[Guest reviewer Colin Brown of Backlog Journey profiles the games included in the latest bundle available on Indie Royale: The All-Charity Pack.]

While I rarely meet an indie game I don't like, I'm critical enough to get a bit jaded about certain oversaturated genres from time to time. Artistic, indie puzzle platformers are definitely one of those genres so, despite the fact that it won the IGF Grand Prize, I was a bit skeptical as I opened up Erik Svedäng's Blueberry Garden. But no doubt you've figured out my bait and switch by now, because I was pleasantly surprised by the short non-linear adventure. The art style is pretty, the music is enchantingly mesmerizing and the game's focus on exploration over physics or puzzles is a wonderful way to teach one how to play the game.

The sense of discovery is easily the best part of the game, which makes me a bit cautious about explaining what exactly Blueberry Garden is. As crazy as it sounds, if you're already committed to trying the game I'd suggest you think about skipping this profile. Regardless, I'll tread lightly. You play as a sharply dressed bird exploring a minimal, vaguely Metroidvania-like landscape. By jumping around and gliding, you need to find objects to stack up and build a tower. There's no upgrades or abilities to learn as the game instead contains different varieties of fruit that provide temporary alterations to the capabilities of your bird.

There's very little direction beyond the basic controls, so it's up to the player to learn things like how the fruit works and where exactly these stackable objects can be found. As the stack expands, the number of places you can access through gliding grows too, so there is always somewhere new to check out. But don't expect to be able to glide around forever, as there is a hard time limit on the game that will sneak up on you and render the game unbeatable.

That single element is probably going to be a real sticking point for people, as time limits and unwinnable situations seem totally at odds with the relaxing piano and freedom of exploration. However, I personally like the time limit as the first time I realized I was being timed at all was a major revelation. The game itself could easily be beaten in half an hour if you knew where everything was (in fact, it doesn't even offer a save function), so the time limit serves as the metaphorical whip juxtaposed with the many carrots on sticks strewn throughout the game. Each time you restart, you enter the world armed with more knowledge about how the game works and therefore a better chance of winning it.

I do understand how a time limit might irk people, but even with my forced restarts I managed to finish the game on my fourth try once I figured out what a particularly helpful fruit did. I have to say I was very taken with the game. Amongst the many indie puzzle platformers out there, Blueberry Garden is definitely one of the most enjoyable and thoughtfully designed of the lot.

The Shivah

I'm always perplexed whenever I hear someone say that adventure games are dead. Maybe commercial adventure games are dead, but there are dozens upon dozens of quality indie adventures released every year. Many of these releases come from the excellent Adventure Game Studio tools, of which Wadjet Eye Games is no stranger to. With a wide back catalogue that includes the upcoming Resonance and prior Royale alumni Gemini Rue and the Blackwell series, it's clear Dave Gilbert and company have a great claim to the role of the spiritual successors of games like Gabriel Knight and the Broken Sword series. But before those games came Mr. Gilbert's first commercial title, this humble tale of a rabbi and his crisis of faith.

There's no doubt that The Shivah has all of the proper adventure game trappings, but I'm inclined to say that it has more than a passing influence from interactive fiction games. Like other Wadjet Eye games, The Shivah is very wordy and more than happy to use extensive dialogue cutscenes to tell the story. However, the dialogue is all very well written and the material itself feels more like the basis for an insightful novel packed with themes of responsibility, faith and a good old fashioned murder mystery. The spoken dialogue is a little bit more hit and miss, like most Wadjet Eye titles. I found the actor for Rabbi Stone to be more than capable of carrying the game, but some occasional awkward line readings or dips in quality sneak in.

Like Blackwell and Gemini Rue, the story itself is completely engrossing. But the amazing thing is that unlike the paranormal humour of Blackwell and the mash-up setting of Gemini Rue, The Shivah remains interesting while staying fairly grounded in reality. You play as Rabbi Stone, a rabbi struggling to make ends meet for his failing synagogue. One day he finds out that a former member of his congregation has been murdered, and that the victim has left him thousands of dollars that could easily solve his debt woes. But there is some kind of unexplained history between the rabbi and the victim, and Rabbi Stone's suspicions prompt him to seek out the truth.

It's a completely engrossing mystery with plenty of twists, turns and revelations. The bits of adventure gameplay that crop up support the narrative well, with most of the annoying aspects of the genre left out. The one exception is instant deaths that pop up in the most unexpected places, so save often. But aside from the instant deaths, the gameplay always follows a logically consistent pattern and it comes up just often enough to break up the lengthy story sequences.

The story is clearly the main focus here, as The Shivah is less like a game and more like a story being told through the medium of a game. Fortunately it's a really great story overall, with plenty of intrigue and clever moments--my favourite is the way that every dialogue question can be answered with a rabbinical question. While all eyes are on Resonance and the recently launched preorders, The Shivah proves that Wadjet Eye has been delivering great stories from the beginning.

[Osmos, B.U.T.T.O.N., Blueberry Garden, and The Shivah make up the latest bundle available on the IndieGames co-created site Indie Royale.]