As you probably know if you’re at all interested in indie games, itch.io’s absolutely massive Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, which raised over eight million dollars for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, just ended. (I tried to list all the visual novels in the bundle for your convenience, but I’m sure I missed some, especially later additions that got harder to sort through.) Many other individual developers and smaller groups have also been hosting their own bundles for the same cause. In this edition of my short reviews series, I wanted to highlight a few of the great games whose creators have given up their own revenue to help others. Also, I’ve been in a bit more of a gameplay mood than usual lately, so this post has fewer “pure” visual novels and more hybrids and other types of narrative games.
One-Eyed Lee and the Dinner Party
I’m a big fan of DarkChibiShadow’s other work, so I was really happy to find out that I would get their new release with my donation to the bundle. I especially like their art style, which is at its best in this title with plenty of detailed backgrounds and some badass-looking skeletons. The story follows two bickering traveling companions named Beracus and Lee who find themselves trapped in a mysterious bunker inhabited by the disturbingly domestic undead, and have to uncover a series of secrets in order to escape. The point-and-click gameplay is fun and pretty difficult—I haven’t figured out how to get the true ending yet, so comment if you’ve got any hints for me! This one also has a short prequel, One-Eyed Lee: Prologue, which I’d actually recommend reading after Dinner Party has given you some time to get attached to the character. I’m looking forward to reading more about Beracus and Lee’s adventures in the future.
An entry to 2017’s Yuri Game Jam, Serre is a cute and unconventional romance between a human woman and the alien whose spaceship crash lands in her greenhouse. And this is no humanoid-looking alien—Oaxa is a giant terrifying bug-looking thing, which is a great design choice that’s a lot more unique than you might expect from this kind of story. Reading time for this is pretty short, but it fits a lot of very cute art into that time, including very expressive sprites with multiple poses. I hadn’t heard of this one before, so I’m really glad that it got into the bundle so I didn’t miss such a sweet and funny little game. The developer, insertdisc5, has also written several comics that I’ll have to check out in the future.
This is one I got from a different bundle than the huge one: Contigo Games’ Black Lives Matter Support Bundle, which is still running for one more day as of this post, and donating all its proceeds to Black Lives Matter and the National Bail Fund Network. Coffee Talk is quite similar in general concept to Sukeban Games’ VA-11 HALL-A, but set in an urban fantasy coffee shop instead of a science fiction bar—so if you’re a VA-11 HALL-A fan, you’ll absolutely love Coffee Talk too. It’s a bit longer than most games I would typically include in a “short reviews” post, but I’m counting it because I was so immersed in its relaxing atmosphere that I finished my first playthrough over the course of less than a day anyway. One downside to it is that it seems like replaying to try a few options I missed would be a bit of a hassle, as I’d have to remake a bunch of drinks all over again, and the skip button requires you to hold it down all the time. But I still might try that sometime in order to learn everything I can about its cast of fascinating characters. Or maybe I’ll just play some more endless mode and try to find the recipes of all the drinks!
Death and Taxes
Death and Taxes, a game that casts you as a bureaucratic grim reaper sorting through files at your desk job to decide who lives and who dies, is uniquely interesting in that it gets substantially more fun over multiple short playthroughs. With your money, items, and knowledge carrying over, you can gradually learn to wield more power over the mortal realm—and maybe even defy your horrible corporate boss, Mr. Fate. Unfortunately, it can get a bit tedious clicking through the same actions and dialogues repeatedly during this experience. This one is probably the least like a visual novel on the list today, and I found myself wishing it had been set up a bit more like one instead, so I could skip through repeated content more quickly and avoid actually moving my character around so much. However, it’s still worth starting a new game+ at least a couple times to uncover more of what Death and Taxes has to offer.
Whipped and Steamy Cosplay Café
Finally, the last game I checked out from the big bundle was casual management sim Whipped and Steamy, in which you play as the latest hire at an adult-oriented cosplay café. Your choices for the menu and décor will affect what types of cosplayers visit the store, giving you opportunities to unlock more scenes with a variety of wacky scantily-clad characters. Unlike the previous titles on today’s list, I didn’t find the game mechanics particularly interesting except as a means to summon the characters, so I wasn’t very motivated to keep playing in endless mode after meeting them all a few times. But the simulation elements are perfectly serviceable for that purpose, and the characters are all a lot of fun. I especially liked hearing scraps of stories about the fictional media that their costumes came from. I’d definitely recommend this one to fans of other risqué sim games like HunieCam Studio.