A snack-sized breakdown of four short, inexpensive indie games, Pizza Possum, Flutter Away, We Were Here Expeditions: The FriendShip, and You Will Die Here Tonight
There were simply too many 2023 releases that nearly slipped past us. That's why, before we can fully move into 2024, VGG is going to take a few glances back at the year that was to kick off our content in the new year. Across two retrospective articles, we'll be covering eight 2023 games that we think deserve a second look.
First up, we've got four bite-sized reviews for four bite-sized games! All the games in this list clock in under five hours and won't break the bank, and all of them are worthy of your attention.
The lineup includes a couple of multiplayer games, too, perfect for those looking to fill a single co-op gaming session without having to commit to something long term.
Just the Facts
Developer: Cosy Computer
Publisher: Raw Fury
Platform(s): PC*, Switch, PS5, Xbox Series S/X *denotes platform reviewed on
Release Date: September 28, 2023
Key provided by publisher.
I used to have issues with stealth games. Like full on anxiety attack inducing issues with stealth games. I couldn't handle the feeling of being chased, of making a mistake and having immediate feedback on that mistake in the form of soldiers descending on my position. As I grew older, fear was replaced with thrills and my passion for stealth games properly settled in.
If you love the thrill of the chase, the moments where your plans are thrown out the window and chaos takes over, there may be no better game for you than Pizza Possum.
Coming to us from a pair of friends out of Berlin, Germany, Pizza Possum is an arcade stealth release that has you taking control of the grubby paws of a hungry possum thief aiming to work their way up through the streets of a hilly seaside town toward their ultimate goal: a giant pizza being cooked up by the regent Pomeranian, Bella Chonki.
Dodging dog cops, pushing aside goat and pig villagers, and grabbing any food item not locked down, you'll eat enough food to get yourself a key that unlocks gates barring your way to the top. You'll use power-ups to help you (i.e. speed boosts, smoke bombs to stun guards, and street barriers that'll stop them in their tracks), and if you're caught, your run is over and the score you've accumulated will unlock new power-ups for future runs.
It's fast. It's chaos. It's silly. And it's so fun.
Getting to the top and nabbing that giant pizza from Bella Chonki should take you just under two hours. Once you've done that... that's about it. The entire game is just this one map. There are power-ups to unlock to add replayability, but if you're hoping for more locations to pester for pastries as a possum, that's not possible here. It's one location, one goal. To "beat" the game, you have to get to the top three separate times.
It's limited, but to say that diminishes the fun would be false. We (Deputy Editor Julie and I) played the game in co-op, and the screams we scrumpt were so genuine. The panicked breathing as the jazzy soundtrack kicked up into chaos when we were spotted was so real. And the relief when we saved each other from capture felt better than so many games we'd played together last year.
Pizza Possum is a beautiful consolidation of the stealth gaming experience. Simple guards with simple paths, a clear, concise target for you to zip toward, and a brilliant depiction of the chase that all stealth games devolve into eventually? It's got it all, and it does most of it real well.
Video Games are Good and Pizza Possum is . . . GOOD. (7.5/10)
+ thrilling chases, fun power-ups, a quick and easy game to play with a friend
- not much beyond the first few runs through the town, difficulty balance between single-player and co-op is uneven
Developer: Runaway Play
Publisher: Runaway Play
Platform(s): PC*, Switch *denotes platform reviewed on
Release Date: August 3, 2023
Key provided by Stride PR.
Over the last decade, the photography gaming genre has blossomed. Pokémon Snap fans grew frustrated and just started making their own versions of the "snap pics for high scores" game, resulting in a variety of takes like the apocalyptic Umurangi Generation, the cryptid-spotting Project Anomaly: Urban Supernatural Investigator, and the beautiful mythical rainforest creatures of Beasts of Maravilla Island.
Flutter Away is more akin to Maravilla. It's a cozy game that has you exploring a small patch of the rainforest to document butterflies, develop a relationship with a capybara, and decompress from the city life your character is used to.
