So, the connecting theme that I’ve extracted from my unpleasant rectum for today’s double bill is “island life.” Because we have two games that represent the two faces of remote island living. On the one side there’s the unspoilt scenery, lovely weather, exotic wildlife and friendly people, and on the other hand there’s watching your lower half disappear into an oceanic monstrosity that looks like its midway through eating the entire cutlery section at Bed Bath and Beyond. And then some fat people take pictures of you from their cruise ship before they swarm all over your island and don’t buy any of your grandma’s bracelets. On that note, let’s start with Dredge, a game about fishing, heavy emphasis “mostly” end heavy emphasis. In Dredge you live the day to day life of a lone fisherman, sailing out upon the foamy brine, reeling in the catch, sailing home the moment the manatees start looking like they’re wearing seashell bras and starting again the next day. Gameplay loop’s simple enough – you explore and catch fish and crafting materials with a smorgasbord of timing-based challenges that play like a sample platter of the kind of fishing minigames that are the bread and butter of the massively overloaded dumpster behind a sandwich shop that is the indie cozy life sim genre.
Then, when you can no longer rearrange your Resident Evil 4 grid inventory to squeeze in any more tiddlers you go back to the nearest island, sell it all and craft yourself an upgrade to engine speed or tiddler capacity. Classic formula for your standard post-dad game, really: do the thing, become better at doing the thing. The twist of it all comes with a palpable air of underlying Lovecraftian menace. The townsfolk keep reminding you not to go out at night as they quietly ooze onto your doormat. Semi-regularly you’ll catch a weird fish with glowing eyeballs on its third vestigial penis. Could there be something dark and sinister lurking beneath the oily waters of the archipelago? Well, yes, it’s giant fish monsters. Look, there’s one over there. “Hi guys! I’m a giant fish! Anyone got, like, a metric ton of ant’s eggs?” That’s kind of how it feels the first time you run into one. The game does a great job of building suspense with the warnings of the spooky townsfolk and the prerequisite Lovecraft game sanity meter that starts fucking you about after night falls, but when I ran into my first organic dump truck from the fever dreams of Jacques Cousteau it was just kinda there.
It sped around a corner, punched a hole in my hull and went right on going. It was less like being confronted by the horror of the sublime and more like getting cut off by an asshole motorist. So the horror was feeling a bit demystified as I grumblingly called for a tow. Still, the gameplay’s put together neatly enough that I was absorbed. It captures the important post-dad game satisfaction of a job well done when you bring your expertly packed cargo of lime green seven-testicled crabs to the oozing fish merchant. It’s like, after a while the initial horror of the unknown is supplanted by a sort of second tier horror as you roll your eyes tolerantly when a massive leviathan gibbering out of its twelve green vaginas brushes past the hull and knocks off your trawler net, and you realise that this shit has become way too fucking normal for you. There’s no going back to regular society now, you’ll try telling your fish stories at the bait shop and they’ll politely ask you to leave so they can all be sick. You’re as much a part of this wacked-out shit as that magenta seven-clitorised dogfish you just caught and the plot does lean into that.
I would summarise Dredge as a “neat” game. It’s like a strip club in Missouri: There’s not a whole lot to it and I felt a little underwhelmed after all the secrets were unveiled. But it’s a very well organised strip club in Missouri – what there is fits together as nicely as a beautifully tesselated cargo hold full of exotically coloured marine life with outsized numbers of some hilarious body part or other, and it definitely held my interest. For how long though? Well, half a video long, it turns out. Our second game is Tchia, which is not, as you might have thought, a game about failing to hold in a wet sneeze. It’s actually a very heartfelt game about the creators’ love for their home country of New Caledonia, so don’t you feel bad about the wet sneeze joke now, you big racist. The main character, Tchia, is a carefree young girl living on a beautiful island with her father whose peaceful life amid nature is interrupted when they’re visited by a character I came to refer to as “Reverse Santa Claus,” whose recurring job in the plot is to show up on a magic helicopter at random moments, do something monstrous for no reason, then piss off again.
So he turns up and kidnaps Tchia’s dad, and Tchia’s so mad she turns into a knife. Because she’s got the ability to possess any animal or small object, and if that’s not a good excuse for an open world sandbox chillout game, I don’t know what is. I’d describe Tchia as a “living in the moment” sort of sandbox. It’s a Breath of the Wild-like full traversal game and there’s minigames and challenges and collectibles, in the way a circumcision party will have a snack table and a place where you hang your coat, but it’s not really ABOUT those things. What Tchia’s ABOUT is turning into a bird, flying up a mountain, turning back, flying back down on a glider, diving into the sea, turning into a plastic six pack ring and choking a turtle to death and just vibing, man. Again, it’s not a very big game, and the plot’s all over the place. Tchia goes around making friends with people mainly by showing off her guitar hero skills, she shows up at Reverse Santa Claus’ office demanding to speak to the manager, then it turns out Reverse Santa Claus works for an evil worm god that eats babies, then there’s some busywork for a while and Reverse Santa Claus drops a huge bomb that kills 90% of the cast. The intention I think was to have a story that combines contemporary ideas with a Pacific islander mythology vibe, which definitely comes across.
But there are times when you want to grab Tchia by the flower necklace and go “Pin down a tone, and then explain what the fuck’s going on. And if I see you start expressing your feelings in song you’re getting a ukelele right up the grass skirt.” There’s plenty more to pick on, the game has a combat element based around possessing hazardous items and flinging them at evil ambulatory tea towels and it’s a little annoying because the relationship between the throwing arc guideline and where the thing actually goes is more a nodding acquaintance between two coworkers at a dull office party, and towards the end of the critical path you have to do way too much of it and the game turns into Fabric Far Cry. But I came away feeling positive about Tchia, so apparently none of that matters a southside plop. I think it’s that it’s clearly made earnestly with love and that carries me through its more awkward moments. So the emotional bits managed to itch me with the feel fleas even if I could think back afterwards and realise how much of it was kinda fucked. So there you go. Dredge and Tchia. Two island-themed games I mildly recommend, and if you put them together you get Dredgetchia, which sounds a bit like the name of a country for people who keep getting peanut butter stuck in their teeth.