This week in free games: two glitches, two dreamscapes, two detainees, two forests, a sword, a song, a telekinetic hat.
Arpeggio by Yusuke Shinyama
This is a music game that’s entirely playable without sight. A pattern of notes plays in a loop, and it’s your job to indicate when one of the notes is altered from the original tune by tapping a keyboard key corresponding to that note in the sequence. It starts out simple — there are only four notes for each of the first few levels, and when they start to vary they go obviously out of key — but the sequences get longer, the music gets faster, and the changes grow more subtle.
The game does, however, have what strikes me as a major flaw for sighted players. A glowing outline lights up around each note as it plays, and there’s a visual difference between the correct notes’ glow and those of the incorrect ones. This pretty much trivializes the whole thing, so if you’re not yourself blind I’d recommend giving this one a try with your eyes closed.
LEIF by Alex Hayter (“with” Sarah Northway, Jaewoong Hwang, Mark Wonnacott, et al.)
One of the neat thing about PuzzleScript games is how viewing and even modifying their source code is usually only a click away (via the “Hack” button that by default shows up below each game window).
LEIF is, on the one hand, a dystopian hypertext game about a child undergoing automated career training, but it also functions as a compilation of a whole bunch of PuzzleScript games made by a whole bunch of people, each one modified to fit within this game’s narrative framework and each one placed within the hypertext page. For the puzzles themselves you might be better served by playing the originals (linked to from the Credits screen), but this metagame ends up combining them in a compelling way.
Heartwood by Kerry Turner and Dan Bibby
Heartwood is an eerie, dreamlike first-person game about navigating through a forest — first, briefly, by sight, and then, more extensively, by sound. It’s mysterious and delicate and engrossing, in no small part thanks to its audio design. It feels like there might be an allegory floating around in its dreaminess, but like the rabbit just out of reach it’s tricky to pin down.
(You’ll likely need headphones, or at least speakers separated a bit from each other. And Alice posted a her own write-up here a couple days back, which is engrossing in its own right.)
Dhulfiqar by Will Blanton (01010111)
This is a fairly short, fast paced, sword swinging action RPG. Arrow keys to move, x to attack, z to choose from a health or strength upgrade after dispatching enough small enemies to level up. There’s a single boss to be found, and when s/he inevitably defeats you you’ll start over from the entrance square with your upgrades and experience points intact.
The game is interesting for how it enforces its sense of speed, not just through the player character’s quick, cape-sweeping movements, but through the enemy design, the way each enemy offers a brief respite when first appearing on screen, encouraging you to race quickly to dispatch it before it can fully wake up.
The game does, however, suffer from a typical RPG flaw, doing little to discourage you from taking the ultimately dull route of grinding your way to higher ability levels.
Heartcrash by McNyers
A slight little experience. It could very well take you more time to download than to play. And you probably oughtn’t if you’re epileptic.
It was built for an installation in which user input was handled by having gallery visitors slap the artist on each side of the face. But you can play this version with your arrow keys.
The Work by Cayora Rue
A hypertext about being locked in a room with a job to do. Letter writing. Letter forging. Orders come through the slot. Food comes through the slot. One day something else comes through the slot.
There are two endings I’ve found, one of which hints at a clever sort of agency our imprisoned narrator might be able to turn to next.
(via Fear of Twine)
In drmzzz by Bart Bonte
An adorable little point-and-click game about going to sleep and staying asleep. And maybe going to outer space.
Beret by Nigel Kilmer (Kiwisauce)
Nigel has a new free game available in beta, but I’d like to introduce you to his previous one instead. It’s flat-out brilliant, and it’s a shame you probably haven’t heard of it.
Now watch while I scare you off with the details:
Beret is a telekinesis puzzle platformer with an emphasis on the puzzle solving. It’s a huge game, especially compared to what usually appears in this column; reaching the end might take at least 20 hours.
The game sneaks up on you. It might take some time to recognize that while it introduces itself as a bit of a throwback to 90s PC platformers — simply-drawn enemies patrolling back and forth, collectibles strewn about — it ultimately reveals itself as a rigorous puzzle game, much closer in lineage to DROD than to Jazz Jackrabbit.
Arrow keys or WASD move your character around, and the mouse lets you pick up nearby objects or enemies — as long as you maintain line of sight to them — and either carefully reposition them or fling them around. (If you’re on a laptop, you should probably try to use a real mouse for this; flinging with a trackpad will prove painful.)
The puzzles are tremendously varied, but a lot of them come down to figuring out how to reach a certain spot, either to grab one of the game’s collectible medallion pieces, to deal with an out-of-the-way enemy, or to grab an object that will help you solve other puzzles in the room. Figuring out how to bring an object or enemy to where it can help you with another task is often itself an additional puzzle. The way so many goals are interconnected is probably a big part of why I find the game so clever.
There are sections that take some finesse and dexterity, but these more action-like elements are tempered by a quicksave/quickload feature that ends up transforming even the game’s speedrun and bossfight challenges into something more overtly puzzle-like. (Press 1 to take a snapshot of a room’s current state. Press 4 to rewind to that exact state.)
The puzzles are smart and will likely make you feel smart. New elements are added with each game area — blocks that disappear or reappear depending on whether you’re currently grabbing something with your telekinetic power, critters that track you or go dormant based on the same, heaps of other innovations — but your abilities never expand. I remember it taking a while for that to sink in. There are collectibles early on that seem utterly impossible to reach, but as with the best sort of longform games, returning to earlier trouble spots is likely to reveal how much your understanding of the ruleset has deepened.
Some tips: It’s easy to miss that pressing down will let you read the instructional signs you’ll find scattered about. Right-clicking will toggle a range indicator for your telekinesis ability, making it easier to tell exactly which things you can currently grab. Hold down shift to slow your movement speed. I/J/K/L lets you move the camera around. At the top of the screen are glyphs indicating whether you’ve successfully retrieved all of a room’s blue shards or dispatched all of a room’s enemy critters — but you’ll need to make it out of the room to shore up that progress, even if just by exiting the way you came in. Quicksave frequently. You can quit at any time, but to continue from exactly where you left off, look to the “Continue Last Play” button in the top corner of the map screen.
(Thanks again for all the suggestions. Submit your game or others’ to @nobodybutyours.)