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.

Snake Strike

Snake Strike (スネークストライク, Suneiku sutoraiku), by Udonpa (2018)

Snake Strike is a rare 2D platformer that rarely asks you to do all that much walking. Instead, aided by a fairy companion controlled with the mouse cursor, your adorable Blue Coral Snake protagonist zips through the air, utilizing the “Serpent Path” (蛇道 jadou) power to strike enemy animals, items, and targets, even passing through walls.

While the core target-striking mechanic immediately reminded me of the last decade of Sonic the Hedgehog games, the game’s overall design philosophy reminds me most of Super Mario Bros. 3 in that every single stage has a design hook that makes it utterly distinct. Each themed world presents you with three stages you must clear to face off against the stage’s boss, but each stage features unique enemies, environmental object, or layout patterns that mark it off from the rest. Even different screens in the same stage stand out from each other with the game apparently never wanting to repeat itself. Bosses, too, mine the game’s core mechanics for surprising implementations and depth. 

This level of care in the differentiation of stages and screens is lavished on the direction of other parts of the game. Like your player character, every enemy and boss is a wild animal and each animal and boss has a collectible card you can pick up in the game world, loaded with scientific facts and the species’s scientific name. A particular moment that helped me realize the careful attention to detail occurred when the final stage in an arid desert world launched my snake into the air to fight the area’s boss, a bald eagle. When you land back on the ground triumphantly, the desert landscape is transformed. It’s snowing. You’re headed to a snow world next.

Part of the joy of the game is the discovery suggested here. When you arrive in the snow world, what kind of animals are you going to meet/face off against? How will they behave?

After each boss is beaten you become friends with a new fairy that grants you a new fairy, each of which has a special power that alters the core mechanics of the game: one enables you to double jump, another gives you more health, etc. You can only use one of these at a time, though, so you can customize according to your play preferences or to meet specific challenges. 

Despite all this depth, Snake Strike gives an almost willfully amateurish impression with its visuals. The game’s first stages, in particular, with over-saturated, overly-intense yellow-green grass tiles and clouds with thick blue outlines, are slightly garish. Later stages tend to look more visually pleasing. The diversity of environments and animals works as an interesting counterweight to this and the juxtaposition as well as the thoughtfully polished mechanics and level design. (The music, on the other hand, is excellent throughout. Especially enjoy the laid back, J-pop beats of the Fairy Park).

The game gets very tricky in its later stages. But through its novelty it earns every challenge (one might complain that the point at the bottom of the screen that counts as falling off the screen is a little too restrictive, but that’s forgivable). Snake Strike is a joy to play. 

Snake Strike is available for free from Freem (for Windows)!

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The game is Japanese-language only. So I’ve prepared a translation of some of the game’s early text and most important features. You can download my Unofficial English Player’s Guide as a PDF here (last updated June 1, 2018).