I’m doing a new thing! It’s called Humble Beginnings, where I play the first hour of each thing in the humble monthly bundle, whether I think I’ll like it or not, and talk about my impressions! My goal with this project is to get myself trying more games and stop feeling like starting a game is making some sort of commitment to finish or continue it. Also, maybe I can try varying my writing voice and maybe impart some insights along the way.

Anyway, this month involved a manageable 7 hours of play (9 games, 2 of which I already owned) and some time spent grabbing screenshots and writing up my impressions.

She Remembered Caterpillars

What did I think?

There’s a little corner of my steam library that piles ever higher with small minimalist puzzle games. They’re something like a subcategory of puzzle games that have the following attributes:

  • They can be completed within a few hours
  • They have a very simple (often geometric) look
  • They typically cost only a couple of dollars on Steam
  • They feature a gentle, steady difficulty curve that makes them kind of zen and relaxing

A few I’ve liked in the past: Hook, Art of Gravity, Zenge

Anyway, She Remembered Caterpillars is very much at home among these games. It’s a mellow little puzzle game that involves controlling cute little creatures in various shapes. It has a vague story told through snippets of text dialogue between unknown characters at the beginning of each level, that seems to be building towards some sort of big reveal. The main appeal, of course, is making your way through the puzzles.

Most unique about the game, though, is that it has a lovely hand-drawn art style with gorgeous level backgrounds that give it a really nice atmosphere. Since this style of game is typically so minimalist and geometric, it’s nice to see something that’s a bit more of an art project. The puzzle design hasn’t blown me away so far, but these types of games never really need to. It’s been a nice, relaxing journey so far.

Will I keep playing it?

Yes! Also, I get the sense that I’m not far from the end. These types of games are pretty bite-sized!

Steel Rats

What did I think?

My goal here is to go in mostly blind with these games, trying to be open to explore genres I’ve historically had no interest in. But I gotta say, Steel Rats is a particularly surprising game to go into blind.

Steel Rats is a sort of mish mash of a trials game with an action platformer. It consists of maneuvering a motorcycle around large platformer-style levels mowing through enemies with a bunch of strange weapons and abilities. While it’s conceit and controls are somewhat awkward, it touches on some really novel ideas. In my hour with the game, I think I had about a 3:1 ratio of two kinds of moments: the ones where I was getting stuck, struggling to turn around, randomly slamming into a wall and losing health… and the ones where I was blitzing through an enemy, deflecting bullets just in time, or triumphantly leaping over a gap.

What surprised me is that the second type of moment actually happened fairly often. While it’s awkward to control, the physics of the world feel pretty refined and, once you get the hang of them, predictable (in fact, the developer’s prior experience with Trials-type games seems to explain it). The setting is kind of a bland sci-fi dystopia with a lot of aesthetic and no substance, and its characters and voice acting are pretty uninspired, but a game with the Trials-style of bike physics in an actual world with actual story and characters is such a cool idea. Even with the uninteresting attempt at characters and setting here, that potential is kind of exciting.

Will I keep playing it?

Probably! I can’t be sure, because it depends on which other sorts of games draw me in. I don’t see myself playing it all the way to the end(I only saw the first of five regions in the game, so I think I’m at most 20% through), but I imagine I’ll have an urge to come back and try a bit more.


What did I think?

Tannenberg is a first-person shooter that attempts to simulate the altercations of the Battle of Tannenberg on the Eastern Front of World War I. Now, I came into this game skeptical because I don’t typically have interest in historical military games of any sort, but I thought maybe I’d give it a chance to draw me in.

Needless to say, it very much did not. The controls were a bit clumsy, and there was absolutely zero tutorialization. I just had to… join a multiplayer match and die a whole bunch. And I’ll admit: part of it is that I’m just bad at shooters. I’m bad at the rapid information processing needed to spot faraway enemies, I’m bad at lurking around the map in just the right corners to always have my back covered. But this game just does so little to welcome you into it. The closest there is to any tutorialization is basically a trailer that explains the main game type.

And that’s okay, I suppose. Some people are already familiar with this type of game and don’t need an introduction. But I wasn’t, and I did. Whatever this game has to offer is completely inaccessible to me, and it has no interest in reaching me. This isn’t any shade on those who do enjoy it, but it’s certainly not a game that welcomes newcomers.

Will I keep playing it?

No! To be fair, it’s just not a game for me. But it also doesn’t make any effort to onboard new players, and that’s kind of a bummer.


