One of the really magical things about games is that they have the strange power to make you feel so much better about life. Frustrated by work? I recommend Robotron. Tangled up with complex problems? Use Spelunky to shuffle your psyche back into order.
In contrast, of course, there are the games that make everything worse. Take Fog And Thunder, for example, which I read about over on the ever-wonderful Freeindiegam.es. It’s a pared-back dungeon crawler at heart, and that’s a genre that generally proves a perfect fit for mindless mood improvement. Collection, progression, the simple pleasures of movement: why, then, does this clever little game make me feel so nervous and uncomfortable?
“You are on a quest to find something to fill [the] dark void inside you,” says the tutorial text. Dark void? That doesn’t sound particularly promising. Fire up the game itself and the walls really start to close in, though. Your visibility is reduced to a few feet in front or behind you, there are enemies absolutely everywhere you look, and each innocent doorway provides a terrifying bottleneck where the nasties can bunch and swarm and work to overwhelm you.
You’re not entirely powerless, of course. As you hunt around for the game’s collectable doodads, you can’t attack enemies directly, but you can dim the overheads, you can fire off a burst of sonar to push foes back a bit, and you can lure them towards patches of light, too – or lay down your own - in order to take them out permanently. Kiting like this is one of the most satisfying things any dungeon crawler can offer, if you ask me, but it’s never a particularly comforting mechanic to engage with - and it’s generally backed up by the ability to smack the baddies in question around with an axe.
All of your tricks involve resource management, of course, and each new level contains even more devious congregations of monsters to face. Ultimately, though, it’s the presentation of Fog And Thunder that really gets to me. The slow motion lightning drawing itself across the start screen invokes vast, powerful, deadly forces, while the simple icons that represent your enemies only make you wonder what horrors they’re truly standing in for.
Then there’s the fact that everything’s rippling: each tile quakes and shudders as if the world itself is seismic with fear. “Odd Roguelike” says Tequibo, the game’s Russian designer, by way of terse description. Odd indeed. Also uncanny, creepy and wonderful.