Squidlit and the Short Game
AAA gaming has developed into a space for juggernauts. Companies like Ubisoft and Bethesda specialize in giving us experiences that last for hundreds of hours, urging us to scour every corner of their created worlds for stories and secrets. The rise of games as a service has provided experiences like Warframe and Destiny which constantly evolve, striving to become the proverbial "forever game." Hell, Dying Light 2 just got into the news cycle by claiming it will take 500 hours to see all of its content. Getting into and completing these titles is a significant time investment and can be exhausting. So, dear reader, that's why I'd like to take a minute to celebrate the short game. A bite sized, thoroughly satisfying experience that can be completed in one sitting.
I heard of Squidlit thanks to a YouTube channel I subscribe to called "Best Indie Games." This channel focuses on upcoming indie titles of interest. The trailer for Squidlit was brief. A GameBoy inspired game where you play as a squid looking to take down an evil king who is cursing the land. It looks like a GameBoy game, sounds like one, and feels like one. My interest was piqued at the idea of creating a GameBoy title in 2021 and what that would look like. I added it to my Steam wishlist.
It lasted approximately ten minutes on my wishlist because it only cost $2 and I decided that even if the game wasn't great, I wanted to support the idea of a game like this getting made today and it was so inexpensive. I bought it, the download took all of 30 seconds, and I hit play.
Squidlit is as advertised. Despite the fact that I was using a keyboard, I might as well have been holding my original GameBoy in my hands. It felt like I remember the GameBoy titles of my youth feeling. Squidlit probably runs better than games did on my GameBoy, a little less janky, but it was firing up the nostalgia neurons in the intended fashion.
Squidlit consists of three levels, broken up with a couple of town sections in between. You hop around and squirt ink on your enemies. You work through these levels in relatively quick succession and, at around the half hour mark, you are at the final boss. You best the king, bring light to the land once again, and the credits role. From start to finish, the whole process lasted about 45 minutes.
I could talk about how fun the platforming is or how the combat is satisfying, but I don't think that's the main event of this game. I think the main event is its length. I sat down, started it, and finished it in one sitting. It followed the formula of Super Mario Land in that it provided a satisfying challenge without overstaying its welcome. It never wavered from what it was. It never tried to over reach. It simply delivered on what it set out to do, and there was a unique sense of satisfaction that came from completing it.
This wasn't a month's worth of progress leading up to the final showdown. There weren't a dozen story beats coming together to lead to a dramatic finale. There was no animosity towards the antagonist, aside from the fact that he was the bad guy and I wanted to defeat him. There was an elegant simplicity to the experience. I sat down, I started it, and I finished it. And it was good.
This isn't to take away from the quality of the game either. The actual playing of Squidlit is really fun. Your attack comes from below so you have to jump above your enemies before attacking, creating a dynamic combat style that I haven't really seen before. The music is a series of earworm loops that stuck with me, the enemy variety is fine for a 45 minute game, the dialogue among squid folk is funny and charming, and there is a dedicated button to make your squid dance. It is a very good game.
It starts, its fun, and then it ends. And this is sooooo refreshing, especially considering the modern landscape of games. Over my Christmas break, I spent about 20 hours playing through the first act of Assassin's Creed Valhalla. It was fine, I set up a settlement and help track down some Templars. Over the same break, I played Squidlit. My steam says I've spent 90 minutes playing the game. I played through it twice and am going to go back to it to try to get a few more of the Steam achievements. Despite having spent 20x more time playing Assassin's Creed Valhalla, I can't tell you one remarkable thing about it, save for how nice it can look. I spent 90 minutes with Squidlit and I can't shut up about how special it is.
The short game can sometimes be mischaracterized as simple or casual. Just because a game doesn't take long to complete does not speak to its collective quality. Similarly, a lot of long games are inflated as deep and complex despite being relatively void of character. I think it is long past time to start celebrating the short game, and I can think of no better mascot for this celebration than the green tinged Squidlit who just wants to ink and dance it's way into your heart. Pick this game up, it rules.