The Ugly Monster
Published in

The Ugly Monster

Playing Every Game in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality

PEGBRJE: Test Tube Titans and The Trans Zone

Become the best you can, sometimes.

And another one falls.

Test Tube Titans is a destructive adventure title created by Ghost Time Games, a solo indie developer based in Canada. Players have been hired by Test Tube Titans Labs, where titans are created by scientists for the sole purpose of ‘protecting civilians’ — probably. Let’s be real, they are just making them to destroy stuff.

As their newest recruit, the player will be creating their own Test Tube Titans to destroy as much possible stuff as possible. Gameplay is split between creating monsters and destroying things with monsters.

The creation of the titans is extensive and extremely customizable. Players will be given a small cage to start, along with a randomized set of three titans with different stats. These statistics can be enhanced in the Upgrades Tab, which contains various ways for the player to make their titan more powerful. While the Lab Upgrades allow for larger cages to increase the size of the titan, the Titan Upgrades help to increase those stats and add more functionality to the player’s ability to destroy. Milestones can be achieved through playing the game, which awards currencies to buy these upgrades.

The real fun begins, however, when the player begins to level up their titan and either mutate a part of it, or merge two of their behemoths together. This takes some time to achieve, but can capitalize on the best aspects of each titan to create an utter monstrosity to run around with.

The ‘run around’ bit is the core feature of the game, much more so when playing in modes outside of Campaign (even though each mission is the only way to actually get currency and milestone completion). This is where the titan is let loose, and the player will control them to ravage cities, raze landmarks, and destroy the happiness of all those around them.

How do they do that? Well, if the player is familiar with the game ‘QWOP’ then this might be treading familiar territory. The titan is controlled by its individual limbs, with the trigger buttons (controller) controlling each foot and the bumpers controlling the arms. It gives a bizarre contrast to the sheer terror created when it snags its own feet and gets stuck in place before wriggling free of itself.

This his control scheme is easily the most ‘make or break’ part of Test Tube Titans, allowing for hilarious execution and fluidity with the tradeoff of wild frustration. Players will get to grab a hold of buildings much easier, rather than having to attempt a lock on of some kind. Running down a pack of cars can feel like a breeze, or you might suddenly trip the titan up and cause the entire mission to end in despair, sending the player back to the lab early to make modifications.

Test Tube Titans is a polarizing title, to say the least. The titan customization and crafting is fun and the opportunity to play with friends, either cooperatively or competitively, is a lovely touch. However the controls are how a player interfaces with the game, and if a player doesn’t like them then the entire experience can fall to pieces no matter the quality.

Personally I couldn’t get behind the controls. I found my titan constantly snagging themselves on their own feet and unable to outrun anything, even after multiple attempts. However, many others adored this control style. Try this title for yourself and see if you like how it handles. There’s really no way I can confidently state that you’ll enjoy it. The experience will wildly vary from player to player. But if you’re looking for a hilarious 3D QWOP fighter, then this game has you covered.

Wasn’t expecting the ghost of Pokemon Red to be here.

The Trans Zone is a visual narrative experience by Glamow Research, an indie studio based in Australia. Created by two trans women, the game allows players to take their own trans journey in to the mysterious region known as the Trans Zone, featuring individuals across the entire trans spectrum as hormones are collected and utilized.

After answering a few questions, the game begins as almost a parody of the Pokemon adventure series, with Routes to explore and individuals waiting around patiently for…whatever they’re waiting for. Many have their own worries and passions, questions and answers. Anything and everything can be discussed as the player adventures onwards. If the player is able to have a good conversation with certain individuals, they might be given some hormones to hold on to for later, which adds them to their inventory. These hormones are then utilized in ‘upgrades’ which give the player visual changes to their person to match the direction they wish to transition in.

There are two groupings of hormone ‘upgrades’, between binary and non-binary. The binary options lean more toward traditional standards of the gender stereotypes, such as trans-women acquiring larger breasts and fuller hair. Non-binary hormonal upgrades aren’t necessarily tied to a gender norm and are more tethered to ideas of how the player wishes to view themselves.

The thing is, this review is coming from a cis guy — one who didn’t hate biology class per say but definitely didn’t pay attention to it. My understanding of transgender individuals and the biological/psychological alterations is second hand at best from those I’ve known either transitioning or have relations that have. If you want a more in-depth understanding of what these individuals are going through on a personal level, best to seek out somebody that personally understands it.

What I can mention are the curious discussions in the game about the divide within transgenderism, specifically around the notion of ‘passing’ and its depictions within the game. The non-binary and folks unable to pass as cis reside outside of the city in the Trans Zone, while those that are able to pass (intentionally or otherwise) being able to live comfortably within the city’s walls.

As a player transitions in game and can decide to be passing or not, the player is able to interact with all of these folks at different stages of their transition and see the differences in how others react to them. Many are supportive of the journey the player is going through, knowing that they are all on the spectrum of gender and the struggles that come from it. Yet the farther one delves in to the decision of passing vs not makes their dialogue become a bit more divisive. Some outright slander the non-passing transfolks outside the walls as freaks, which raises the curious question about how these individuals see their own transformation. To them, their goal is to become a cis-passing individual, yet they should know through their own journey how challenging that can be for others, or how unappealing that notion can be for many. Perhaps it’s a lack of understanding. Perhaps it’s a lack of empathy. Only they would know for sure. All I can say as an outsider is that it feels that no matter how far we come to grips with our understanding of gender and sexuality there will be those who demand some level of conformity.

The Trans Zone does a very intriguing job introducing many of us on the outside to the sheer spectrum of expressions that can be had within transgenderism, along with the negatives that some may attempt to bring with them. If you wish to experience this neon fever dream for yourself, give it a whirl.

Links? What are those again?

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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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