A day late due to, um, let’s say otters, here’s
this last week’s finest free indie games. Take it away, Porpentine.
Important historical edutainment game. Strategic torture simulation. What if Kirby were born billions of years ago. Ladder fortresses of jellyfish space. Lynchian piss world.
Pleasuredromes of Kubla Khan
Edutainment isn’t dead. Pleasuredromes of Kubla Khan proves it by presenting a meticulously crafted edutainment (portmanteau of education-attainment-detainment (detainment of the player’s attention and motor system)-entertainment) experience full of lavishly produced set-pieces and stirring period music. Wander the fabled steppes and delve into a simpler time, when the yurts ran free under a historically accurate sky. Whether you’re a fan of history or just a history fan, this is the game for you.
Smiling at the way the words contradict on-screen events, the dissonance of text adventure prose meeting rudimentary graphics. “Pushing aside the warm furs that shroud the entrance…” as I walk into a lump with a hole cut into it.
Reading the comments is part of the experience. Criticizing a thecatamites game is like seeing a man being pissed on in the middle of the road and coming over to add your own stream of urine to the downpour as the man gurgles and self-flagellates and begs shamefully for piss. To paraphrase one of the more moving passages of Shakespeare’s epic tragedy Titus Andronicus: What fool hath added piss to the piss sea…
For an easter egg, try jumping off the map.
Ages of Irving
Ages of Irving explores the blood-spattered life of a professional interrogator through the medium of interactive fiction/strategy. Hit up the medical supply store for an edge on your next job, splurge on that long-desired dental drill. Learn the skill of Mad Dog, Stare Contest, or Joke. Bribe contacts to get an idea of your victim’s weak points. Maybe they hate their family and threatening them from that angle is useless, or maybe they’re some trembling accountant and using your finger-crushing hammer would be overkill. Despite the ugliness of the premise, Ages of Irving can be funny, like when a macho gangster is tied to a chair and responds to everything you say with insouciant, ball-clutching insults. Designed during the rush of Ludum Dare, Ages of Irving currently lacks balance and polish but intrigues with some of the more distinct gameplay I’ve seen in the competition.
Super Clew Land
Super Clew Land is an adorable Kirby-looking NES-style platformer with that Ludum Dare evolution twist in the form of a minigame where you match beads of protein by color so you can evolve, just like our ancestors did. By the end I was some kind of fishy flappy narwhale thingy, cute beyond words as I plumply trundled through land, air, and sea. I love that Super Clew Land’s hazards are on the same evolutionary line of descent—humble spike traps and swooping sky enemies united by the same barbed purple aesthetic.
Icy claws of terror gripped my heart when I realized that the final sequence is basically the Psychosomnium bee level. It’s okay, there are actual bits of ground you can land on and the controls are much friendlier than those of the bee that still haunts my dreams. The only irritation is that returning to check points after a one-hit death can be frustrating due to their poor placement. I appreciate their appearance though–with each evolution you leave behind your shed skin to serve as a translucent spawn point.
Zipzap is a very deliberate arcade game where you climb ladders and kill whatever monsters inhabit a universe of ladders. I say deliberate because moving from ladder to ladder has a brief delay and it’s easy to blunder into the path of some gliding crimson jellyfish that wasn’t there a second ago if you don’t think a few moves ahead. Furthermore, facing the opposite way requires moving a space in that direction so the mere act of hitting your foes requires proper positioning. These idiosyncracies of movement make Zipzap more thoughtful than you’d think from the arcadey graphics. Another detail is that setting bombs to blow up multiple enemies is vital to later stages; the downside is that bombs destroy ladders, leaving a gaping hole in the arena that limits your options severely.
Killing a certain number of enemies clears the level, but flashing gems offer the perfect enticement to do something stupid in the name of greed (is any game like this complete without some ultimately meaningless bauble to distract the player’s magpie brain?). Anyways, I got to level 5 where I died because by then you’ve got not only your basic vertical and horizontal moving enemies, you’ve got sad faces that shoot projectiles and this unsettling pygmy elephant butterfly thing that parallels your movements and some kind of fast-moving umbrella (?) that shoots across the screen like a rocket. Everything looks great in this game, from the neon title screen to the imaginative enemies to you, the fearless cat with a gun.
Weird tape in the mail
Weird tape in the mail is an illustrated Twine game inspired by “the good bits of david lynch’s ‘lost highway’”, a bleak, squiggly, MS Painted nightmare of filthy unemployment versus sterile consumerism. Just before I found it, I was coincidentally watching a video by INTERNET CLUB the same video that apparently inspired one of weird tape’s illustrations. This has less to do with fate and more to do with the fact that I find the idea of dystopian mall universes compelling and I engineer my environment for maximum collision of dystopian mall media. When I was younger I was fascinated by the idealized nature of the mall, the seemingly self-sustaining consumerist arcology full of shiny new clothes and books and games and candies and toys. I fantasized about some bloodless post-apocalyptic situation that would let me sleep on the beds in the department stores and have all the Stuff I wanted and walk around all day in this pristine, air-conditioned world. Now that I’m older, malls seem smaller, meaner, cheaper, but I still understand how they form the perfect basis for a contemporary dreamscape of eerie endlessness, Silent Hill meets Sharper Image.
I was so happy to play this and Pleasuredromes of Khan in the same week. They’re totally different but they draw on a similar philosophy that I find inspiring. Something like the rejection of formalistic, manicured game design for something more real and true to what a game can be, accomplishing the same thing as Gravity Bone/30 Flights of Loving but at the opposite end of the aesthetic/odds of getting shown at an exhibition spectrum: saying you can start a game where it gets most interesting and make the player deal with this alien universe they’re thrust into. Here lie the expositers on the wayside, buried up to their mouths in dung. More importantly, the idea that anyone can take whatever materials are nearby and just make something. MS Paint, Playdough, pencil and cardboard, pieces of vegetable with faces drawn on, whatever. As long as you’re representing something, you’re winning. You’ve successfully transported the tenacious, clinging stuff inside your mind-heart-soul-gut and placed it in the real world. People will love it or hate it or secretly get aroused while pretending to hate it but at least you won’t be constipated.
To sum up: creepy interactive fiction with multiple endings and moving pictures. What a deal!!!