Game Over – If On A Winter’s Night, Four Travelers (#JustOnePercent 90/100)

Developer: Dead Idle Games
Release Date: September 21, 2021
MSRP: Free with optional supporter pack ($3.99)

Given the size of my gaming library, it probably isn’t very surprising that I don’t often hunt around for free titles to play. I’ve picked out a handful of free titles to play as part of this project, and I’ve been mostly pleased by the quality of these games. In fact, I’ve had more success overall with games that are freely available for download than I have with some of the bargain basement paid titles I’ve picked up over the past several months.

If you enjoy point and click adventure stories, gothic horror, and pixel art, you should go and immediately download If On A Winter’s Night, Four Travelers. The game is fairly short – I finished in under two hours – but it’s very well put together. I played on my Steam Deck, and there were only a couple of parts where it was fiddly with having to manually activate the onscreen keyboard, and two instances where the item I was trying to find was almost too small to see on the reduced screen size.

The game is set on a train where people who don’t seem to know one another at all are exchanging stories of the last things that they remember. Clearly, this is not your average train trip; in fact, it appears to be some sort of masquerade affair, as the characters are all masked. As you play through each character’s flashback, you learn a bit about their backstories.

To say too much more about the story would definitely spoil the game, so I’ll refrain. However, I do want to make clear, this is, in a lot of ways, a horror game. There are a few very shocking scenes, and in a couple of places it’s almost unbelievably gory considering the art style.

The game play is pure classic point and click adventure, full of puzzles and pixel hunting. Unless you have a good memory, there are a handful of places that having a pen and paper (or taking notes in another window) will come in handy. There are no wild adventure-game-logic leaps you’ll need to make, but you most definitely will benefit from touching everything you can and keeping track of the information the game gives you.

If On A Winter’s Night, Four Travelers is the first title from Dead Idle Games available on Steam, but their two prior games can are available on Even with such a compact story to tell, I think the game certainly could justify a small purchase price, and there is an option to purchase a supporter’s pack to give a few dollars to the developers. Overall, this is a pretty solid title for a two-person team, and worth a play through for anyone who enjoys dark adventure games and has a couple of hours to dedicate to it.

SteamDB estimates that If On A Winter’s Night, Four Travelers has been downloaded between 24,800 and 68,300 times on Steam. More impressively, it’s only gotten a small handful of negative reviews. These few folks have pointed to rather trite writing and a recycled plot, as well as pacing issues. It is ranked 138 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Game Over – Milo and the Magpies (#JustOnePercent 82/100)

Developer: Johan Scherft
Release Date: September 7, 2021
MSRP: $1.99

Milo and the Magpies is a game that I almost passed over entirely after playing the demo back in 2020. Partially it was because I struggled with figuring out what I was supposed to do, but I admit, part of my hesitancy was that I basically expected the game to be priced far above what I would have been willing to pay for it. However, when I spotted that it was half price during the most recent Steam Summer Sale – and that the full price was only two dollars – I decided to give it another chance. I’m glad I did. It was a short, but very lovely experience.

You play as Milo, a cat on his way home across the rooftops – it’s just a normal day until you get scared by some birds, and have to abandon the roofs and make your way home through the yards of the neighborhood. Each area is it’s own chapter – you need to figure out how to get across the yard safely by manipulating things in the environment, solving some puzzles, and avoiding the magpies which seem to be trying to hinder your progress.

The backgrounds are detailed and beautiful, but they ended up making me switch over to my PC, rather than playing on the small screen of the Steam Deck as I had planned. It was hard to see all the details on the Deck, and the details very much matter. You are only occasionally allowed to zoom in on things, so at least for me, this was a game much better suited to a large monitor than a handheld system.

It’s also not always readily apparent what you can and cannot click on, nor is it obvious what clicking on things will do. For example, instead of moving Milo to a place of your choosing, clicking on your kitty avatar will cause him to move in a scripted pattern, which may have be nowhere near where you wanted him. This wasn’t a problem once I got used to the idea, and took my hints from those movements instead of trying to solve puzzles independently.

