Live Free, Play Hard: The Week’s Best Free Indie Games

By Porpentine on September 23rd, 2012 at 2:00 pm.

Trap weather front: spike clouds with slight anticipation. THRUSTBURST. 60 seconds to explore the world. Such biplane tiff cries of sorrow. You ARE the horse.

We had game dev Bennett Foddy guest editing FreeIndieGam.es this week and posting his all-time favorites so some of these games are from the beforetimes (more than a minute old). What, you mean indie games don’t expire like sea foam or something and just disappear once the flighty gaze of the public has snapped away for one second? They’re still okay to play? Oh good, because I WANT TO TALK ABOUT THEM.

Drop Tower Defense R by Sordgame

Drop Tower Defense R is tower defense that fascinates in a genre characterized by meaningless, dull shit. The first difference is that you drop defenses to the ground with a satisfying slam. This isn’t just a stylistic choice–when all your building materials come from the heavens, managing stacking order is key. Furthermore, falling blocks actually squish enemies, giving you a powerful emergency weapon with the caveat that you risk deranging the delicate flow of your sky-born dungeon. Who lives up there? Some genius machinist in a floating cloud-shop? Trap god spitting out gifts? Doesn’t matter, snakes are coming.

Another difference–each defense feels personally, lovingly constructed. I was able to try something new each game, make a dungeon that barely resembled the last and still get significantly far, unlike some games that give you a plethora of options just for you to realize that only one or two combinations are really worthwhile. My first few attempts were meager spike-meadows and stumpy pillars, no real match for the growing swarms. Then I understood what was permitted, what was possible, I saw the unformed labyrinths of rocket and guillotine coalesce in my mind. My current schematic is something like, first floor, a field of PRICKLE leading to pillars of MISSILE. Second floor, MUSHERs and GUILLOTINE. Between the crushers above, the spikes below, the rockets firing along the length of the field, and a nice topping of B SHOOTER (dribbles bombs down through floors), I’ve made an extremely efficient tunnel of death.

Helpful things to know: Leading the enemy all the way to the end and then back again in intestinal loops or up and down across a skyline of eviscerating columns is optimal–you want them to eat your traps multiple times. You’ll probably want to read this guide I found. Units take extra damage from rockets in mid-air? So that’s what the bouncy blocks are for. You can drop blocks on other blocks to evolve them? WHAT.

Drop Tower Defense R has an unusual amount of personality, weight, heft, and tinkering. I can’t think of another tower defense that I’ve enjoyed on this level or felt actually engaged with, like I was doing more than killing time. I mean, I resent the legitimization of time-waster as a genre in the first place. Time? The only thing standing between now and the extinction of our unique, fragile consciousness? Whatever, let’s get the blood and air-waster genres up and running, I don’t think videogames have made enough attempts at slowly sucking the life from me yet.

Thrustburst by Umlaut

Fly a fragile ship through Thrustburst’s procedurally generated asteroid tunnel. Why? Because it exists. The tunnel must be conquered. This runs in our veins. You conquer it by flying to the end of it. Ha, that’ll show that…tunnel. I think winning ultimately has to do with detonating a payload at the core of the asteroid (we humans seem to despise space rocks–I’ve never seen a movie about being friends with an asteroid, only ones about rudely blowing them up), not that I’ll ever get there, because Thrustburst is wicked hard.

You have your shield and your shot, both of which use energy. Drag your tail on the floor or ceiling to gain energy. This is a good way to get killed. Everything in Thrustburst is a good way to get killed, the delicate movement assures this. You actually do want to thrust (forward), then burst (up). Executing these movements correctly is survival. So burst those thrusts. Thrustburst. THRUSTBURST. Thrustburst, from the Latin for “THRUSTBURST”.

The art draws from a pale, muted palette, beautifully austere, an austereoid littered with the bones of thousands of thrustbursters. Is this enjoyable? That depends on the kind of person you are and your innate tendency towards masochism.

ADVENTURE MINUTE by Kitty Calis, Jan Willem Nijman, Danny B

You have one ADVENTURE MINUTE to run around exploring the world of Adventure Time in a limited span that recalls Half-Minute Hero, although ADVENTURE MINUTE decadently gives you a whole entire minute to discover secrets that carry over to the next life and open up new locations. Sadly, not all areas were finished by the end of Adventure Time Game Jam (the ocean currently holds the most secrets) but the project is still being worked on and I’ll definitely be checking back to see what else they fill the world with. I don’t even like Zelda-style top-down combat (gasp…not a real gamer…sacrilege…in the same way that if you don’t like a certain kind of food you’re not a REAL food eater), I prefer hunting out secrets, which is good because ADVENTURE MINUTE is all about finding cool things, whether it be figuring out how to cross the sea, obtain a human heart, or threaten balloons.

