The price of pancake fame. Expensive banana room. Musical soup. Piss soda.
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Porpentine is out spreading the good word at GaymerX, so this week you’re stuck with Noyb again.
Crypt Worlds: Your Darkest Desires by Lilith with music by Liz Ryerson
I know from the hand-drawn instruction manual that pissing is an important verb in Crypt Worlds. I wasn’t expecting a whole piss-based economy. You’re so piss-poor during the first few days that it takes all the scrounging you can muster just to keep your bladder full enough to use your piss fruitfully, when you’re not pissing it all away down deep holes in pursuit of a dubious sidequest.
You can piss on anyone. Living corpses. Existential televisions. Hard-boiled detectives. Sky pilgrims. A thinly-veiled caricature of CliffyB.
You can even piss on the gods.
There’s a hilarious and surprisingly cohesive game in here, distilling 90s counter-culture and a child’s eye view of the darkness and mystery evoked by the claustrophobic worlds and distant NPCs in some of that decade's games. After a few in-game days the initial exploration phase slows down and you get a good grasp on the systems at play. The world will feel cozy enough to catch you off guard when things start to change.
Female Experience Simulator by Alyson Macdonald
(Trigger warning for street harassment.)
Part of the reason why games can illustrate broken or rigged systems so well is that players tend to expect strong agency: that puzzles have solutions, that challenges can be overcome with the tools provided, that you have the power to reach the outcome you desire based solely on your own merits.
Not all systems in the real world are power fantasies. It’s easy for the ignorant to assume that a victim only becomes a victim because she did something wrong. Wore the wrong thing. Went down the wrong street.
This is a game about a broken system.
CAVE! CAVE! DEUS VIDET. by We Are Muesli, Monroeville Music Center
Cave! Cave! Deus Videt -- Latin for "Beware! Beware! God Sees." and a reference to a certain Hieronymus Bosch work -- is an edutainment game, but not one bogged down by having to conform itself to standardized curricula or consortium-approved themes. Overstimulation is the key word here: punk rock, silent films, Rorschach diagrams, Star Wars, hellish visions. The most prominent educational bits -- depending on your choices in the Visual Novel segments you'll be either playing a hidden object game on Bosch’s The Temptation of St. Anthony or taking a multiple choice quiz about St. Anthony’s Fire -- slow the game down with some trial and error, but the subject matter is fascinating and the art style is wild.
Love Hotel by 3 Silly Hats
Short and sweet business simulator you should already know all about from Cara’s article. I like the little touches. The visual puns in the theme rooms, the messy state clients leave them in, how they’ll use a supply closet if everything else is full. Being able to see your condom supply slowly deplete. The special events when you build to certain milestones. How queer couples just exist and aren’t treated any different mechanically.
Two thematic choices give me pause.
First, the game’s website says "the staff have peep holes in all the walls," which lends the hotel a skeezy vibe that contradicts most of the consent-positive atmosphere of the game proper.
Second, the game maps different room types to different kinks, and implements the standard business sim mechanic of asking you to cater to different types of clientele -- working class, upper class, denizens of a floating city, among others -- with each type associated with a different subset of rooms. The unfortunate implication here is that only certain kinks are normal (or even possible) based on how much money you have or where you come from.
Pan Man by Major Bueno
You’re a pancake flipper with a theatrical streak -- you get points for flipping pancakes high in the air, keeping a combo going by smacking the pancake multiple times before you finally catch it. The theme is hubris. You’re forced to flip at least a few pancakes per level, since leaving one in your pan for too long leaves it burnt, but you’re in total control over how much you want to risk for the sake of those points.
This dovetails nicely with the game’s story. You start by trying to impress your family, then the patrons of your local bar, then a paying crowd. After every step of your burgeoning career you have the choice of either going back home to your family or continuing on the path to pancake flipping fame.
If your goal is to maximize your score, the answer is obvious.
SOUP by Bowl of Rice
SOUP is a playable concept album, an engine that strings together a series of atmospheric, structurally-similar vignettes.
Each track places you inside a small, textured cube. The floor texture determines how your footsteps meld with the backing track. There may or may not be a creature or object at the center of the cube, or a smaller creature running around. You can walk into a side of the cube at any time to move to the next track, and reopen the program to experience a new set of tracks.
The developer recommends that you play it at night.
FANTASY / REALITY by mno
This game sketches out a society based not on what its inhabitants believe, but by what the people in power want them to believe. If you follow the party line closely enough, perhaps you too will be given the power to dictate what is fantasy and what is reality.
I like how outside of the central quiz the written word is more fluid, less stable than normal. Phrases disappear at will or get replaced by functional equivalents with slightly different connotations.
THE SEX CHAMBER by Leigh Alexander
"I found the disk!"
"We’re gonna get in so much trouble."
"Nah, mom’s not back for another hour or two. Lemme boot it up."
"Who’s Mickey Rooney?"
"Some old guy. It asks you the same questions each time. Here, take the keyboard."
"What do I do?"
"Just walk around and pick things up, I think? I never got much farther than the test."
"Okay, I picked the substance, but I still don’t know what I’m... Eeeep, something’s coming!"
"Hahahaha, I can’t believe they can show that!"