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There’s been a lot of digital ink spilled over the faults of Valiant Hearts, most notably concerning the game’s inconsistent tone and the overall direction of the game. On the one hand, the game wants to be a serious examination of the horrors of war through the eyes of those affected by the first major conflict of the 20th century. While on the other, it wants to be a rollicking, pumped up action ride of pulp sensibilities, mustachioed villain and everything. It’s not so much that the fun, action-oriented pulp storyline featuring Baron Von Dorf is terrible, just that it should have been a separate game from the melancholy “family torn apart” storyline. It’s the back and forth between these two plotlines that let diminished Valiant Heart‘s promise.

That’s all well trodden ground and is material that would be quite easily excised from any potential remake. I feel the game suffers from another division of purpose, one that is more subtle and not quite easily extracted from the whole. It’s not so much a single element or series of elements, but a matter of one element that exists throughout Valiant Hearts. It’s a pattern best exemplified by this one overly pandering element: the narrator.

“The greatest adventure game of all time.”

I’m generally dubious about statements like this. They lack nuance, information, and are fundamentally authoritarian in their evaluation of a work. It just gets worse when such phraseology is used in the sphere of video games, a sphere that is well known for it’s penchant for hyperbole in all things. “Greatest” is a descriptor of such common standing in video game discourse it means little more than, “I had positive feelings about this for a time.” For such statements of high praise, often very little thought and appraisal goes into the subjects that they are attached to.

In 1998, that label was attached to Grim Fandango. It was a label that hung on the game long after the game itself became inaccessible to most of the gaming public, thanks to low availability and an engine that didn’t play nice with modern operating systems and processors. Yet, 1998 is an infamous year in gaming as it was packed to the gills with classics and influential titles that resonate to this day. To stand out from a crowd that included the likes of Half-Life, Metal Gear Solid, Ocarina of Time, StarCraft, Pokemon, and more means there has to be something to all of those statements. Now, thanks to the recent release of Grim Fandango Remastered, I can finally see for myself if this descriptor is true.

Let’s slaughter us a sacred cow.

If there’s one genre of game I don’t get to play really anywhere other than at Indiecade, it’s the party game. Party games are made for large groups of people, often for the sake of an audience of onlookers. They are games that emanate fun through the spectacle of their chaos. They are challenge and competition, and in the same breath, they are light and harmonious. Nothing is worse than when a party game becomes serious. In short, they are the perfect sort of game for a gathering of fun loving people at a small expo like IndieCade East.

Doubly so, because I can’t get together a large group of people at my house to play a party game. It takes a lot to get just a single friend to to drop by to play a co-op game. So these aren’t games whose experience I can bring home with me. Still, there is that expressionistic joy that comes from being able to play these types of games that is worth experiencing, even if it can’t be any time I want.

Visuals tend to get a bad rap in video games. It’s the “visuals don’t matter, gameplay matters” mantra that downplays the importance of visuals. Of course, such a mantra is only necessary in the face of decades of tech fetishism that promoted the fidelity of pixels and polygons over clarity, style, and artistic design. There are plenty of games in which the visuals are in part the point of the game.

Here’s three of them.

If you take a step back from the insular culture of video games, the collective construct of what video games are supposed to looks like is actually rather strange. Maybe not so much strange in and of themselves, but strange in how narrow the mental construct conjured at the mention of video games is. Not just ontologically, but historically as well.

I could bring up how we are living in an era where the boundaries of what a video game can be about and how it can function are changing to a much broader spectrum of ideas and design implementation. Instead, I’m going to bring up how it’s not so much a broadening, phrased like this is a new thing, but rather as a return to the freedom of the “anything goes” model of the early life of video games as a medium. The narrow idea of shooting, jumping, and other types of action based conflict being the main harbinger of the medium’s identity is a relatively new phenomenon. With that in mind, here are some games that are definitely outside that scope.

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