Biplanes by Peter Mason, remade by Aisling Canton

This is a remake of a 22 year old Amiga/Intellivision game where you fly, you’ll never guess, BIPLANES. Biplanes is two-player and it’s really fun, you fly around on a single screen graced with minimal elements (clouds and balloons drift here and there, providing cover and points respectively) and try to shoot down your friend. Half of Biplanes is fat, cute little biplanes exploding with comedic suddenness. Press the wrong button during take-off? KABOOM. Pull your nose up too far? Drop like a rock and KABOOM. Hit another plane? KABOOM.

The other half of Biplanes is the lovely movement. Here’s how to get off the ground: forward with confidence, gather speed, tilt back, then forward after you’ve gained air. Once you’re aloft the controls are tight and satisfying and there’s a real feeling of weight and lift and oh the dogfighting is glorious.

Cowboyana by Mark Essen

This is the format: a never-ending series of Wild West vignettes punctuated by cowboy poetry. The blue and red cowboys are sometimes friends, sometimes enemies. Pour whiskey for your partner under the tense understanding that one of you can press your shoot button at any time and start a fight where only one man is leaving. What else? Slumber by campfires, race through the desert dodging tumbleweeds, rob trains, bleed out under the burning sun/shining moon/saloon ceiling. You’ll do a lot of bleeding.

You win by playing the game. There is nothing to attain but playing. You win by experiencing whatever you experience. Cowboyana is eternal.

Reload by holding down the reload button and spinning the directional keys as your cowboy’s pixel gun spins in your hand. This is perfect. In the game’s folder: a file called “YOU BOTH HAVE TO SHOOT TO START”. It’s true, and true. Shooting is the verb that drives the action and not shooting is just as big a statement as shooting.

Cowboyana constantly fluxes the relationship between you and your partner. From the read me: “Horses: If you aren’t riding the horse, you ARE the horse.” Cowboyana understands that you don’t need a reason to shoot someone. Cowboy fights just happen when varmints get drunk. These are fights driven by personality and devilishness. Maybe it would just be funnier to shoot you. Why are we shooting each other. Hey.

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18 Comments »

  1. Suits says:

    real gamer food eater

  2. Vandalbarg says:

    Dayum, not a single less than excellent and fun game in the list. Cowboyana in particular is a neat little time sink, and Drop Tower Defense reminds me of building fiendish little traps in Evil Genius (which was my favourite part)

    Good list!

    • Porpentine says:

      Evil Genius, yes! So much good stuff trapped inside the buggy outer layer and pacing issues. Being able to use pretty much any room in your lair to torture enemy agents in different ways…giant fans blowing people into pits…

      More game devs need to realize people really like building modular labyrinths full of traps…

      • Lacero says:

        I would give good money to a kickstarter (by a competent team) based on evil genius trap gameplay.

  3. Scouter says:

    I think next article should have a mention of Race The Sun(http://www.kongregate.com/games/Flippfly/race-the-sun). That game is so amazing.

    • Porpentine says:

      what great sound effects, so clear and piercing

      • Harlander says:

        Race The Sun gives a really great sense of rushing headlong towards your destruction.

  4. bakaohki says:

    According to Nod32 Thrustburst has some virusey thing in it – probably a false alert, but I skipped it for now.

    • Porpentine says:

      “AVG doesn’t like something about Thrustburst’s use of temporary files in decompressing its resources, triggering a generic warning.”

  5. oyog says:

    Thrustburst is one of my favorite shmups for being so difficult and so different. I’m terrrible at it, though.

    Glad someone brought up the false positive from virus scanners. I’d hate for the game to not get played because of it.

    Cowboyana is a dangerous game to take shots of whiskey with a friend to. Shootouts can get tense and hilarious.

    • hello_mr.Trout says:

      thrustburst is great, tho i get the feeling it is quietly laughing at me for not being a better player
      still – i think the art style is great, and interesting use of controls/trajectory
      however i don’t think i’ll ever make it to the core/end of the tunnel, as it is a brutal game

      • Adam Milecki says:

        I love this game. I use a gamepad and JoyToKey, since the in-game joy support doesn’t work for me. The advantage of JoyToKey is you can map a button to thrusting up (normally the up arrow) which works great.

        • kaneina544 says:

          Really great! I bought a new iphone 5!I first need a nice protective housing!Here (http://ekle.tc/OU2) see a lot of beautiful!I love it!We go and see!

  6. cptgone says:

    that Drop Tower Defense R game is great fun! love the stacking :)

  7. DarkFenix says:

    Shit, I remember Biplanes on the Amiga. Now I feel old.

    • noom says:

      I think I remember it. If it’s the one that involved shooting missiles then simultaneously controlling both plane and missile to try and take down the other player then yes, I do also remember it. Seems likely as this was almost certainly around 22 years ago. Back then we used QAOP instead of WASD. Madness I tell you.

      Edit: Just played the flash version. Same as what I remember except it features straight-firing bullets, not guided missiles. Guess I played a later riff on the same formula or something.

    • Baboonanza says:

      Me too! I have very fond memories of playing biplanes for hours with my best mate during my formative years.

      • DarkFenix says:

        I have memories of sucking horribly at Biplanes, then going back to something more fun, like North and South or Cannon Fodder.