We swing with a valiant protagonist and her glowing companion in Little Bug and enjoy a whimsical interpretation of miniature golf in Wonder Wickets.
Little Bug, Buddy System, $9.99
Dozens of games center around physical survival. But there’s a meager number of titles that tackle emotional and psychological coping, an internal counterpart that’s every bit as critical to our existence. It might seem difficult to depict transgenerational mental strain through an interactive medium. But Little Bug explores this experience in a remarkably meditative manner, while not neglecting the type of engaging, joystick-flicking action that players might be seeking.
The game’s journey is shown from the perspective of Nyah, a bespectacled girl with braids, who is on her way home from school. Instead of reiterating the cliched representations of the inner city, it’s immediately apparent that Little Bug is going to challenge stereotype. Here, the urban skyline is drenched in the tender glow of orange light seen at the end of a halcyon spring day. With the sun setting, asphalt and cement is replaced with the soft dirt and resilient wildflowers of the desert. Later, after chasing a mysterious cat nicknamed Roadkill, strange rock formations and disappearing platforms signal a shift into a dreamlike realm.
Lacking the ability to leap, Nyah’s journey initially seems daunting. But when she encounters a radiant orb that can pull her in with a press of a trigger button, Little Bug’s hook becomes apparent. Soon, you’ll be using both analog stick to guide both Nyah and the light, swinging the protagonist across gaps and using the glowing ball to illuminate shadowy alcoves. It’s a deceptively simple mechanics, but one that developer Buddy System wholly explores, as you’ll navigate across increasingly complex structures. And while there’s forks and frequently checkpointing, those attracted to Little Bug’s storytelling might be put off by the difficulty. Ultimately, completionists will want to explore the game’s precarious alcoves, which typically contain collectables that expand Little Bug’s breadth.
Like the core gameplay, the plotline is remarkable rich, reflecting a journey of resilience and healing. Nyah has more depth that most game leads. With an interest in science stimulated by her teacher, Ms. Bisbee, the protagonist carries and combines different collectables, which complements the platforming. With her mother balancing the duties of work with caring Nyah’s baby sister, there’s not a lot of time for nurturing her older daughter. Little Bug reminds us that proxemic closeness doesn’t always produce emotional intimacy, without being preachy or condescending.
Recommended for: players who appreciate pensiveness in their physics-based puzzlers.
Wonder Wickets, Rightstick Studios, $19.99
Creative liberties can dispense delightful results. Case in point: 1995’s Kirby’s Dream Course was neither a traditional Kirby platformer nor a stanch simulation of miniature golf. Instead, the title imaginatively merged both concepts, resulting in a wonderfully original idea that ranks among the Super Nintendo’s best. Although Wonder Wickets shirks the isometric perspective from the HAL Laboratory’s classic, the sense of quirkiness and satisfaction are all in place.
Eschewing any kind of story, Wonder Wickets lets players delve either into the game’s campaign or commence a brief tutorial. By following a handful of the game’s interactive lessons, you’ll discover most of the fundamentals needed for success. Using either a mouse and keyboard combo or a controller, players move a character around each hole, before selecting the angle of their shot as well as optionally adding a bit of English to the ball. Pleasingly, Wickets displays shot trajectory, calculating the path of the Star Orb. You can toggle the temperature of the ball, turning it into a fast-moving meteor that can singe through objects or a frictionless comet, able to slide across long distances. Finally, you can nudge the Star Orb a bit, gently changing its path while it’s moving along, which can be very helpful when there are water hazards.
Building upon this essentials, the game’s campaign throws progressively more difficult hole at you, as you strive to make par on each stage. Beyond the single-player component, you can also challenge local or online competitors. Although the latter was still in beta and there’s a dearth of online participants, we were able to set up a match that run without incident. Nicely, Wickets also ships with a course editor, where an intuitive user interface permits players to build their own challenges or enjoy the creations of others. Altogether, it’s a pleasing package that offers a wealth of entertainment value.
Recommended for: Those seeking a creative, cartoonish title inspired by miniature golf.