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

THE DUNGEON CONCEPT IS INFINITELY

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THIS WEEK: PUZZLE BED DUNGEON. CLUB DUNGEON. HUBOL DUNGEON. DUNGEON DUNGEON. CYBERHACKING ROGUELIKE DUNGEON. INDEED, THE DUNGEON CONCEPT IS INFINITELY

TRIAD by Anna Anthropy, Leon Arnott, Liz Ryerson

TRIAD is a puzzle game where each piece is a living breathing person.

One kicks at night! One rolls off the bed! Another snores!

I could say something about how people are the ultimate puzzle, ha ha, no one can stop me from writing that garbage sentence, no, not technically the ultimate puzzle, just the one I care about the most.

But at first I’m wondering if the game even has a solution. This bed is quite small for three people, plus the cat (THE CAT IS MY ARCH NEMESIS).

Because the thing about people is, you can’t always make it work.

TRIAD had me applying past relationship experience. I expected something to happen after I’d failed enough times. Maybe a breakup spat. That would be one way to end the game.

Mammon Machine writes on TRIAD:

…living with someone means making room for them in even the tiniest, most private moments, and it is those details that make you who you are.

Yeah.

You can’t force anything with TRIAD. People are people. The only thing you can do is pay attention and try to reconcile all the messy, inescapable truths of our existence.

And anything with Liz Ryerson’s music is the rare project where the soundwork stands tall as the rest of the game: nightly struggle turned into a spacey jungle odyssey, early morning chats overlaid with freon-cooled birdsong, characters communicating in Banjo and Kazooie inspired burbles.

 

24killers by Todd Luke

MURDER IN THE CLUB

ALL THE SUSPECTS ARE COOL MONSTERS

USE THEIR CLUES TO SOLVE THE MYSTERY

YOU HAVE TWO VERBS: INTERROGATE OR KILL

 

 

Jason and the Argonauts by Hubol

Created as a class project for Hubol’s Latin III class (BEST CLASS PROJECT EVER), Jason and the Argonauts is a series of minigames about, uh, Jason and the Argonauts.

KILL HYDRAS

PUNCH SHOES

TYPE AT TYRANTS

On the topic of minigame montages, Line Hollis recently described how by “…applying different genres to different phases of a game, it’s possible to build dramatic arcs and comic timing…It allows for some of the pleasure of learning a system, but with the flexibility of taking that pleasure away when needed.”–among other analysis that articulates why I enjoy the minigame format so much.

The Thing About Dungeons by Brendan Patrick Hennessy

So the thing about reviews is they can approach games from all kinds of angles like lists of features, overarching descriptions, the actual experience of playing the game, emotional reactions, but reviewing tiny little indie games can be kind of difficult because you don’t want to crush the game itself by the burden of over-explaining what is often easier to experience first hand, given that these games are so often free and short and the joy is in unfolding them for yourself. I mean I feel like I’d rather be clear as glass most of the time, simply presenting these things like a translucent ghost suddenly appearing with great indie games, although there is always the conundrum of justifying your own existence, although counter-intuitively the egoless curation of glass is harder to find than you’d think. Outside the Internet you have glass in abundance, right, like people understand how great glass is and they use it all the time, on windows and museum cases and picture frames, a material that contains forms without imposing on the form itself. Anyways, look at the Internet and you don’t have as much ordinary glass as you’d expect, instead you have stained glass that takes forever to load and glass with ads and snarky glass and glass that spends all its time talking about itself which is fine if you’re going to a glass museum or a glassworks or a glass class but most of the time you want to see the actual thing behind glass, or maybe you’ve spent so much time with fucked-up glass that you didn’t even know clear glass existed.

So maybe freeindiegames is clear glass, but I can’t be, and I shouldn’t be, but I probably don’t prefer to be fucked-up glass either, maybe more like a prism catching the light, still glass, but bleeding colors derived directly from the original thing itself, and hopefully the colors I shed can say good things about light and make people want to get into light, which is really incredibly useful, you can use it for photosynthesis and tanning and vitamin D and seeing things and I’d just really like people to enjoy the myriad applications of light, whether it be growing tall and green or blasting laser beams or solving mirror puzzles in the desert or doing whatever the fuck it wants to do, which is exactly what light does. But really a lens is a better metaphor than a prism.

 

86856527 by Michael Brough

They surround me. Monsters of the cyberverse. I tried to steal a big program, woke up 7 slumbering defenders. I’m struggling to fight them off but I’m low on cash and energy and–

Zap. Scream. My sad face disintegrates.

The high score screen teaches me the names of my killers. Daemon, Glitch, Virus, Cryptog.

Each has one special rule.

Beastlike Daemon is lumbering but tanky. Other enemies have 2 HP, it has 3. The sheer economy of 86856527 can be summed up in that single health point, representing the extra turn it takes to kill Daemons. That extra turn is life and death in 86856527.

Cute pink Glitch moves through walls, ignoring my chokepoints.

They all have personalities to me. Glitch has no malice, it just cleans up the mainframe like an unwittingly deadly Roomba equipped with tasers.

Sinister purple Virus is a swift hunter. Virus terrifies me because I have no time to position.

Amoeba-like Cryptog are invisible at angles. If I’m paying attention I can predict their movements. If I’m paying attention.

I’ve died many times to a Cryptog emerging from invisibility. I make my first cautious move after a brutal, screen-clearing battle and then ZAP. That exquisitely timed zap in all its cinematic tragedy, the offscreen sniper bullet that kills the weary soldier returning from war.

I neglect one detail and it costs my life.

But I have no one to blame but myself. 86856527 is pure logic. There is zero chance involved. The only surprise comes when you let your greed or panic cloud your judgment.

 

The first layer is the programs. Programs are brilliantly efficient, doubling as level architecture and abilities. The walls are spells.

The second layer is figuring how they relate, building a hand of combos and synergies. The resource juggling of SIPH+ and EXCH, the killing power of DEBUG and PUSH, the positioning of WARP and WAIT.

The third layer is building that hand in the first place.

Each program has a point value while in wall tile form. Siphoning the program and adding it to your hand spawns that many enemies. Every act of theft makes you more powerful, but the question is, can you get away with it?

This is my favorite Brough game since Zaga-33. It combines the precise movement of Zaga-33 with the hard choices of the best roguelikes (and none of the chaff).

I stopped playing roguelikes for a few years because I wasn’t interested in what they were offering, the sheer clutter. I started again when games like Brogue and Zaga-33 and now 86856527 came out, because they capture the scarcity I care about in roguelikes. Where everything I do matters, with meaningful feedback, on a single screen.

So it’s unforgiving and ruthless but you beat the game for the first time and then you start thinking about score. Score is siphoned like programs. Just another way to be greedy.

86856527 kills with your greed. There are no unfair, arbitrary deaths. 86856527 does not celebrate cruelty. I die because I’m a greedy little cyberhacker. I die because I want that big 7 program and I want it now.

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