There are “secrets” to be found in each chapter, and I managed to get a few, but I’ll admit that I didn’t spend much time hunting for them. I would have liked to see an in-game hint system rather than being directed to a video walkthrough or the game’s Discord, and in the end, I settled for a text guide from the Community Hub on Steam when I found myself stumped, which was less often than I expected to. Overall, there’s only a couple of obtuse puzzles – most of the game makes sense, at least in that “adventure game logic” sort of way.

If you like adventure games, and you’re looking for something charming and (mostly) family friendly, Milo and the Magpies might be right up your alley. There is one scene which small children might be frightened by near the end, and there’s one pretty blatant drug reference in one of the yards you pass through, so bear those things in mind if you plan to play alongside children. The whole game probably won’t take much more than an hour to complete, but it’s really a very lovely hour.

SteamDB estimates that Milo and the Magpies has sold between 34,200 and 94,100 copies on Steam. Reviewers have almost all recommended it, and with the gorgeous art, adorable main character, and low-risk price point, it’s not hard to see why. It is ranked 38 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Game Over – The Big Con (#JustOnePercent 78/100)

Developer: Mighty Yell
Release Date: August 31, 2021
MSRP: $14.99

I’m not sure what exactly is driving this wave of 90s nostalgia, but The Big Con is here for it, and goes all in. Full of neon colors, and almost-but-not-quite point-and-click adventure tropes, you play Ali, a high school student who is supposed to be on her way to band camp, but instead embarks on a crime-spree road trip to save her family’s small video store from a mobster who wants to sell it to a big corporation. You and your new partner have just a few stops to come up with nearly $100,000, which is an awful lot of money for a teenager just learning to pick pockets.

I’ll be honest, as far as mechanics go, The Big Con is nothing special. There’s the pick pocket mini-game, where you need to click when the indicator reaches the small colored section of the bar. Hit it at the wrong moment, or take too long, and you get caught. Get caught three times, and you’re going to be rewinding video tapes. Yes, you read that right. The punishment for failure is having to rewind. Unfortunately, this doesn’t clear anything – anyone you failed to steal from is still going to be suspicious of you, and if you want that loot, you’re going to need to find a disguise and try again.

You can – however – turn on an option to auto pickpocket, which relieves the game of a bit of tedium and annoyance, but also the only real game play mechanic in the whole game. Everything else is rummaging through trashcans, talking to people to find out what they want, and figuring out how to get it for them. The puzzle elements are not particularly challenging, and most of the time if you just touch everything you can, you’ll eventually get what you need to move forward.

The game isn’t overly long, if you aren’t trying to do absolutely everything. All in all, it took me about four hours, and even that was perhaps a bit long for the story it’s telling. And make no mistake, the story is the reason to stick around. Sometimes I’d get a moment or two of feeling very clever when I managed to find the thing I was looking for, and use it to extort the maximum amount of cash from my mark, but mostly, I was routing for Ali to foil the mobster and save the video store.

It certainly didn’t hurt that the entire premise gave me big Empire Records vibes.

All in all, The Big Con is a charming little heist story, albeit not a very challenging one. If you like light puzzles, neon colors, and the vibe of the mid-90s, you will likely enjoy this one. Completionists might find the single save system to be a bit frustrating, as if you miss something in an early level, your only recourse is to delete your save data (which you can do from the options menu) and start a fresh playthrough. I enjoyed the game, but not enough to want to replay the entire thing for nerdpoints.

SteamDB estimates that The Big Con has sold between 6,100 and 16,700 copies on Steam. It’s a niche title, but because the description is pretty upfront about what to expect, there’s been almost no negative reviews. It is ranked 175 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Game Over – Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery (#JustOnePercent 74/100)

Developer: Silver Lining Studio
Release Date: August 25, 2021
MSRP: $12.99

I find more and more lately that I enjoy games that are a compact & satisfying experience, but I am still struggling to shake off my tendency to value games by the quantity of their content. Knowing that the release version of Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery could be easily completed in under an hour, it wasn’t a title I was likely to purchase unless it hit a really deep sale. However, when I noticed it was available on Utomik, and I still had several months on my annual sub, I figured that would be a perfect time to check it out.

