a carrot gun that can shoot up, down, left and right.

What I liked most about the game is, first, the vividness and liveliness of the animation for the main character and his tomato enemies and, second, the cleverness of its level design. The game lets you see paths early on that you’ll have to navigate later, making you wonder if you’ll encounter ability upgrades that will allow for better map traversal. The game holds back on its cat archer enemies (your fight is with the invading carnivores, apparently) until you make it to roughly the halfway point of the stage, but you can see them from the very first screen of the stage. Stage design and enemy placement are very sharp, and after I finished the game, I found myself admiring the subtly ingenious idea of a twisting spiral of the level as well as the seeming variation generated by a meager two enemy types deriving entirely form clever implementation.

The game doesn’t quite feel finished even as far as this goes (compare the stiffness of the mice enemies in contrast to the lovely animation for else that moves), but it’s decidedly playable and Lop has jump that’s fun just to execute. The project has a website (Japanese only, includes art, previews, and 4-panel comics) but, alas, it hasn’t been updated in over four years. It seems this may be all we ever see of Vegetables.

Controls for the game are: Z to shoot your carrot gun and X to jump. Press down to read or interact with characters. Space calls up a pause menu.

The game has some Japanese-language comic text when you reach the end of the stage, but this version of the game is otherwise without dialogue.

You can download the trial version of Vegetables for Windows from Freem.

Cat Sokoban

Cat Sokoban, by sylvie (2014)

Sokoban is arguably the great puzzle game genre of the 21st century (or at least the one that isn’t match-three a la Candy Crush). The genre’s been with us since the 1980s, but particularly in the space of free indie games it’s blossomed in the last . This has been helped, in no small part, by the incomparable Increpare’s open source 2013* PuzzleScript engine, which makes the design of low-resolution, browser-playable sokoban-type puzzle games accessible. (One can make other types of puzzle games in PuzzleScript, but the engine seem particularly optimized for this genre.)

Cat Sokoban (not made in PuzzleScript) does not feature the most complicated or sophisticated puzzle design you’ll ever encounter in a sokoban game. However, instead of pushing around boxes or balls, you find yourself, quite literally, herding cats. Living, curious, wandering cats. There’s a good chance that that information alone is enough to make you want to go play it, so feel free to skip the rest of this review and herd some cats right meow.

Author sylvie’s characteristically adorable pixel art really makes the game come to life. You also get a randomized assortment of cat colors with each stage try. And cats–as cats are wont to do–will fall asleep. If they fall asleep at their destination, this is good news for the harried cat-herder. However, if they fall asleep anywhere else, it becomes impossible to move them while they doze and their nap time makes it that much less likely that cats you’ve secured in place will remain there. The fact that these cats have minds of their own means that sylvie can set up situations that would be impossible in normal sokoban games.

These cats can be frustrating, to be sure, but if their cute little mews fail to melt your heart, their precious little faces while they sleep just might.

Who can stay mad at that?

Cat Sokoban is available to play for free on the author’s website.

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*Of note is that 2013 is also the year that Increpare released one of the highlights of the entire genre, English Country Tune.