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[Destructoid reader Nior put a much-appreciated spotlight on some great games coming out of BIG Festival 2021. -Jordan]
The “Brazil of Games” series was born out of a desire to explore, catalog, and tell the Brazilian game industry’s history and culture. Over the last two years, that’s exactly what I did. From the ill-fated Zeebo to the unfairly reviewed Outlive, I’ve talked plenty about the past, and while there are still more stories to tell, today we’ll look to the future.
The indie scene has been on a steady and healthy growth, and one of the reasons is Brazil’s Independent Game Festival (BIG Fes). You can think of it as a GDQ focusing, but not limited to, the indie scene in Latin America. This week marks the start of its 9th edition—and the second edition online because the world is a cluster-fuck right now—and it’s about time I give it the spotlight it deserves for all its contributions to our industry: the chance for developers to get some networking, the showcase of games, the talks, and of course, today’s subject, the awards!
In every edition, BIG nominates ten games for the category of Best Brazilian Video game. So let’s talk about them! Here are the nominees in no particular order!
Developed by Rio de Janeiro-based Garoa Studios, the studio was founded in 2018, but Cartomante (which can be translated as fortune-teller) is their first commercial release. The game is a short Visual Novel that puts you in the shoes of (who else) a fortune-teller, making tarot reads of dubious accuracy to three customers before calling it a day.
Self-described by the developers as a novel with multiple endings and a healthy dose of magical realism, what you see on the screen is exactly what you get. Each client will explain their circumstances, after which you draw one of six face-down tarot cards and choose one of three interpretations, whose outcome is also affected by whatever dialog choices were made before the reading. The whole thing is over in maybe 15 minutes—and the developers are kind enough to offer a replay option at the end—but the sheer number of outcomes (30 in total according to the developers) and the absolute wit of the dialog will ensure you come back for more.
You can’t make this up!
Cartomante is full of charm, and the three eccentric customers steal the show. Not that our Miss Cartomante is any slouch (she can quip like the best of them), but she simply can’t compare to a talking rat quoting part of the Navy SEAL copypasta—trust me, it makes sense in context. I legitimately don’t want to give anything away here. The writing got me laughing more than once. I encouraged Mister Rat to have temperance and take a step back, but what if I had promised that karmic retribution was, quite literally, on the cards? Or maybe telling the arrogant businesswoman with a tendency for foreign terms that “everything is cyclical” wasn’t the best advice for her family troubles. This is what kept me replaying this little game. Each new outcome was more entertaining than the last, and these two examples barely scratch the surface. Oh, and don’t worry, the English localization is marvelous, you won’t be losing any jokes.
You can grab Cartomante for the low price of free until May 10th on itch.io, but do consider throwing the devs some cash. Even a single dollar is immensely helpful due to exchange rates. For all the fun you’ll have, I’d say that’s more than fair.
A wise man with an oar once said: “Excellence is not an art, its pure habit. We are what we repeatedly do.” And nothing embodies that mindset quite like the “enso” (or “circular form” in Japanese). It’s described as a disciplined-creative practice, and in Zen Buddhism, and it represents many things: strength, enlightenment, but most importantly, it symbolizes a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. It requires daily practice and dedication. Much like the way of the blade.
Philosophical implications aside, Enso has quite the fitting name. I can best describe this one as a top-down Sekiro, where being patient and precise with your sword is key to victory. Every action exerts a certain amount of “fatigue” on our character, be it attacking or rolling. Filling the bar or trying to act without enough wiggle room will momentarily stun the player, which can often be fatal. This is not a hack ‘n slash. In Enso, the pace is slow but intense, and in the dance between you and the enemy, a single parry spells doom for either side. Here’s a free tip: to execute a parry right, time the wind-up animation of the parry with the wind-up of the incoming attack. And just like with From games, battling multiple foes at once can go south really fast, so don’t do that.
