Kingdom of Loathing, West of Loathing, and Shadows over Loathing
I started playing "Kingdom of Loathing" (by Asymmetric Publishing) back in the old days, when the Internet was really slow. I think I still had dial up. 2003's "Kingdom of Loathing" (www.kingdomofloathing.com) is a parody of role-playing games, especially the dungeon crawler type games where you smash and bash (or zap) your way to a victory. It’s a simple browser-based game, with turn-based role playing. It’s very similar to the dungeon crawler games I used to play as a kid on the Apple, with one small change - this is a game for grownups. Or at least adults.
The artwork features crudely drawn stick figures that look like they were done in Microsoft Paint. It takes a bit to get used to, but it’s completely consistent with the non-serious mood of the game.
What makes all of this really appealing are the jokes. It’s full of weird jokes, puns, silly names, and a completely original storyline.
In the Kingdom of Loathing, there are six character classes and three main stats. Like every other dungeon crawler you've ever played, there's strength, dexterity and intelligence, but in the KOL universe it's Muscle, Moxie and Mysticality. You can play as your choice of Seal Clubber or Turtle Tamer (muscle), Accordion Thief or Disco Bandit (Moxie), Sauceror or Pastamancer (Mysticality.) Instead of gold you have Meat. Meat can be turned into Meat Paste (crafting component) or used to purchase items you’ll need for your adventures. You'll get a Familiar to help you on your adventures - so far, I've had a mosquito, a leprechaun, and a turtle. Right now, my character has a miniature Adventurer familiar who also makes mini martinis.
I started playing this in 2008, and as entertaining time wasters go, it's perfect. A low stakes game that can be played with limited bandwidth, no animations, no sounds, and it's free. Asymmetric Publications runs entirely on the donations of its supporters.
Zack Johnson created "Kingdom of Loathing" in a week. After developing several games that he felt weren’t good enough, he decided to take things less seriously and just make a game that he would release in a week, no matter what. He published it in 2003, and within a year over 300,000 player accounts had been created. Before long he was able to quit his job as a programmer and start working on "Kingdom of Loathing" full time, along with his childhood friend Josh Nite. Asymmetric Publishing has grown quite a bit since then, and now employs around eight full-time programmers. Zack still does all the illustrations.
West of Loathing
When Asymmetric's "West of Loathing" (2017) showed up on Steam, I was of course intrigued. It was the perfect adaptation of the Loathing style to a larger platform. "West of Loathing" has complex puzzles and an entertaining storyline, while still keeping the stick figure animations and the Microsoft Paint style graphics. Just in a higher resolution. Game play is click through and not timed, which makes things less stressful.
It also has sound! Much of the music is the classic Western movie music, as well as an out of tune piano and a disco banjo. You'll collect musicians throughout the game and enjoy their performance together at the end.
In "West of Loathing" you start as a character who's heading West toward the city of Dirtwater. Play as your choice of three character classes: Snake Oiler, Beanslinger, or Cow Puncher. Just as in KOL, you'll pick a character class and equip your character with items you'll find or purchase with Meat along the way. You have different options for your character's destiny. Do you choose the path of cow-ruption? Or do you take the Kellogg purity regimen? Maybe both!
I've played through the game a couple of times, because once a decision is made, you can't go back and change it, which keeps you from unlocking parts of the story. I've also played the DLC content for this game, “Gun Manor.” A fun extension for the base game and worth the $7.99 price.
Shadows over Loathing
Set 20 years or so in the future of "West of Loathing," "Shadows over Loathing" (2022) is a bit darker. You're the niece or nephew of Uncle Murray, who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances while investigating cursed objects. Play as your choice of Pig Skinner, Cheese Wizard, or Jazz Agent. There are vampires, fish men, mysterious shadow monsters, the mob, and a speakeasy. Depending upon your choices, you can unlock various stories within the game, solve puzzles, and help your Uncle Murray.
This is probably the first game I've ever played that had musical puzzles to solve. The music throughout the game is well done, very listenable. If you play as a Jazz Agent, you'll pick up instrument attacks to use during battle, and eventually will have a whole band playing with you as you fight.
I'm on my second playthrough and making different choices within the game. Just like in "West of Loathing," actions have consequences, and there's a couple of things I should have done differently. I don't want to spoil it for you, but you'll most likely play through this at least twice.
Available on the Steam platform from Asymmetric Publications for Linux, PC and Macintosh.