PEGBRJE: 1000 Heads Among the Trees and Resistance Is Fruitile

This is the only picture I could recover from my camera after… finishing? completing? Did I even do that?

1000 Heads Among the Trees is an exploratory horror title made by Aaron Oldenburg, an artist specializing in interactivity, expression through video games and video artistry— which includes his work being featured in galleries across the world. So for this expressive tale, players are an individual visiting a small Peruvian town at night to uncover spirits through the lens of photography whilst showing these pictures to locals to gain more information.

Much of the game will be spent wandering the darkness of this strange town, looking for opportune locations to snap pictures of different areas or unsettling visages. There are two different ‘sounds’ that the camera makes upon taking a picture from a passively dull click to a resounding recognizable snap. This seems to correspond with the importance of the photos, as many of the pictures that gave me the best information were from these, yet there were dozens more of the former that also lead to clues. The second thing the snappier photos do, however, is seemingly alter the world itself; by taking certain photos, those in focus may leave or alter their state of being.

No matter what the photos determine, it is the interactions with the people that broaden yet narrow the goals of the photographer. After interactions or locating strange places, players will document pieces of their understanding within a journal to remind themselves. This journal is split into ‘Notes’ and ‘Quests’, where the left side is for keeping track of all the interactions and clues while the right is for narrowing down where the player should go or investigate next. At first, the quests and notes are rudimentary, usually involving finding a specific individual or commenting on the town itself. However, as the player uncovers more of the town and finds more unexplainables, the journal starts to become harder to follow. Notes seemingly don’t line up with what the player has discovered, ‘quests’ become oddly specific to certain events that seemingly mean nothing. Attempting to parse this information may be more trouble than its worth; perhaps simply continuing onward might be best, but who’s to say?

It’s this uncertainty that dominates much of the experience within 1000 Heads, for better and for worse. The constant flashes of the paranormal — rarely in a jump scare, bless — only to fade immediately into the backdrop. The lack of direction the photographer has as even they seem to not know what they wish to do, only that they want to find spirits and take pictures of them. The constant unsettling tones that rustle through the wind at seemingly random intervals, only to be met by a mild instrumental before being dragged back into obscurity. The locals appear to assist at first, yet at the same time are completely unmoved by the spiritual visitors, commenting happily on strange pictures or completely focusing on the fact that the left half of the picture is their house. Some information can only be gleamed if the locals aren’t aware that a foreigner is present, which means eavesdropping on conversations through windows or from afar. This can slow down the information process, but can lead to more intriguing details about the town, which means that sometimes getting into unsavory locations may sate one’s curiousity.

It’s easy to dismiss 1000 Heads Among the Trees as just a surreal open-ended horror title, but there’s a sense of familiarity and emotional connection that draws players back to reality. After all, this entire game is grounded in the experiences of Aaron Oldenburg during his time in Cachiche, a town founded by witches during the Peruvian Inquisition. Even without the blurb to tell me, the connection resonates strongly throughout the title as players have little to no direction besides the notes made by the photographer themselves, for where does one actually start hunting for ghosts besides asking around? The townsfolk’s cheery nonchalant attitude feels less like they are trying to unnerve and scare, and instead are unnerving in their casual approach to what they believe to be the norm. They don’t have to scare players, the spirits will do that for them — they just live here.

There’s so much going on, yet somehow also nothing going on at the same time. There are shadows without bodies, and bodies without shadows. A demonic resting place and a casual pond of flies. A local who helps you get started, and locals that are confused why a picture of a dead person is scary. All while one feels like they are on a serious acid trip. If you wish to have an experience of horror few can match, this will definitely be one to try out.

Resistance is Fruitile is a twin stick shooter action game made by PhasePixel, an inide studio focused primarily on retro and pixel-based titles. This title follows a marriage gone awry as an entire legion of fruit-based humanoids steal… the cake. Yes, the chocolate cake has been stolen, ruining the entire wedding. So what will they do? Grab their trusty guns that they just happened to bring to their wedding — who doesn’t? — and blow up some fruity baddies.

Players will select which of the happy couple that they wish to play as, with the wife wielding a large shotgun and the husband arming himself with a pistol. Once chosen, it’s off to clear each room of the spawning fruit legionnaires; from simple strawberries to the grapes of wrath (and guns). Killing fruity villains gives experience and charges the special metre, which allows for the player to utilize one of their two specials upon maxing it out. The choice is between a heal or a continuous spray of fire to help clear the room out, allowing for players to act on what they need rather than giving them a resource that isn’t useful and waste gaining more metre charge because of it. There’s also a chance for the vile flora to drop these blue rocks called ‘minerals’ which give bonus XP upon picking them up, as well as the resource itself. If one gains enough experience, they will be awarded with a screen of cards and two abilities: the first card flipped reveals it, and the second card gives the power up on the card. This allows for players to make the choice between taking the power they know for certain, or gamble on a different card and hope. There’s also a secondary reason, as finding matching cards empowers that ability to make it even stronger. These powers can range from more healing, bouncing bullets, more XP, piercing bullets, and even a longer special timer.

It’s best described in a roguelike style, for dying at any point ends the run and gives a high score. Restarting sends the player back to the beginning, wipes all progress except for their ‘minerals’ and allows them to go again. The minerals can then be used to reveal/buy cards at the beginning from a peculiar dragonfruit, giving an edge to help snowball to victory. It helps give some variation to the flow knowing that players can get a leg up, but these cards are shuffled after every run — meaning cards bought at the beginning are not permanent. Does one risk it and reveal as many as possible, knowing they can survive long enough to level up and grab the good ones, or just buy them and make it easier earlier? Or what if I want to stockpile them for later, and purge them all to get a bunch? The options are vast.

Add in a relatively self-aware plot and some cheeky jokes and you’ve got a solid action title with a surprising amount of depth in its choices. It wants players to try different strategies in preparation, knowing that once they get onto the battlefield it’s mostly ‘survive until all the fruits are a punch on the floor’. If you’re looking for a roguelite with some solid co-operative gameplay and a knack for fruity puns, this might be a title worth grabbing.

Links, maybe — who knows, I don’t.

Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.