Vertical Slice’s Mini Maker is one of the most absurd art games I’ve come across in years, and I love it. Currently in development and only $2 on itch.io, he brings the promise of chaos and freedom of expression through the strange world of surreal sculpture.
The premise? Do whatever “thing” your heart desires, but do it under the influence of the somewhat arbitrary demands of those strange little marshmallow people.
The game starts with a simple design challenge. After a short tutorial, I quickly had access to a shop that allowed me to spend the commission money I had earned. Here I could buy increasingly bizarre mystery packs, containing bulbous limbs, animated ‘WOWs’ and other curious greebles. These I used to design weird, sometimes scary creatures, from plants to toys that look like they’ve crawled out of the dark space under Toy Story villain Sid’s bed.
As I worked through the different levels or “workshops”, my goal was to please those quirky artistic types with my designs – the kind of people who watch you while you work and feel the need to comment on every little change. . Their take can be funny sometimes, but most of the time I just wish they would stop staring at me from the corner of the screen, with those hollow eyes.
As if the presence of these marshmallow sentinels weren’t enough, my workspace is constantly invaded by flying vandals, sentient, bifurcating tomatoes, and the occasional bomb-planting ninja. I have no idea what kind of underground business this artist I play is involved in to justify such attacks, but hey, it makes the game a little more interesting.
What’s weird about Mini Maker, and something that could become a source of frustration, is that there’s no undo button. You really have to commit to every change you make, as you glue pieces together in inconceivable combinations, against the oppressive, ticking clock. Just know that mistakes will be made.
That’s just as well because I’m not sure there’s even a way to to lose; you seem to get paid no matter what kind of horrible monstrosity manifests itself in the depraved annals of your subconscious. Whether it’s covered in flying tomato juice or infected with some weird, green, gooey substance, the little marshmallow gossip always seem to accept your sculpt, no matter the condition. The only true state of loss occurs when you run out of time.
Something they taught me in fine arts college actually came to the surface while playing this game: “There are no mistakes.” It’s a notion that Mini Maker really hammers home, and a feeling that any artist who considers themselves a Surrealist, or perhaps more accurately Dadaist, should learn to live with.
Back in college, our tutors tended to give us a specific pile of art supplies, a deadline, and a vague direction—and then they just let us do ham. Mini Maker essentially distills this partially limited but highly exploratory process into the game format, but unlike many games there is no overall victory state. You earn by growing as an artist.
Right now the game is unfinished, with no real menu system to change settings, and the controls aren’t super intuitive, like the inability 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 unsuitable sculpture artists. There’s plenty to do, from garish aesthetics to the freedom to create whatever pops into your head, but from a limited selection of pieces. I always find limitations like these, and even time limits, to be kind of conducive to my weird art style, anyway.
Right now, a two-player mode is being finalized, along with the ability to photograph your creations in situ, and plenty of other extras that should hopefully make the game a whole lot more complete. In addition, a competition is organized for get your likeness in game.
So if you’re looking for experimental art games, give it a try and see what outlandish curiosities your brain and Mini Maker conjure up.