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

By Porpentine on October 21st, 2012 at 2:00 pm.

Runlike. Two-player text adventure. Turn-based bullet hell. STREEMERZ. “lot of ennemies, all weird ones”. Break someone’s game. CYOA-strategy Wild West vignette.

Dark Run by Jonathan Wright

The object of Dark Run is to race until you die through a bleak, endlessly generated dungeon. Amorphous darkness is chasing you so fast you don’t have more than a moment or two to plan your route, but get careless and you’ll run into some spikes. The dimness and unpredictability of your surroundings compounds this state of tension.

See, unlike most games involving dungeons, there’s no illusion that you can tame this place for a single second. Creatures latch onto your body, slowing you down, spraying acid, boxing you in with their big meaty forms, well, some are just harmless bats, but because everything else in the game can harm you, they can harm you, because you’ll twitch to react to their sudden movement and lose precious time.

The sensitive controls give me an acute sense of scampering, I’m scampering, I’m dodging these creatures that want to drag me down, I’m a badass, an agile badass, an agile scared badass, and my high score is 450 meters.

Brace by merritt kopas

Brace is a brief two-player hotseat text adventure about a pair of creatures trying to survive. You read some words, make a decision, then tap or murmur to the other person and they do the same. I played through twice with a friend so I was able to take on the role of both creatures.

The game is structured on ritualistic rules: avoid talking, keep your eyes closed, signal discreetly to switch over. Surprisingly intimate, with great use of silence. I hope people riff off this because mechanically there’s so much to mine in terms of player knowledge and cooperation and conflict–things that borrow more from roleplaying than traditional videogames.

Battle Combat Fighters x3 by Nifflas

Turn-based shoot ‘em up Battle Combat Fighters x3 turns the most frantic genre into something strategic and deliberate. At first I thought each shot sent you a fixed distance in the opposite direction, but the physics are more detailed than that. Firing adds to your momentum, so shooting a lot in one direction sends you hurtling with dangerous velocity toward the lethal rim of the arena. Reflex must be tempered with foresight.

Each shot is a different note. Slow moves announce your shots with stately chimes, while fast moves come quick enough to make music, incorporating your play speed into part of the soundtrack. By improving your skills you get the music that fits your reflexes.

STREEMERZ by Arthur Lee and Faux Game

Whoa, what’s this, it’s STREEMERZ, superSTREngthEMERgencysquad-Zeta, a Bionic Commando-esque NES-style reimagining of a game by the same name off the Action 52 multicart. Wow!

The main mode of transportation in Streemerz is your grappling hook, no jumping allowed. Fortunately the hook is responsive and fun to use so getting through levels is about skill, not fighting the controls. Hey, what’s all this other stuff, there’s a VVVVVV-esque gravity reversal mode (so you can play the whole game by an entirely different mechanic if you like), a timed mode, and more!

I’m getting flashbacks to a bunch of old-school console games all merged together in my mind, from the terrain made of that generic industrial stuff that all those crazy techno-lairs are designed from, mazes of complicated metal with no discernable purpose, to the sketchy translation dialogue reminiscent of the YOU HAVE TO SAVE THE PRESIDENT FROM NINJAS period that’s actually quite funny.

Mamono Digger by Hojamaka Games

First ten seconds: I hate puzzle games, might as well get this over with. Every second after that: this is surprisingly addictive. In Mamono Digger you outline blocks of a certain color. As long as no other colors are inside the selected area, the blocks pop and you clear part of the screen. Behind the blocks are images, and exposing an entire image unlocks a trophy. There’s a cascading sense of search with each capture that I found quite satisfying.

Evidence by Wuthrer

Surreal, hand-drawn platformer with a “lot of enemies, all weird ones” and a plot that feels like the death dream of someone overdosing on the floor surrounded by their favorite toys. You control a ghostly blob that sweats and wobbles with every bounce, wheedled and mocked by the mysterious antagonist, a post-it note equivalent of GLaDOS, like someone recreating an insane AI in their bedroom with random bits of paper.

Evidence is about avoiding enemies, not killing them. Instead of each enemy having a weakness, they have a specific way to be avoided. The camera is especially threatening, flashbulb sound providing a tense audio cue before the attack that turns you into a photograph if you don’t run away fast enough. The final boss scene is too long but everything else is great fun.

The Secret Garden by SamoojaMies

The Secret Garden is a simple exploration game where you wander around and play with various objects. I don’t think I would have posted it if I hadn’t discovered certain unexpected, perhaps unintended properties about the world.

Go past the garden, find the purple statue, stand on the statue, then pick it up. I’ve heard there are other ways to achieve what the purple statue will bring you, but this is mine.

After some time I was utterly alone and there was nothing but the sky and the sun and even my statue had left me because the only action available to me was to let it go. There is something to be said for mystical experiences.

Highnoon by Chris Gaylo, remade by Emmanuel King Turner

After 42 years this game written in BASIC before I was born shows up remade in Twine and I’m in love. I was hooting and hollering and carrying on, I was shaking the person next to me at how good this is.

