At Night, by Oscar
After an entry that leaned almost entirely in the story direction, here’s one that takes the opposite tack. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a bit of a plot and some internal conflict in At Night – the main character is being plagued by nightmares, you see – but what’s distinctive about it is the combat system, which you need to master in order to reach a successful ending (reaching other endings, where you die horrible, is much simpler!)
The initial impression At Night makes is charming – there’s some cute pixel art, and good use of sound with raindrops outside the main character’s window as they play games late into the night. After finally going to sleep, though, they’re hurled (in their dreams?) into a hellish realm and meet a demon who’ll swallow their soul unless they fight for his amusement against a group of his servitors. This section was really frustrating, I found. When you first confront this head demon, you have a number of choices on how to proceed, including attacking flat-out or deciding what to offer him to get him to release you.
There’s only one correct answer here – the others get you killed – but I think I exhausted every wrong answer on the way to finding it, both because I wanted to run through the full dialogue tree before moving to the next bit, but also because the main character kept attacking the demon-lord when I was trying to agree to fight his minions. Part of the fault here is that I found some of the dialogue and options unclear: the game appears translated from Spanish (in one maze sequence, I saw the word “izquierda” substitute for “left”) and there are some puzzling phrases and awkward grammar at times (I was told that my “bladder has lost its youth”, and that “it is very good playing [video games] when it is a dog day”). Making things worse, there’s no save option, and there’s lots of timed text, making replaying fairly excruciating.
Once I did figure out how to agree to the deal, things got better, thankfully. There’s a clever combat system that relies on using positional audio to track down and beat up the minions (who it turns out are ghosts, not demons). I did die once more because I thought you were supposed to elude the monsters – the main character is completely unarmed – but that just gives them a free hit. But the combat minigame works well enough, and even got a laugh out of me because of how the interface is set up: you need to click “left” or “right” depending on where you hear the audio cue, except the screen lists “right” on the left, and “left” on the right, which lent my attempts a slapstick air as I tried to get my stupid, stupid brain to click in the correct place despite this confusing layout. After killing enough demons you win the game and wake up from your nightmare – though there’s the inevitable horror movie sting to suggest you haven’t (this is done in an entertainingly cheesy fashion that also got a laugh out of me).
There’s some clever technical design here, and I really did like the art, so this is a good foundation to build on. In a post-Comp release that tightens up the writing, and irons out some of the more frustrating aspects of the design, this would be a fun distraction, though At Night isn’t quite there yet.