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37

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

the most interesting spectrum

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THIS WEEK: Four out of four tears. WALKING DOWN THE STREET I GET PUNCHED. Massively multiplayer void of eerily ringing telephones. Feral arcade games.

 

The River by Courtney Stanton

The River is about a young girl who goes down to the stream to catch a fish.

Courtney’s writing is powerful but restrained, trusting me to fill in the gaps (suggestion vs. description–if suggestion is using words to cause firecracker bursts of micro-hallucination, description is trying to get high by arranging pills to spell DRUGS).

It lulls me with sparkling ASCII waters, with my simple pride at weaving a net for my mother. I feel pure as a child, unencumbered by the filters of adulthood.

I’d play before reading more (CW: sexual violence). It’s short.

This is part of a series about women in Kubrick films (“he’s my favorite director and he has a glaring woman problem” says Courtney) with a focus on humanizing women with two-dimensional roles and bit parts.

I was reminded of that one Jeepform game where the victim decides how the attackers feel.

The decision to give me control over some of the assault, as the victim, had three key effects, in my mind.

1) It touches on post-abuse thought patterns–if only I did something different I could have avoided what happened.

2) At the same time, this interactivity asserts the truth that rape doesn’t turn you into an object, that you’re still a human being doing the best you can, in whatever way is left to you.

The River stays tightly focused on the girl’s feelings and agency, avoiding her original fate as a cheap sacrifice in some lofty masculine quest. This is an attempt to get her out of the refrigerator.

3) Being permitted the possibility of hope is heartbreaking.

I’m trying this new review system where I rate everything in tears. The score isn’t displayed anywhere except on my eyes.

 

HOWLER? by Andi McClure and Liz Ryerson

I’m conducting four discs in a sea of liquid color. Each element is tied to Liz Ryerson’s music in some way. Thrashing drums, crashing cymbals, piercing drones, and with the right settings, I can isolate cute synth plinks and electronic cries.

Of all Andi’s music games, HOWLER? has the most interesting spectrum. I was able to mold it to my mood, roaming from violence to calm, from epilepsy sky to sonorous void.

There are four ways to tweak HOWLER?: Radius, intensity, dragging the discs around, and making the discs invisible. From these variables pour planes of brilliant oil, lava lamp ovoids, burning rainbows.

PUNKSNOTDEAD by Zak Ayles

WALKING DOWN THE STREET

I GET PUNCHED

WALKING DOWN THE STREET

I GET PUNCHED

YOU’RE WALKING DOWN THE STREET

YOU GET PUNCHED

WALKING DOWN THE STREET

I GET PUNCHED PUNCHED PUNCHED PUNCHED

Bwak by Tom van den Boogaart

One-button game about watching TV late at night. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

 

Full Moon Rising by Drunkdevs

Here’s the situation: your girlfriend wants raw passionate werewolf sex, but to turn into a werewolf you need the Moon Rock, which lies on the other side of town.

The first half of the journey you play in man form (this is the platformer). The second half you play as wolf (this is the BLOOD FRENZY). Then you realize that was just the beginning of a wild crescendo.

 

Composition 37 by Nuprahtor

A stark isle in the void, populated only by phone booths. Sometimes they ring. I race from phone to phone, wondering if reaching them in time is even possible.

At first I thought that was the entire experience, which would have been enough for me–a horrifying fixation on the thing itself.

After all, Nuprahtor has the intellectual integrity to focus on the texture of an object without introducing unnecessary elements. If we’re going to talk about games on par with cinema and literature, this is the kind of cerebral experimentation we should be paying attention to.

But there’s more.

You can pick up the phone when it rings.

The phones ring when other people call from their game.

Composition 37 turns us into haunted phone lines, desperate spirits forever seeking.

That means the best time to play is now, while eyes are on this page (although you can call yourself by opening multiple tabs).

As months pass, the experience of finding anyone else will become increasingly lonely and delicate. Now all I can think about is how creepy it would be to play this a year later and hear a ring.

 

2x0ng by David O’Toole

A Snakelike creature leaves a deadly prismatic trail to the north. Surrounding me are erratic paddles escaped from Breakout, hungry for pixelated blood.

2x0ng feels like a bunch of arcade games abandoned in a petri dish, mutated and feral. They populate the procedurally generated levels in growing abundance and all of them kill you in one hit, complicating the otherwise simple task of reaching the exit.

You have a weapon.

This weapon is a boomerang crossed with a key crossed with an eyedropper tool. It can change colors (by hitting blocks) and destroy barriers (if it matches their color).

This weapon is interesting because the fling has a variable refractory period, ranging from quick bounces to elaborate pinball odysseys.

This period is a blend of smooth (traveling through empty space) and crunchy (striking objects). Smooth acts as a pleasure multiplier for crunch as long as you hit something and that interaction doesn’t descend into bad crunch (weapon trapped on the other side of some blocks as enemies mob you). Bad smooth and bad crunch both waste time and leave you with nothing exciting to do until your weapon returns.

Your weapon can be boring and skill is the avoidance of that boredom.

This weapon is fun because it bounces off enemies. Hitting one enemy is boring. Three enemies die faster than one.

They explode in bursts of pink blue confetti. Hitting them make a digitized BOING. Hitting multiple enemies gives you more confetti and more boings. You will do this even when you don’t have to.

This is the best emotion of 2x0ng.

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