Another year, another Gamescom! It sure is wonderful to be able to say that about the annual German gaming event, given the absence of a similarly huge in-person conference, E3, earlier this year. Thankfully there was nothing to stop me from heading once again back to the Koelnmesse exhibition centre in the heart of Cologne just a few days ago, this time on behalf of Adventure Game Hotspot in search of some of the best story-based games to try out and recommend.
One of the highlights, of course, was getting to meet Revolution’s Charles Cecil and chat about the two new Broken Sword games announced at the show. But there was plenty more where that came from. Over 1,200 exhibitors from 63 countries were showcasing their gaming wares to around 320,000 attendees, so forgive me if I didn’t quite get round to playing everything. I did still rack up a pretty decent list, which is why this is just the first of two articles to cover them all. I’ve grouped the games into general categories just to make things a little bit tidier – after four days spent partly in the awesome yet absolutely confusing maze that was the Indie Arena Booth, which alone hosted over 150 indie developers’ games, you’ll understand why I long for order and structure.
In this round-up you’ll get a taste of the more traditional point-and-click fare on display, including a hand-made stop-motion-style game over a decade in the making, an absurdly quirky British adventure that gained lots of plaudits at Opening Night Live, and a new chapter in the popular creepy puzzle series Rusty Lake, among many others.
Italic’s Midnight Girl is a 2D side-scrolling adventure that takes place in France in the mid-sixties. You play as a late-teen criminal on the run as you plan a spectacular heist to steal a diamond. The demo took me underground, where my (and my criminal pal’s) plans to scope out the area for the theft were scuppered by needing a bolt cutter to hack open a locked door. Not having one handy, I had to investigate the flooded sewers and solve some simple puzzles using items I found along the way to progress.
The style of the game is inspired by the city of Paris and 1960s cinema, and I enjoyed the pastel colours and silhouetted art style. I’m told that as well as puzzle solving there’ll also be some light stealth elements, which I’ll be interested to try out when the game is released on PC, console and mobiles, although there’s still no date on this one yet.
This charming hand-crafted game about life on a city-sized spaceship submerged in an alien ocean has been a whopping 11 years in the making for the fittingly named Slow Bros. It’s all because each and every model in Harold Halibut, from a simple rock to Harold himself, has been drawn then sculpted into 3D by hand first, then scanned and animated using motion capture. The result is a cross between a game and a stop motion film. That’s a lot of work to bring Harold and his chums to life, but when you see it all in action, particularly in a wonderfully psychedelic musical sequence where Mr Halibut and crew steer a small submersible through the murky ocean depths, it feels completely worth it.
The story follows our titular protagonist (not a halibut by the way, but very much a human) who was born aboard the aforementioned stranded spaceship and has never known life outside it, as he starts a friendship with an alien being from the sea outside and seeks an escape from his watery prison. Whilst there will be defined quests to complete to progress the mission, it’s likely you’ll be sidetracked often as Harold’s home spaceship is vast, teeming with brightly lit shops, secret alleyways, and oddball characters to interact with, each district connected by “tubes” to travel along – not the London Underground kind, but actual water tubes, of course. I’m told the adventure should take between 12-18 hours to complete when the game finally surfaces in 2024, but with a world this beautiful, you’ll surely want to soak up the atmosphere for as long as possible.
A Twisted Tale
Showing more of a teaser with hand-painted graphics and concept than a proper demo at Gamescom, A Twisted Tale still makes this list due to Voodoo Bembel’s evident love of the point-and-click genre through the many in-jokes and traditional inventory-style puzzle-solving gameplay. In the actual game you’ll play as Vio, just an ordinary girl who accidentally gets transported to another world through a Rubik’s cube she discovers (as one does!). The first episode of the game showing Vio’s shock teleportation should be out later this year, so not long to wait to see if it delivers on its beautiful first impressions.
Stories of Blossom
Stories of Blossom was recently released so it’s already available to play, but it was great to see this delightful game by Soft Leaf Studios that strives to be as open and disability-friendly as possible take part in the Indie Arena Booth this year. Follow Clara as she brings to life three short tales told by her grandfather, against the backdrop of children’s storybook-style illustrations. Three cheers for adventure games open to all!
Funny / Quirky Adventures
Thank Goodness You’re Here
Never was a trailer more needed than Thank Goodness You’re Here’s at Gamescom’s Opening Night Live. Amongst the high-resolution gloom of gory sci-fis and bleak rain-soaked shooters, along came Coal Supper’s absolute bundle of British silliness. As a resident of good ol’ Blighty myself, I couldn’t wait to try out the demo of this “comedy slapformer” to see if it lived up to the hype. And gloriously, it does. It looks like Panic, the publisher of Untitled Goose Game, have done it again with another surreal look at small-town life, but this time with a bawdier, brasher sentimentality. You play a rather diminutive unnamed salesman who’s come to the fictional Northern town of Barnsworth looking for a job and is passing the time in between completing tasks for the local townsfolk.