Everything about this game is beautiful aesthetically. The animation is movie-quality, the sound design is immersive, and it leads you through a heartwarming little story. However, if you prioritize gameplay, you may find yourself disappointed. This is definitely a game that wants to take you on a journey – the puzzle aspects almost feel like an afterthought.

You play as a young painter, trying to finish up her submission for an art program, but finding herself distracted by everything from missing paint colors, to feline break ins. You needn’t have any artistic aptitude yourself in order to play – the sections which require you to sketch and paint can be a little fiddly, but you don’t have to be particularly accurate in the details, merely the correct color and approximate location will be enough.

As your character notices things, it is on you, the player, to finish making those connections. You can always check your journal in case you’ve forgotten precisely what you’re supposed to be looking for, and I found myself sometimes opening and closing it repeatedly to compare details I needed to solve puzzles. In the whole game, there was only one puzzle I found to be a little frustrating – most of the time, it’s pretty obvious what you need to do to progress.

The base game has six chapters, and will likely take about an hour to go through them all. It’s a self-contained story, but the developers recently released a free DLC with additional story content. The Utomik version says it has been updated, but I couldn’t figure out how to access the new content, and after fiddling around in menus a bit too much, I somehow managed to reset my progress completely, and could only play through from the beginning again. I elected not to.

Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery is not particularly challenging, even for people who don’t go in too much for puzzle games or point and click adventures. Some bits were a little fiddly, but nothing was obscure enough that I felt like I needed to seek out a walkthrough. However, it’s a great argument for games as art in and of themselves. While I’m very glad that I made time to play it, I’m also not disappointed that I don’t own it, as I don’t see any circumstance in which I would feel the need to play it again.

SteamDB estimates that Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery has sold between 67,900 and 186,700 copies on Steam. Reviews are almost entirely positive – it’s not an easy game to dislike – with the few detractors focusing on its length and lack of challenge. It is ranked 77 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Game Over – Escape Academy

I’ve been in a bit of a gaming slump lately, so when you combine that with the fact that I’m trying out about a dozen games a month for the Just One Percent Project, I haven’t really made too much time for playing games just because I want to. In fact, I hadn’t expected to get around to Escape Academy (which was available on its release day on XBoX Game Pass for PC) for awhile.

Then, a few days ago, I decided to load it up and play a room or two. Before I knew it, I was about halfway through the game, so I decided to see just how long it would take me to play through to completion. The answer was just under 4 hours. I definitely had a blast playing through this one, and I’m guessing it’d also be pretty enjoyable co-op, but all the rooms have set solutions, so there’s absolutely zero replayability, which in my book, is a little skimpy for a $20 title.

My assessment after playing the demo during the June 2022 Steam Next Fest.

The first few challenges are pretty simple to get through if you have any idea how escape rooms tend to work, and probably very doable within the time limits even if you don’t. After that, the difficulty does ramp up, and I found myself relying on hints a few times when I got stumped. The game is fairly generous with the hint system, and using it a couple of times during a challenge doesn’t even confer too much of a penalty to your solve rank.

Each room you complete in time gives you a report card, rating how well you did, and then a detailed breakdown of how you were expected to figure everything out. There’s no penalty for doing things out of the intended order (although frequently you need to solve one part of the puzzle to be able to access another). If you’re really bummed about how you scored, you can replay any completed area from the bulletin board in your dorm room to improve your time & reduce deductions for using hints, but as much as I like gold medals and high scores, for me that felt like it’d be a bit tedious, as the solutions to puzzles don’t change at all.

There is already a season pass available for purchase for $14.99, which promises to basically double the length of the game in two DLCs over the next year or so. If you don’t have Game Pass, and you’re not in a rush to play, it might be worthwhile to wait until all the content has released and try to grab the complete package on sale. As it stands now, the playtime is on the low side, and the challenge is fair, but puzzle aficionados aren’t likely to run up against failure, so I’m not 100% sure the value is appropriate to the price, but it’s a pretty decent game nonetheless.

