Become Earth’s nude martial ambassador. Make cunning wagers on gladiator beetles. “somewhere… at the bottom of piss ocean…” Crushed to death by beautiful cubes.
This week is special. This week is the Ludum Dare edition. Ludum Dare is a massive game design competition where the goal is to make a game from scratch in 48 hours, a pressure cooker of insomnia and brilliance.
We also have the Jam variant, where the rules are relaxed a bit and you have 72 hours. Anyone can enter–in fact, many people make their first game in Ludum Dare or one of the monthly MiniLDs. This is an exciting time to be involved with games on any level because you get to pour through over a thousand (fourteen hundred and six to be exact!) free games, a wild, extravagant garden of design philosophies, innovations, and aesthetics. This year’s theme is Evolution.
Terra Tam: The World Warrior (Leon Arnott)
Talking about Terra Tam: The World Warrior takes longer than clicking and seeing why Terra Tam is so lovely, but here goes. An evil god pits you against other denizens of the cosmos. Fight for the survival of your species, O champion of Earth, in a dithered alien arena, but watch out for Glancers, Loveheads, and Exnils. Terra Tam is short and delicious. Click it. Play it. BECOME TERRA TAM
Parental Guidance will show you fear in a handful of pixels, pixels depicting a child wandering an empty house. Your parents have gone on holiday and the door won’t open. Parental Guidance has a similar feel to Silent Hill (architectural horror, unsettling isolation, the mundane contrasted with an unshakeable feeling of wrongness) but realized inside a small, innocent-looking lo-fi box, making the genuinely creepy, dread-sick mood all the greater an accomplishment.
Beetlefield: The Forecast
Beetlefield: The Forecast is gladiator betting with mutant beetles, a tremendously polished and addicting experience. Each army starts with two abilities selected at random. Which is better, Queen and Ambush, or Elite and Acid Explosion? If you win that bet, the loser evolves another ability and you’re faced with the decision: stay with the winner or switch sides. Learning when to switch is tricky–how well do you understand the interactions between all the different abilities? My favorites were Queen (grows more beetles throughout the battle giving you vital longevity) and Blade (your elite beetles eviscerate whoever gets in the way of their mandibles). The game generates evolution codes so you can share your lethal recipe with others. Tense sport for bloodthirsty entomologists.
The Best Dinosaur
Tough, fast platformer where you strive to be The Best Dinosaur, a tricky task considering I’ve never been killed by meteors in so many ways. But this isn’t the kind of game that does anything so boring as ending the story when you die–your punishment is devolution by time demon, which is accurate to what we know of that period of history. Hand-drawn graphics and desktop mic voicework lend charm to this splendid game.
Evoland has you evolving the game itself from a lumpy little stone of primitive retro-grit into a clean-colored, smooth-scrolling, full-featured, sound-having gem. I thought a lot about the changes in me as a player from one second to the next as Evoland deconstructed the top-down hack n’ slash. Dying in one hit builds tension, unlocking Diablo Mode with a health bar is just boring because your risk becomes stretched over a gradient. Something about what lies between tedious unfairness and hand-holding inanity. Anyways, this is an cool game. Just don’t die until you invent save points.
Evolution Stew looks like a sandbox made for Mac Classic, a one-screen playground full of objects with a single destiny: entering your pool of bubbling green goo and evolving beyond the sum of their parts. You could go for the low hanging fruit and fling the nearest kitty or game developer into the stew, but if you experiment with the objects littering the level you’ll find much rarer ingredients. All the classic tools of exploration are at your disposal: drill, jetpack, and cat food.
“The abomination you created rises from the pool…it is belligerent…it has pepperoni armor…it scoffs at your existence”
How Evolution Really Works
A cube learns How Evolution Really Works through a series of hilariously punishing experiences that subvert the leaping-killing-acquiring rush of platforming in favor of pragmatic reality. This is a fun game where everything bounces and your fellow cubes all have personalities, from greedy to scary to, in one particularly funny scene, gullible.
Adlus: Mouse Of Truth
Adlus: Mouse Of Truth is a short look at being a purple mouse-looking flesh-legged creature that works in a laboratory. I know the author’s Australian so that sort of thing is quite possibly what their animals or even humans look like. I’ve heard things. The gameplay involves purging bacteria from the Bio-Grid, making careful bread-purchasing decisions, and monitoring simian intelligence levels. Having played the author’s other games, I noticed that they’ve vastly improved walking and text speed, giving me free reign to enjoy their weird world. If you’ve been paying attention to art restoration news you’ll also notice the best loading image ever.
I Am A Tree. You Are Not. Ha Ha.
In the vein of so many great RPGs, I Am A Tree. You Are Not. Ha Ha. starts you in humble beginnings, just a worm in a sea of piss. Taunted with the words “you have no hope of becoming a tree.” you set out to prove them wrong, making this something we can all relate to. Who among us has not once longed to become a tree and regretfully stowed that dream away in the dusty bottom drawer of life’s bureau. The living ass is my favorite form, a cute rumpy turtle thing evolved to deal with wolves. I appreciate that the creator didn’t perfunctorily use RPG Maker combat and instead utilized the engine for story and mood.
Legacy Bird is of the sword-and-smoochery genre, described by the creator as “…A ginormo sword clone, dating sim, rougue-like.” Everything about Legacy Bird is adorable, from the pastel hues to the manner in which the game prompts you: “Do you love this girl?” “Do you love to climb?” (what a fine way to ask me if I want to climb a ladder, would that all games let themselves breathe like this.) But you’re not dating for love, no, you only kiss the girls that give you higher speed and attack.
Strange blue creatures infest the land, and Praepoch has you searching for their source somewhere amidst the forest, desert, sea, and snow. The animation is stand-out, trees and houses and stones bobbing and swelling and breathing. I like how fighting certain enemies doesn’t pay, making it feel like more of a world and less of a videogame where Everything Must Be Killed. And the sounds! The axe makes the most satisfying snick, and in a certain area, the wind is clearly from someone blowing into their microphone and it’s wonderful.
Hunt’em! is simple but beautiful. Run from predators, touch the streams of light, evolve, fight back, repeat. Here’s hoping they turn Hunt’em into a full game, because I’d love to explore an entire world under this sky, running through the grass watching out for thatchy critters.
I like LD24 X0ut because of the way swarms of cubes tumble and spill at you instead of flying in rigid formation like most shoot ‘em ups, something closer to a flood or an avalanche, a great way to convey the SHMUP feel of being overwhelmed at all times. Leave it to the indie scene to find endless ways to make basic geometry look pretty as hell. The cube protagonist’s heroic narration makes this struggle for survival all the more compelling, reminding me in an odd way of a kid playing epic make believe as they run through their backyard to a mock death.
Selectra has you sidescrolling as an “alien Amazonian goddess”, blasting evil wasps and reproducing with floating men for their elemental genes along the way to your confrontation with a rival deity. When you breed, Selectra and her mate age rapidly, their bones flung into the offscreen abyss as her consciousness enters their child and she grows to maturity in the span of seconds. Selectra’s attack is more nuanced than the average projectile spam–the more powerful your shots are, the slower they charge up, leading to a balancing act. After you release the shot, tapping the mouse button bounces the orb back and forth through enemies, multiplying the power of each shot through reflex. Topping it off, the theme is catchy and the art is retro-stellar (love the teal-magenta-red palette).
Kitty Punch is not Ludum Dare. I’m only posting this because I’ve been trying to figure out how we can be collectively saying WHAT THE FUCK as a planet.