Embracelet is a casual 3D adventure game centered on a magic (telekinetic) bracelet and a teenager on the edge of adulthood who is given a quest by his grandfather to go to a remote, depopulated fishing island, Slepp, in northern Norway to return the artifact.
I had previously played Milkmaid of the Milky Way, by the same developer. That was a short, more traditional point-and-click adventure about a rural milkmaid who boards a spaceship to save her abducted milk cows. Both are built around kind and humanist narratives.
I played it via Proton/WINE and used an old console controller (per the game’s recommendation to play with a controller). When I first booted the game, before I opted to use a controller, the mouse cursor wasn’t showing up, so maybe controller is best? The joystick controls were manageable, but I think I would have preferred to play with mouse and keyboard, as I found using a joystick to move the cursor mildly annoying.
The graphics are simple, but pleasing and consistent for the style. One flaw there was a semi-subtle global reflection applied to the world. I didn’t like the look of that, and I’m not sure why it was there, but from time to time I noticed it and felt it was a distraction from the overall aesthetic.
The principle action of Embracelet takes place on Slepp, with several different quests to be found as you explore. The gameplay and events are fairly spectacular, and the game does a good job of keeping its pacing between exposition and simple puzzles. The only pain points for me were the follower events where you have to follow NPCs, which always feels a bit annoying.
The least explicable part of the game is the lack of any accommodation for the main character on Slepp. Where does he sleep? Does he eat? Is he actually a robot?! The game never gives up the goods on those key questions. (Minor un-spoiler, the game never truly explains the origin of the magic bracelet, either.)
Embracelet shares many aspects of a traditional adventure game, it attempts to do so within a semi-open-world design. I am glad to see this attempted, and I hope it will be attempted more in the future. While there will always be a place for 2D adventure games, the basic elements aren’t particularly tied to that format, and I continue to believe the format can have a broader appeal with 3D environments, either as thirdperson (in this case) or firstperson.
While this is a short game (it took me about eight hours (three playthroughs) to complete it, including all the achievements), it was a nice look at a world touched by magic. If you like traditional adventure games or coming-of-age fare, this one is a low-key story game that’s worth a look.
Eggcelerate! (Steam: Eggcelerate!) is a single-player racing game that’s part of this complete breakfast. Err. It’s a game where you drive a car with bowl on top. In the bowl is a raw egg. You try (and fail!) to keep that egg in the bowl as you speed and swerve across 30 levels. When it inevitably falls, it leaves what looks like a fried egg on the ground. Pretty soon, whole swaths of the road are covered in fried eggs.
It is a difficult game, and it’s one I can say I did not master. (I’m not sure if I could have mastered it, even if I devoted significant time. I half-wanted to dig up some TAS software (tool-assisted speedrun; what speedrunners use to create the theoretical fastest runs of games) to see if it’s even TASable—whether its physics are repeatable given the same input.)
The early levels are simpler, and more fun for their simplicity. There are various obstacles, hurdles, traps that get introduced as you move to later levels. There are:
timed traps (hammers, boxing gloves, windmills, and saw blades)
litter (bowling pins, beach balls, flower pots, dog bowls, etc.)
But even simple turns prove a challenge at times.
Each level has two times to beat: par and developer. The par times are mostly reasonable if tricky. The developer times are very tight, and some may require some trickery. For example, your car doesn’t have to cross the finish line. Your egg has to cross the finish line. So for at least one dev-time, your best bet is to bounce the egg over the line.
As you complete levels, you unlock new designs for eggs, bowls, and cars. By default, your setup is randomized for all three types. If you don’t like a combination, restarting (R on keyboard) will randomize it. I tended to play with randomization off, as once you beat all the levels there’s a bowl that’s just floaty little blobs and I didn’t like it. Rather than re-restarting whenever it came up, I switched randomizing off.
It has some rough edges. The controls aren’t configurable in-game, so it’s W,A,S,D with D being reverse and brake. I’d prefer E,S,D,F, but it’s not so bad using the default. You can also use the arrow keys if your keyboard has them.
