Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Who Likes Short Shorts? Steam Likes Short Shorts.

Another  year, another Next Fest. How often do they run these things, anyway? Seems like once a quarter.

However often it is, maybe it's too often. Last night I scrolled through the entire catalog and I can't say I was impressed. Every other time I've done it, at least a couple of games have jumped out at me but this time around I'm not at all sure I'd have bothered with any of them if it wasn't for the blogging opportunities.

After about half an hour of scrolling and clicking, reading descriptions, looking at screenshots and watching the odd gameplay clip, I settled for six demos:

  • Mika and the Witch's Mountain
  • Grace Online
  • The Black Grimoire
  • Zid Journey
  • Hello Goodboy
  • Splittown

This morning, after reading about it at MassivelyOP, I added a seventh:

  • Ethyrial: Echoes of Yore

Seven demos is probably about as many as I could hope to check out before the event ends on Monday and even then I doubt I'll be finishing most of them. 

I certainly won't be finishing Grace or Ethyrial; they're both mmorpgs. You don't "finish" mmos, not even in demo form. And honestly, even if you could, neither of them really appeals to me enough to imagine I'd try. 

I feel honor-bound to at least look at pretty much any new mmorpg I happen upon but Grace Online looks kind of vague and nebulous, while Ethyrial purports to be one of those uphill in the snow both ways throwbacks, this time with both mandatory grouping and full-loot PvP. I'm not sure why people keep making those. When was the last time one succeeded? I'm guessing never.

Still, character creation is always fun and you never know when something is going to light a candle in your soul. I mean, I'm still playing Noah's Heart...

All things being equal, I'm hoping to try one of the mmorpgs later today. That said, I tried to play Grace Online last night and couldn't connect to  the server, so no promises. There was no indication whether the server itself was down or whether the problem was something to do with my settings but either way  it doesn't bode well.

Thwarted, I played Mika and the Witch's Mountain instead. It's "a fantasy adventure about an aspiring witch who delivers packages to the townspeople of a small island" and its tags include "wholesome" and "cute" which, along with the delightfully colorful screenshots, was what attracted me to add it to the list.

The first thing to greet me on logging in was a warning that the game was only playable with a controller so not to bother trying to use a keyboard and mouse. This, it turns out, is not true; there's a correction on the game's Steam page saying "The game is currently compatible with both gamepad and keyboard/mouse, but UI prompts only show gamepad shortcuts. We will fix it tomorrow.

I didn't know that at the time so I plugged in my trusty, cheap, Made in China gamepad and got on with it. I was glad to. I've been looking for an excuse to use the thing.

In-game instructions seemed sparse but with a little random button-pressing I soon had Mika careering into walls as the camera span wildly, which is pretty much par for the course when I use a controller. Finding the map and menu took a little longer but not so long as to be annoying.

The game opens with Mika's mentor, Oligari, pushing her off a cliff. 

Well, okay, not exactly "opens". There's a bit of dialog first. Some scene-setting. A little backstory. Not much. Then it's five hundred feet in freefall and a crash landing that snaps Mika's broom in half. 

The rest of the plot would appear to revolve around earning enough money to buy a powerful-enough broom to fly back up to the top of the cliff, which is the graduation exam Oligari has set Mika to prove she's ready to become a witch. Before that, you'll need to help her find all the things that fell out of her backpack on the way down. And before that, find someone kind enough to fix the broken broom for free, because without some kind of flying broom your earning capacity is zero.

It's engaging stuff. Mika is chatty, the people she meets are friendly, the world is bright, colorful and charming. It only takes a minute or two to get your broom mended, after which you're free to swoop around at head height like a wounded butterfly. It's very clear you won't be climbing into the clouds on this thing but at least now you won't starve.

A fellow in the town square offers Mika a job delivering parcels. He's cagey about pay, even when she pushes him. In authentic gig economy style, everything rests on reviews. If your customers aren't happy, you don't get paid.

I did find the strict adherence to 21st century employment mores uncomfortably ironic but then what do almost all games do but try to turn things that would be unbearable in real life into welcome entertainment. Sometimes I wonder about us all.

Philosophy aside, gameplay is fun. Chatting to townsfolk, picking up parcels, bouncing your broom off walls an buildings to gain height, then swooping down to try and land on a dock or a fishing boat without tipping into the sea had all my attention for twenty minutes or so. And then I threw up.

Okay, no, I didn't. I just felt like I was going to. Unlike Mrs.Bhagpuss, I don't often suffer from motion sickness while playing games but the lurching, wheeling, yawing flight of the broomstick (As controlled by a thoroughly incompetent gamepad-user, namely me.) left me feeling too nauseous to carry on. 

I think it would have been okay if I'd heeded the obvious signs and taken some breaks but I was enjoying myself too much to stop until I had no choice. Without that major drawback I would certainly have played through Mika and the Witch's Mountain until the demo's end. I still might, now I know you can use the mouse and keyboard, after all.

The whole thing feels tight and well-made, barring some very slightly wonky translations, which honestly just add to the charm of the affair. There's a particularly good piece of fourth-wall bending if you check the mailbox, something I thought spoke well of the quality of the writing. 

I'm not sure I saw enough to give a full recommendation but I'd certainly encourage anyone who likes this kind of gentle, explore-and-collect gameplay to check out the demo, particularly if they know how to use a gamepad safely. 

One down, six to go.


  1. Huh. I expected a Nair commercial. ;-)

    1. Hmm. Deja Vu. I had a suspicion I might have used a variation of this post title before and now you've confirmed it because I'm pretty sure I remember you making a version of the same comment then. I knew I should have checked it...

      Yep! And it was less than a year ago, too, February 26 2022, for a post about Lost Ark. I called it "Who Wears Short Shorts?" and you put a link to the Nair commercial in a comment. My memory is a total sieve.

    2. No worries, Bhagpuss. I just love the reference. No, I'm not in love with John Stamos, either.


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