Across a series of five days, your character will journal about their experiences and attempt to find a handful of new butterfly species each day. By taking photos and using a butterfly perch to get a closer look at each new species, you'll watch as your character doodles adorable hand-drawn portraits and doles out interesting facts about the various butterflies and moths you spend time with in the forest.
It's a fairly shallow experience, as your only tools are a camera and the aforementioned perch. Neither one demands much of the player as you play. One thing I missed from some similar games in this genre is requiring some amount of puzzling to get through, but that's not what this game is aiming for. It keeps things very simple.
Flutter Away is as zen as its name implies. It's about taking in the nature around you — just spending a moment in the quiet, calming the mind, and appreciating nature. The writing in your character's journal entries is light and fluffy, keeping things fairly surface level, but threads in progressive ideas about environmentalism and even adds in an LGTBQ+ romance here and there.
In a lot of ways, Flutter Away reminds me of a Wii game for younger children. It graphically looks like a Wii game, but its art style and use of color elevate it from looking too dated. Its gameplay mechanics, all about pointing and shooting and even the occasional dragging of plants, feels suited for motion controls. And the shallowness would be perfect to introduce younger games to a genre like this, much in the same way lots of games on that system did.
Flutter Away is a simple game — one that I wish had a little more going on, but one that I appreciate for its laissez faire approach to enjoying nature and its simple beauty. With such a short runtime, just over an hour (which makes each in-game day around 15 - 20 minutes each), it's easy to feel unfulfilled. Flutter Away provided a warmth and coziness that made my time in the game worth it, and a surprising amount of education about butterfly species, but if you're looking for depth in your camera-based gaming, this isn't it.
The capybara is worth the price of admission though. So cute.
Video Games are Good and Flutter Away is . . . GOOD. (6/10)
+ a simple, cute, zen photography game with a nice message
- a bit too simple for gamers looking for more, it's over almost TOO quickly
We Were Here Expeditions: The FriendShip
Developer: Total Mayhem Games
Publisher: Total Mayhem Games
Platform(s): PC*, PS4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S *denotes platform reviewed on
Release Date: September 14, 2023
Key provided by Game-Drive.
In the world of successful co-op gaming, there are a few games that immediately jump to mind. Anything by Josef Fares (It Takes Two, A Way Out), Overcooked, Shredder's Revenge... and the We Were Here games. The We Were Here series started in 2017 with the eponymous debut release. In the ensuing years, it's only gotten bigger and better. These first-person co-op games ask players to communicate through walkie-talkies, passing information back and forth to solve complex puzzles and guide one another through precarious situations.
The series has gotten so big that now we're looking at spinoffs, with We Were Here Expeditions looking to be a series of smaller, more accessible entry points into the universe that anyone can hop into and have a great time with.
In The FriendShip, you and your winter-coat-wearing pal end up caught in a storm while responding to a distress signal, and you're spat out near an island with an abandoned amusement park. Most of the attractions are left in disrepair, but the aptly named FriendShip ride awaits you. Hosted by Marina C. Worthy, this ride is built to test the cooperative capabilities of its riders through a series of trials. The trials of communication, teamwork, and trust.
In FriendShip, the puzzles are all about passing on info that only you can see to your partner and communicating abstract concepts as quickly and concisely as possible. Each one genuinely forces you to work together with your partner to solve these puzzles, communicating back and forth to even understand what's happening in front of you.
The walkie-talkie system is a really fun twist on in-game voice chat, with walkie communication being the only way to speak and only one person being able to talk at a time. It makes each message sent on the walkie so precious... which in turn makes the half-second delay in messages sent a bit frustrating when so many challenges are based on immediate reactions, like getting through an immense obstacle course in the third trial.
But not all of the challenges are the quick reaction sort. The second trial is a really complex symbiotic board game with a ton of nuance and interesting interactions between both players... but it slows the pace of the game down to a halt. Instead of quick thinking and lots of bickering, it's slow processing and long quiet moments. Where repeated sessions of the other trials come quickly to try and grab that gold ticket for the best upgrade to your friend-ship, the slow pace of the second trial makes it a nightmare to consider doing over and over again.