Highnoon is a Wild West text duel with choose your own adventure and strategy elements and the whole thing is squishy as hell. At first you think it’s a logic game about pushing your luck, managing certain factors, and it kinda is until it oozes into all these outcomes that clearly value narrative above mechanical rigor. The CYOA elements are more delightful to encounter because of this mechanical layer, rigor contrasted against the whimsy.

There are multiple ways not to play. Like, after reading the instructions, you can choose not to continue. The assumption is that reading about Black Bart, “one of the meanest desperadoes west of the Allegheny mountains”, might scare you off. Hell, I’m scared.

You can turn and run. The game will ask how many paces. You can run up to 400 paces. You can run 0 paces.

You can give up. YOU CAN GIVE UP.

Highnoon values worthless things like failure, or maybe we’ve been taught that failure is worthless and can’t be interesting when it definitely is. Funniest of all is that failure doesn’t come from an error of reflex–you choose to fail by clicking on a hyperlink. That’s a great joke and this is a great game.

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19 Comments »

  1. misterT0AST says:

    Well, I don’t know what you did in “The Secret Garden”, but I couldn’t find a use for the statue. It just draws frogs to it. Bah.
    My favourite thing to do was putting plants and frogs through the pines, let them go, and watch them skyrocket somewhere. Or using the Buddha statue as a catapult and shovel everything upwards.

    After a while I found a spot where the pines around the garden were lower, I started stacking rocks and plants and I managed to get over them. Then I wandered off to the edge of the world and jumped off.

    EDIT: I tried that statue thing. Well that made my earlier endeavour feel pointless. Damn.

  2. Barnox says:

    I found myself wandering outside the garden. The pines were thinner here. In the distance, I could see the garden still. Out here, there are no frogs, no bushes, no flowers. But that was okay.

    I mounted my fly. Together, we soared above the earth, then watched as we fell beneath it. But that was okay.

    I released the fly. It flew into the sky… or maybe I fell into the abyss. But it doesn’t really matter which. Either way, it’s okay.

  3. Premium User Badge

    maninahat says:

    I liked Highnoon, and wasted 20 minutes trying to get an ending in which both of you end up out of ammunition (and neither dead). Couldn’t manage it in the end.

    • Premium User Badge

      Durkonkell says:

      I just managed it. The game continues until you get to 0 paces, and then Bart runs off never to show his face in this town again. You don’t get $20000 though.

      • Porpentine says:

        Wow, good job, I tried to make Bart run out of bullets so I could find a new ending, but he kept finding new bullets from somewhere. Makes me happy that the game allows for that outcome.

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    blind_boy_grunt says:

    Evidence has the worst boss battle in… forever. And i had to beat him twice because the ending wouldn’t trigger.
    Battle Combat Fighters is strange, because the normal version has the least to do with the other two, and some (almost) neccessary features are missing, i think ultra is the one to play.

  5. oyog says:

    This is a particularly good LF,PH. I’m really looking forward to trying these.

    So far my favorite Action 52 OWNS game is NonHuman by FrankieSmileShow.

  6. robandr3w5 says:

    I liked Highnoon. I liked it because I got $20,000.

  7. LionsPhil says:

    484 metres, before I ended up sandwiched between two of those yellow things and slapped to the ground, at which point the endless inky black expanse swallowed us all up.

    Also previously quite heavily gnawed upon by one of those red octopus things.

  8. njursten says:

    I love how physics bugs can make a game so much funnier! I’m reminded of a hilarious thing in Boiling Point: Road to Hell; My friend tried to walk out of a river, but on doing so was given an extreme push up into the air. Reached a few hundred meters, then fell of the map. Quite an interesting experience to see the world from a new perspective.

    • Porpentine says:

      yeah all my favorite glitches seem related to flying, becoming free in a world where i was once rooted to the ground–like the infamous Skyrim giant glitch, that was great–it’s like figuring out how to beat the Matrix.

  9. phenom_x8 says:

    The bear!! It’s back!!

  10. Tams80 says:

    I put the Buddha statue on a sprinkler and then put a rock on his head…

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    Matt_W says:

    Kairo, by Richard Perrin, released today: http://kairo.lockeddoorpuzzle.com/

  12. wodin says:

    Please mention Alien Assault and Alien Assault 2 which sounds like it’s going to be superb and you can get in on the early design process..

    http://www.teardown.se/

  13. wodin says:

    Managed to kill him on my second try..I deleted how close I was to him..

    What is your strategy?
    ADVANCE | STAND STILL | FIRE | JUMP BEHIND THE WATERING TROUGH | GIVE UP | TURN TAIL AND RUN
    What a shot, you got Black Bart right between the eyes.

    As Mayor of Dodge City, and on behalf of its citizens, I extend to you our thanks, and present you with this reward, a check for $20,000, for killing Black Bart.
    ************************************************************
    CHECK NO. 155 AUG. 10TH. 1889
    CASHIER’S RECEIT~~~BANK OF DODGE CITY

    PAY TO THE BEARER ON DEMAND

    THE SUM OF

    TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~$20,000

    ************************************************************

    Don’t spend it all in one place.

    C.G. INC.

    END