PEGBRJE: Cycle 28 and Jam and the Mystery of the Mysteriously Spooky Mansion

Time for MURDER in SPAAACE. Also I’ve died so many times, I need this.

Cycle 28 is an infinite arcade shooter made by Pill Bug Interactive, which may come as a surprise seeing as the only exposure to the studio from within the bundle was a game about genetics. This title remains in a similar state as we remain in space, but instead follow Olivia Bergen, a flight lieutenant that has become stuck in a bizarre situation. Separated from her fleet, she now flies within the infinite loop of Cycle 27 — an endless nightmare in which these strange ships appear immediately upon exiting warp to destroy her. Yet no matter how many times she’s died, she returns to the same spot she warped in from to start to do it all over again. Perhaps in one of these cycles she’ll figure out how to break the cycle and get home.

Players won’t find much in the way of explanations upon starting Cycle 28, but the gameplay is familiar to many arcade space shooters. The ship Olivia pilots starts with a single gun and an accelerator to propel the ship forward. Releasing the acceleration allows for tighter turns, but to say I used it for anything other than to spin in circles while flying through space would be a lie. Firing also propels the ship in the opposite direction, leading to some fantastic drifting segments to dodge incoming bullets and ships. Once controls are understood, players will realize they’re in the vast emptiness of space with only indicators to the enemy, and destroying them awards points which don’t seem apparently useful at first. Upon dying, players will reset back to the beginning of the game to restart the conflict over and over again, but this time with a twist — if they gained enough points in the previous round, upgrades may become available for them to purchase. These augment the ship and weapons to allow for better chances at survival and more points to be gained in subsequent runs. It’s here that players also realize; there’s only 6 minutes to win. But… what exactly are we trying to ‘do’?

That’s the hidden gem within the title if I’m honest, the fact that playing the game and experience constant death and cycles is part of the narrative itself. Olivia is attempting to break free of Cycle 27, but she and the player have no idea how they even got here in the first place. There’s no lore textbook on infinite loops to consult; all she can do is explore and see what is around. Since every ‘respawn’ is the same, it’s a game of exploring familiar grounds to uncover what exactly may be here with her besides these terrifying ships set out to kill her. One of my early runs — I’m talking second time playing the game — I ran into a massive wall that I’d simply never seen before just because I decided to just pick a direction and ignore everything as I went. What could be found out there is unknown, as I quite literally ran into it and died immediately. But the idea is there, that there’s an expansive cycle that players are stuck in, but within the 6 minutes they could find out what exactly it is.

This combination of simplicity mixed with mystery and repetition is what makes it so alluring after a few runs, attempts to discover exactly what is hidden within this world while trying your best to survive against the constant onslaught. I’m not sure if every secret has been found yet, but judging by the fact that the studio is willing to give away every one of their games for free to the first person to find every mystery means there’s a lot to find. If you love mindless arcade shooting mixed with beating your own score and finding clues to the answers of infinity, then this is definitely one to try.

Jam and the Mystery of the Mysteriously Spooky Mansion is a detective narrative by Res, an indie dev out of British Columbia. In this title, players follow Jam, the self titled ‘world’s greatest kid detective between the ages of 4 and 17 in the western half of Linn County!’. In this adventure for the young prodigy, Jam has already caught the culprit, their arch nemesis Alexandre V. Badmann (poor guy), at the scene of the crime. What crime, one might ask? Well… that’s the problem. See, Jam has somewhat jumped the gun, as the saying goes. Jam has the culprit, but is completely unaware of the actual crime that has been committed. This isn’t a problem for ‘the world’s greatest kid detective between the ages of 4 and 17 in the western half of Linn County!’ (this get’s said a lot) so it’s off to find some evidence!

In a twist of fate, players are performing an almost complete reverse deductive mystery game; instead of attempting to apprehend the culprit, Jam instead is looking for the evidence to damn Alexandre to his fate. The house itself, which is terrifyingly empty, has many rooms with interactables that Jam can examine for possible clues of the crime, and items found useful are sorted into either ‘evidence’ or ‘stuff’. Evidence is for all items that are deemed important to the crime committed, but not particularly useful for finding more clues. Stuff is all of the… stuff… that is found that can be useful, like that gun Jam finds. With these two categories of items, players will continually find things to examine, with some item bringing up an interaction menu for players to use a ‘stuff’ item on the object in the room. It’s very similar to point and click adventures as many of the puzzles simply involve finding out which item interacts properly with another to give some results, rather than the normal ‘that doesn’t work there’.

What drives a lot of the deduction is Jam’s dialogue that accompanies the interactions; it’s exactly what I would expect from an ambiguously aged individual under the age of 18. There are pop culture references, quirky comments to fit things together in a sensible manner and an indifference to possibly weird or dangerous paraphernalia. Once the evidence is collected — which only two pieces are necessary — Jam will confront Alexandre about his crime, and the story that is woven is by far the most hilariously bizarre thing to come out of this game. To call it a stretch would be a disservice; the lengths Jam goes to make a story out of two seemingly random objects is amazingly talented, if a bit absurd. Of course, this does lead to me sympathizing with Alexandre for nearly the entire game as he just seems to a decent person stuck with an absolute maniac that is determined to incriminate him regardless. Did he commit a crime? Not sure, every crime Jam and I accused him of was hilariously far fetched so it’s hard to think that he might have actually done a crime. Who knows, maybe I’m off the mark.

Jam and the Mystery of the Mysteriously Spooky Mansion does a lot of fun things within a small space to entertain, even if some of the jokes may tend to miss the mark — but that might just be because I didn’t connect with a few of them. Regardless, every ending has it’s own bizarre twist of fate to accompany it, even the secret 16th ending that involves that fire hydrant that has been mocking me the entire game. For those of us that wish to see all endings, there’s a lovely spoiler-lite guide to accompany the game to help out which is super nice; I didn’t use it til after my third ending, but it was a nice addition. If you are looking for a detective game that decides to play it out backwards, try out Jam’s fun times and see what in the blazes is going on.

Linnnnnnnnnks

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.