I’ve never thought about playing TETRIS variants against my passed, but hey. First time for everything, y’know?

PALACE OF WOE is an explorative puzzle game made by a certain developer known as ‘owch’: that’s right, we’re on game number three of owch’s installments in the bundle. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so familiar with a certain dev’s style, especially within this bundle, as I have with owch. So what’s this one about then? Well, players control a hoodied individual with no name that is within a bizarre labyrinth of sorts. The only thing that looks relatively familiar is that there are a lot of chairs for some reason.

Like with the other installments by owch, PALACE OF WOE focuses on the combination and interaction of two seemingly separate mechanics in order to create it’s gameplay. Generally players will be exploring the labyrinth in the hopes of escaping, but can’t due to the excessive amount of chairs in the area. Thankfully, our protagonist has the capability to shove chairs into open areas, which brought up fond memories of the Pokemon puzzles of old; moving blocks around a room so that we as players can continue to the next room. This isn’t limited to just chairs, as once players escape the closed section of the labyrinth there are other objects to move about as well such as trees. How we are able to move trees is beyond me, attribute it to super strength. Do not fear if an object gets shoved in the wrong direction, as rooms completely reset upon leaving them so there’s always another shot.

The second mechanic, one that admittedly took me a bit to actually realize that it was going on, is the combat system. Some objects within the world will look different than the rest, such as the blue chair amidst the black ones. These are enemies, and upon defeating them they will disappear to open passage or reveal a gap to allow for pushing puzzle solving. To defeat them, simply walk into them to initiate combat which begins in a JRPG/Pokemon encounter slide in with a shadow becoming the enemy with some text about who the enemy is and what they will do to the player. Combat itself, however, is TETRIS. Players are given a block and a timer, and their goal is to remove a line of blocks to damage the enemy. The catch? Overlapping bricks hurts our hoodied friend and removes the block, so it becomes a balance of trying to avoid damage or taking as little as possible while dishing it out. Some shapes given are extremely wonky, such as the massive T for the S. Crow, so juggling how to fit each one to avoid damage becomes trickier. Especially when a certain individual doesn’t realize what the ‘hold’ box is until halfway through their playthrough (that’s me, I’m the individual).

There’s something eerily sinister during combat as well, attributed to the descriptions of what exactly these enemies will do to the player but also what their names are. The first enemy players will encounter is simply named ‘PASSED’ which has enough implications on its own. Along with the tagline and my own knowledge of owch’s work, there’s something going on for the player that is just vague enough to not be obvious, yet always nagging in the background. Why are we in this labyrinth, why are we sorting ourselves out? What are we sorting besides these chairs?

That’s up to you to find out. With only a singular ending, there’s only one way to go if one wants answers, and that’s out of the labyrinth. If you are a fan of owch’s works in the simple yet strange, then this will definitely be something to try out. Happy sorting.

You can waste time on your phone. Yes this game is great.

Flux is a cyberpunk collection of narrative minigames made by Mars Ashton, award winning indie dev and professor in Michigan. This specific project has players following an individual known as Wanderer, an ex-military member turned courier on their journeys to deliver packages, interact with those that call this futuristic landscape home and customize their outfit to fit the player’s style.

The simplest approach to explaining Flux is that Wanderer does odd jobs every day, and each odd job consists of a day passing. These jobs, however, take the form of 9 minigames that Wanderer can choose between, and they are all varied to say the least. Starting with the jobs as a courier, ‘Groove’ and ‘Freestyle’ involve inputting the specific commands that appear on screen in order to gain Flux (which is the term for speed, and for audio volume). Freestyle is much more relaxed, as there is no restriction as to when player’s press the buttons while Groove is much more in line with traditional rhythm titles. ‘Mecha’ is nearly identical to Freestyle, but occurs within the air rather than on an endless freeway. ‘Challenge’ and ‘Spelling’ are both typing titles, with Challenge being randomized letters appearing on screen while spelling is… exactly what one might expect. Finally, ‘Glyph’ is an odd game of rotating visuals on the right to match the visuals on the left via the arrow keys. The remaining three titles have absolutely nothing to do with courier, as they handle beat-em-up scenarios instead. ‘Assault’ asks Wanderer to survive waves of endless enemies in combat, while ‘Rash+Slash’ combines the bike from the courier missions to slash enemies while driving. To round them out is ‘Armament’, where players jump into their airship once again to defend the city from oncoming attacks.

What’s intriguing about these 9 is that they are all endless and ‘casual’ in nature. The courier jobs can go on for seemingly forever, as I found after about 10 minutes of typing with no end in sight. There was no destination that players needed to arrive at, especially in the courier titles, as players could simply press Backspace at any time to ‘end’ the job to which we would be given a cutscene detailing the delivery. However, the Flux gained as mentioned earlier is also how players earn money; the longer they are on the job, the more money is made to buy upgrades and cosmetics to customize and enhance Wanderer. Winning isn’t the object of the game, but instead a means to an end to enjoy the set pieces and backdrops while having a bit of fun. For the record, the two typing games were my favourite, but that may be because I like typing.

So what exactly are the set pieces of Flux that keeps players motivated, one might ask. Well, as players progress day by day, gaining money and upgrading themselves, they can also explore the world and learn of the struggles within. Wanderer’s girlfriend Mullberry will normally text after every day (which players do need to sleep to actually move to the next day), as she works a nightshift and isn’t seen in person often. Players can visit the bar, other couriers, locals, and even go fishing — which makes this game already an absolute victory. It’s through these interactions and mini-encounters that players learn about who Wanderer really is and the relationships formed before players assumed control to witness the current moments, and forge new ones in between work.

Also, for the record, this game allows players to implement their own music to have jam in the background. The soundtrack featured by Quantum Dylan is already perfect for the aesthetic in a chillwave groove, but if players want something else to ride along to that’s also a feature available.

I wasn’t certain what Flux was going to be like upon starting, but after playing I can soundly say that it’s the ultimate in relaxation mini-gaming. There’s no consequences to failure, no rush or deadlines to spur players into hasty decisions. It’s almost like an interactive music video for chillwave, something to relax to and periodically play if one so wishes. This may turn some players off — having no consequences or tension can do that — but it also means that stakes can be completely self made if needed. It’s up to you to find out what you want, but at least enjoy the relaxing ride while you do; once you are able to get the hang of the controls, anyway. If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, be sure to give it a ride.

Bonus update: This game is MADE IN FLASH? Colour me impressed. RIP Flash. Also the courier job person? Name is Suda. Couldn’t stop myself from always thinking that Suda51 was telling me to deliver packages in a weird alternate universe where Suda51 and Hideo Kojima teamed up to create a cyberpunk Death Stranding. Food for thought.

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