Brume, Popo’s Tower and rants on burnout

One of the things I vowed to do for the new year was to check out more stuff by the Sokpop Collective. It isn’t a sole developer, but a collective of developers that aim to release games on a regular basis. This is accomplished by each member working on their own game individually and releasing on a rotating schedule, both to provide fans with games on a regular schedule and to afford each other enough time to work on a game.

So with that, I have a personal announcement for this site. I’ve aimed to post something once a week for at least a year now, but I’ve come to accept that this is unattainable for me, now. I’m not sure where to start with my problems, and some of them are too personal to just rant about on this public space. But one thing I can say is that trying to play something and write about it on a weekly basis with everything else I’ve been doing is tiring, and paying people fairly for commissioned posts on a regular basis would also be too much for me.

I guess part of it is that writing for the sake of a schedule as opposed to writing about something for the sake of wanting to talk about something is draining. It drains whatever happiness I had for the process and it becomes a slog. Honestly, thinking about all this gave me a greater appreciation for Sokpop’s rotating schedule, because while its members still work under time constraints, I feel that there’s less burn-out with people taking two months to work on something individually instead of everyone working together to push out something on a monthly basis.

So, I’m going to try posting on a bi-weekly basis from now on instead as part of a second new year’s vow, which is to actually take care of myself. Maybe I’ll change that depending on how my life is at the moment, but if you’re a regular reader, just know that you’ll be seeing less Posting. Maybe consider checking out the Twitter, where I try to regularly suggest games to check out.

Anyway, let’s talk about games.

A long time ago, I checked out Simmiland, developed by Sokpop member Tijmen Tio, which put the collective on my radar. Though, I never found the time to really check out more stuff. However, I’ve picked up a whole bunch of their stuff from the past few Steam sales to pick through. So today, we’re looking at two of the collective’s longer works, both developed by Tom van den Boogaart.

Brume is an action-adventure offering. Now, the version of Brume on Steam is actually an expanded version, and while the original version doesn’t seem available (except maybe to anyone not subscribed to the Sokpop patreon), there’s still playthroughs like this one to base differences on.

Brume is styled after older adventure games and Dark Souls. In fact, the standalone version of Brume leans more toward the Dark Souls inspiration, as the speed of the game seems to have been rebalanced to be more slower and methodical.

There isn’t an explicit narrative to Brume. Cutscenes are small lingering looks at key items or areas that are more about setting a mood or just nudging you where to go next. My kinda read on the game is that you’re one of many travelers looking to put down the spirit of a dead king, who is still supported by an army of servants. Maybe you’re putting an end to his tyranny – or maybe you’re looking to take the throne for yourself.

Brume has a nice art style that’s very dependent on shaders. The game’s actual textures are very light with little details itself, with the shaders pulling things together. Areas stick to a specific color palette to make them easy to identify and to set the mood. I especially like the hub area’s autumnal mood, it gives a very welcoming impression whenever you come back to life.

I especially like the small amount of fog in the environment, it gives a nice mysterious mood to the game. There’s also no real music to the game, just atmospheric noise and sound effects. Overall, pretty good aesthetic!

Besides the speed and style of the game, another difference between the versions of Brume are upgrades. In the original version, you collect blood from enemies and use it to upgrade yourself all Dark Souls style. In the commercial version though, that’s completely absent. Instead, you upgrade yourself through finding flowers scattered around the map. I think it’s a good design choice because it removes an obligation to grind enemies to get stronger and it forces you to get better at fights through skill, since there’s a hard ceiling on survivability.

You use up stamina when blocking and running around. Ideally, blocks should be kept for attacks that you can’t dodge in time. Fighting from the front is a bit difficult, so you should be dodging to the sides and attacking at enemies’ flanks.

While the original version of the game used blood for the upgrades, blood is instead used to heal you. However, collecting too much blood corrupts you… which is cool because you get an extended life bar. Being evil is cool, folks. Staying uncorrupted presumably changes the ending but leaves you more fragile, which I suppose means to represent how taking the moral high road is harder, but ehhhh, I want Power.

It’s a short game, though beating it provides some extra modes if you’re looking for achievements, like only playing through the game with the stick or a permadeath mode, which would be stressful, to me. All in all though, it’s a nice little action game that you can beat within an hour.

Popo’s Tower is a later offering that’s a nice and breezy 3D platformer adventure. You’re a pilot that crash landed on an island with no idea on what to do next. So, you venture inward and a face on a wall asks you to save a young boy from the island’s tower. Since you don’t really have anything better to do, you go do that.

Your character runs and jumps around, you know, the works. Though, their jumping ability gets better when you get the double jump and a dropkick that’s effectively more of a third, horizontal leap. When jumping against walls, you can actually run on the walls a bit before you start sliding off, which the game expects you to take advantage of, which feels very fluid. You can also wall jump, which is way less fluid because all your momentum cancels out when you try to move in a direction besides “ahead;” this is presumably to prevent you from wall-kicking your way up the same wall, but I ended up triggering this by accident several times.

Most of the architecture in Popo’s Tower are buildings with ledges and windowsills to hang onto and clamber around, with your pilot guy showing off surprisingly intricate animations while scrambling around. While the game’s platforming is nice, it does feel kinda limiting in that buildings are the only thing you can climb – try to jump your way up anything else and you just get repelled. I dunno, it sounds like a nitpick, but whenever I play 3D platformers I love to try and jump around everything in sight to see if I could find any shortcuts or do cool tricks. The actual level design is solid, but I’d do like a bit more freedom in these kinds of games.

I find Popo’s Tower to be a shorter experience than the previous game here, but I find it as an advantage since platformers invite speedy play. In fact, there’s an achievement for beating Popo’s Tower in under 10 minutes, so it’s clearly encouraging you to go for replays. And dang it, I have been trying to get that achievement, because despite my nitpicks, I still find it to be a good time to play.

As it targets a different sensibility, the look of Popo’s Tower is less minimalist than Brume. While Brume has an atmospheric fog in the distance, distant objects in Popo’s Tower are rendered with a blur, which emphasizes your immediate surroundings while lending the game a sorta cinematic look, if that makes sense.

If I had a problem with the art though, it’d be the character design. The people of the island all have big lips, which wouldn’t have been noticeable if it weren’t for the fact that your character didn’t have any at all. It kinda gives Weird connotations, especially since most of the island people are hostile towards you. Now, characters having pronounced lips actually seems pretty normal across some of the developer’s other works, so I wouldn’t say that they actively pursued stereotypes. It’s just that its usage here and the specific context makes it look bad.

These were nice enjoyable times. And yeah, they’re short, but given the short development time for these games, they’re actually super impressive. If you want to get both of the games and a few more, Sokpop has a bundle on Steam including them and some of the collective’s other action adventure offerings.

As for me, I’ll be taking a bit of a step back. Maybe get some sleep instead of ranting about how tired I am on my personal Twitter.

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