PEGBRJE: inSynch and Corinne Cross’s Dead & Breakfast

Atmospheric? Check. Thematic? Check.

Now what have we here?

inSynch is an atmospheric rhythm title made by Them Games, an indie studio out of France that focuses primarily on musical integration and expression through simplicity. This title is probably the best example of this, for players are crafting the music as they bounce shapes in to a hole. Oh, and it’s stop motion and contains some sick woodwinds. Let’s begin, shall we?

At the core, inSynch is a game of focus and timing, as four lanes of geometric shapes encroach towards the centre via lanes made of different materials for each level. Players have four buttons they can press, defaulted on PC to E,D,P,L to represent the four lanes, and pressing them activates the little raised platform at the end. The goal is to time the button just right so that the incoming shape will be launched in to the centre hole instead of the acid, which can have a differing effect depending on the game mode being played. The initial mode, ‘Explore’ will add a felt token to the side of that lane to signify each shape sent in to the hole, and once every lane is filled the round is over; sort of. A timer begins, and players can continue for an allotted time to get as many extra shapes in as possible to increase their high score. For the other mode, ‘Exploit’, players are instead doing the opposite: the felt tokens represents lives of each lane, and each that enters acid will be taken away. The lives are chosen at random per lane and there’s always some alterations to the gameplay to make it even more challenging to focus on getting the right buttons to activate at the right time.

So where’s this ‘atmospheric rhythm’ part? Well, let’s delve in to the best aspect of this title put on display in the Explore mode. As players are able to get shapes in to the centre, musical instrumentation is added based around the material of the level itself and the shapes that have been added. As more are added, the music takes it’s own shape, molded and influenced by the player’s additions to the score via the shapes which now seemingly Pop and dance with the music that hadn’t been there before. There’s an ebb and flow that can help assist the timing of the button presses, while also giving an atmosphere that will either help players focus, or distract them by being too catchy. There’s also the fact that each level has a different atmosphere generated by the level’s material itself, with the wood having a more hollow strike or the resin’s softer yet synthetic approach. It’s an utterly genius idea, to have players shape their own music as a byproduct of their gameplay without them completely realizing it is occurring outside of the initial start. Exploit has this feature as well, but it feels less on display due to the lives; I messed up a bunch in Explore and could shape the music at times, while Exploit would just end my run if I did that.

All of this is lovingly crafted and bundled within stop motion, where each shape has their own movement and animation as they move towards the centre. There are many aspects that aren’t stop motion, like how the shapes will change their movement to throw off the player (looking at you, double dodecahedron nonsense) but the foundation is set in the stop motion. This gives inSynch this sense that I’m playing an actual game physically in front of me, pressing the buttons to get them to hop in to this pit I’ve crafted.

Make no mistake, however; inSynch is hard. My brain couldn’t split itself in four that well, and the highest time I ever got on Exploit was under a minute. Some of you may be able to split focus better than I, to which this game will be very appealing. For those of us not as well versed in this skill, Explore is the best mode for building up the music and gaining the experiences that were set out to be created. If you are looking for something super artistic and creative, then this is definitely one to try.

Spooooooooky, but also cozy.

Corinne Cross’s Dead & Breakfast is a narrative adventure made by Bad Chalk, a solo indie dev out of the United States. Within this tale, players will be following the recent graduate and title character Corinne Cross as she accepts a favour to watch over the house of a grieving mother for a week. Surely this should be straight forward house maintenance, right? Well, turns out this house was a bed and breakfast, and not every patron is exactly alive.

Gameplay wise, CCDB follows the narrative formula of completing within a set time period (seven days) with a day night cycle to explore. Corinne will interact with the neighbour of the house Hermina who helps to get Corinne situated and familiar with the house and what to do —starting with watering and maintaining flowers. This doubles as her income, which sounds odd at first, as she is able to sell the flowers grown to the local flower shop. The money is necessary for Corinne is going to need to be in need of cash in order to keep the bed and breakfast operating properly for her ghostly patrons. She’ll need to find ways to cook food, purchasing the ingredients while grabbing any items that those around might request. Decisions made are less about narrative trees and dialogue (though there are a few of those as well) and more about what Corinne can and cannot do during a given day or night. Unable to purchase a certain item requested? That individual might be much more sour than normal, which can make the player feel like they are stretched in multiple directions, and Corinne isn’t immune to this. She isn’t a robot, she needs to sleep — even if she is an insomniac — and actions such as cooking and watering plants require energy to perform. It’s just as much a management simulation as it is narrative, for ensuring that there is enough money and energy to complete the tasks that want to be done requires a bit of forethought. That isn’t to say that a lack of planning will ruin the game, as it isn’t meant to be a brutal survival-esque, but it does pay off to keep in mind where one wishes for things to go.

As stated, where things ‘go’ between Corinne and the incorporeal guests is up to how the player interacts with them and handles their requests, which she does quite well despite being completely unprepared to see literal ghosts. Much of the early narrative hinges on this fact, as one could expect, but Corinne eases in to it; probably thanks to the absurdity of the situation. However, this narrative also runs parallel to another, one that hangs over the setting like a cloud as a reminder of the death that has happened for these patrons to exist within the house and the grieving mother to whom Corinne is assisting. While completely up to the players, CCDBB wants the narrative to explore the emotional weight that exists surrounding the loss of others, regardless of whether or not Corinne (or the player) is exactly influenced by them. She serves as an external viewpoint, one that knows little of the individuals themselves but can offer an ear and a shoulder to help them. Whether this comes in the form of visiting the mother in the hospital or ensuring that the requests of the dead are fulfilled, players have the freedom to discover each and every possibility.

As it only lasts a week, Corinne Cross’s Dead & Breakfast pulls together all of its themes within a few hours of play time, depending on how one approaches the dialogue or how much they spend tending everything. There’s a lot to explore and the replayability is quite high thanks to the NG+ feature that unlocks new dialogue and secrets. The controls take a bit getting used to, mostly selecting the menu items constantly to use them was a bit off-putting, but that wasn’t really why the game was compelling. It wants to tell an emotionally connecting story where players get to interact with those that have passed and hopefully help them move on, all while cooking some bacon and making some pretty flowers. If you love management-style adventure games, juggling between narrative and flower-growing, this might be the perfect game for you. Hopefully you can find a way to help them all.

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