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

By Porpentine on October 28th, 2012 at 2:00 pm.

But how many is too many?

GOBLET GOBLET GOBLET GOBLET GOBLET GOBLET GOBLET GOBLET GOBLET GOBLET GOBLET GOBLET

Too Many Ninjas! by Bennett Foddy

Too Many Ninjas! really does make you feel like you’re the poised warrior of some wuxia film, striking down all comers as they break themselves on your stoic stance–the shwing of deflecting a throwing star, the stab of pivoting at the last second to skewer some hapless fool.

You have seven angles to guard against the growing ninja hordes. Eventually there are too many of them. This number will differ from person to person.

Medieval Shark by Felix Weisner

Extremely linear Medieval Shark sim where you swim really fast and destroy things. Sometimes the things you destroy are closer to the bottom of the screen, sometimes they’re closer to the top. Your options are: nonstop slaughter…(I trail off after the first option, leading you to believe this is in fact the only option(!))

You keep getting more stuff very easily. Gems, weapons, gold. Is it ethical? Maybe this is like eating sweet, creamy pie. This is like stuffing your face with pie until you get sick.

Kids_ by Foster Wattles

Pretty, obscure gamepoem with a gorgeous soft palette and sudden flashes of interactive imagery. I like the way Kids_ shows you the controls. Press the keys to get them into your fingertips, like fitting a glove, then begin.

Interpretations will differ but I felt like a ghost traveling by train and lonely country road to the afterlife, slowly becoming invisible, disintegrating, coming to rest.

Nuign Specter by Jake Clover

Nuign Specter establishes all you need to know with a single sentence, ôMy actions had attracted a specter”, and a single image involving a dinnerplate. The rest is drawn in simple lines, distant, ominous sounds, and your shotgun.

Specter knows how to tell a story. The protagonist isn’t a hopping, reskinned platform hero, he has a cane and he walks slowly, with dignity, because that’s his character. The scene is structured so nothing can shake us out of it, leaving apertures only for meaningful input.

Cactus Arcade by Cactus

The release of Hotline Miami is the perfect time to play Cactus’s older titles, conveniently packaged in Cactus Arcade, a launcher hosting 17 masochistic, melting games.

Naked women and giant pink cubes pushing you into walls in sumo wrestling shoot-em-up SeizureDome, searching for escape in the endless grey corridor of Mondo Medicals, and Psychosomnium’s deceptive pastels hiding a fiendish body-swapping platformer–the selection ranges from straightforward all the way to claustrophobic nightmares with no indication of how to proceed.

Cho Ren Sha 68K by Famibe No Yosshin

You can almost taste the scanlines on this crunchy piece of deep-fried SHMUP originally designed for the late 80s/early 90s Japanese home computer Sharp X68000. Cho Ren Sha 68k’s most distinguishing feature is that power-ups come in threes, a spinning triangle of shield, mega lasers, and bomb. Touch one and the rest disappear, but pull off the trick of hovering inside their spinning area for a span of seconds and you get all three.

At the end of each level you get bonus points for unused bombs and lives. More points means more lives. Want more lives? Don’t die. Also, killing certain enemies fast enough will spawn secret enemies that give more points, which means, yup, more lives.

Running in Win95 compatibility mode seems to fix any sound lag you might experience.

Frog Fractions by Twinbeard Studios

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t played Frog Fractions already? You should play it!

Frog Fractions feels like stepping into some water and finding it much, much deeper than you anticipated. Robert Yang said it best: “…Frog Fractions is nostalgic for absurdity in games, at a time when game design schools and developer communities are so focused on congealing design into a teachable discipline / coherent culture, when we think designing something to death is necessarily good design.” Which segues nicely into…

Goblet Grotto by thecatamites, J Chastain, NEW VADERS

Goblet Grotto is huge.

Goblet Grotto takes thecatamite’s and J Chastain’s earlier flirtations with text + image (Pleasuredromes of Kubla Khan, Jungle Max) and structures an entire world around that irony. Goblet Grotto is the sprawling action-exploration RPG that’s going to save humanity from itself.

J Chastain’s detailed, cartoonish illustrations are a big part of why exploration is so interesting, a constant enticement to study the weird inhabitants of the pop-up book landscape. The Goblet Man level is particularly fantastic, angular streets jagging against a skybox of labyrinthian dungeon, city debris floating through a carved-out hollow earth.

This sense of exploration spills offscreen and into the HowToWinAtGobletGrotto.zip packaged with the game, a file containing a glyph guide, a monster manual, and a library of mysterious paragraphs (ôPlease refer to Paragraph XII…”). Crime glyph…twitching glyph…”The foul-tasting and frequently incontinent swamp toad is most frequently found within the gullet of a heron. Many grotto residents will crush this toad on sight, to gain good luck or at the behest of a long-dormant aesthetic sensibility.” I felt like I was sifting through old Infocom feelies and forgotten game manuals from an alternate universe.