Game Over – The List (#JustOnePercent 55/100)

Developer: Dan Trimble
Release Date: June 30, 2021
MSRP: $5.99

I’ve always been fascinated by stories told out of order. That’s what drew me to Her Story back in 2016, and why I was interested in playing The List. The problem is, past the most basic of basics, it’s hard to talk about a game of this type without potentially spoiling the hell out of it.

In case you’re not familiar with this type of game, here are those basic basics. You’re tasked with putting together the pieces of a series of interrogations by searching for keywords. The List gives you access to some basic documentation to get you going, but before long, you’ll be frantically typing in every word that gets said in the last clip you managed to unlock, hoping upon hope that it’ll lead you to the next tiny scrap of story. I’ll admit, that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, but there’s something very satisfying about putting the pieces together from a series of short sections of video.

Here’s what you know at the outset. A young man named Jordan Grady kills his mysterious assailant in self defense. Nothing is known about the gunman, and the only physical evidence is an unregistered gun, a strange coin, and a list of name. Jordan’s name was on the list, and was the only one not already crossed off. The West County Police Department interviews him over several days, and shortly after he is murdered. The case goes unsolved, and now, several years after the fact, you’re tasked with poring through the damaged segments of those interviews to see if you can figure out what really happened.

There are a whopping 275 video clips you can potentially unlock, but it isn’t necessary to find every single one to end the game – in fact, there is one key clip that once you discover it will trigger the end game state. Of course, you also have the side quest of figuring out just how to get into that password protected email account for an essential bit of information. Solving the mystery will require a bit of American-centric knowledge, and there were several reviewers who complained about this, but it wasn’t a stumbling block for me personally (and I say this after tabbing out to Google far more obscure information that led me exactly nowhere).

It took me about two hours to unlock the ending, and after the credits roll, you can go back into the game and watch any clips you might have missed. There were a few that made me realize that I passed over some really obvious keywords, and a few more that made me wonder how anyone would ever have found them. Overall, the game felt fair to me, even if I found myself a little frustrated from time to time.

SteamDB estimates that The List has sold between 1,300 and 3,600 copies on Steam. With the recently popularity of FMV video games and interactive mysteries, I’m surprised it hasn’t seen more success, because I felt like it was pretty well put together. It is ranked 3286 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Game Over – Wildermyth (#JustOnePercent 52/100)

Developer: Worldwalker Games LLC
Release Date: June 15, 2021
MSRP: $24.99

This post is a little off the beaten path for me – normally, I play something, and if I’m going to write about it, I do it fairly soon afterwards. My credits roll on Wildermyth happened about 6 months ago – I meant to write about it at that time, but I kept pushing it back for one reason or another until it fell off my radar entirely. When I was making my list of games to talk about for the #JustOnePercent project, I realized that this would be the perfect excuse to revisit the game – even briefly.

Wildermyth is a party-based RPG, where the focus is on character and story more than on combat and gear. There are six story campaigns, each of which has a distinct over-arching story, but with random encounters in between the story beats, as well as four random story options. Upon completing a campaign of any type, you’re given the option to add characters from that campaign to your Legacy, where they can be selected for later playthroughs with better starting stats. The more times you play a certain character, and re-add them to your legacy, the stronger they become.

It’s a neat gimmick, and if you find yourself playing a lot, it won’t take too long for your legacy to get a bit unwieldy. However, if you don’t care for the base gameplay – and that includes a lot of reading and choice-based character progression – the legacy system probably won’t endear you overly much to the rest of the game.

There are only three classes – warrior, hunter, and mage, and rather than dithering over stats and equipment, the character creation process focuses mainly on the look of your character and their personality traits. In most campaigns, your would-be heroes start with frying pans and pitchforks, and class customization is limited to choosing from one of a handful randomly rolled abilities when you obtain enough experience to level up. There are also limited enemy types, and it can lead to the combat sections feeling repetitive and almost dull after awhile.

