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Indie Game Spotlight: Hot Throttle & Save Toshi

Two games that will have you questioning your wholesomeness.

By / Posted on 11 February 2011

Hot ThrottleVideogames are, by definition, games, and common sense tells us that games are intended to be fun. There are, of course, games that challenge this preconception, but we’re not interested in those at the moment. There have been a lot of experiments as of late with games that make us feel emotions compounded with the fun. Sadness, fear, community and isolation are all popular themes right now, but a couple of games have come onto our radar lately that make us feel… well… kind of dirty. These aren’t games about sex or deviant behavior in any way, in fact the actual gameplay is pretty standard and similar to recognizable and inoffensive games. It’s the presentation elements that really push these games over the edge. Take a look for yourself.

Hot ThrottleFirst off is Hot Throttle, a collaboration between the constantly-ridiculous-to-the-point-of-insanity designer Cactus, rising developer Doomlaser and Adult Swim. From a gameplay standpoint, Hot Throttle is a fairly typical top-down go kart racer. You and several other racers careen around corners on various tracks, avoid obstacles, pick up weapons to slow each other down, then win points to buy upgrades to your racer. The hook of Hot Throttle, though, is one very simple reality-altering set-up: your racer is not a vehicle but a greased-up hairless guy in a speedo who thinks he’s a car. Nine pixelated nearly-nude men running around town on all fours is weird enough, but then there are the vaguely homoerotic cutscenes, one of which features the main character bending over and offering a strange man a ride in his taxi. Unsettling…

Save ToshiOn the ever-so-slightly more wholesome side of things, there’s Save Toshi, a fully 3D cross between Boom Blox (the Wii game where you throw balls at towers of blocks in order to knock them over) and Tumbledrop (the iPhone game where you tap blocks to remove them in order to get the star at the top of the tower to the bottom platform safely). In this game, a Japanese pop singer is standing atop a block structure and you have get her safely to the disco dancefloor, her natural environment. Throw balls at the blocks (not the girl) so that she’ll slide, fling, and generally drop to the dancefloor. If Toshi falls in the water, you are plainly informed that she has died (apparently Japanese pop singers can neither walk nor swim). There’s an unnerving voyeuristic air to the presentation. The squeaky clean cartoon aesthetic feels like you walked into a shoujo manga. Toshi lets out a plaintive whimper at the realization that she is stuck and, upon landing safely on the dancefloor, squeaks out a wonderfully broken “me love to dancing!” The camera is suddenly surrounded by bubbles and the whole experience reeks of fetishism in the cleanest Disney Channel way possible.

Play these two games back to back and you may not feel like a sex offender,but you will likely feel as though you’ve just had an acid flashback. At the very least, the confused expression on your face will resemble a smile as these games are pure “play”. Both Hot Throttle and Save Toshi are completely free-to-play and available in any web browser that supports Flash (Save Toshi also requires the free Unity plugin, but that opens you to a whole new world of 3D browser gaming anyway). You’ve got nothing to lose by playing them except your own time… and dignity.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.