A charming country life-sim that jettisons most of the small business economic simulations that usually come along, focusing on being a child running around doing kid shit. I have a vague familiarity with the Boku no Natsuyasumi series but this is the first Kaz Ayabe game I've actually played and it's as delightful as I'd have hoped. Catching bugs, fishing, doing odd errands for town folk all rule in a zero-stakes, to-do list kind of way. Helps that the backdrops are astoundingly pretty and really make a case for prerenders in 2023 (I don't love the stiff animations and some of the character design decisions, but they're far from offensive).
I do wish this was 2-3 hours shorter than it is. Not a long game at 8 hours (give or take), but starts to run out of steam at the end as most of the objectives are completed, there's little left to explore in the town, and you're mostly just waiting for days to pass to trigger the next story beat. The story segments broadly are a bit disappointing, being very linear and existing outside the normal flow of the game (the closest we get is being asked to run from one point to the next to trigger a cutscene). Also, this is Shin-chan, so the humor is...bad. Nothing horrifying, but the pun heavy jokes rarely land in the translation, and hinging the end of the game on getting a date with a college student is definitely a choice. It all washed off me from habitual anime poisoning, but stands out more harshly against the otherwise blissful countryside.
Very excited that this potentially opens the door for future Millennium Kitchen games to get localized (the only other one to make it over being Attack of the Friday Monsters, literally a decade ago). Also, open invitation for indie devs to copy this instead of Stardew Valley.

Would lock 9 people in a death game for an oral history of how this game was made.
Listen to me rant for 20+ hours about this game's granular frustrations: https://kritiqal.com/zero-context

A cute, very earnest meta-adventure game that mostly serves to provide an unneeded second act to the original release. I'm not sure how much of my dislike of this version stems from having played the freeware version first (which I enjoyed quite a bit), but the additions made here to fill in the ambiguous world building almost universally soured me on what initially felt remarkably restrained. There's a charm to the original's RPGmaker hacking that is transformed in the full release into an overwrought but ultimately thin meditation on author/reader relationships (please, stop reading Homestuck and pick up some Barbara Johnson).
I'm still positive on the art and characters, and a few of the later deconstructions are very impressive on a technical level, but this is going to be one of my new go to examples for why everyone needs an editor.

A cruel attempt at political allegory with the sophistication of a MAL review. Borrows a lot of its non-linear structure from Digital: A love Story but loses all of that game's subtlety and specificity in exchange for two anime brides sending you push notifications.
This is predominately a game about patriarchy and the subjugation of women (drawing from Korean history I admittedly do not know much about), and yet at the same time a shotgun love story about doomed AIs literally begging to become your waifu. The easy out would have been to complicate any of these endings as less than happy, but they are played entirely straight. You saved her life, she is your property now.
Analogue makes a lot of big swings at complicated social issues but completely falls apart with even a mild interrogation, as its understanding of sexism is individual affect and an ambiguous, sudden shift from women being free to suddenly not free. The player, of course, is a neutral godlike force who decides if sexism is good or bad. It is at best naive and at worst a cynical reluctance to engage with internalized misogyny (this is most acutely represented by the completely lack of resolution to Mute's rampant misogyny, which gets quietly ignored for the sake of a secret harem ending).
I haven't played Hate+ yet which seems to be slightly more empathetic towards its cast (though also seems to have its own unique problems). There are some interesting interface decisions here that save it from being a complete wash for me, but replaying Digital made even those aspects feel underbaked (seriously, just play Digital, it's a much better game). One of the more bewildering experiences I've had with a game in a long time. Extremely skeptical now of everyone who told me this was good.
Content warnings: miscarriages, sexual violence (brief mention), incest (brief mention), body mutilation, underage marriage, confinement, pervasive sexism/misogyny, lesbophobia.

A small-scale scifi story about coding errors and dialing numbers you shouldn't know about. I revisited this after being disappointed with Analogue: A Hate Story, and it's remarkable how similar and how much more successful Digital is despite (and perhaps because of) being a more straightforward project.
Out of all Christine Love's games I've played, Digital is the most sincere, concerned less with sweeping political allegories than with melancholic nostalgia and very deliberate interactions. Typing phone numbers and running down a list of free long distance codes is the most intense Digital ever gets, but wrapping these inputs in a blunt lo-fi interface causes them to wrap back around to feeling like each number is a bold step into the unknown.
I'm still very down on Christine Love's prose, but what's here benefits from fully obfuscating player responses (you see the reply to your reply but not what prompts it, providing some much needed ambiguity). The love story is by far the weakest part, due mostly to a lack of time to develop the romantic interest and the second half crashing into a pretty boring computer virus drama. It was surprising just how little the actual BBS interactions matter compared to the tactile experience of using them. It's a lonely game in that respect, but I'm happy to drift alone between boards when dialing in feels this good.