The main appeal of the game lies in the stories it tells. Initially, getting a new event is exciting; most of my game time was spent playing co-op with a friend, and we’d spend a significant amount of time debating our choices, when we could only guess where those choices would lead. However, despite the randomly generated maps, there are only a limited number of these carefully constructed encounters, and even if you just play through the story campaigns, you’ll likely have a handful that you encounter enough times that you’ll have learned the optimum choice to make, especially if you tend to choose similar personality traits for your heroes. Personally, I was partial to making character that were snarky and bookish, and since traits have an effect on what encounters you receive, it wasn’t long before I started seeing repeats.

Despite these weaknesses, I really enjoyed the more than fifty hours I spent playing Wildermyth. I really appreciated the need to manage how long you spent on each chapter; as enemies would get stronger with the passage of time, and if you weren’t clearing infested areas quickly enough, you could get an incursion of many powerful enemies to deal with. I liked feeling like every decision I made had some weight, and I’ll admit to getting attached to my characters. I was sad when they aged up and retired, and sadder still on the (very rare) occasions one ended up being permanently maimed or dying. I wanted success and happiness for these little paper people, and was charmed by the short summaries of how they filled their time during the years of peace between chapters.

SteamDB estimates that Wildermyth has sold somewhere between 249,500 and 686,100 copies on Steam. It’s been reviewed almost 12,000 times, and has an overall review score of Overwhelmingly Positive. It is ranked 73 out of 10,967 games released in 2021, a huge accomplishment for a first game from a indie developer.

Game Over – Beasts of Maravilla Island (#JustOnePercent 50/100)

Developer: Banana Bird Studios, LLC
Release Date: June 12, 2021
MSRP: $9.99

I don’t remember where I heard about the Kickstarter for Beasts of Maravilla Island, but I’ve always been a sucker for photography games, and with a $5 tier that included a digital copy of the game, it seemed like a no brainer. Then, I did what I usually do with Kickstarters – I proceeded to basically forget all about it until I received my key, which I activated, and then forgot about it all over again.

… this is why my library is so out of control, I’m pretty sure.

You play as Marina Montez, who has decided to follow in her late grandfather’s footsteps and visit Maravilla Island to explore and document the creatures living there. The story doesn’t quite hold together under any kind of scrutiny – at the beginning, your character seems to almost not believe that the island even exists, despite having with her a journal that documents her grandfather’s visits. But the player isn’t kept in suspense long, you arrive on the island and start your quest to photograph all the flora and fauna.

There are three distinct biomes on Maravilla Island, each with unique plants and animals to photograph, including one “special” animal in each biome. Your tasked with taking specific behavioral photos of each of the special animals, as well as any photograph of all of the critters and plants. Missing these won’t impede your progress; the game is very much on-rails, and it is only a handful of light puzzling sections that keep you from rushing immediately to the final biome and the end of the game.

Without a strong story, or challenging gameplay, what’s left for Beasts of Maravilla Island is a gorgeous artstyle (although I found the second biome to be a little hard on the eyes after a bit), and some pretty adorable creatures to photograph. While I found it charming, and appreciated its conservation-focused message, it shouldn’t take more than a couple hours to get through even for completionists, and I don’t feel any strong pull to go back to it. I enjoyed my time with it, but am unlikely to return.

SteamDB estimates that Beasts of Maravilla Island has sold between 4,800 and 13,300 copies. With only a handful of negative reviews, it seems like most people enjoyed their time on this magical island. It is ranked 753 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Game Over – No Ghost in Stay Home (#JustOnePercent 46/100)

Developer: Midori Games
Release Date: June 4, 2021
MSRP: $0.99

Environmental puzzle games can be really fantastic if they’re well done, but they are just a likely to miss the mark if the player just doesn’t get it. For me, the hallmark of a good environmental puzzler is clear cause-and-effect. It may take you a while to figure out exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, but you can clearly see what happens as a result of your actions. You flip a switch, and a light comes on or goes off. You stand on a pressure plate, and a door opens. You push on a book, and the bookcase slides over.