Unlike its inspirations, Enso is much more forgiving (you don’t lose upgrade currency upon death) and also visually distinct. The presentation strives to recreate the style of the “Ukiyo-e,” the genre of Japanese art that was so popular during the Edo period of Japan’s history, while the music attempts to be something straight outta an Akira Kurosawa movie. There’s a lot of love for Japanese culture here, and being the giant weeb that I am, that is very appreciated.
Being developed by three students as a graduation project in only ten months, Enso is also short in its run time (and free!) but don’t let that stop you. After all, every second of practice counts, don’t you think?
Speaking of swords, what do you get when you mix Kill Bill, turn-based combat, and a dash of cyberpunk? You get Red Ronin. Developed almost entirely by a single person, being worked on during their free time since 2018, the game is yet another one that shines in its simplicity. The titular ronin, Red, is on a revenge quest, and she’s about to slash and dash her way. Literally. The game features action, but it’s better to think of it as a puzzle. Rooms are divided into grids, and Red moves by dashing, only stopping after hitting a wall or obstacle. Anything in her path gets sliced as she goes, and your job is to make sure she won’t be in dicing range after moving. To spice things up, Red counts with two extra skills: one that stops all enemies for a single turn (making otherwise fatal moves possible) and another that places a Sonic-style boost pad that launches Red in the chosen direction when she dashes over it, effectively allowing for two moves in the same turn.
Effective usage of that compact skill set is ultimately what each room demands. Each arena has a solution to find, and executing it is the main gameplay loop. It’s hard to say how lenient the levels will be, having only played the demo, but I find the process fun enough that I don’t see it being a problem. There’s also an arcade quality to it à la Hotline Miami (a game the developer cites as inspiration) in the sense that quick consecutive kills will increase a multiplier. You boys know how much I appreciate a good scoring system, so this is a welcome inclusion that adds to the replay factor.
Kaze and The Wild Masks
Going from violent dashes to just regular running, we have Kaze and The Wild Masks. Given that Dtoid has already reviewed it and that platformers aren’t my thing, I’ll be brief. The game is a love letter to that entire genre, plain and simple. From Donkey Kong on the SNES to the recent Rayman titles, everything about Kaze exudes that affection. The best compliment I can give is that they nailed it. I haven’t touched Donkey Kong in well over a decade, but my hands instantly know this is familiar, and not a moment later, I’m blazing through its stages like that SNES controller never left me.
Of course, Kaze isn’t just imitating its inspirations, there are plenty of original bones on this bunny. Namely, the eponymous wild masks allow Kaze to channel different animal powers that change how one approaches the level—think Kid Chameleon but with bunnies. From flight to wall climbing, it is fair to say that variety is on the menu for Kaze. The game is charming, it looks gorgeous, and there are enough collectibles to make Banjo & Kazooie sweat. Go play it.
You can grab Kaze on Steam (demo included), last-gen consoles, and Stadia.
Do you know who also loves tricks and bunnies? Magicians, and lucky for you, Dandy Ace is the best there is. Handsome, charming, and always accompanied by his two beautiful assistants, things are going swimmingly for Ace. Until one day, he gets thrown inside a Magic Mirror by his one-sided rival Lele, and must now conquer the Ever-Changing Palace to escape. Don’t you hate when that happens?
Now, if this sounds familiar, and if by looking at the screenshots, the game Hades comes to mind, I’d ask you to purge said thoughts before you get hurt. The similarities between the two begin and end with the camera angles and chosen gameplay genre, the rogue-like. For one, Dandy’s escapade is much more lighthearted (and considerably less horny). Your arch enemy/biggest fan Lele constantly taunts Ace during his run, and thanks to a quality dub (both English and Portuguese!) I’ll admit, the writing got chuckles out of me.
Ace is also a caster, not a fighter, keeping his distance and dishing out the pain with a plethora of ranged options. The damage is high, but he’s got the mobility to mitigate the danger of a close-quarter argument with a sentient cuckoo clock with legs—assuming you didn’t replace your get-out-of-jail card for even more offensive power. Once that mindset clicks, oh boy, the fun starts!
