December 2023 media

This month I played two late contenders for my favorite small game of the year, if you’ll allow that categorization in order to sidestep the “what is an indie game” debate:

  • Jusant: I like to imagine the seed for Jusant came from some developer’s frustration at the praise heaped on Breath of the Wild for its “realistic” climbing mechanics. That’s probably not exactly how it happened, but the upshot is something that models climbing more closely than most games would ever dream of: you move your arms individually, feel around for handholds and footholds, drive pitons into rock faces, and so on. It has some of the most satisfying traversal in anything I’ve played. The narrative didn’t do much for me, but it was slight enough that it wasn’t a distraction either.

  • Chants of Sennaar: A puzzle game for linguistics nerds. You wander through a place whose languages you don’t know, and through reading text and speaking to NPCs you have to determine what various glyphs mean to work out how to progress. (The game elides the difference between speech and writing, so people “speak” in text and all language is parsed visually.) Some of the puzzles felt a bit abstruse to me, but I was amazed by how many of them worked as well as they did. I can’t help but love a game that makes me ask myself if I’m dealing with an SVO or SOV language!