I’m a big fan of itch.io for the freedom and open platform that it allows for developers to be creative, experimental, and directly canvas the audience for feedback for games that are not yet ready for primetime on Steam and its ilk. In addition, itch.io allows you to be transgressive, subversive, and downright dangerous. It’s a true “art gallery” for game ideas and creative developers, and it should be celebrated for that.
What makes itch.io a little difficult at times is finding things that are interesting to play. Discovery is a real issue when great ideas are buried among high school projects and nasty little efforts to scam a quick buck from players. With that in mind, I thought what might be helpful to readers would be if I did a brief write-up of interesting games that I’ve come across on itch.io each week. In many cases these games will be unfinished or “in development,” but I’m highlighting them because they promise something special and are well worth keeping on the radar.
Note: I also haven’t played these games. I highlight them as interesting based on the itch.io description and concept. Where I find the time to do actual reviews or other coverage, I will compose separate articles on the game in question. These aren’t so much an endorsement (or piece of criticism) as they are a head’s up.
For a “text-based RPG”, Sky Caravan is incredibly colourful. This is a game of whimsy and humour, in which you play as a Sky Caraveneer, trader of the clouds, moving from place to place, managing your ship’s resources, and making decisions that, as colourful as the art is, are apparently going to be very hard to make. And that brings us to one major feature of Sky Caravan that should go down a treat – in-game integration with Twitch, allowing streamers to open up the decision making to the community, and encouraging play-a-long sessions.
Even played in single-player, Sky Caravan should be a delight. I mean, there are capybara bar managers, and that’s a sentence that promises some golden good times. But in all seriousness, this does look like a full-scale production that has had a lot of effort put into it. Who knows if the developers have pulled it off, but the “unique reaction disks system,” that will guide the way the relationships with each character develop, determining if they become an ally or rival in the long term, should open up plenty of replay value. As long as the writing is on-point, this game could be great.
Yokai Hunter Shintaro is one of those retro-inspired platforms. You can all but see and hear the inspiration of Castlevania in it, with the only difference being that Castlevania was European gothic horror, and this one is more Japanese Hyakki Yagyo-inspired. It runs a little faster than the more retro-era Castlevania games perhaps, but features similar level design.
The game gives you two different characters to choose between, and both have their own unique play style. While this isn’t a “Metroidvania”, it does have non-linear progression and bosses, and you will unlock new skills as you play along. And, more generally speaking, the art is lovely to look at. The enemy monster designs are great and look like they were pulled directly from Japanese mythology books, and the backgrounds set the right atmosphere. It’s probably not going to be a Shovel Knight-standard genre-redefining masterpiece, but it looks like it could turn some heads for genre fans.
Baladins was a successful Kickstarter, and it’s easy to see why. Even just looking at the trailer, the energy behind this game is infectious. It looks a little like a board game, but it’s actually a narrative-driven, RPG-inspired homage to tabletop gaming. It’s designed for online co-operative multiplayer, but you can play it single-player too. Your job? Explore the world, organise a great feast, face down a horrible dragon and break the time loop!
There’s a twee sense of humour about the game too. One of the four characters is a magician that is a specialist in luxomancy (the ancient magic of being very good at fixing lamps), and this is backed up with some of the most gorgeous diorama book style aesthetics this side of a Nintendo-developed platformer (seriously, they look just like the overworlds in those Mario, Kirby and Yoshi games). The itch.io release is only a demo, but I reckon that once it whets your appetite you’ll be buying into the full thing soon enough.
Finally this week we have a Game Boy Color game! Laser Squad is a turn-based tactics game that was originally released on the ZX Spectrum, and was one of the earlier projects of XCOM creator, Julian Gollop. Now a group of enthusiasts have banded together to make a Game Boy port of it, and it both looks good AND is a good showcase for the potential of GB Studio 2.0… Just imagine what can be done with it once people are out there making a new wave of tactics games for the Game Boy consoles.
There are only two levels in this project (which is free, so enjoy it for what it is!), and in both missions your task is to lead your team to defeat 12 enemy forces. And that’s really all there is to it. It’s a small little enthusiast project, but there is so much to look forward to in what it promises.