PEGBRJE: 10S and Quadrilateral Cowboy
10S is, to the best of my descriptive ability, a sporting bullet hell game — specifically tennis. It was made by owch, a solo dev who, upon inspection, does a lot of work with this old 2.5D aesthetic. You are a small androgynous object with a tiny racket, and are put into an environment where you must serve the ball at enemies to destroy them. The game starts out similar to squash, where you attempt to keep the ball in the ‘court’ for as long as possible with the repercussion of letting it hit your side being that you no longer have a ball to play with. However, once the enemy gets warmed up, that’s when they decide to turn this into a different game, and the bullets start flying. You as this tiny racket person must avoid those bullets for fear of death, all while hitting your own balls at the enemies to destroy them. Winning rewards you with the ability to grab a powerup, and move on.
If those reading know of Lethal League, that would be one of the better examples to explain the style that I felt while playing. While there is no opponent that can hit the ball back at you, the player must avoid all manners of bullets that sweep across the court. Some can be hit back, adding to the number of balls to hit the enemies with, but can also overwhelm the player and cause them to get hit. Thankfully, the bullets can be easily distinguished based on their property, such as the ones with black in the centre can be turned into balls as they are the same colour as your own. Bullets with bizarre shapes can not even be hit, and best avoided. Players learn of their varying abilities as they dodge and juke out the baddies, such as the smash attack from serving the new ball which consumes the ball but does an AOE attack in the hopes of not missing.
Usually at this point, I would gush over the narrative work that ties this intriguing fusion together. If someone is able to figure out what the story is, don’t hesitate to message me personally for I was completely dumbfounded. The imagery is stark with loading screens including bizarre characters not seen in game, and the enemies fighting against you on the supposed street range from dogs to people to bizarre blobs. Even upon researching the itch.io page did I come up with nothing — I’m not even certain what the title means. Yet not knowing what was going on with the art and backdrop was part of the fun, as I spent so little time focused on that while diverting my entire attention to making sure I didn’t die. It’s a game focused on mechanics and gameplay first, the art can explain itself later.
10S is a bizarrely simple game, one that appears to be obtuse and ‘hyper indie’ from the start yet is a robust fusion of bullet hell and tennis-like games. There’s even a local multiplayer mode to get another friend in on the bullets, if you wish to confuse yourself even further. If you need a simple game to fill the void in an afternoon with a friend or two, or maybe you just want to see how far you can go on this tennis road adventure, by all means 10S will give you what you seek.
Oh and the music is catchy as heck. If it gets into your head don’t blame me.
Quadrilateral Cowboy is a cyberpunk hacking adventure made by Blendo Games, an indie team Brendon Chung. You are an unnamed hacker utilizing sketchy equipment to hack into doors, cameras, lasers and more to solve puzzles in order to fulfill missions. Nothing is safe from you, and your missions are usually about breaking and entering specific areas in order to steal secrets to sell to the highest bidder. Once you break into the location, extract the information or item, you escape and see your score, only to realize that there is more work to be done. All to the soundtrack of records full of classical music.
What astounds me about Quadrilateral Cowboy — besides the mouthful of a name which gets funnier every time you say it — is just how fantastic its tutelage is on how to utilize the mechanics in game. The world of QC is full of posters that blend in with the environments, gritty signs plastered on the walls, warning labels near dangerous equipment, motivational corporate posters or hazard signs for electrical panels. Their importance is that many of them are actually reminders on how to play the game. Many yellow warning labels contain the buttons needed to press to operate them, or if there are time limits to their next hacked target. The first actual mission has a massive corporate poster similar to the likes of portal that instructs the player that they can input multiple commands using the ‘;’ button. At a distance, these all mesh into the world perfectly, a diegetic version of tutorial explanations if you will. They serve as clues and assistance tools for any new puzzle mechanics coming up, hoping that they can make it through and crack the code to move on to the next area. If you don’t need these hints, they are easily indistinguishable from the rest of the world, and instead just look like regular warning signs — immersive AND helpful, who would’ve thought.
Quadrilateral Cowboy also succeeds in mission based gameplay, whereas all penalties taken are only injuring your end score rather than forcing a restart. I set the alarm off by accident due to leaving a door open too long, and was begrudgingly accepting the punishment in the forms of either more security guards or an auto restart. Instead, the game continued onwards and it was only noted at the score screen by adding 10 minutes. For the record, I finished in a little under 10, so that did double my score which was painful in its own right. It is this lack of hard punishment, however, that makes it so inviting to play; if you care little for score, the plot can still be experienced and the puzzles can still be cracked without fear of things going horribly well. One could argue that by removing the fear of failure that it removes the tension, but I found the score to be a decent motivator in its own right, especially after realizing each siren cost me 10 minutes on my score which was disastrous.
For a game set in the cruel future of cyberpunk, Quadrilateral Cowboy is surprisingly inviting. The atmosphere is still there, especially with the warning signs and the general dark aesthetic, but it never felt overwhelming in terms of gameplay. I’ll admit that I was more than a little confused when I first started playing due to the introduction not saying much in the way of context, or the odd minigames in between. However, once the missions kicked in I knew that I was going to enjoy the puzzles immediately, cleverly setting up proper hacking times and sneaking around certain areas. It’s thrilling in its own right, to the point of creating tension without the worry of failing. If the opening didn’t warm you to the game, I urge you to go back and try again as it’s not worth missing. Anyone wanting a cyberpunk game that is much more on the relaxing spectrum but still keeps you thinking will really enjoy Quadrilateral Cowboy, especially if they enjoy logic puzzles with a command console.