PEBRJE: Codemancer and Serre
Codemancer is an educational puzzle game from Important Little Games, an indie studio with Bobby Lockhart at the helm. You play as Aurora, a brand new student at Magic school where the magic runes are placed and utilized in a suspiciously logical manner. Players pick Aurora’s familiar, and then begin to learn the fundamentals of this ‘magic’ until disaster strikes and she goes on a quest to rescue her father. This is all, for the record, in chapter 1.
This is, first and foremost, a beginner’s guide to programming logic made pretty and fluid under the guise of magic runes and schooling. What better way to teach people how to program than by reinforcing the already existing notion that it’s just ‘computer wizardry’? That isn’t a disrespect of course, I too believed programmers to be wizards of the numbered variety until I spent 4 years with them only to realize that it’s more Macgyver than Hogwarts. That could still be considered magic in a way, but with more ducktape and compromise than wands and incantations.
Thankfully, Codemancer doesn’t attempt to teach a language, opting for teaching the fundamentals of programming logic with hexagons and patterns. Just like with computers, you control Aurora and her familiar of choice with a set of predetermined instructions, and have her re-enact them all at once after you’ve completed them. It starts small with simple instructions such as movement and rotation, and transitions smoothly into loops after having players do constant repeated instructions to help them understand the inefficiency. Logical operators are introduced as mechanics to help solve each puzzle, and are featured for dozens of puzzles before moving on to solidify the player’s understanding of the different ways that these runes interact with each other and with Aurora. It’s all about giving players the tools to solve the puzzles in whatever ways they can, and allowing them to restart as soon as something goes wrong or the instructions they’ve created end abruptly. Aurora is essentially compiling her code for her familiar to re-enact, so having it constantly available for reset is a must.
I’m not a strong programmer, never have been since I started game development —Codemancer would’ve been the ideal starting point for me if I had known about it. It’s ability to reinforce the simple aspects and allow players to branch out and create longer and more intricate solutions is the star of this game. It teaches players to constantly restart and try something else if their previous solution breaks, and to push them to find creative ways to become more efficient with their solutions in any way possible. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also very cute, with a simple yet compelling premise of just helping a girl through school and rescue her dad on an epic journey. If you or someone you know are looking to learn programming logic, or want to broaden the horizons of children to demystify computer wizardry, Codemancer is a lightweight and fantastic solution. It appears mostly aimed for children due to the tone, but any adult can grab it and learn if they are wanting to know more.
Serre is a cute visual novel by insertdisc5, a solo indie dev by the name of Adrienne, that follows the tale of Arlette as she comes face to face with a visitor from another world that smashed through her greenhouse roof. After a bit of awkward silence and some unintended interactions, the visitor names themselves as Oaxa (I don’t have access to the font used for the actual name, so Latin alphabet here we go!) and declares that she has come to conquer earth. The shenanigans continue from there, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Let’s start off with mentioning that this is one of the comfiest aesthetics I’ve played in the bundle so far. Everything about the art just feels soft, from the flower backdrops looking almost cloudlike to the alien herself somehow having claws as large as Arlette yet still giving off the vibe of pure poof. It’s soothing to just look at, almost like the tea that drives a lot of the interactions forward as Oaxa learns what ‘tea’ is and Arlette obliges in earnest. While it didn’t contribute to the exact comfy aesthetic, the sound design was top notch throughout the novel, with my favourite moments revolving around the style for Oaxa. It’s grandiose with a hint of playfulness, in part due to the synth and string combination that is used and really helps bring Oaxa to life during her CG moments.
The writing and I had our disagreements, which isn’t a bad thing really. I can easily see the appeal, as Oaxa is an unabashed bundle of joy and wonder which contrasted with Arlette’s reserved and shy reservations towards the sudden ordeal (who can blame her). True to its aesthetic, the conversations are usually light and fluffy, with a few taking a more serious tone throughout when the discussions become more personal and uncomfortably real. I just personally didn’t enjoy some of the interactions, which somewhat sullied my overall attitude — it’s hard to describe, but I know for a fact that it is probably me. Best to try it out yourself, and if you disagree with me then you’re probably right.
Serre is, for better or for worse, extremely short: the story reaches its conclusion in under an hour with a cute silent epilogue to wrap it up. There are choices to be made during different parts of each chapter, but I don’t believe it to vary much of the experience that you’ll get. It’s a short novel about the meeting of two cute characters with one just happening to be from space, and that’s all it needs to be. If this sounds like something you wish to explore, or if you just need something cute and comfy to perk up your afternoon, Serre will definitely deliver.
Codemancer brings the mystery of magic and the exhilaration of learning to code together in a fantasy universe that…