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

By Porpentine on March 17th, 2013 at 2:00 pm.

THIS WEEK: Turn-based platformer. Pokemon puzzle combat. Designer bosses. I, Mecha. “and so a softer approach is needed, nothing loud and colourful.”

 

Bump! by Aaron Steed

Bump! is a turn-based platformer that I’ve been playing all week every day. Instead of reflex, it demands foresight. It has a level clock, but it counts down moves, not seconds.

The maps are randomly generated and often seem impossible. They are less daunting if you know certain facts:

You can move sideways into stationary spikes, just not on top of them.

When you bounce into blocks, you affect everything in that column. Gems turn to points and spikes drill downward (potentially destroying other spikes or clearing paths).

Bump! has that Spelunky feel where simple rules generate a rich texture of micro-challenges. It takes that feel and polishes it into a minimalist jewel that takes minutes to play and never gets frustrating.

You die, the word DEAD laconically appears for a few seconds, then you’re back again, honing your movements until they approach the effortless speed that the platform trappings suggest.

 

electro primitive girl by Sloane

Electro primitive girl is a mecha story from the mecha’s point of view.

It feels like a bittersweet love letter to the genre, a passionate revision that takes the premise of giant sentient robots battling across screaming cityscapes to its darkest, most hyper-violent extent.

Sloane’s evocative prose doesn’t bury the agile ferocity of her subject under paragraphs, it hurtles sentences like piercing volleys.

Text bathed in the crimson of slumbering natal depths and emergency warning lights, acrobatic typography that shakes, rattles, leaps, and lunges, precise writing that captures the grandeur of mecha bodies–”mile-long arms, freeway legs” and “fists as big as a starship.”

EPG rejects the hetero anime lifestyle, seething as powerful female strength is made subservient to the petulant male pilot.

Unlike her brash pilot, the mecha is introspective, outwardly voiceless. But not helpless. Far from it–there is exultation in the power of her body.

This is a game I’d cite as a key example of Twine, both in terms of the tech it shows off and the economy of the writing.

This is the story of a genre in revolt.

There are three endings.

 

Puzzle Monsters by Arthur Lee

Do you like gem? Do you like to make gem explode with Pokemon? Yes? Good!

Puzzle Monsters combines Pokemon-style teambuilding with puzzle gameplay. You can play hotseat, online, or against the AI.

The core mechanic is comboing 3 gems of the same color. Your monster’s move determines the effect, like gathering resources or blasting enemies with fire.

Other moves destroy tiles in various shapes, letting you prune the field to set up big combos. There are also heals, status effects, evolutions, and so on. As you can see, there are many ways to make gem explode with Pokemon.

The basics are clear soon enough, but resistances, team composition, and the ever-shifting battlefield offer both strategic and tactical depth. I’m interested in the Puzzle Monsters metagame–the overpowered combinations and unexpected synergies that people will inevitably discover.

This is an early but highly playable version. I look forward to future releases with more monsters and a monster capturing system. Like they say, time to gem.

 

Typing With Hands by Loren Schmidt

TYPE

WITH HANDS

THAT ARE NOT YOUR OWN

 

Cathode Raybots by JohnnyUtah and Tom Fulp

After televisions went obsolete, apparently we blasted them into space. Now they’re back for vengeance.

Cathode Raybots is a 2D shooter where you fight killer televisions

which is fun enough I guess

or you can DESIGN YOUR OWN KILLER TELEVISION

…and if other people like them, they become part of the main selection, a sea of bosses in competition. I know I’d much rather be designing than shooting, and Cathode Raybots’ coolness is that it offers something for players of both persuasions.

Designing your own boss involves:

-making an arena out of platforms and blocks

-drawing a pixel art face for your television

-calibrating weapons (and these can be tweaked, like a bomb can drop normally or even fly up with reversed gravity)

-then programming the boss by taking direct control (the game records your movements and firing pattern). Do you go for classic boss patterns with a memorable cadence, or do you hammer the keyboard frantically, creating a deadly, unpredictable dance?

 

Defining Moments by André Lincoln Read and Håvard Christensen

Experimental two player Tetris. Pieces fall at angles, so you can aid or entangle the other player.

Each line of blocks translates to a line of text, meaning this story can only be told if both players cooperate and feel each other’s movements out. The result is a dance of drifting geometry, a negotiated, intimate space.

 

Dysphoria City by Spanglypants

Gender dysphoria, gameified. Each humiliation quantified by a lost point of emotional energy.

Dysphoria City is about being ground down by basic tasks. Feeling broken but too tired and anxious to fix things. This is not a day of victory, it is one of the many that come between.

