Lillian Sword: Devil of Ice

Lillian Sword: Devil of Ice  (リリアンソード氷の魔王, Ririan soudo koori no maou), by Yamipaseri (2015)

Note: This game is in Japanese, but the game can be completed without reading in-game dialogue. Arrows keys move, Z is your sword and if you hold down the Z key you can use magic.

In the sphere of retro-style game design, the list of side-view platformers is endless. Yet top-down action-adventures in the vein of the Zelda series are still relatively rare compared to the number of games derivative of Mario, Sonic, Castlevania, Commander Keen, and so on.

This short game (it should take you under an hour to play through) scraps a lot of the narrative and mechanical scope that probably keeps many indie and free game developers from developing Zelda-likes. What it lacks in scope, though, it amply makes up for in the tightness of its mechanics, the inventiveness of its bosses, and the charm of its world. It dispatches with an explorable overworld, lengthy narrative, and an array of weapons in favor of a laser-tight action focus. The game has three relatively short, linear stages, each capped with clever, multi-stage boss fights. Each of the boss fights (and the final stage has more than one) would be comfortably at home in a post-Link to the Past Zelda adventure, and at the same time exhibit a consistent and discernable wit that draws influence from other sources to forge its own identity in the genre. The bosses are so much the focus that it even ends with a mini-boss rush (of new bosses). It’s an impeccably crafty little game.

The game was programmed in Flash and while its sub-pixel movement and imperfect scaling at first seems to conflict with the decided Famicom tribute in the game’s palette and sprite limitations, I got over it quickly.

A little male-gaze warning: I didn’t read the game’s Japanese description until after I’d downloaded it, so I didn’t even notice the pixelated heroine’s “bikini armor.” Also, a certain NPC portrait is embarrassingly cheesecake.

Download the Flash game as an HTML file from Freem!

Daddy!, Don’t Explode Me

Daddy!, Don’t Explode Me, by Fi Silva (2015)

I should let readers of this blog know from early on that I have an incredible fondness for and fascination with Lemmings (DMA Design, 1991), which I’m sure will continue to come through in my posts. In my own game design, this fascination with has resulted in two decades of games that try to build on or reinvent the Lemmings formula. One of the difficulties of making a good game in a Lemmings vein is that even DMA struggled to improve on the mechanics of their own formula, only really blossoming in levels that explored those mechanics well. The eight abilities from the original Lemmings are ingeniously simple and actually quite comprehensive for navigating two-dimensional, side-view space. As you can see from numerous games that followed in Lemmings’s wake, reworking–rather than just remaking–Lemmings is a challenge that partly owes to difficulty in imagining around the original set of abilities.

Made for 2015’s Ludum Dare 33 competition, Daddy!, Don’t Explode Me reimagines its little walkers as eager-to-please minions of a faceless villain and further reinterprets two of these abilities–the blocker and the exploder–into three abilities with an added elemental theming. The blocker turns into a block of ice, while fire can melt ice blocks. In addition to turning your little demons into ice blocks, there are ice blocks in the stages themselves. This twist allows for a different approach to the game’s physical spaces, producing a distinctive iteration of an old formula. (And the adoring little demonic minions are kind of adorable.)

The bombs, mercifully, are less demanding of precise, anticipatory timing than their Lemmings counterparts since they detonate right where you click your demon. However, the timing of where to light them on fire proves more fussy, fidgety, and hard to hit precisely, leading to some frustration. Compounding the frustration, the game soon gives you very little or no wiggle room to meet the minimum number of demons that need to reach the goal of each stage (little houses they set on fire). On the whole, though, this is an incredibly charming, clever take in a genre that needs charming, clever takes.

Download for free from itch.io (Windows).