With bold, cartoon-like graphics reminiscent of British comic The Beano, Thank Goodness You’re Here is brimming with hilarious little moments as you run and hop around tending to everyone’s needs. In what other game can you whack a passerby to hear a shocked “oo ‘eck” in a hilariously over-the-top Yorkshire accent? The gameplay will see you completing quests like finding ingredients for the namesake owner of Big Ron’s Pies by completing mini-games (dodging fruit and veg thrown at you by an enraged greengrocer) and exploring Barnsworth (whacking and jumping on everything in sight). With smooth transitions from gameplay into cutscenes, it often feels like you’re playing a Saturday morning cartoon – just one with more adult and absurd sensibilities.
There’s not long to wait until we can play this reyt good platformer tha sen – it comes out on PC and consoles in early 2024. Until then, sling yer hook, yer wazzock!
Dead Pets Unleashed
This offbeat, in-your-face narrative game from Triple Topping, the creators of Welcome to Elk, sees you play as Gordy, a demonic (but cute) member of the washed-up punk band Dead Pets, as she struggles to pay the rent and find meaning in her run-of-the-mill life. The gameplay in Dead Pets Unleashed is a mixture of mini-games – from serving customers at a restaurant to um…cleaning your dildo (well it is showcasing a slice of life, pleasures and all!) – and management. Many of your choices in the game will have consequences for you and your relationships, and there’ll be things you need to keep track of (like Gordy’s finances) and how well people regard your band.
As you are a member of a punk band, the results of your actions may not be the ones you’re expecting. For example, pay your rent and you might get closer with your landlord, but your “Gordy” metre (a metre all built around your punk principles) will go down. The team cite the colourful hand-drawn art of adult cartoons such as Bojack Horseman as inspiration, and of course, being based around the life of a band, there’ll be several songs made especially for you to perform in mini-games throughout. It’s looking like it’ll be next year before we’re able to test out our ability to stick it to the man, when the game comes out on PC and consoles.
Optillusion’s While Waiting takes the idea of killing time to the extreme by removing the action and just concentrating on the moments in between. In over 100 different comic-styled short scenes, there’s something your character is waiting for – a lift, your friend to pick you up from the airport, or maybe even a game to download. To help time pass quicker, you can interact with the scene using button presses, and there’s a cryptic checklist to be filled in each scene suggesting different objectives (for example, at the airport, start stealing people’s luggage to earn a sticker!). You can also do absolutely nothing at all in each of the mini-games – wait long enough and it’ll eventually move onto the next one. Rather appropriately, we’re not sure when this one’s coming to PC yet – guess we’ll just have to wait and see!
Tiny Terry’s Turbo Trip
You’re Terry, and you want to launch yourself into space with your new car. That’s the delightfully silly premise of snekflat’s Tiny Terry’s Turbo Trip, which sees you gallivant around the town of Sprankelwater, completing tasks for its inhabitants, collecting junk to buy things like hats, pets or carjacking tools, and fighting your archnemesis Ricky in bumper car battles. It’s the open-world discovery and quirkiness of A Short Hike but set inside a bustling 3D city, which you can explore at your own pace by foot, your stolen car, or even a paraglider. We can join Terry on his totally well-thought-out adventures when the game vrooms onto PC next year.
Being touted as a 2D side-scrolling “puzzlevania,” CLeM is the fourth game in Mango Protocol’s “Psychotic Adventures” series (MechaNika, Agatha Knife and Colossus Down). Here you play a mute rag doll with little memory of what’s going on as you wake up in the basement of a house, accompanied only by an obscure voice. The creepy hand-drawn mystery sees you explore rooms of the house for answers, and that’s where the “puzzelvania” tag comes in. You won’t be able to access all areas of the building from the get-go, instead needing to solve puzzles in different parts first to unlock more as you progress. For example, see a picture of a piano in one room and play the same keys on a piano in another to unlock a new object that will allow access to somewhere else entirely. You’ll also unlock special abilities like travelling faster as you advance, which will open up even more places, just like your classic Metroidvania. CleM will be released later this year on PC and Switch.
Underground Blossom (Rusty Lake Series)
For Rusty Lake it’s back to single player after 2022’s co-op game The Past Within, as Underground Blossom follows events in the life of returning series character Laura, from birth, school, and romance to who knows what else. Each life event (there are seven in total) is split up into train stations, presented as first-person slideshows, where you’ll have to fulfil typically weird and wonderful tasks to trigger the metro to take you through to the next event or station in Laura’s journey. In my playthrough, Laura was but a baby, so a lot of my puzzles involved interacting with all the different rooms to find objects to comfort her with. The whole game should only take about two hours, but as always there are plenty of mysterious secrets to discover outside of the main challenges. Underground Blossom is on track to arrive shortly, on September 27th for PC and mobile devices.
Bye Sweet Carole
This thrilling 2D puzzle platformer with Disney-esque graphics from Little Sewing Machine casts you as Lana, a girl who finds herself transported to the enchanted realm of Corolla as she tries to find the eponymous missing girl. All is not quite as it seems in this world: an evil figure known as Mr Kyn is after Lana, but you’ve got some help in your ability to transform into the shape of a rabbit to make getting to smaller spaces and leaping to higher platforms easier. You’ll have to solve environmental puzzles and swap shapes in your quest to discover what’s happened to Carole, and presumably get out of Corolla and back to your own world too. Bye Sweet Carole will be hopping onto PC and consoles sometime next year.