PEGBRJE: Cuckoo Castle and Nini
Cuckoo Castle is a small Metroidvania created by a trio of developers for the fourth edition of gbjam. This includes programming by Richard Lems, artwork by Diane de Wilde and audio by Shannon Mason. Players are a valiant knight that is hoping to defeat the evil that has stolen the villagers near a castle that mysteriously appeared out of thin air.
As this lonely knight, players will do what Metroidvania’s do best; delve in to an enclosed region with no hardset ‘direction’ and instead utilizing the level design to guide players down certain possible routes that may lead to bosses and power ups. Enemies are scattered throughout, attracted to the knight’s appearance and attempt to kill him no matter what, anchored to their room to the point that they will respawn once the player leaves and returns. Now this is a ‘mini-metroidvania’ as advertised, so it strips down a lot of the game’s systems to make it simpler and easier to just pick up and play. There is no items to acquire, with the only interactables being strangers that the player can talk to, and pig statues to save progress and teleport back to town. It’s aiming to give that full feeling of crawling through a castle with only a weapon in hand to defeat the baddies, no matter what kind they may be.
Yet Metroidvania’s thrive on the idea of new skills and powerups being how players reach those new parts of the castle, how the entire genre is designed around limiting player exploration by gaining these new powers. So how does Cuckoo Castle manage this if it is attempting to be simple and small? The answer lies in those NPCs that players rescue; some may state that they are returning to town and can be of assistance. These individuals are the unlockable ‘skills’ of the Metroidvania, as the player can opt to switch out the knight for them and their change in playstyle. For example, the witch seen above has a double jump to compensate for her lackluster damage, which allows for players to scale areas of the castle that were originally thought to be impossible to reach from below. It allows for Cuckoo Castle to still remain small in its package, as players are no longer worried about new buttons to press or new skills to acquire, and instead are looking for bosses that may have kidnapped other heroes that may be able to assist.
It’s this thinking that allows for Cuckoo Castle to feel so satisfying during exploration, with there always being a possibility that a new friend may be found and can be swapped out to venture throughout the castle. It also allows for the bosses to be ‘balanced’ around these characters rather than around the skills that would normally be acquired, so it can showcase them rather than add complexity. It’s a cute adventure in its own right, and even as a mini-Metroidvania it can still take some time to complete. However you approach it, there’s something for anyone to enjoy, especially if you love exploring a spooky castle.
Nini is actually kind of sort of not a ‘game’ — except it is, and it was created for JamChezMoi by Harmonie Games, a solo indie dev based out of France. Why I struggled to label it is because, similarly to some other things I’ve deemed software in the past, this is a game that transforms your computer into the game itself.
See, Nini is a game that runs in the background of the player’s computer, with the only indicator being that lovely blue circle at the top. As the player continues about their day with whatever they have to do, it watches quietly for two specific trigger words: ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. Once either of these words are typed in any capacity, they will fall from the top of the screen and sit on the bottom, interactable by throwing them around if one so desires but will ultimately since there and do nothing but clutter the visuals. Before one ponders, yes I added two more words to the bottom of my screen upon typing those two words, as I’m still running it to see how hilariously bizarre it can get.
Now some may remember that there was another project of a similar pattern from earlier that I labelled a software, rather than a game. What’s the difference? Well, the big key point is that Nini has a menu that allows for players to witness their ‘progress’ for the day with how many ‘forbidden’ words have been typed, and it documents how long players have had the game running. Achievements can also be gained for the number of words typed, or others for how long the player is able to go without typing a forbidden word or repeatedly type it out. These achievements aren’t just for show, however, as they give points that can be utilized to buy new themes for the game’s backdrop. It’s not a lot, but it’s something to work towards and feels as if there is a sense of progression, so it gives more of a sense of a ‘game’ in that way.
While it may be contrived to think about it in this capacity, Nini gives something silly to have running in the background that can slowly influence a day. Some days it won’t matter, while others you’ll be swimming in Yes and No words everywhere. Honestly it’s kind of fun to just type Yes and No over and over again just to get them to fall at times.
Oh well. Pick this up if you want to have fun during a work day.
Note: This is a #gbjam game. I did some post deadline bugfixes but it's a gamejam game so there might still be some…