On some levels, you should wait a beat or two before starting, as the timed traps will smack you if you don’t. This is actually a small disadvantage to getting a good time, as if you hold accelerate (W or ↑ on keyboard, probably right trigger (R2) on a controller) when you restart, your car gets to speed a bit faster off the start line.
Some levels have (brief) camera changes and obstructions. Going through windmills, the camera reorients to fit through with the car. At other places (going under a bridge) you’re left staring at an obstruction until you’re past it. Neither are ideal. The camera changes felt jarring, and trying to drive blind is a bad idea in games as in real life.
The developer recently added a ghost car option, which was modestly helpful at times, but I generally turned it off as I found it both distracting and not helpful once you find a semi-optimal line. I found if I tried to match or beat the ghost, I tended to fail more and get frustrated, versus turning it off.
It’s unclear to me if car selection makes any difference. On some levels I tended to do better with specific cars, but the bowls are placed at the same spot on each car, and they seem to have the same speed and handling. Maybe it was a placebo?
When you’re going for better times, you’ll play a level perhaps hundreds of times. This gets tedious, and one way to break it up is to switch levels. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t currently have a quick-level-select. You have to exit to the main menu and skip a couple of screens to change levels. (The game is in active development for the DLC, so hopefully this is something that will change.)
The game shows you split times, but only flashing them at the bottom when you pass certain points on the levels. It would be nice if the splits were recorded so you could use them as targets to beat. Also would be nice if the ghost cars respawned at each split, so if you’re way behind or ahead of the ghost, you’d still get some benefit at each split.
The timer is a little strange. It shows up to thousandths of a second, but the thousandths place is always just zero. The hundredths place can only be even, despite several of the developer times having an odd value for the hundredths place. It gets odder, as readers with sharp eyes will note from the post image. In one run on track 27 I somehow ended up exactly 0.001 seconds over, which is the only time I’ve seen that place used in the time I played the game. I’m not sure if it was some kind of gag or what it all means.
As a hard game, this is decent enough. Hard games tend to have rough edges, and that’s both part of their charm and part of their difficulty.
I enjoyed Eggcelerate! on its own terms, though it’s not the kind of game I feel most at home in. There are people for whom this sort of game is a really good challenge, but I’m not one of them. For me it was equal parts diversion and frustration.
I played for 35 hours, and I got 61 of the 87 achievements (though the latter number will probably change, as it is poised to have a winter-themed DLC release this month (March 2022)). I beat all the levels, and got the par times on all but the last. I only beat developer times on ten of the 30 levels.
I could have kept going. There were several developer times I got close on, say within half a second. But it became too frustrating: it felt like if I beat them, it wouldn’t really be because I got better at the game. It would be because I got lucky in one run out of hundreds. So I cut my losses and enjoyed most of the time I did spend.
For people who dig these hard games, this is worth a shot. If that’s not you, but you’re okay with not beating every last bit of this game, it’ll probably be a blend of some fun and some frustration like it was for me.
A bit of postscript here, as I think the game could be improved for a more general audience.
The main goal of changes, in my mind, would be to give the game a firmer rooting in skill. As I wrote above, I didn’t feel like I mastered the game, nor that I could have. I doubt there’s a track in the game where I could consistently beat the developer time. That’s a sign that the outcome is less about a skill than it is some sort of luck, at least in my case. If there’s a good way to make the game more skill-based, I think it would go a long way to appealing to the general audience.
I’d like to see how I’d have done with a coarser timer. Round the timer at whole seconds (or maybe halves or tenths). This would result in fairer developer times and fewer instances of players like me getting so-damned-close-but-no-cigar times. (I suspect this is why it’s only using the even hundredths, but don’t know for sure.)
Perhaps a slightly larger bowl. Keep the current one for a challenge mode, but if the bowl were just a little more forgiving, some levels would have been a lot less frustrating.
