Small Publishers Push Big Dreams: Chucklefish

There’s a small publisher in England stealing the hearts of the gaming community. With their multitude of warm and engaging titles, Chucklefish is absolutely killing it.  Not ringing a bell?  Well not to name drop, but you’ve probably heard of that perfect little ode to Harvest Moon that goes by the title Stardew Valley.  It took the PC gaming world by storm last year. Unbelievably, Stardew Valley managed to outsell AAA power-houses like Watchdogs, Deus Ex, Farcry, even Call of Duty. This is all the more impressive when you consider the publisher Chucklefish has only been around since 2011.

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Now I know what your thinking:

“But Brett Chucklefish is a developer right? I thought you were discussing publishers. What’s the haps?”

First, I commend you for the deep cut industry knowledge you have there. That speaks volumes to the inherent sadness in your life. You should get out of the house more; people are talking.  Second, Chucklefish is a small developer as well as a publisher. They are following in the footsteps of other developer/publishers like Bethesda, EA, Sega, Hudson Soft, Koei Tecmo, Square Enix, Atlus, 2K Games… You get the idea. Chucklefish started working together six years ago on their first project. Self-published, Starbound achieved critical and commercial success. The plucky team then branched out and began to partner with other small developers. They took on the role of publisher, and drew from their experience to help these other creators. Take a look at several of their games that I hold in the highest regard.

Starbound

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Pixel art graphics? Check.  Excellent original music? Check.  Deep crafting system? Check.  Online cooperative multiplayer? Check. Customizable Spaceships? Check. Yes Starbound ticks all the right boxes in my book. This is the game that Chucklefish formed to create and every indicator suggests it was a labor of love. There is a tremendous amount of charm built into the details in the this game. NPC dialogue, item flavor text, and surprising planetary biomes all add to the depth of character placed into Starbound. It’s a game that’s difficult to define, not fitting into any one genre and borrowing from several. Is it a 2-D action platformer? A crafting survival adventure? A future themed sci-fi rpg? You start with creating a character from one of the many playable races. You get a decent amount of options. I played Glitch. They are the robot people of Starbound, not bothered with the fleshy concerns of meatbags like you. Its 2-D ascetic and control scheme will force comparisons to Terraria. This is by no means a bad thing. Terraria is great. Anyway, Starbound has near infinite options for exploration and a generous amount of humor. Once you get your starship repaired, off you go into a rich universe ripe for adventure. You won’t regret the time you spend romping around this fantastic game.

Risk of Rain

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Risk of Rain is a 2-D non-stop bullet hell shooter. Each level is multi-tiered and jammed full of power-ups you’ll need in order to deal with the relentless onslaught of vicious enemies. Hopoo Games developed RoR in 2013 and Chucklefish published it shortly after. At first glance, one would assume RoR to be shallow experience; like a simplified version of Broforce or Metal Slug. This idea, like most things in your life, is wrong. (Please direct all hatemail to aarmstr1990@gmail.com) As you learn the game and make progress, new characters and weapons unlock that change the way you play. Mastering each character’s special abilities is paramount to your success and requires a lot of trial and error. This is not a game for casual players. Your reactions are tested in the best kind of way. I haven’t managed to try the online co-op yet, but look forward to giving it a whirl. Don’t forget to turn the headphones up on this one. RoR has an engaging soundtrack that adds to the ambiance while helping you concentrate on the hordes aliens looking to rip you apart. Despite the many hours I’ve already dumped into RoR, I’ve only managed to unlock two of the of twelve available characters. Think you can do any better?

Stardew Valley

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There was a lot of buzz surrounding Stardew Valley last year. It appeared on the top games list of every single critic worth their salt. There isn’t a tremendous amount I can add this conversation from a critical perspective. Primarily because I tend to lack the ability to provide both healthy criticism or anything resembling proper perspective. PC Gamer did a phenomenal write up on Stardew Valley with their “Spirit of the PC” award that explains the long term appeal of this great title. For the uninitiated, Stardew Valley is a 16-bit styled farming rpg adventure. Anyone that groaned at the phrase “farming rpg” has never experienced the joy of growing up playing Harvest Moon. It must be cold living as a shell of a human being. I pity you. Nonetheless, Stardew Valley was developed by Eric Barone; better known as ConcernedApe. That’s correct, one guy. It took Eric four years to perform this miracle. That’s only a single person responsible for the music, art, coding, menus, writing, etc… I salute you sir. I couldn’t even write this article without the input of two other people! As of now, I’ve spent about 110 hours in Stardew Valley, and once multiplayer launches, I intend to double that figure. Whether you are farming, exploring, fishing,  or romancing the townsfolk; there’s never a dull moment in this deceptively sleepy little town.

On a personal note; Stardew Valley is a game my lady and I both cherished. We spent many evenings sitting next to each other, comparing our progress. Every new detail or secret we unearthed was immediately shared. Each discovery was another opportunity for us to become part of the others little world. We created some special memories that wouldn’t exist if not for the hard work of ConcernedApe and the fine people at Chucklefish. So thanks fellas, thanks a lot.

But what do you think?  Is Starbound nothing more than Sci-Fi Terraria?  Does Risk of Rain lack the depth of titles like Mercenary Kings or Broforce? Is it possible to beat Abigail’s cheating ass at the Egg Festival? Comment below. Or don’t. I don’t need your damn validation! Please like me. See you next time.

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