What did I think?

Northgard is a strategy game about exploring an unknown continent with a viking clan. The game has a story mode, which is what I spent my hour with, that seems to be a sequence of scenarios with various objectives. It starts simple enough, and tutorializes most of the mechanics as the player gets acclimated. This was a nice experience! These games tend to have a lot going on, so an easy on-ramp was much appreciated.

I should mention, before I get too far, that the game does sort of barrel headlong into a pretty blatantly colonialist story without much examination of it. I know, I know, it’s a game about vikings, some of history’s most famous plunderers. What did I expect, right? Well, I didn’t necessarily expect the prompt to expand into another area to have an actual button that says “colonize”, and I didn’t expect the story to be so positive about travelling to “an untamed land” to reap its riches. These little framing things are probably not surprising to folks who play games like this already, but it’s a bit jarring to see it laid out so uncritically.

But ignoring that, the game was a pleasant little toe-dip into an interesting variation on the city building and resource management strategy genre. This feels like a good game to play while listening to podcasts, which is something I always appreciate having.

Will I keep playing it?

Yeah! It does a nice job of unfolding its mechanics gradually enough for me to keep up. For a genre that I don’t have a lot of experience in, I’ve found my time to be fairly relaxing so far.

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden

What did I think?

I should make this clear: I was already interested in this game going in. Something about its openly bizarre aesthetic was appealing to me. For anyone not familiar with this game, it’s sort of like if a tactics game had a stealth component, in which you set up your units before a fight and try to ambush small, isolated groups of enemies before taking down the main force. It’s an interesting layer on top of the more familiar XCOM-style encounters.

Also, it’s a game where you play as a mutant duck person and a mutant pig person (named Dux and Bormin, respectively). It takes place in the distant aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse, and it’s got a broody synth-filled cyberpunk soundtrack. It’s general atmosphere is a lot to process, and even though it’s a little self-serious sometimes it manages to be surprisingly engaging. The main cast does some nice voice performances, and the overall tone of the game is almost like a… grittier, less zany Borderlands? That’s… not quite it, honestly, but it definitely has the same kind of society-of-wasteland-survivors vibe.

Ultimately, the game is strange and unique and even in the first hour, gave me some surprising and satisfying combat moments that show promise for what’s to come. I have a strong feeling that anyone who wanted a more narrative and character-driven variation on XCOM will find it in Mutant Year Zero.

Will I keep playing it?

I sure will! I was incredibly curious about this game after seeing some folks I follow show a lot of interest in it. I’ve never been able to sink my teeth into any of the XCOM games, but this one is just enough of a departure from the formula that I’m already really intrigued by it.


What did I think?

I’m not exactly sure what I thought Absolver was, but I was pretty sure it was something like a PvP melee combat game. I was thinking it would probably play something like, I dunno, For Honor?

But what if I told you that it turns out it’s sort of a hand-to-hand-focused souls-like with some hard-to-grok combat but a really gorgeous world. Because, well, it’s that, as far as I can tell. Starting the game out, it wasn’t entirely clear how multiplayer was supposed to work. As I explored, I encountered random players around the various areas, all punching the crap out of NPC enemies. I saw a button to challenge another player to a fight, though I didn’t end up actually pressing it. I found some NPCs that mentioned some ancient history of the world, and reminded me of my objective to become an Absolver (not quite sure what that means).

It’s hard to form a complete impression, as I only felt like I was figuring out what the game really was at about 45 minutes in. That’s not necessarily a problem, but it’s certainly an odd feeling. Exploring was fun and the world is surprisingly beautiful. The combat feels like there’s something there if I can figure it out, but I didn’t feel like I came to understand much of it. Only the very basics were tutorialized, and some more detailed info was buried in menus I was too impatient to comb through.

Anyway, it seems cool? I just didn’t feel like one hour was enough time for me to figure out what to make of it.

Will I keep playing?

Yes? I don’t yet know if I’ll think Absolver is great or even good, but I sincerely want to see and learn more of it. It’s a very loosely guided experience, but the structure of the world feels so much like a souls game (or, if I were to go by art style, last year’s Ashen). The combat seems like it might open up more if I spend some time in the tips and the practice mode. Regardless of how it turns out, I’m pretty sure I want to spend a bit more time with this one.

A Short Hike (Humble Original)

What did I think?