No Ghost in Stay Home is an environmental puzzle horror game that I think misses this mark, or perhaps it’s me who just didn’t get it. There are probably a dozen spots in the single room puzzler that are interactable, and after several (admittedly very short) playthroughs, I have very little concept of what anything actually does. There are a few different items that can be picked up, but again, I’ve only figured out what one of them is for. You can only hold one at a time, and they don’t seem to do anything or have any effect on the ending you get.

In fact, I’m not even sure what the role of the player actually is. The premise is that Anna is being left home alone for the first time for a few hours. You can see Anna sitting in a chair during the entire play through, so clearly, you are not Anna because you are all over that room looking for stuff to touch. However, she’s also supposed to be there alone, so you’re not a parent, babysitter, or friend. I suppose you are just a force, screwing around with a child who is scared (and to be honest, probably quite bored) for a few hours.

Even when I managed to make something happen, I didn’t fully understand what led to a given result. Going by achievements (which are outrageously non-descriptive for the most part) there are seventeen different endings. Although I managed to get a handful of these, I also managed to get the same ending from not touching anything for the entire three minute playthrough as I did for a round where I messed around with absolutely everything. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

It’s possible that something is lost in translation with No Ghost In Stay Home. It’s also possible that this game just didn’t do anything for me personally. On the upside, each playthrough only takes – at a maximum – about three minutes, so if you like the aesthetics and don’t mind the idea that it might all feel a little too random, it could be an interesting experience if you have a dollar to spare.

SteamDB estimates that No Ghost in Stay Home has sold somewhere between 1,000 and 2,800 copies on Steam. It didn’t do it for me, but almost everyone who left a review left a positive one. It is ranked 1151 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Game Over – Overboard! (#JustOnePercent 45/100)

Developer: inkle Ltd.
Release Date: June 2, 2021
MSRP: $14.99

Overboard! is a bit of a backwards murder mystery. It’s not a whodunnit – you did it after all – but a whocouldadunnit as you unravel the mysteries of the other passengers on the ship to figure out who can be blamed, and who is going to help you get away with killing your husband. It’s best to go avoid walkthroughs for this one – the point is not to succeed on your first try, but to pull at the different threads to see how it all shakes out until you manage to pull off the perfect crime.

Your first playthrough is almost definitely going to result in you going to jail. That’s okay. You’ll be able to try again, taking with you the things you learned from your last run. Everyone else will do things exactly as they had before – only your character can change things up. If you visit a location early enough, you can prevent an important clue from being found. If you’re in the right spot at the right time, you may be able to use your charms to convince someone to help you, or perhaps you’ll be able to blackmail them into silence. It might take a few runs before you actually get away with murder, but as long as you switch up something each time you play, you’ll learn something new and – just maybe – be able to twist that to your advantage.

It took me three attempts to avoid getting thrown in jail, and seven before I got away clean, with someone else taking the fall for my crime, with a total play time of just over 90 minutes. There are still quite a few alternate routes I could explore, and more achievements to unlock, but the retail price is a little steep for a game that can be beaten (without any sort of out of game information) in such a short period of time.

Still, I enjoyed Overboard! quite a bit; every little bit of information I managed to stumble across made me feel clever, and as I finished each play through, I was eager to dive back in, armed with new clues about how to get away with it. Despite already having “won”, there are a few more things I’d like to try, just to see how they play out, and the short time per run (mine averaged between 10 and 15 minutes) means that “just one more time” isn’t overly tedious or a big commitment.

SteamDB estimates that Overboard! has sold somewhere between 6,100 and 16,700 copies on Steam. Reviews are mostly positive, with detractors mainly citing how quickly you can see everything it has to offer as a point against it. I personally appreciate a game that doesn’t overstay its welcome, but agree that $15 might be a little high for the amount of content. It is ranked 730 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.