 

Blues for Mittavinda by Jack King-Spooner

I’m calling this one of the first Great Games of 2013, whatever that means. I hope everyone plays it.

Blues for Mittavinda is a handcrafted Wild West composed of clay, film, pencil, and photo. Your father is dying. He wants you to ask a man called Tonda about a cure.

Sure, I could point to the dialogue (playfully old timey but sincere), the beauty of ambling through photographs, or any number of details. But these obvious virtues pale next to how it made me feel–this renewed realization of what games can be.

Blues for Mittavinda is in touch with bodies. It feels made by a human. It is for humans. It is complementary to human biology. After playing it, you will feel different. Not just intellectually, but physically.

It is about bodies, and despite one billion years of games ostensibly about death–death as a mechanic, death as punctuation, death for the sake of death–it is one of the few I’ve played that is actually

about

death.

Because all bodies must die, and this fact defines their existence, underscores the preciousness of every breath.

It is the kind of game we need. In other words,

“a softer approach”

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41 Comments »

  1. LucasMolina says:

    I’m amazed by the creativity of electro primitive girl. Unique and well presented.

    • Vitamin Powered says:

      Yeah, I absolutely adored electro primitive girl; I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch a mecha anime again without thinking “seriously, why _is_ the robot putting up with this idiot?”

      (I will note that I found a fourth ending for the game)

      • Grape says:

        So… the author of that game just got dumped, I presume?

        Seriously. That was almost embarrassing to read.

      • carol391 says:

        Its definitely the most-financially rewarding Ive ever done. Make money with Google. last monday I got a new Alfa Romeo from bringing in $7778. I started this 9-months ago and practically straight away started making more than $83… per hour. I work through this link, GoogleJobs.com

    • Bluerps says:

      I loved it too, though the fighting scene was a bit annoying. I hate it when a Twine game takes away text before I can read it.

  2. kwyjibo says:

    What the fuck is going on with typing with hands? Who types like that? What’s going on with that pinky finger?!

    • kwyjibo says:

      There’s just no economy of motion. Everything about it is wrong.

      • FhnuZoag says:

        Indie devs, please make a QWOP for interacting with a keyboard.

        Then we can play meta-qwop. Think about it.

  3. Low Life says:

    For quite a while I thought Bump! was generating impossible levels, but then I found out that walking (or jumping) to spikes from the side doesn’t kill you. This is not how spikes work in videogames.

    I apparently also completely failed to read your description of the game.

  4. Berious says:

    No game about wanking this week? I’m disappointed.

  5. Dr I am a Doctor says:

    Holy smokes a indie game that is fun to play? I just

    I can’t

  6. fishyboy says:

    Bump! is awesome, many moments where I do something cool without meaning to. I don’t see why pressing S while on the ground doesn’t make you wait, though, waiting for game elements to align is an important thing in most platformers.

    • jrodman says:

      Yeah, lack of wait is a pretty big flaw. You can fake it by jumping different amounts but then you’re counting keystrokes aloud and it’s rather tedious.

    • robotacid says:

      You can smack your head into the ceiling to wait.

      Other than that you could miss the entire point of the challenge a little less :P

  7. kwyjibo says:

    Dysphoria City would be a lot better, if instead of the black guy wanting to be a girl, he wanted to be white. Essentially, a Michael Jackson simulator. We need one of those.

    • Phantoon says:

      While I don’t think that was the point, that sounds a lot more interesting.

  8. blind_boy_grunt says:

    i didn’t like blues for mittavinda. But i also didn’t get what it wanted to say, so there’s that.
    For me it seems like i play a zen student(a koan(the beans), the master, meditation). But the idea i always liked about koans, but i know next no nothing about zen so i’m probably wrong, is that the question isn’t as important as your answer, your own conclusion/epiphany. But here i was “epiphanised”, basically playacting an enlightenment. and then i meditated a bit. Maybe the game is the koan, maybe the name vishnu should tell me i’m in a completely different religion. I just didn’t get anything out of it.

    • trout says:

      well, you had some interesting thoughts, further defined what you as an individual enjoy/don’t enjoy, and got to ruminate about the nature of meaning – sounds like you got lots out of it :D

    • Consumatopia says:

      I didn’t mind Blues for Mittavinda, but I totally object to the idea that this is the kind of game “we” need. I see a lot of “hard” games about thoughtless killing. I also see a lot of “soft” games where the point isn’t doing something but deciding how you feel about what happens (not as many as the “hard” games, but I think given the nature of the medium that’s to be expected–doing stuff (as opposed to feeling stuff) is the point of interactivity. Interactive media will always emphasize algorithmic exteriors over subjective interiors.)

