AdventureX 2023 Roundup - Part Two - Horror, Dinosaurs and Mental Health
In AdventureX 2023 so far, we’ve seen a tentacle trimmer, a music video creator and a truly gorgeous interactive story about Windrush immigrants. But we’ve only scratched the surface - here are some more highlights from this year's edition of the UK’s best narrative-focused gaming convention.
CLeM (Release: Q1 2024)
This self-described “story-driven puzzlevania mystery adventure” looked like it was hitting every one of those descriptors at AdventureX. Playing as a toy hybrid of Sackboy and something from Little Nightmares, you have to wander around a house, solving puzzles and reviewing your notebook to work out what the hell is going on. The animation and colourful locations are gorgeous, the puzzles are intriguing and familiar without being overly complex, and the whole game has a vibe that pulls you in effortlessly.
Developer Mango Protocol has certainly taken feedback on board from previous adventure Agatha Knife, adding in far more variety in its setting. CLeM is exactly the kind of iteration of unsettling narrative game that the genre needs: a cutesy exterior with — we hope — a much darker underbelly. We’re very much looking forward to playing this next year.
Foolish Mortals (Release: 2024)
If Charles Cecil had stopped by the Foolish Mortals station, he would have been forgiven for doing a double take. This Louisiana-set treasure-hunting haunted house horror doesn’t just tip its hat to Broken Sword, but raids its wardrobe and sets up home in its basement. There’s a wry, American hero, beautifully animated and fully voiced characters, a two-button interface for interacting and examining, and a classic approach to dialogue where 90% of it is flavour and backstory to really immerse you. Hell, even the fonts look similar.
Still, if you’re going to draw inspiration, you might as well do it from the classics. And Foolish Mortals has the kind of atmosphere that had me thinking it was 1996 all over again. The lead voice actor playing Murphy McCallan doesn’t have the richness of Rolf Saxon’s sarcastic George Stobbart, but the narrative experience was a joy to play and the projected 10-12 hour adventure should keep any fans of Revolution’s series happy. There’s a demo on Steam to whet your appetite.
Heir of the Dog (Release: TBC)
Though still very much in development, the follow up to Tall Story Games’ much lauded Lucy Dreaming is on track to be another belter.
A comedy time travel point-and-click with a doggy twist and a pixel art aesthetic, Heir of the Dog promises some tongue-in-cheek Victorian action courtesy of protagonist Cummerbund Bandersnatch. A Steam demo will be forthcoming shortly, and we’d urge you to check it out.
Cabernet (Release: 2024)
Life’s tough when you’re dead, as newly created vampire Liza discovers when she awakens in the basement of a mansion. After crashing a dinner party filled with toothy guests, she uncovers her true nature and has to make a series of moral choices as she adjusts to her new fang-filled life.
Cabernet is a beautiful RPG-lite adventure where your experience can be channelled into science, the arts or other skills which unlock different dialogue options. The demo is available on Steam and shows you just how far the narrative genre has evolved; it’s a cross between visual novel and point-and-click, and there’s a depth here that will almost certainly reward repeat playthroughs.
Zid Journey (Release: TBC)
The follow-up to the cute dino point-and-click Zniw Adventure from Azure Mountain feels like playing a Saturday morning Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Animation is painstakingly rendered frame by frame, and this time you have an adorable baby dino named Zid to accompany you, which pushes the “awww” factor through the roof.
Don’t be fooled by the visuals though, this isn’t just a game for kids (in fact, demographics showed that most players of the first game were in their 20s and 30s). The puzzles require a bit of thought, especially when it comes to Zid’s ability to swallow and then spit out an item like Yoshi. The interface could do with a bit of UX love as navigating the menus is currently a little cumbersome. Otherwise though, Zid’s Journey is an endearing indie which will no doubt appease the series’ cult fanbase.
The Quiet Things (Release: TBC)
Mental health has been at the forefront of conversation since COVID-19, which is no bad thing. As more people open up about their feelings and experiences, it’s prompted wider discussion about how we can enable people to safely tell personal stories. The Quiet Things is a prime example of this: the UK Games Fund has helped Alyx Jones tell an autobiographical tale of childhood trauma via the medium of game, which shows how important the industry is taking its responsibility to represent serious topics.
The Gone Home-style gameplay is peppered with real journal extracts, which make for uncomfortable playing at times. Yet there’s no denying the urgency and importance of making this kind of experience accessible to a wider audience. It looks lovely too; every asset has been individually built from scratch — a true labour of love. This has the potential to become a BAFTA hit, so keep it on your radar.
These were only a few of the games planned for release over 2024/25. Other notable mentions include Horror Stories: Harvest Hunt, a roguelike survival game which is currently getting playtest feedback and has a demo on Steam, Castle Dornstein which has been in development for a few years now and is a lovely, spooky, pixel throwback to 90s adventures, and Betwixt, a mental health game cunningly disguised as Choose Your Own Adventure title. It’s already out (for free!) on iPhone and Android and focuses on prevention over cure - we’d highly recommend checking it out.
If there was ever any doubt about the future of the narrative gaming genre, AdventureX 2023 dispelled that fear. As can be seen from the highlights, the variety of games and the talent on show from such small development studios — some of them only comprising a single person — proves that we have plenty to look forward to. The expo is never less than entertaining, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year’s AdventureX.
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