Free Loaders: It’s Art But Is It Free?

The professor takes you into his basement laboratory. Rows of jars are lined against the wall and the smell of formaldehyde is overpowering. You ignore the professor’s chattering and look at some of the glass baubles. Inside, twisted ganglia and membranes lie perfectly still, preserved. What are they?

“Free games,” says the professor, appearing behind you. “A life form we struggle to comprehend.”

Passpartout by Flamebait

Struggling artist simulator. One half Recettear and one half MS Paint, Passpartout sees you racing to pump out as many good paintings as possible to fend off the everlasting threat of poverty (as measured in wine and baguettes). As well as being strangely relaxing, I’d wager it recreates the frustration of artists fairly well. Days can go by without a sale and then all of a sudden you’re en vogue. People always buy the canvas full of vomit you spent two minutes working on, probably because it’s 25 quid. But nobody wants the masterpiece you spent A WEEK putting together. I started naming things to get a rise out of folks. A garden scene with a ferocious tornado is titled: “This Took Me Three Days”. A candle-faced monster is named simply “Buy Me.” One canvas, which was put up in the corner and which I left completely blank was called: “What”. It sold for £30.

Quirkaglitch by Xavier Belanche

There’s a lot going on in this little ditty. To start with, the game’s itch.io page houses a fictional review of a fictional game – a platformer from a bygone era, that has become corrupted and mutated over time, according to its creator. You even need to figure out a Jet Set Willy style anti-piracy measure to get the thing started. This might help. Absolutely packed with bugs, glitches, unhealthy artifacts and ZX Spectrum throwbacks, there’s something else going on beneath all the N++ hopping and wall-grabbing. On top of whatever mystery is bubbling beneath the code soup, there’s a host of references to contemporary indie creators. There are titles, laid at the bottom of each screen like a caption, effectively a who’s who of the alt games crowd: “Michael Brough’s Gallery”, “Let’s Play Ds4ia”. And I’m willing to bet there are plenty of other shout outs that I just didn’t get. An intriguing piece of glitchwork.

Blooddungeon by Xaychru

Hectic hoverboard dash through a dungeon of spinning blades, deadly arrows and smash-happy stone blocks. Each screen is a 10 second time trial of multiple deaths. It feels very VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy (not bad influences) but it also has a neat attitude of its own. The dungeon itself seems to be an ancient sentient machine, which has strapped a bomb to your hoverboard because it is sick of you racing through its dungeon. I very much enjoyed its neon ramblings at the beginning of the gauntlet. There is also a YOLO mode, offering you a single life. Yeah? Yeah, good luck mate.

Bit Pit by Logy Bit

Score-hoarding arcade jumparound for one or more players. You have been sentenced to death in the Bit Pit, where blocks of various deadliness are thrown down upon you like old boots down a well. The blocks build up, allowing to climb away from the pool of acid below. But there are blocks and there are blocks. Some are spikey and will form future obstacles, others explode if you go near them (tantilising you with extra points for this), and others have dangerous orbs rotating around them. My high score is 248. I am awful. Update: No, it isn’t! I just went back and got 1046. Cracking.

Caravella’s Critical Crisis by Kevin Pauly, Greg Kozma and Sahil Tandon

Everyday life versus videogames. Made for a special Hideo Kojima themed jam, this features real, alive game journalist Vincent Caravella of GiantBomb trying to complete Kojima’s latest game, the top-down stealth action ‘Critical Crisis’, which the director says will be his last. One half of the screen is devoted to the game itself, while the other features a household complete with baby, toddler, wife (asleep), and many malfunctioning housethings. In the middle of sneaking through a level the housethings will suddenly blare out for attention. Toilets will break, the baby will cry, the toddler’s toy will need fixed. Return to the game and you will be forced to listen to your Commander vomiting trivia all over the screen, rather than being able to play. Perfectly represents what it is like to try and complete a needlessly verbose game under review deadlines while also dealing with the mundane terror of life admin.

A Video Game About My Teeth by mybeards

Teeth are horrible.

IF CORNER!

Cat Simulator 3000 by Emma Winston

Be an incredible cat for an afternoon. Your human has left you home alone and the house is full of things. “Today is the day,” it says, “you will remind them that you are the one in control.” Mostly, this is a game of walking around, clawing up the carpet, rubbing your face on things and ascending the bedroom curtains “like a linen Everest.” Doing things requires energy, so you need to eat kibble and nap to keep up your petty acts of destruction. Climb into a saucepan in the kitchen or dethrone your human’s precious china ornaments from the mantelpiece, “none of them as beautiful as you.”

Raik by Harry Giles

Twin-pronged tale of fantasy and drudgery, written in a lot of Scots. One ‘wing’ of this story follows an anxiety-stricken woman through her work day as she tries to muddle through without having another panic attack. The other wing follows an adventurous hero on a quest through many fantastical Celtic trials on the way to pick up a treasured relic. The fantasy side of things is written mostly in English, while the grey reality is written almost entirely in Scots, the clever part being that you can flip between them at any time to see what’s happening on the other side and it’s interesting to spot the parallels. A simple conversation with your boss becomes an encounter with a giant, riddling demon. A jammed key in a lock becomes a nigh-impossible puzzle in an ancient door. The Scots was easy enough for me to pick up and should be for anyone who has even hung about with an average Scottish person for longer than a day, or if you have read books in other dialects, Trainspotting, Riddley Walker and aw that. But the game does offer a link to the ‘Dictionar o the Scots Leid’ before throwing you in. So even if you’re totally lost, you can still muddle through.

Remember: even though these games can be free, you can still often pay-what-you-want. So if you enjoy anything in Free Loaders, consider throwing a few quid into the creators’ hats. If you have a game to tell Brendan about, berate him on Twitter: @Brendy_C. Need more free games? Check our list of 50 best free games on PC.

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2 Comments

  1. RedViv says:

    Raik resonates so well with me that it should be immediately banned and thrown into a volcano.

  2. caff says:

    As soon as I saw the screenshot for “Caravella’s Critical Crisis” I had to try it. That side-on view of a house reminds me of “Little Computer People”, the Mastertronic game from back in the Atari ST days.