Dandy Ace takes inspiration from Dead Cells for its progression system: the unlocking of cards and trinkets, finding keys to open new paths, it’s all very familiar if you’ve experienced Motion Twin’s superb roguevania. The combat, however, drinks from Transistor’s systems. On his journey, Ace will find cards that can either be used as a Skill, or as an Upgrade. With four slots to mix and match at will, experimenting with builds is a blast! In my second run, I got a magic arrow that applied “charm” upon hit, making enemies walk helplessly towards Dandy. Immediately after, I found a minefield skill that I imbued with “Death Charm,” an enhancement that causes enemies to spread the charm effect upon death. Complemented by my rapid-fire card throwing ability (properly imbued with the Burn debuff), the rooms practically cleaned themselves! And that was just one run!
After three years of development, Dandy Ace is charming, compelling, and leaves nothing to be desired when it comes to the genre it belongs to. There’s even has Twitch integration if that’s your thing. Grab the demo on Steam, or wait until it hits consoles later down the line.
Hero Among Us
I like management games. Much of my childhood was spent playing SimCity 3000 and Rollercoaster Tycoon, and when Plague Inc came out, I put a few dozen hours into it. So imagine my surprise in discovering a new game directly inspired by it, but changing the fungus, bacteria and other nasty micro critters with a much worse disease: villainy! Coming from studio Fire Horse, these dudes are no stranger to the BIG Festival, and their nomination for best game feels like good karma coming back around.
I swear to God, if I read even one “amongus” in the comments, I’m going to flip…
Hero Among Us is exactly as I described it. Imagine the basic formula of Plague Inc and put a superhero spin on it. The game lets you manage one of three superheroes, each with unique perks, strengths, and skill trees. You then pick a starting country and off you go to save the world! Like Plague, it’s all a balancing act. You’ll travel between countries, dealing with various types of crises, random events, and of course, super villains, hell-bent on making the world worse. Your hero’s presence will also “buff” countries if you will. These are hero-specific skills that make the world a better place, like establishing anti-bullying laws or inventing better security systems, and they’re pretty much the key to victory. Your goal is to improve a certain percentage of the world, while not letting the forces of evil cause too much havoc. And like in Plague Inc this is much easier said than done. After all, you’re only one man/woman, and Earth is a big place. Godspeed, hero!
Hero Among Us is free to play on Android and iOS, and as of writing, you only have to open your wallet if you want to play with a hero other than the Vigilante. I’d rather just pay for it and be done, but the price is low enough that it doesn’t bother me too much.
It’s no secret that I am a fan of robots that act like humans. I can’t explain it, there’s just something about the inherent artificiality of a machine clashing with its desire to find and be something more than just its programming that gets to me. Retro Machina wants to tell that kind of story. Humanity is long gone, but the machines they built remain. One such machine is our brave protagonist, that one day, suffers a defect on its electric brain, and for that, gets expelled from its robot city, kicking out a journey of exploration and self-discovery.
It’s serendipity that Nier Automata has been in the public conciseness as of late as Retro Machina hits some familiar notes. The beautifully hand-drawn graphics evoke the same feeling of a world that has long moved on from our pathetic existence and where nature is retaking what’s rightfully theirs, all while our mechanical legacy stays true and loyal to its programming. That’s about where the similarities stop because, in terms of gameplay, Retro Machina reminds me a lot of Supergiant Games. The isometric camera, the semi-open-world design, the light RPG touches, it all feels like a game from that studio, and I mean this as a sincere compliment.
Retro Machina’s uniqueness comes from its gimmick of controlling two robots at once. Our little bot can “hack” other machines, and you’re able, and required, to control both at the same time. Think Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, but with robots—which, in my humble opinion, automatically makes it 50% better. Be it for combat, or more likely, to solve the various puzzles in your way, this is the metallic meat of Retro Machina, and it’s highly recommended you bring a controller for the ride.