Other game modes. Lots of options here. I would have loved to try an eggless mode (call it “softboiled” or something punny like that). Or a mode where you get a time penalty for dropping the egg, but it gets respawned and you keep racing.
The developer could experiment with an egg control mode, where you can move the egg (or the bowl), or maybe even just “hop” it a little or something. Like tilt in pinball. Or a “hardboiled” mode where the egg is giant and you have to push it over the goal with the car, Sisyphus-style.
But for the core (yolk?) of the game, something to make it a little easier, a little more repeatable, would be a blessing.
How we play a game is an essential part of what game we are playing.
When playing any sort of game, there are all kinds of ways to play. There’s win-at-all-costs, which includes all sorts of dishonorable methods including cheating, things less than honorable but short of cheating, and still other things that aren’t necessarily dishonorable but perhaps outside of general strategies (e.g., gimmicks). There’s also faithfully playing the game, regardless of how badly the game is made or the consequences on things such as time or sanity.
There are other forms still. When playing with young children, non-evil people will adopt something like a lose-at-all-costs strategy. We let kids win. As they get older, we adopt some sort of lazy-try strategy, where we will win sometimes, but we aren’t cutthroat.
When playing against adult beginners, or perhaps against older children beginners of sufficient determination or natural ability, we tend to adopt a faithful gameplay strategy with an opportunistic lose-to-teach caveat.
We can vary our gameplay quite a lot. It can change moment to moment, based on all sorts of factors. If we’re playing and drinking, for example, our impulses might get the better of us and we become ruthless. Nieces and nephews soon learn the real meaning of fish in Go Fish. Or if our opponent is drunk, we may go easy on them (assuming no stakes and a friendly, not-annoying-when-drunk adversary).
We see the variation used in the tactics of a pool shark—going soft until the stakes are high enough to justify playing at-skill.
But we also see the variations arise in single player games. If you want a lazy game of solitaire, software allows for endlessly going through the stock. If you’re frustrated in a platformer, you might seek out cheese—a way to get past a difficult portion without doing the insanely precise set of moves it usually requires.
Speedrunners adopt their own rules depending on the community and the game. They allow or bar the use of glitches, they have any% (any percentage complete) runs and full runs. Some games have categories piled atop categories. The goals of variety in speedrun rules is to build gameplay styles that suits the runner community interests. If the runs get too easy, too fast, the challenge is gone. If the runs are too long and too hard, nobody will want to attempt the feat.
Speedrunners also throw certain aspects of game faith out the window entirely. Enemies are not tough or scary to runners. They are often avoided entirely, raced past or jumped over without a thought. The runner treats the game much more like a program, looking for the set of conditions that allow progression regardless of the internal experience.
Multiplayer video games have their own variations as well, even within the same game. This depends on the players, on the community norms, on server modifications, and so on. But you might have moments when the game devolves into silliness, only to turn competitive again. You might have whole eras of a game take place in the span of minutes. A dynasty of one gameplay strategy can erupt and decay as players switch their focus from one objective to another.
All of these variations are forms of faith in gaming. There’s the rigid way-it’s-meant-to-be-played form which some would say is most faithful, but others would argue that play-for-fun or play-to-maximum-skill are more faithful to games and sports in general.
But we can also look through the looking glass the other way. There is a whole inverted set of game design that follows the same course. There are games designed to maximize revenue of the publisher or developer. There are games that feature the kinds of variations in design that jump from silly to scary to cutthroat to lose-at-all-costs (i.e., let the player win).
For multiplayer games, some game makers make some effort to let players pick the type of game they want. They offer casual modes and competitive modes, and custom servers have their own flavors of the games.
The same is true for games that allow user created levels. Some make really hard levels, others make easy ones. Some make art with the tools they are given, levels meant to be enjoyed for their design rather than their gameplay.
As with rules of dining, faith in gaming is a side dish. The goal of games is to nourish the brain’s capacity to understand systems. While wine-pairing and proper course compositions may enhance a meal, the goal is to suppress the appetite, to be fed.