Welcome to yet another edition of Budget Bytes, the series where I recommend games which cost $10 or less. Let’s see what games I have on the list this month, shall we?
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux (itch.io)
Handling sensitive topics like depression and mental health is tough. On one hand, you don’t want your writing to come off as too “edgelordy” to someone who might not have the illness. On the other, you want to shine a light on the serious impact something like depression can have on a person.
Better Half follows Thiu, a man who suffers from severe depression and social anxiety. He wishes for a way to go back to how he was before. In a last ditch effort to find someone who can help him, he visits a unpleasant mage whom he believes might hold the solution to his problem. However, instead of having his depression cured, the mage puts a spell on him which splits his soul into two halves, one who’s filled with all his positive traits and thoughts and the other who is filled with only the negative things. We just to happen to play as the “negative” Thiu.
As the game progresses, despite the spell supposedly making a positive Thiu, he later learns that he isn’t feeling so great either. The other Thiu, the negative one, learns to become comfortable with his other self and starts to feel things he hasn’t felt in a while. Without really telling us, it shows how even the most positive person can still have their bad days, and how someone struggling with depression can feel happy sometimes. Life isn’t simply only good or only bad; we’re all going to experience positives and negatives in our lifetimes. It’s learning to appreciate the good and manage to get through the bad, no matter how hard it may be.
Developer Nemlei did an excellent job at portraying depression in a way that is not only realistic but also engaging. They wrote a story that’s grim, dark, but also funny. As someone who suffers from depression, I appreciate a game like Better Half. If you have the time, I highly recommend checking it out.
If you’d like to read Ashe’s review of Better Half, you can check it out here.
I played Doodle Date a few years ago and I remember having a decent time with it. In Doodle Date, one of your old drawings, Clarie, comes to life. She tells you that you’re able to bring anything you doodle inside your notebook to life. So, you decide to draw up your dream date. You can draw anything you like, really. Personally, I went with a horrible drawing of Arsène Lupin from Code: Realize. Even if I couldn’t perfectly re-capture him, it was fun seeing a stick figure that was supposed to be Lupin go on a dinner date with me.
Along with the creative freedom this game gives you comes absurd storytelling. The game can take a drastic turn. You can have one of the characters become so madly in love with you that they essentially force you to draw you and them a baby. What follows is a weird but funny train of events that had me laughing out loud after the credits rolled.
If you’re expecting something life-changing or profound with Doodle Date, then you might want to play something else. It doesn’t try to feed the player a message or tackle any harsh topics that we often see visual novels do. Instead, Doodle Date focuses on being fun more than anything else, and there’s nothing wrong with that. After only playing visual novels with heavy subject matter, Doodle Date gives someone like me a much-needed break. For $1.99, you absolutely should check out this game.
Do Not Kill Me Jacob!!
Platforms: Browser (itch.io)
Do Not Kill Me Jacob!! is the standout title of the O2A2 jam. It was the first title I played once the jam wrapped up and I was impressed with how the developers, boredbradley and soundskies, were able take the restrictions the jam had and run with them. If you aren’t aware of O2A2, participants had to make a game in a week’s time and were limited to one of every asset. So, one sprite, one voice actor, one background, and one thousand words.
You play as Jacob’s most recent kidnapped victim whom he is ready to kill. It’s your job to try and convince him to let you free. Or not. Honestly, it’s up to you. I really digged the art style. Considering participants were restricted to one sprite, the artist, soundskies, drew Jacob with a knife ready to strike at all times. It really gives off the feeling that you could be killed at any moment.
The only issue that I can find with the game is that it isn’t hard to convince Jacob not to kill you. You’d think it would be incredibly hard to convince a serial killer to let his victim go. However, that isn’t the case here. I would have liked for the game to increase the difficulty of pleasing Jacob with each choice option. I’m hoping that in the full game, the developers will take this into consideration.
If you have five minutes of time on your hands, I recommend playing Do Not Kill Me Jacob!! It’s a fun little title with a nice secret ending if you manage to get the game’s three normal endings!
Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux (itch.io)
I really enjoyed fishy. The story centers around a young kid going to the aquarium after being invited by one of their classmates. The catch? The main character is deathly afraid of the ocean and the creatures that live in it.
fishy is a horror game, but not in the usual sense. There aren’t any jump scares or pursuers following you. The horror comes from the main character’s anxiety about the sea. Anxiety makes us think of the worst possible scenario, and what would be a normal task for some can be daunting for others because of that. For example, there’s a scene in the game where the main character goes to a touch tank. Everyone in her class takes a turn touching the cute underwater sea creatures. You probably did the same thing on a class trip when you were in elementary school. However, our main character doesn’t see it as a calming, cute experience. When they dip their hand into the tiny tank, they feel like it goes on forever. Their senses shut down, and all they can focus on is the fear of what could possibly be swimming underneath, waiting to grab them. It’s an well-written scene that actually had me feeling a bit uneasy myself, even though I knew nothing bad was going to happen.
As I said earlier with Better Half, sensitive topics are hard to tackle. Anxiety sits right alongside depression as a topic that can be tricky to handle. However, the team behind fishy manage to not only tell a great story, but also accurately portray anxiety and how it can really impact a person, even someone who is just a kid.
There’s a scene at the end of the game, which I won’t dare spoil, that warmed my heart. For the first time in the game, the character feels at peace. Calm music plays and all the tension that the game had slowly melts away.
I highly recommend fishy to anyone who wants something a little cute with a dash of horror thrown in.
VN Game Den currently has a review for fishy, which you can read here.