The Ugly Monster
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The Ugly Monster

Playing Every Game in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality

PEGBRJE: Spring Falls and Stage Fright

Serenity and Fear

Relax, you’re at peace.

Spring Falls is a relaxing puzzle game created by Eric Billingsley, an indie dev based out of Canada who publishes all solo projects under the name SPARSE//GameDev. Some might recognize him from previous works such as the programming for Cuphead, or his current work on Tunic. We aren’t here to discuss those, though. We’re here to talk about a serene puzzle game involving the descent of a mountain through water, and the growth of little flowers.

The player’s goal is to assist in the growth of the flowers on each level of the side of a mountain. This is caused by the grass tiles touching the flower to ‘initiate growth’, as it were — these flowers can’t survive on water alone. They need nourishment around them as well. Now, how this is achieved is a bit hard to describe, so apologies in advance, but the player needs to erode the hexagonal tiles so that the water touches the grass and causes it to spread. There will always be at least one tile of ‘dead’ grass, which can be brought to life if water is touching it, which causes it to spread along the edges of the water. It cannot spread past the water, and will die if the water disappears.

Players will be given a prompt for which tiles can be eroded, as only tiles touching water can erode (makes sense, now that I think about it). Water is also fluid — surprise surprise — which means that it will flow off of the mountain and split between two pathways if possible. That will slowly deplete the amount of water available to the player.

There’s so much nuance within the puzzlecrafting of Spring Falls, weaving a simple narrative within its gameplay while building on its own puzzles to create this beautiful experience. Players are doing their best to ensure that things grow, while eroding away parts of the mountain thanks to water’s inevitable destruction of everything. Time always favours water in the end, yet without it these plants would be unable to grow and thrive where they are. Some times the rain helps create new reservoirs. Other times the soil fights against the course and lifts itself above.

It’s this clever use of nature as a puzzle mechanic combined with the utter zen atmosphere that makes Spring Falls so successful. There’s no timer, no worry about failure; only a relaxing guitar in the background and a sun ray to indicate the weather. Each level feels as if it builds on the last, giving the sense of accomplishment as you descend from the mountain. If you were in need of a puzzle game that can relax you while still stimulating the brain, this is the perfect experience to gravitate to.

I’ve never had this happen in my piano recitals.

Stage Fright is a rhythm/horror game created by a collection of developers lead by Brian Kang. Players will follow a piano prodigy who needs to practice and prepare for his recitals, only to find that the nerves of being on stage aren’t the only thing causing him grief.

Players will play along with the piano music with six keys — they can be rebound if desired, but by default they are SDF JKL. Like Guitar Hero and other rhythm games, the notes will come down the board towards the player, who will need to press them when they reach the critical moment highlighted in white. How close the player gets to the ‘correct’ moment will give them a score of ‘Great’ or ‘Good’, and a miss is… well, a miss. Constant misses will cause the screen to slowly become blurry as the fear and panic of messing up slowly gets to the player, resulting in their eventual failure.

The thing is, performing a song successfully is not necessarily rewarded either. As the song continues, players doing well will start to notice the board shift, or lights flicker, or even audience members glowing. Some times the board will flip completely upside down, or over-saturate the colours. It will mess with the mind of the player, to scare them the farther they get so that they fail, because this is what the game is actively about. The longer the player goes and the more aware they are that they are doing well, the more worried they become that they might screw up.

This is the trade-off that Stage Fright makes, however. To create this experience, the game becomes difficult to the point of unplayable. Songs can be failed at any time if enough notes are not played correctly in a span of time. When the board is upside down and the notes are flying, it becomes difficult to keep the pace.

Diving in to the mind of a pianist is intriguing. The idea of pressure causing failure and that failure causing even more distress is fascinating. Unfortunately for those with stress or anxiety, this game is definitely not meant for you. It will just compound those feelings. For the rest, give it a peep if you like the concept of horror rhythm games that want you to fail.

Note: as of writing this, I have yet to actually beat a single level; it wants you to fail that bad. There appears to not be an ending to the story mode either, so be aware of this and temper expectations of a resolution.

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Jacob Vorstenbosch

Jacob Vorstenbosch

Just a Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.

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