Mini Maker by Vertical Slice is one of the most nonsensical art games I've come across in years, and I love it. Currently in development and just $2 on itch.io, it brings the promise of chaos and free expression through the strange world of surrealist sculpture.
The premise? Make whatever 'thing' your heart desires, but do it under the influence of the somewhat arbitrary requests of these weird, little marshmallow people.
The game begins with a simple design challenge. After a short tutorial, I was quickly given access to a shop that let me spend the commission money I'd earned. Here, I could purchase ever more bizarre mystery packs, containing bulbous limbs, animated 'WOW's, and other curious greebles. These, I've been using to design strange, sometimes frightening creatures—anything from plants to toys that look like they crawled out from the dark space under Toy Story villain Sid's bed.
As I made my way through the different levels or 'workshops,' my goal was to please these oddball artsy types with my creations—the kind of people who hover over you as you work, and feel the need to comment on every tiny edit. Their take can be funny at times, but mostly I just wish they'd stop staring at me from the corner of my screen, with those hollow eyes.
As if the presence of these marshmallowy sentinels wasn't bad enough, my workspace is constantly being invaded by flying vandals, sentient, bifurcating tomatoes, and the occasional bomb-planting ninja. I have no idea what kind of underground enterprise this artist I'm playing is involved in to warrant such attacks but, hey, it makes the game a little more interesting.
What's strange about Mini Maker, and something that might become a source of frustration, is that there's no undo button. You have to really commit to any modifications you make, as you jam parts together in inconceivable combinations, against the oppressive, ticking timer. Just know that mistakes will be made.
It's just as well because I'm not sure there's even a way to lose; you seem to get paid no matter what kind of horrific monstrosity manifests from the depraved annals of your subconscious. Whether it gets covered in flying tomato juice, or infected with some strange, green, gooey substance, the little marshmallow peeps always seem to accept your sculpture no matter the state. The only real lose state happens when you run out of time.
Something they taught me in art college has actually bubbled to the surface while playing this game: “There are no mistakes.” It's a notion that Mini Maker really hammers home, and a sentiment any artist who considers themself a surrealist, or maybe more appropriately Dadaist, should learn to live by.
Back in college, our tutors tended to give us a specific bunch of art supplies, a time limit, and a vague direction—then they'd just let us go ham. Mini Maker essentially distils that partially limited but highly exploratory process into game format, only unlike a lot of games there's no overall win state. You win by growing as an artist.
Right now, the game is unfinished, with no real menu system to tweak settings, and the controls aren't super intuitive, like being unable to rotate the object with the middle mouse button instead of W, A, S, D.
But it's still easy to see its potential as an outlet for misfit sculpture artists. It's got a lot going for it, from the gaudy aesthetic to the freedom to create whatever weird thing that pops into your head, albeit from a limited selection of pieces. I always find limitations like these, and even time limits to be kind of conducive to my strange brand of artistry, anyway.
Right now, a two-player mode is being finalised, as well as the ability to photograph your creations in situ, and many more extras that should hopefully make the game feel much more well-rounded. Plus, a competition is being held to get your likeness in the game.
So, if you're looking for experimental art games, give it a go and see what outlandish curios your brain and Mini Maker conjure up.