Tarotica Voo Doo

released on Dec 29, 2017

This is an unparalleled 2D puzzle exploration game developed for the 8-bit MSX computer. With 5 years in development, the over 600 frames of hand-drawn animation have been fine-tuned to perfection.

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The story behind the development of this game is rather cute, much of which is outlined in the wonderful design document it comes packaged with. Development started in 1993 for the MSX as a hobbyist undertaking and reached a presentable state around 1997, where it was intended to be shown off at Comiket. Sadly, Ikushi Togo's disk drive crashed, causing a dramatic loss of the machine language source code and other data. After a lull of many years where Tarotica Voo Doo would lay dormant, an old demo rom was eventually showcased at Comiket in 2014 and received such tremendous support and praise, the developer realised he had to see the game through. Rather than taking the comparatively easy route and developing the game with more modern tools, they instead stuck to their guns and rewrote the game completely from scratch, once again for the MSX.
A self-imposed challenge that paid dividends - Tarotica Voo Doo operates under its hardware restrictions with such clear clarity of intent, filled with design quirks rare and unseen in games old and new. Where the visual style is indeed crude; being the product of mouse-drawn pixel art, it complements the uniquely tactile control scheme to the point where it feels like flicking through charming flipbook animations - watching the mansion map fill out in the same vein as a growing doodle on a bored schoolkid’s workbook margin. The developer has expressed that they find games less interesting when actions are automated, and Tarotica Voo Doo’s puzzling and combat incorporates an utterly fascinating control scheme that demands deliberate movement and interaction. It’s no surprise to me that the developer has their eyes on getting a project to the Playmate system.
I wanted to be a little vague, this is a 2-hour game that deserves to be played and appreciated. I swear to god I think this mansion has left an imprint on me.

an incredibly imaginative little adventure game presented with the rudimentary charm of a flipbook made in the DS' pictochat. I completed it in a single sitting in a dark room (lights out, nighttime - no messing around), an 1.5-2.5 hour playthrough that doesn't overstay its' welcome while fully exploring the central animation-cycling mechanic. tarotica voo doo is navigated via short animations which can be played and replayed frame-by-frame using the up and down arrow keys, a process that is as intuitive as it is unique. this mechanic sees use primarily in tarotica's combat and puzzle-solving. in combat, the enemies will often attack in cycles, presenting the player with an ebb and flow of attacking and defending. this endows the combat with a sort of ~RHYTHM~, inviting the player to try and sneak a cheeky little extra hit between the opponents moves (an impulse that often backfired when I succumbed to my bloodlust...). determining the maximum number of hits you can get before you have to defend remains engaging throughout the playthrough, as, for the most part, encounters with different enemies are distinct (especially that last one!). it's hard to discuss the more traditional puzzles without spoiling their solutions, but I will say the more novel ways to use the flipbook are utilized. a couple of the puzzle solutions towards the end struck me as a bit unclear, but c'mon - you really can't stay mad at this game. too much charm!
very lovely presentation as well of course. there's a lot of personality stuffed into those crude animations. the salamanders really stole the show for me. their characterization as the mansion's loyal caretakers, as clumsy as they are enthusiastic (they literally spring into action!) really endeared them to me. their faces brimming with a resolute pride as they brandish their candles... so purposeful they are, mounted atop their sconces... my god... how fitting the ending cutscene is! really really loved these guys. really really loved this game
(included in the steam version is the 44 page design document - handwritten, of course! very neat! really hope some of this guy's other games receive the same thorough localization)

I'm sitting here giggling — partially out of shock — as I press the Up and Down keys to manipulate objects in Tarotica Voo Doo, slowly realising this is the most tangible fictional world I've had the pleasure of engaging with. The trick is deceptively simple: create animations made of mostly just key frames, then make the player hold Up to progress them. If they stop holding, the animation stops. If they press Down, the animation goes backwards. The finishing touch is making the animations in question correlate nicely with the Up and Down input, generally conveying a Pushing/Pulling kind of feeling. The result is a game where you directly feel every frame of your actions, and in hindsight, it's jarring to recognize how unorthodox this is considering just how much inherent enjoyment Tarotica manages to squeeze from this simple one-to-one sensation.
God I wish salamanders were real.

msx homebrew available on steam that happens to be the most compelling thing released in 2017 in my book. tarotica goes far beyond any pidgeonholing as retro hobbyist software or whatever in how it pushes the technical limitations of its hardware in service of playing like nothing else on the system. or honestly, any other game ever.
everything about it sings to me: its cute flipbook animations that make the world feel so direct and tactile, its use of a cursor on a world map for both hotspots and to convey a kind of character movement, its rhythmic block and attack combat sequences. it has almost none of the thick layers of abstract mechanics youd find in dungeon crawlers, but it conjures this primordial idea of "pc dungeon crawling" through the arcaneness of its experience. not in the sense of it being overwhelming to get a grasp on, but that it feels strange and rough-edged and ancient, despite being technically contemporary.
theres a few weird puzzles, like one where you hit a switch for something to happen in a completely different room (check the mannequin room again) or the translation sometimes being too vague ("keep close" is better phrased as "keep doors closed"). other than that i would not change anything. i think about this game's design quirks CONSTANTLY, the dream of making something outside any expectation for how it should play.