A Short Hike is a cute little adventure game about exploring an island, collecting bits and bobs, and talking to a whole bunch of friendly animal characters. It appears to be a sort of love letter to national parks and the friendly interactions that occur between park-goers. Throughout the game, you’ll offer to help with various simple tasks and have some charming moments chatting with folks.

There appears to be some sort of main throughline with the Claire, the main character, but I didn’t get far enough to see it resolved. Claire herself has just enough attitude to be interesting but is still generally kind and helpful, which feels well balanced. Honestly, in a game like this, I mostly just want to see people be nice to each other, and it seems to understand that.

While clearly a 3D game, it deploys some manner of shaders to achieve a stylized pixel look. While I don’t think the pixel look works very well for the characters, it does make for a really lovely environment. The movement is a little awkward at first, but opens up pretty nicely as you collect Golden Feathers, which improve your stamina and allow you to climb and jump higher. As I progressed up the mountain, I wandered up and down meandering side paths, sometimes gliding all the way back down to the beach and then zipping back up where I knew the routes. The game does have a really nice sense of exploration, and that combined with its friendly atmosphere makes pleasant to play.

Will I keep playing?

I get the sense that the game isn’t too much longer, and I’ve had a nice relaxing time just exploring the island and chatting with friendly locals and visitors. This may fall by the wayside, but I suspect I’ll pick it up again some evening when I want to play something mellow and wind down.

The Ones I’ve Already Played

There are a couple of games in this month’s bundle that I’ve already played! And better yet, they’re both great! I’ll give a short pitch for each one.


Minit takes the format of old 2D Legend of Zelda games and mashes it together with some ideas from Majora’s Mask. Each time you spawn, you have exactly sixty seconds to explore before you die. Most items carry over between lives, and you can activate new spawn points to more easily explore new areas. It’s a game full of odd NPCs, interesting puzzles, and genuinely unique pacing. Each life is too short to really agonize over but long enough to explore different options and make progress at a satisfying cadence.

While I did hit some puzzles that were more obtuse than I liked, I still found plenty to appreciate in Minit. It’s great not just because of its ideas, but because it’s designed so tightly and carefully around them. It’s smart and quirky and careful not to overstay its welcome. If the idea intrigues you, Minit is very much worth your time.


Dandara is hard to describe succinctly. On the most basic level, it’s a Metroidvania set in a surreal world inspired by colonial Brazil. Dandara, the game’s protagonist, is based on the mysterious historical figure of the same name, an Afro-Brazilian freedom fighter who helped defend a community of escaped slaves in 17th century Brazil. This narrative framing alone is fascinating, but the game backs it up with a truly wonderful and bizarre world to explore and a lot of challenging and rewarding gameplay.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the game is the way in which the player traverses the world. Rather than running and jumping, Dandara sticks to all surfaces she touches, vaulting between floors, walls, and ceilings and firing projectiles at enemies. The controls take some time to adjust to, but once they click it becomes clear how carefully tuned they are. The game’s
surreal locomotion matches its surreal atmosphere, topped off by an incredible and unique soundtrack. The entire experience is unlike any game I’d ever played before in the Metroidvania genre.

I truly can’t recommend this game enough. It’s not quite perfect, and I wish it was a little more direct in exploring the history it draws from, but it’s so inspired and so unlike anything else I’ve played that it’s won a special place in my heart. I have a steam key for this game and I’d be thrilled if someone else was convinced to play it, so contact me if you want it!


So there it is, the first installment of the writeups-that-will-force-me-to-play-Humble-Monthly-games. I think since this is such a big post I’ll do a quick rundown of what I thought of this month’s games (from what I played so far):

  • She Remembered Caterpillars: Nice low-key puzzle game
  • Steel Rats: Interesting new ideas for the Trials-style of gameplay
  • Tannenberg: Extremely not my thing.
  • Northgard: Nice twist on Civ-style strategy
  • Mutant Year Zero: Surprisingly engaging stealth/tactics mashup with over-serious but interesting setting and characters
  • Absolver: Unexpectedly beautiful open world. Combat…? I haven’t really figured it out yet
  • A Short Hike: Fun little exploration-driven adventure with nice animal pals
  • Minit: Already played it! It’s good!
  • Dandara: Already played it! It’s fantastic, ask me for my steam key if you believe me!

I had a lot of fun doing this! I’m looking forward to another month of this soon. All I have to do now is finish all the games from this month that I said I’d continue playing… Hmm…