      What *I* need are games that try to bridge this gap–where characters in the game have feelings and my actions affect them. As it is, the games that sell themselves as the deepest and “softest” end up being cold and alienating–I’m surrounded by crude automatons without feelings and asked to reflect on my own feelings as the only entity in the simulated universe with feelings.

      • hewhosayszonk says:

        @Consumatopia, this is going to sound weird, but I had that experience playing Amnesia, of all things.

    • cptgone says:

      weird little game.
      a western in which beans aren’t bullets, and cowboys have indian (but not injun) names.
      i literally fell asleep playing it, and not out of boredom either.

    • Shazbut says:

      I’ve been practising zen for quite a few years with a teacher, and I think the game was just trying to have you examine the nature of death and to walk you through a mindfulness exercise. I’m not sure it was trying to say anything else or that it was specifically about zen, as there are other spiritual traditions that have meditation and self-realization at their foundation.

      You are right about koans in that your insight is the important thing. The answer you give is an expression of your understanding as opposed to an answer in the 2+2=4 sense. That at least applies to most of the early koans, as in the ones I’m dealing with…

  9. FeasibleJoint says:

    Had intended to post this a couple weeks ago, when I started noticed all the dog-piling in the comments about your choices for games to feature. I don’t remember which article it was particularly, just that the general consensus seemed to be that you featured way too many queer games and that most commenters weren’t affected by or interested in those themes.

    As someone who is both, I wanted to thank you. It’s good to know that there’s a place on a major site where I don’t feel completely marginalized and invisible.

    I look forward to your article every week, and to playing games that are about more than just the bog standard “white male hero saves the day, gets the white female” that’s endemic to so much of the industry.

    I’ll try not to go on too long a rant here; it’s all been said before and better than I could do it. The negativity’s gotta be discouraging, though. It is to me, and that’s a big part of why I’ve been so hesitant to speak up. Not that any of this is unfamiliar to anyone who’s spent any time being a minority in a public space.

    Alright, wrap up time; I’ve got some games to play.

    In summary: I’m here, I’m queer, I appreciate your writings, and I know I’m not the only one.

    • Phantoon says:

      I’m pretty ambivalent on it. However, a game that fails to make its point, or do so well, does nothing to help this. For instance, I don’t think the game of the week properly conveyed the idea. All I learned is that everything is stressful.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      I haven’t found too many that are particularly interesting as games, but Dys4ia for example was a beautiful piece of art and self-expression. And RPS covers tons of stuff like that.

    • Porpentine says:

      <3 thank you

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      “As someone who is both”

      You’re queer and you’re game?

  10. Hahaha says:

    Typing With Hands…..A game? LMFAO no just no. The new simcity is more a game.

    • kwyjibo says:

      It’s significantly more powerful at instilling a sense of dysphoria than Dysphoria City.

  11. Astrosaur says:

    If you guys want this series to have any purpose, you’re going to need to start looking further than FreeIndieGam.es and IndieGames.com. Search forums, blogs, etc. I’ve yet to see anything on these posts I haven’t seen before, and that’s simply because I too read IndieGames.com and FreeIndieGam.es.

    • MondSemmel says:

      Not everybody reads multiple game sites. I’m glad I can read RPS – and only RPS – and not miss out on anything too important. (Important for entertainment, anyway.)
      EDIT: And important stuff that doesn’t get covered on RPS for some reason always leads to enough indignant comments of the form “Why don’t you write about this?”, so I learn about that stuff, too.

    • DarkFarmer says:

      There were a bunch of games submitted for the 7drl one of which was mine, Rogue Fleet! It’s free, runs on Windows, Mac or Linux. It didn’t get snapped up by indiegames.com or any of those sites but check it out for yourself! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbLwi6F_oNk download free at https://sites.google.com/site/roguefleet/ just sayin, since you were looking for some more free indie games! :)

    • Tukuturi says:

      The author of this feature is also an author on freeindiegam.es. It stands to reason that she would post games there that she posts here, and that she would post games from there here. It wouldn’t make much sense for her to post about particular games exclusively on one site or the other, and it would sort of defeat the purpose, which is to expose people to these games.

  12. wodin says:

    Interesting free wargame…all about choice and your role with in the War and the Party..Play either a senior officer in STAVKA or OKH.

    http://www.rodvik.com/rodgames/STAVKA-OKH.html

    He also has a few other free games on his page he made..all rather different.

  13. Shadeauxe says:

    Lords of New York launched on Friday:

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/732810782/lords-of-new-york

    It’s a poker themed adventure/rpg game set during the 1920s & Prohibition in New York City.