In the end though, The FriendShip is still an extremely enjoyable co-op experience that we both highly recommend. With tip-top theming that delivers equal parts DIY charm and general creepiness, challenges that allow replayability for any skill level, and an experience that feels just right at its length, We Were Here has a great new spinoff series with Expeditions.
Video Games are Good and We Were Here Expeditions: The FriendShip is . . . GREAT. (8/10)
+ genuinely great co-op gameplay that you know is good because you start bickering with your pal about getting through
- the game's built-in voice chat features a minor but sometimes problematic delay, second trial's a little too involved for something meant to be played quickly
You Will Die Here Tonight
Developer: Spiral Bound Interactive
Publisher: Spiral Bound Interactive
Release Date: October 31, 2023
Key provided by Evolve PR.
Survival horror has been back for a while now, but it really feels like we're in the golden age for the genre. With our 2023 Game of the Year, the remakes of the Resident Evil series, and indies innovating on the genre every day, survival horror has reached new peaks.
And personally, I'm reaching my survival horror peak too. As the kind of kid who'd hide under tables whenever someone turned on a horror game, I've found myself dipping my toes into spooky waters more and more as I've aged.
And thanks to inventive indie takes like Spiral Bound Interactive's You Will Die Here Tonight, it's quickly become one of my new favorite genres to spend time with.
You Will Die Here Tonight is a full-on Resident Evil 1-inspired survival horror game, with a team of experts infiltrating an old abandoned mansion suddenly overrun by zombies, as they track down a criminal and learn about the family that once lived there and the strange corporation that has left its mark all over the building. It's campy, a little spooky, but not the scariest game I've played. Those with love for classic survival horror will appreciate the recreation of that RE1-era vibe.
You Will Die Here Tonight has a few unique gameplay twists to carry it through. While the main exploration gameplay takes place with a traditional top-down perspective, all your combat takes place in a first-person battle arena. The tension of sliding into one of these arenas, watching a zombie shamble toward you from the darkness while you try to precisely nail a clutch headshot? It makes every combat encounter a lot more intimate and frightening than you'd expect. And it also hearkens back to another horror classic in the House of the Dead series.
The other major twist comes in its surprising time loop inspired gameplay... loop. As you progress through the manor, you will inevitably die a few times over (particularly thanks to the game's fairly difficult boss fights). Whenever you do, you'll start a brand-new run through the manor as a new member of the Aries Squad. With six members of the team, that essentially serves as six "lives" to try and escape the manor with.
Some of the Aries Squad come with special abilities, like your munitions expert able to upgrade guns whenever he's picked for a run, and your medic able to craft health kits as long as she's able to find specific plants in the mansion.
The concept shows a ton of promise — the idea of having six wildly different routes through the manor is really fun. But in the end it's little more than how I described it above: extra lives. Still fun and the small unique twists are enjoyable.
My only major issues come in some genuinely obtuse puzzles and some of the boss fights feeling spongy and impossible without losing a few squad members in the process.
You Will Die Here Tonight is a special indie horror game that feels nothing like any of the other PS1-inspired horror releases that have become trendy in recent years. Spiral Bound Interactive has managed to create a nostalgic love letter to their inspirations that comes complete with some wildly inventive ideas that I can't wait to see them expand on in future releases. Don't skip this survival horror gem.
Video Games are Good and You Will Die Here Tonight is . . . GOOD (7.5/10).
+ a perfect blend between nostalgia and innovation, hilariously campy at times
- obtuse puzzles and troubling boss fights could stop you in your tracks, the potential of its core concepts feels unfulfilled
If you're looking for a batch of games to invest in that won't take over your life, you can't go wrong with these games. Seeing what developers are capable of when they've only got a couple of hours to capture your attention is always fascinating, and despite any of our qualms with any of these games, each one has something genuinely special that we'll carry with us into 2024!