Reviews: Middens

Bad as a game, worse as an art piece.

If you, like me, only knew about this game from brief summaries, and you, like me, are generally interested in things weird, whimsical, and fantastic, then you probably thought this sounded like an interesting, clever, unique, original, stylish game. And in the hands of a competent writer and game designer, it could have been. Instead it ended up in the hands of John Clowder, a whinging art school snob with more creativity than brains. If you look up the word "pretentious" in the know how this joke goes. So instead, we got Middens.

Let's go over each aspect of this trainwreck quickly: The gameplay is extremely boring and tedious. Mostly the most generic turn-based RPG fare imaginable, with the few original elements being the most frustrating. Like having to waste turns and Nerve summoning the other party members into battle, the fact that almost every enemy is unique and you have no way of knowing their weaknesses other than throwing random Prowesses at them and hoping one does significant damage, the fact that their are so many status effects and ways of inducing them but only a tiny handful are even slightly useful, the near-nonexistence of Nerve-restoring items (especially compared to the vast bounty of Pulse-restoring items), bizarre and illogical placement of save points, I could go on. Hey, at least the music's nice. All four or five tracks of it.

Now, the meat of the subject: art. This game doesn't have it. Yes, it has pretty and weird pictures, random stuff everywhere, and bizarre dialogue, but there's no substance to it, distinct style or unique concepts. This game has no identity, it hopes that just being by being weird it can distinguish itself. At the end of the day, this game didn't make me think hard about anything, it didn't leave any big impression, it didn't engage me on an intellectual or emotional level. There was just nothing to it beyond pretty pictures that do little to alleviate the soul-crushing monotony of the gameplay. Once in a blue moon your talking gun or some NPC will say something superficially interesting (not as often as the article would have you believe), but until the very end, that's it as far as story or style goes.

And no pretentious game is complete without a pretentious moral. I could dedicate an entire review to how completely this moral fails, but out of words.

A real disappointment.

Middens started off with real promise. It had unique collage art style, a world unlike any other, promising combat system, and an intriguing opening with enigmatic side character. Those were elements of a great game, but instead of building on them, John Clowder has chosen to expand outwards, and they were buried under mountains of pretentious filler.

The art tries to do too many styles at once, and later levels become an overblown parody of the pleasing early designs. Backgrounds animated with some oily paper effect will outright hurt your eyes, and the painfully white rooms with random objects dropped alongside them aren’t much better. There are literally hundreds of rooms within the game, but most of them are junk, their forced weirdness just feeling tiresome after a while. These rooms often have an NPC or two, and they’re always limited to one line. Some games (i.e. Standstill Girl) create interesting stories when isolated quotes are taken into account, but here it’s junk that never comes to anything. You have a choice to kill anyone or leave them alone, and the game tries tempting you into murder through placing dangerous-looking NPCs that won’t actually attack, or including fetch quests that apparently require killing peaceful inhabitants until someone drops the item quest-giver seek. However, there’s never a reason to bother, and I walked past everyone but the mass murdeder guy. It might’ve been intended as a dream world of some kind, but those dreams aren’t worth a damn.

The “plot” isn't no better. Protagonist is a player insert with zero personality and Genie is the only real character in the entire game. After the tutorial, he suddenly goes silent, and leaves you with zero direction or reason to keep playing. He speaks about ten times less often then he should’ve had, and the conclusion, is abrupt, unsubtle and largely nonsensical, with little new to say.

Weirdly, the actual combat is quite good once you level up enough to unlock status effects. All aggressive enemies have boss-like stats and a few abilities, but are not fully status-immune, and each battle is a satisfying puzzle to pick the right effect to neuter them before exploiting the elemental weaknesses to finish them off. You can also collect worms on the map to use as healing items/elemental grenades, but they rarely make a difference.

Final score: 4/10