PEGBRJE: Sidewords and The Whisperer in Darkness

Letters are weird, y’know?

Sidewords is a grid word puzzle made by Milkbag Games, a Canadian studio who included their title Future Grind in the bundle previously. This time, instead of grinding across neon-coloured rails in excitement, players will be grinding their brains into a pulp trying to figure out just what words are again.

Sidewords, in the simplest explanation, is a combination of word creation puzzle and logical grid puzzle. The goal for players is to fill the grid with words utilizing the words given on the outside column and row. For each letter, a column/row is generated to create the grid, and selecting a grid letter begins the process to create a new word based on these words. This is where it gets a bit confusing at first, so bear with me. Essentially, the letters need to have some form of intersection between the columns and rows to form a ‘block’ to put the word onto the grid. So for example, the word TAPS can be generated from SPA and SET as seen above, and each letter selection highlights the row/column that the letter is in. Where the puzzling challenge kicks in is that blocks cannot overlap. A word cannot be made if it would impede on a pre-existing word, meaning that the entire area is now barred. This is more impactful than I originally expected, as even though the two words are only three-four letters each (to start) I would come up with half a dozen words that couldn’t fit properly with the rest. Every solution grants a key to the player which unlocks the final puzzle of a section upon the collection of every key.

Thankfully, there are quite a few assists built in to help players whenever they get stuck. All of the words can be removed from the grid by simply clicking on them, allowing for construction and deconstruction of grid-layouts without any major hassle. There’s a limited hint system if players get stuck, giving a single word as the hint to allow players to jumpstart their solution — while it sounds simple, usually it’s all one needs to entire solution. The proverbial key, as one might say.

It’s an ingenious puzzle style, if I’m honest. Sidewords combines the joy of grids with word-bending mindgames. Players can even make their own puzzles if they’re feeling spicy. Change the colours, change the puzzles, change whatever you’d like to have fun with Sidewords.

Sometimes, the end is not as clear as it appears

The Whisperer in Darkness is a visual novel adaptation of the HP Lovecraft novella of the same name by Nat Quayle Nelson, an indie developer out of the United States. Within this tale, players will recount the story of one Albert N. Wilmarth as he writes of his experiences within a journal of a supernatural event within Vermont.

It’s hard to describe exactly what this title is without retreading over the intro, for this is literally a novella ‘gamified’. For those that have read the original (which, for the record, I have not in its entirety), The Whisperer in Darkness is a retelling of the story to give it a more modern setting while remaining true to the journalistic/letter style of the original. Instead of Albert receiving letters, his letter correspondence with Henry Akeley is through the glorious power of email, able to keep the formatting the same but now at a much faster pace. During the moments in which the stone is being shipped to Wilmarth, he uses a delivery website to check his package number instead of calling. They do not detract from the overall atmosphere, merely shift the era in which the events appear to have occurred.

Where this medium helps to elevate the written words is through the small interactivity and atmosphere building added. The soundtrack is an eerie minor with whispers constantly mixing in with the rest, always around yet never truly intelligible. The visuals are a mix between the ascii text that is used to write in the journal and the painted illustrations at certain times to convey a sense of weight and dread. They are usually included when describing a set piece or event that occurs for the player to better visualize what is being written, while also giving Nat the freedom to add in their own personal flair and understanding to the piece.

It’s not lengthy — the source material isn’t either — but it uses its limited time well to develop an unsettling aura as one reads. Even for those of us that aren’t as familiar with the original as others, it’s a fantastic way of conveying the story for those that perhaps wish to have a little bit more colour to see as they experience it. Or want to read an unnerving story with some extra terror. Your pick!

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Just a 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.

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Jacob Vorstenbosch

Jacob Vorstenbosch

Just a 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.

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