The Independent Gamer: Childhood Trauma in 'Lydia,' Realm Travels of 'Wenjia'

Lydia - game - Publicity - H 2020
Nakana.io

This recurring roundup explores indie titles, developers and studios from around the world that are combining powerful stories and distinctive gameplay into experiences worth discovering.

The Independent Gamer is a curated roundup of news from indie gaming, landing here every other Friday. 

Emotionally challenging themes are often at the heart of indie games, which typically have smaller budgets than mainstream titles and are forced to rely on compelling narratives to ensure they stand out. 

Considering the real-life pandemic threatening the world, some gamers might be avoiding these types of titles in favor of lighter, more colorful or humorous games. Similarly, players might be looking for long gameplay experiences to pass the time amid the boredom and frustration of quarantine. But the casual titles below could be played and finished in one sitting — they are that short.

The first, a story-driven adventure from a small creative team in Vaasa, Finland, provides a window into a difficult childhood home, while the second hails from China and showcases the visually delightful and whimsical journey of a kitten. 

Explore a Broken Home Full of Memories in Lydia

Based on real experiences, point-and-click adventure game Lydia offers a brief journey into an alcoholic household, where a little girl exhibits a restless imagination as she tries to make sense of complex family dynamics.

The game, not unlike an interactive novel, is the first from Finnish studio Platonic Partnership, comprised of founding members Jussi Loukiainen, Henri Tervapuro — who inspired the narrative and contributed hand-drawn illustrations — and Juhana Lehtiniemi — who composed the ambient soundtrack — and run with a team of only three others. Juho Kuorikoski was the lead designer of the game.

The studio focuses on story-driven games that motivate positive change. Polish-based company Nakana.io, a group that strives for meaning in their titles, published the title for Nintendo Switch.

The game won best creative achievement of the year at the Finnish Game Awards in 2018, and it only takes about an hour to play all the way through — though its emotional weight makes it feel longer.

The game arrived on Nintendo Switch, where it sells for $4, earlier this year. (It's also available on Steam for the same price). View additional games from Platonic Partnership here, including the story-driven action-adventure King of Peasants and mobile game Naru, currently in beta testing.

Travel Between Energy and Material Realms in Wenjia

Wenjia is a 2D puzzle platformer from Chinese publisher Indienova and Dilemma Studio, also based in Beijing.

In the game, players control a kitten and travel between two realms — energy and material — overcoming various obstacles in order to reach a final goal.

Like Lydia, there's an emphasis on hand-drawn graphics, though this game bursts with color. There are waterfalls, starry nights, spirits, towering mountains and volcanic eruptions. Players may find visual similarities to games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps, with Wenjia serving as a much shorter journey into an achingly beautiful world.

There's a haunting soundtrack from Russian musician and sound designer Stanislav Bulaev. Vocals are from Anna Ermilina, with lyrics by Maria Sherbakova.

The game debuted on Nintendo Switch in March, and can be found in its eStore for $8. View Indienova's expansive catalogue here.

A New Release From Ustwo Games

London-based developer ustwo — the creators of visual novel Assemble With Care and the Monument Valley franchise — unveiled on Thursday the latest project from its sister studio in New York: a strategic and fast-paced climbing game called Go! Go! Bots.

The game, set in a glitchy, cyberpunk future, is available exclusively on Facebook Gaming beginning today.