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.
I love trading games. A forgotten little game way back on the GBA called Sea Trader got me into them and from there I’ve delved deeply into the genre both its early days and the more recent efforts. Port Royale is one of my favourite franchises of all. And now, when I finally get my hands on a Playdate, I’ll have a trading simulator to play on it too, in The Wizard’s Apprentice.
In The Wizard’s Apprentice, you have just 30 days to buy from a selection of different potions as low as you can, cart your stuff over to a town that has a shortage in those potions, and rake in the profits. Time moves when you relocate to a new city, and the price of potions will fluctuate daily. You can also tempt fate and buy illicit potions, but you’ll be in for a fight if the Royal Guard catch you! Finally, make sure you regularly visit the capital city to pay off some of your student debt, else the interest will really start to accumulate. Exploitative capitalism has never been quite so much fun!
I know survival games are dime a dozen at the moment, but they are popular for a reason. At their best they can be compelling and rich emergent storytelling experiences and scrappy, challenging gameplay. A good survival game is one where every in-game day’s survival is an achievement in itself, creating a wonderful and ongoing feedback loop.
Residual is a 2D survival game with a solid premise. You play as a lonely explorer that has crash-landed on an inhospitable planet where just about everything wants to kill them. You’ll need to find ways of harvesting food, making campfires, and craft tools for use, while looking for alien technology that could repair the ship. Meanwhile, you’ll have to survive the hostile plant life, and find ways to weather the frequent cosmic storms. Throw in some lovely and detailed pixel art, and you’ve got the makings of an indie hit here.
Capybaras are awesome. They’re giant rats that love just chillin’ in the water, and are “ugly -cute” to borrow a popular Japanese way of describing them. Capybara Quest is a new Game Boy Color platformer that looks simple and quick, but also adorably cute.
The game offers up four different worlds to explore, and hidden collectibles along the way. In fact, there are apparently even more difficult-to-find Easter eggs that the developer has worked in there for reasons (i.e. they wanted to). You can pay whatever you like for the project, and either play online via a browser, or download the ROM to load up to your favourite emulator and/or emulation console. The game is the developer’s very first project, and has been cobbled together from various freely available assets, and this is a big part of the itch.io experience, giving new and aspiring developers a chance to put some work out there, get feedback, and eventually start looking towards more commercial projects.
Last but not least we have the next game from my favourite indie development project. Tile Tale comes to us from the incredibly prolific Sokpop – yes, that studio that releases a new game every two weeks or so. Tile Tale is a simple puzzle game about sliding single tiles into a play board to move the tiles in there around, with the goal being to create patterns and score points.
There are also powerups that can help when it looks like your stuck, buildings that you can set down to earn extra points, and even portals, which summon monsters to come and wreck your scores. All of this is backed by Sokpop’s customary minimalist, but bright and cheerful aesthetic. I swear this developer needs to get 50 or so of these games into a collection for console. They’d make an absolute fortune.