An underbaked adventure game about survivor's guilt and city/rural divides. Initially played after seeing some goofy interpretations of the ending as being an anti-woke parable or something, but it's just a hollow box of arguments that doesn't say anything more than what you come prepared to read.
At once a monologue against progressive politics and the dissolution of traditional family values, while also an attack on myopic leftists who would prefer to scratch backwards rural communities off the map. But really, it's neither of these, there is no clear politics expressed beyond "people in rural communities live full lives" which...yeah, true.
The pixel art is impressive in a technical, textureless way that I'd expect from a lo-fi beats stream. Horrible to see pixel art chasing representationalism but that's videogames, baby.
Content warnings for How We Know We're Alive: suicide, parental death, accidental pregnancy

A bluntly referential homage to the survival horror canon. The moment-to-moment map navigation is a joy but is undercut by a second act pivot to geometrically perverted, cosmic horror meat mazes. An over adherence to genre tropes makes for a fussy conclusion that struggles to escape Silent Hill's Event Horizon, and a litany of small frustrations (why can't I drop items?) compile into a game I was ready to be over.
The backdrop of a vaguely Soviet Union totalitarian regime and the nature of personhood in artificial intelligence go unexplored despite being the only source of narration for 2/3 of the game, before switching gears to an even more thinly articulated trauma allegory. There's a strong mechanical foundation here but without a coherent thematic or narrative direction it ends up little more than a competent imitation.

An absolutely nonsensical anime puzzle box that has so thoroughly infected my mind I've become the Boss Baby vibes guy about it.

An earnest attempt at simulating early-00s internet communities that nails the presentation but stumbles in developing a world outside the fraught interpersonal drama of its four-piece cast. The first half is a goofy high-school comedy that excels at small moments in online relationships (doing a virtual new years toast is an early highlight), and only occasionally gets bogged down by overwritten fantasy fics. There is little sense of an internet beyond your AIM window and the blogs of your friends, but the limited focus works when your character's only concern is roleplaying and understanding new acronyms.
The second half, however, goes hard into relationship drama, LGBTQ+ identities, and eating disorders, little of which is handled well and some is actively distasteful. There's clearly a desire to wrestle with the contradictions and confusions so many isolated and/or marginalized teens feel, but neither the systems nor narrative offer the space to actually speak to those experiences in meaningful ways.
As time accelerates in the second half and there are fewer and fewer interactions with individual characters, the game lurches towards a "good" ending that actively undoes the game's emotional arc. I really enjoy Terranova's conceit, but watching it bulldoze its characters for the sake of a more dramatic and "meaningful" end left a gross taste in my mouth.

What an absolute flex to follow up three ambitious first-person adventure games with an isometric CRPG while losing none of the creative momentum or thematic depth. Manages to condense what is historically a 40+ hour game genre into a tight 2-hour heist, pulling drama from every dice roll as much as (if not more so than) its narrative. Would love to see more games adapt the streamlined stat system used here (to say nothing of how well its implemented into the UI). The nightclub background is a natural home for the sort of nu-human entities that make up Off-Peak, and now having control over how you engage with them only escalates the absurdity (love to indiscriminately fight everyone).
I've only finished a single run so I can't speak to if it holds up on replay, but as an expansion into a wholly new genre with significantly more mechanical emphasis than anything Cosmo D has done prior, it's quite the accomplishment.

The last in Cosmo D's trilogy of first-person adventure games, Tales From Off-Peak City Vol. 1 continues to refine and expand Off-Peak's world, its interest in working class life, and a commitment to always having one foot planted in a bucket of tomato sauce while the other dangles over an abyss. The introduction of a rudimentary economy, opportunities for player creativity (a pizza maker AND a camera mode?!), and a more directed narrative make it the most structurally interesting of the three games, even if the diminishing of character interactions makes the world feel a bit barren (not necessarily a bad thing tonally, but less to my tastes).
The way TFOPC uses jump cuts and scene staging is leaps ahead of so many of its contemporaries. Incredible to play a game that understands physical comedy, juxtaposition, and when not to call attention to itself.

Leaps more ambitious than Off-Peak, The Norwood Suite builds upon that game's themes of creative labor and being trapped in a city trying to devour you, while sharpening the presentation and providing more opportunities to interact with the world. This is a proper adventure game with a whole bunch of inconsolable weirdos demanding favors, each puzzle opening up new areas of the hotel and the conspiracies holding it together. Maybe the best character writing in any of Cosmo D's games, particularly the group dynamics. Worth having a guide on hand for the last few puzzles.

Extremely impressive how much of Cosmo D's style is fully formed in this "first" game. A surreal adventure game about being stuck in time, trying to survive as a musician, and the freaks you meet in a subway. An essential piece of the post-Gone Home "walking simulator" boom.

So cruel to start a fail timer when your last puzzle is a nonsensical Lost Woods number maze. Kotaro Uchikoshi would never.

The use of repetition and laborious exploration is fascinating. Not enough games are bold enough to waste your time with office drudgery, and even fewer manage to pay off those lost hours with a rewarding end. Challenging to recommend a game that requires 3-5 straight hours to play, but worth the investment if you can find time and enjoy media about the absurdist nightmare of an office building.