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Monday, May 5, 2014

Freeware Focus: Leaf Me Alone (PC)

Article by Chris I.

Rewind back a few years and tell most anyone that indie games would be earning the same respect and attention as the biggest blockbusters, and they would most likely laugh in your face.

Yet, the unthinkable happened and titles like Braid, Limbo, and Bastion are well-known titles by almost anyone with an Internet connection. Indie games have always been a haven of sorts for the retro, creative and the experimental side of gaming that’s often times atypical of the mainstream games found on retail shelves.

Here at Digitally Downloaded, many of us are quite the fans of all things indie, and our Reviews Database is filled with reviews of hundreds of indie game reviews across numerous platforms, but with our new feature, Freeware Focus, we will highlight games that perhaps represent the indie spirit most of all: freeware video games which don’t usually qualify for the typical game review format. These kinds of games are popping up on all kinds of platforms, from PC to console to mobile, and they are very much a wild west of innovation and creative thinking... so here you'll find the truly weird and wonderful experiences that only games can offer.


Leaf Me Alone

Leaf Me Alone began life at the Ludum Dare 26 Challenge by two very talented and passionate developers: Mark Foster and David Fen. What the duo created in a mere 72 hours was something special; so much so, that continued work found the game to be one of the most polished and charming minimalist RPG-lite platforming titles found most anywhere. The best bit, it’s a freeware browser game that’s available to most anyone with a decent Internet connection.

Click here to play the expanded version of Leaf Me Alone at Nickelodeon’s Addicting Games.

There’s few times that I’m instantly captivated by a game from its onset, yet Leaf Me Alone found a way to do just that. Pausing for just a moment at the game’s opening screen finds a few small butterflies fluttering about on what appears to be the side of a lush cliff face on a beautiful Summer day. The elegant use of pastel colours finds a harmonious, soothing balance as the gentle chirps of birds sound off in the distance. Nature is beautiful; nature is bliss to the senses - to step into Leaf Me Alone is to step into nature.

Pressing a direction key finds life being blossomed into existence, as vine rapidly starts to grow and sprouts a small brown seed. A few more button presses and a moment of struggle later, this small seedling tumbles to the greenery below and stands up. I then found two tiny black eyes looking to me, on this cutesy (blank slate) creation that’s devoid of a gender identity. This intentional lack of gender created a bond between me and the seedling that I could project myself upon - setting aside the gender-based stresses of our world today - and opened the door for me to simply immerse myself into this beautiful world. The seedling appears so small and fragile, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that it needed my help.

Moving about in 2D platforming style, it’s quickly apparent that the little seedling is quite the adequate one when it comes to leaping about. Climbing a tree, by jumping from one branch to another, a small green leaf will be stumbled upon with relative ease. One might not realise it at the time, but this little leaf is a primary component to the game’s mechanics and charm, with it earning the simple ability to glide. It’s fitting, really; seedlings are oftentimes attached to leaves as they fall to the ground in the hopes of the formation of new life in the fertile soil below. There’s another creature about that’s causing a great deal of ruckus - can this little seedling actually play a part of a much larger story here?

It sets the stage in an almost David vs Goliath manner; a tiny seedling vs an unruly antagonist and the unpredictable aspects of Mother Nature. Yet, where there is a will there is a way. Fans of Metroidvania titles will feel right at home in this large, ever-expanding open world, filled with mind-bending puzzles and challenging platforming segments. Wind will be used to waft the seedling over gaps that would otherwise be found to be far too large to cross and raindrops can be used to sprout new growth to reach higher areas. While the antagonist might have a few clever tricks, a fragile seedling harnessing the innate powers of Mother Nature just might find the strength to tame its unruly ways.

Leaf Me Alone is simply brilliant. The virtual canvas that it paints nature upon is simply beautiful and between the realistic ambient sounds to a soundtrack, Leaf Me Alone is a must play title that deserve all of the recognition it can get. What started out as a Ludum Dare Challenge, has evolved into a masterstroke of freeware genius that no fan of the platforming genre should miss out on.

- Chris I.

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Freeware Focus: Leaf Me Alone (PC)
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