Happy June, Priceless Pals! We did it. We made it all the way to those summer months. Get out your picnic blankets, your Pimms fixings, and your complaints about the heat ASAP! I, for one, am stoked for all the games I plan to play late into the summer nights. I am also so stoked for when I realise that I definitely don’t have the time to play games late into the night, and by mid-July I haven’t played any of the games I intended to and my backlog just keeps growing and growing and growing.
When I was a kid and nights seemed longer, my summers were spent playing games like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate. To me, nothing says summer holidays like pouring hours and hours into an RPG. These days, I barely have enough time to keep track of all the RPGs available, let alone play them. In that vein, here are some free games with all the vibes of a dungeon-crawler, RPG, or otherwise action-slash-adventure experience without the hours of commitment.
I’m Just Popping Down The Dungeon, Does Anybody Want Anything?, or, IJPDTDDAWA for short, is (according to its itch page): “A rogue-like-lite-like-lite dungeon crawler with none of the bits that I don’t like.” If you’ve managed to get over that tongue-twister, and I hope that you do, you’ll find yourself with a wildly fun dungeon-crawler rogue-like-lite. You and three of your party-appropriate skillful friends are just tryna pop down into the dungeon to acquire luxury goods and skidaddle. (Tip: multiple party members can descend to the dungeon depths at once. I did not get this my first playthough, and died almost immediately. Please, save yourself.)
This Dungeon Poppin’ experience is enjoyable, slick, and meditative in that way that the best rogue-likes are. It doesn’t ask much of you, and is just an all-around solid game to sink a handful of hours.
Curse Of The Lich King is another rogue-like, this time made in Pico-8. I am always amazed to see what people manage to pull together in machines like Pico-8, and Curse Of The Lich King is a stellar example. In it, you must descend the depths of yet another dangerous dungeon to put an end to (you guessed it) the titular Curse of the titular King (who is also a Lich). He’s tryna live forever by draining everyone else’s life-force, which is so rude, you know? I’ve yet to really give him what-for (i.e., kill ’em) but ooooh does he have it coming.
Pico-8’s faux-retro fantasy stylings is perfect for Curse Of The Lich King, which hits the mark on every rogue-like dungeon-crawler checklist. It is difficult, but not punishing. It is replayable (cos it’s gotta be), and rarely boring. It teaches you incrementally, and its eight floors of dungeon-crawling are impressive for the limitations of Pico-8. If you’re still itching for rogue-like pixelated goodness, look no further.
7 Days In The Fire Mountain is an adventure/survival horror game set on the eponymous wooded Fire Mountain. In it, you play as a young girl looking for her lost friend — who might not want to be found. The art is stunning, the narrative is ominous, and it approaches the terror of solo-adventuring with a deadpan stoicism that borders on bizarre. There are spots where I don’t quite find it convincing, but it’s compelling nonetheless.
I played this game when it first came out and didn’t quite know what to make of it. I’ve been thinking about it intermittently for the past two months, and while I still don’t quite know what to make of it, I figure that if the game has stuck with me for this long it’s definitely got something going for it. 7 Days In The Fire Mountain is mechanically interesting — cannibalism-fueled clairvoyance! Countdown-ticker health system! — and delivers its chilling bits of narrative piecemeal, to great effect. Let me know what you think of it.
Bitsy Mystery Dungeon by 34 individual Bitsy devs
Bitsy Mystery Dungeon is the product of a gargantuan effort of Bitsy Discord users where 34 individual Bitsy devs (or “bitsyfolk,” which is cute) all made their own room. Each room was then stitched together to make the Bitsy Mystery Dungeon. The project is billed as a kind of “exquisite corpse,” where each component was constructed separately from any other. The final layout is randomised, and while it gets occasionally disorienting, the game’s unifying characteristics make for a compelling collage. It’s equal parts silly and somber, clumsy and clear. There are overlapping quests and characters, and something for everybody. Buy crumpets! Chat with morbid corvids! Deliver love letters! Go off and see what there is to see.