After almost three years of development, Retro Machina is coming to Steam and consoles you can actually buy on May 12th. Play the demo here.
Fobia – St. Dinfinha Hotel
I’ll start this one with something that might sound weird to you: Fobia doesn’t feel like a Brazilian game. Calm down, this is a compliment. Developed by Pulsatrix Studios, Fobia knows exactly what it wants to be. If you couldn’t already tell, the title means “phobia,” and with a name like that, you know we’re diving into the survival horror genre, and if this demo is any indication, the developers are on the right track.
Fobia puts us in the fleshy skin of Roberto, coming fresh out of journalism school and looking for his first big scoop. Naturally, this leads him to the fictional town of Treze Trilhas (13 Trails in direct translation) in the real country of Santa Catarina. There, he checks in at the titular St. Dinfina Hotel, and of course, the place is haunted as hell. Trapped and with no way out, all that is left for him is to explore the cursed hotel in hopes of finding out what the hell happened there.
Right off the bat, the inspiration in Resident Evil (more specifically, RE 7) shines through. The first-person view accentuates the claustrophobic corridors of the hotel, as the graphics strive for a similar sense of realism. Exploration, puzzle design, inventory management, and even the save system, Fobia is unashamed to wear that inspiration on its sleeves. However, this is as far as the comparison goes. Although the developers promise guns in the final product, the current demo is an accurate depiction of their true intentions: a physiological thriller rather than the body horror that’s so ubiquitous to RE.
The best demonstration of that is the camera. Throughout the game, we can use the camera to reveal items and hidden messages. Don’t worry, you won’t be making a found footage film like in Outlast, although a night vision mode is present and needed for the times the little girl with the Psycho Mantis mask shows herself. Oh, right, her. This cursed little brat seems to be the main antagonist, showing up to chase Roberto from time to time, and taking all light sources around with her. It’s appropriately scary.
I like how she’s described as radioactive because this tells me the developers are tying in some Brazilian touches to the game. More specifically, the Goiânia Radioactive Incident. For the unfamiliar, in 1987, an abandoned radiotherapy institute was invaded by two scavengers searching for valuable scrap. To make a long story short, they brought a partially disassembled teletherapy machine, and the cesium 137 inside it eventually ended up claiming four lives, one of which was of a six-year-old girl that had accidentally ingested some cesium. I’m hoping the developers lean into our history and folklore for the game, as I think that would give it a considerable edge going forward. How many games allow you to run from a radioactive ghost? I bet not many.
The game is slated to hit PC and both current and previous generations of PlayStation and Xbox. You can experience the demo on Steam right now.
Cute little game where you control a sentient sword. It’s unfortunately jailed behind Apple Arcade, and I like being able to eat, so I don’t have an iOS device. Consider this a quantum review based solely on observation.
Looks fun! Too bad I can’t play it…
Truth and Tales
Last and certainly not least, this one is not something for the majority of people reading this text, myself included. Truth and Tales fall in the often neglected category of educational games, functioning as both audiobooks and interactive stories. It takes Robert Ornstein’s Teaching Stories and builds its little tales from there. Unfortunately, I cannot vouch for its effectiveness for two reasons. One, I’m not a child, despite my demeanor, and two, they recently switched to a subscription-based service, which in theory, should allow for continued support and new content. I still believe it to be worth mentioning due to the fact it seems popular even outside Brazil, and c’mon, it got nominated for Best Brazilian Game! There has to be something there!
There you have it, all ten nominees for Best Brazilian Game, but don’t let your journey stop here! The festival is so much more than just what I just showed you. There are countless other games from all over Latin America on display, several talks (with re-stream in English), and even some e-sports if you care enough. This event is far too big for me to do it justice, but I hope this blog was able to showcase just a fraction of what is sure to be the future of the Brazilian gaming industry.
And I can’t wait for the next edition.