Goblet Grotto is a celebration of the idiosyncrasies you remember long after you glide anesthetized through some AAA theme park. In their studied reproduction of old-school games (urgh, that polluted moniker), people usually end up making them too clean. Goblet Grotto is messy. This is the kind of game you talk about with other people, comparing experiences–”Did you find the Salt Zone?” ôDoes that even exist?” “LEMME TELL YOU ABOUT SALT ZONE, BUDDY”

Goblet Grotto is coercive. All games are coercive to some degree, but Goblet Grotto is just viscous with the sickness of our world where everyone expects you to know their rules and fulfill their terrible, insane criteria. Goblet Grotto is a deprogramming machine hammering you with competing narratives–vulgar, academic, literary, retro, whatever–until we realize how absurd it is to take any of them seriously. This fantasy RPG is giving me shades of horrible job searches and people yelling at me.

Goblet Grotto is time travel to when you were a kid stuck with whatever bizarre, frustrating games you ended up playing because you had no alternative and by God you explored them meticulously with the single-minded focus of a child no matter what got thrown at you.

SPOILERS FOR A GAME YOU SHOULD REALLY JUST PLAY INSTEAD, THE GAME IS CALLED GOBLET GROTTO:

Something massive charges at me from the mist of the jungle zone but I’m not dead, it’s just pushing me around. I find more goblets.

I love the trapmasters. They talk about how many jewels they have in their pit. Their trap is that I have no way of getting out of their pit and I’ll have to restart the game.

I collect more goblets. I see a monolithic cube in the distance with a vaginal-looking hole at its apex. I try to approach it, heading in its general direction while being misdirected by erratic ramps and veering walkways. I’m fighting off creatures in a chamber full of fire and smoke. I can’t turn around fast enough and I die. I reload my game and–flash of first person mode falling through a hellish checkered maze for one second, a glitch?–then I’m back in my body. Eery. I pick up more goblets.

I reach the top of the cube and enter the hole. Dwarves are collecting geodes, well, the game calls them dwarves, but I think it’s called other things dwarves as well. Big green pterodactyl creatures attack me. I kill them. A giant crystal drill attacks me.

I die with 53 goblets.

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28 Comments »

  1. Inigo says:

    I tried loading my second save in Goblet Grotto and ended up permanently stuck in a first person maze with dripping walls and no way to get out.
    I don’t know if it’s trying to be deep or the game just went wrong and shat all over itself.

  2. cjlr says:

    Oh God I remember Too Many Ninjas. My all-time high was like 60-odd? I might’ve cracked 70? Anyway. Brilliantly minimal design. Except seeing it was originally from 2007 makes me feel old.

    Plus it’s the same guy who made QWOP!

    • Tacroy says:

      Too Many Ninjas is entirely the best.

      I just got 87, it might be the proudest moment of my life.

    • Tunips says:

      109 ninjas is Too Many Ninjas for me. I felt like a god for a week afterwards.
      I contest that this game is Pareto efficient; I don’t see any way it could be improved without making it worse. Still my go-to one minute timekiller.

    • jrodman says:

      I was stuck around 20 until I realized there are diagonal poses.

      51 or so was my high after that. Too old and weary to strive for further greatness.

  3. tomeoftom says:

    Dude, what. I was just playing Too Many Ninjas like an hour ago. Such a brilliant game. Foddy’s a genius.

    • Tusque D'Ivoire says:

      I don’t know why I never heard of it, but it’s beautiful. sometimes though, the caracter seems to move a bit slow. you have to actually guess in advance, whence the next shuriken is going to strike from. And if there are two coming from different sides, you’re basically screwed. or can you pull that off somehow?

  4. ScubaMonster says:

    I’m sure Goblet Grotto’s graphical style is on purpose (I hope), but ouch that game is ugly as sin.

  5. MrNash says:

    Wow, kids_ looks rather easy on the eyes. Also, can’t go wrong with some Cho Ren Sha. So many good, free shmups floating around out there. =)

  6. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    Thanks for the Cho Ren Sha link, it’s great. :D

  7. Dilapinated says:

    Oh, wow. Too Many Ninjas is fun.

  8. Megazell says:

    Glad to see some classic indie freeware up there :)

  9. Zephos says:

    I am loving Goblet Grotto.

  10. valz says:

    Why is this titled “The Week’s Finest Free Indie Games” when the games were released years ago?

    • Tacroy says:

      Because despite having been released years ago, many of these games are still some of the finest free indie games this week?

    • Matt says:

      Only three of the eight games highlighted here were released “years ago.”

    • Porpentine says:

      Sometimes we have a well-known game dev (in this case Derek Yu) do guest editing and they post the games they find personally inspiring. If one of those games seems overlooked to me or deserving of publicity outside of its core audience, I’ll write about it too.

    • Phantoon says:

      Sorry, our indie cred isn’t as good as yours, I guess.

  11. phelix says:

    Frog Fractions is all kinds of awesome. Please play it if you’re not yet convinced.

  12. jrodman says:

    Nuign Spectre full-on crashed for me twice (like the interpreter came up and started complaining about unset variables).
    Aside from that, the second door at the market seemed to not want to open for me. Checked a walkthrough on youtube and it was just already open for him. Booooogy.

  13. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Medieval Shark is one in a line of games. Other versions include: Miami Shark, New York Shark and Sydney Shark.

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