I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I played a lot of huge games this year, both literally referring to their size, and metaphorically referring to their brand name awareness (I had great intentions of doing a long-running Starfield diary, where I visited every planet I could until I got demoralised by the project, but unfortunately that turned out to be the length of one entry). I didn’t play quite as many small, odd things as I would have liked in 2023. I am very pleased with the shape of our Advent Calendar this year, though, especially the mid-table, which has some good weirdo entries and some surprises there.
So I thought I’d struggle to come up with three reminders for you for the Selection Box. And yet I didn’t! They’re also very on brand. Words and murder you say? Maybe in 2024 I should make a resolution to switch things up a bit. Gotta keep you guessing, dear readers…
Mask Of The Rose
Mask Of The Rose wasn’t a mega-hit when it came out, and I fear that some people who might have liked it have overlooked it because they assume it’s something it isn’t, in a couple of ways. It’s a dating sim set in Failbetter’s Fallen London, and being made by Failbetter (who, full disclosure, have been letting me semi-embed with them the last while) means it isn’t only a dating sim. Like, sure, you can romance an octopus man or a bedsheet – or, like, a human I guess, if you’re boring – but you also have to solve a murder, weave plausible stories with information you dig up, deal with your memories of the night that London literally fell, dress appropriately for trips out and about, and hold down some kind of job. You gotta buy stuff, to be honest, and it’s way easier if you have regular income. Plus, your landlady appreciates you helping out, and there’s definitely something weird going on with the couple of clearly vampires. I don’t trust the priest, quite frankly, and, oh yeah, the alluring bedsheet? Definitely up to something.
Point is, it’s a complicated game and even if you were prepared for something a bit more Hatoful Boyfriend than your standard dating sim, Mask Of The Rose might be throwing some curve balls you weren’t prepared for. If you take the time to poke around in it, though, and think of the dating sim part as just one part – after all, you can say that you’re not actually interested in dating at all, and just want to be friends with the bedsheet – then you’ll be set up for a nice weird roleplaying time, with the care and attention to detail you’d expect from Failbetter.
This Bed We Made
SPEAKING OF BEDSHEETS! You see that? You see that? That’s the smooth action you come to RPS for, baby. This Bed We Made is a sort of point and click mystery cleaning sim adventure. You play Sophie, a maid at the Clarington Hotel. It’s the 50s, we’re snowed in, and stuff is afoot. Sophie is in the habit of sneaking around, and when she’s cleaning one of the rooms she discovers photos of her doing so. Should she destroy the evidence or put it back where she found it? That’s up to you; many of your actions in This Bed We Made have consequences you might not be able to predict.
But snooping around is one thing, and being implicated in a murder is quite another. A well-healed gent staying at the hotel with his wife is stabbed, and there are several suspects to uncover. At the same time, your boss is having an affair, the woman he’s cheating with wants someone else fired, and he’s trying to stop a sanitarium from opening up nearby (unfairly driving down the value of the hotel, in his view). It’s a game of part puzzling, as you decide which items you find might be useful, and, well, part being a maid. Sometimes doing your job diligently and picking up all the coffee cups without examining them properly makes it harder to figure out a puzzle. But also, you have professional pride, gosh darn it, and ratting around the upper floors replenishing the towels is your alibi for being there!
There are several endings, and some of them are quite sad, depending on how honest you decide to be. It’s quite a short game, but it’s a pleasingly noir-ish little domestic caper, and it wears its influences on its sleeve. One of them is implied to be staying in the penthouse suite, even.
The Bookwalker: Thief Of Tales
The Bookwalker is a game that completely passed me by on release earlier this year, and which I discovered on one of my semi-regular perusals of the Game Pass library. I played the whole thing in one go on a day off, a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ at how it surprised me. You play as author, in a world where writers have the power to literally go into books, and you’ve been banned from doing so for about 30 years on account of doing what I shall here describe as a really weird and perverted word-crime of an incredibly selfish type, like a big loser. But! You discover a way to get out of your sentence early: working for a black market book dealer. He doesn’t deal books; he deals the things in books, that he wants you to steal for him.
Each level is a book. In one, you’re after a magic wand, and you have to run all over a non-copywrite infringing wizard school to find it. In another, you go to an industrialised version of Norse mythology, where Thor is a businessman running a huge factory, to retrieve his hammer. One is a religious spaceship on a neverending pilgrimage, powered by prayer that is distilled from people locked in pods. Each of them is its own rather good concept for a sci-fi novel, and I’m a big fan. While you sneak around them youre accompanied by a sidekick, a page torn from another book allowing a disembodied character to tooltip you in real time. It’s mostly 2.5D puzzling through detailed little levels (find me some wine and I’ll tell you x thing you need to know; read the manual here to unlock item y), and there’s also some extremely forgiving turn-based combat with ink themed powers. Maybe my favourite thing is after you heist some books of their plotpoints, you see, for example, a newspaper review making mention of it. Honestly, it’s just a solid concept executed well that doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. Hard recommend.