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.
Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES. I probably don’t talk about it as much as it deserves, but one of my favourite “genres” is old-school, NES or even 1-bit era point-and-click adventure games. Stuff like Shadowgate and Deja Vu. It’s a genre that has very much died, and while there are endless homages to ancient RPGs and platformers, developers rarely take aim at these kinds of experiences. However, that’s what Occult Case Files is doing, and it looks excellent.
What’s available on itch.io right now is only a demo, and the developers are gauging interest before going ahead with the full project. Please, for the love of holy Hatsune Miku, I’m begging you all to support this one. It’s not only that the game is from a beloved retro genre, it also sounds legitimately interesting. As the game’s concept goes: “It’s called ‘The Vanishing Point’… Or at least that’s what the kids in class were calling it. A spot said to make a person disappear into thin air the moment they step into it. My friend and I are amateur occult investigators…” It’s 8-bit Death Mark! I am so there for this game.
Cartomancy has a fascinating concept. It takes the tarot deck and then turns each “card” into a game to play, with the overall collection being a massive anthology of fascinatingly indie games. The developers are promising a massive range of games to play, too, with everything from platfomers to visual novels, cooking sims to fishing games.
As the game’s description reads: “Customise your reading by pulling the cards as frequently as you see fit in a variety of offered card spreads,” and that this is “a collection of introspective digital experiences presented together in an anthology format. Each card is one of the Major Arcana, representing powerful emotions and life lessons.” Now, naturally, I’m not a believer in tarot as a fortune-telling activity, but I am very interested in tarot aesthetics, and the way that it might be appropriated by game developers. This one, the idea of tying games to different cards, fascinates me.
Card-based roguelikes are a dime-a-dozen, however, it’s also true that they’re popular for a reason, and it’s always interesting to see how an independent developer might tackle the genre. Goblin King looks humble, but it promises an interesting twist on the genre in that it uses gambling as a core mechanic. Not real-money gambling, of course, just the idea that you’ll take a punt at the odds and hope they help you push on with your quest.
The itch.io listing is a little underwhelming (seriously, it’s fine for free projects to just slap in any old description, but if you’re asking money from people, get a copywriter to describe the project for you), but it does look like it’s all there. A branching map to decide what your next challenge is, minigames (to represent the gambling), and plenty of customisation via both the decks and perks. I hope the developer get the feedback they need, and continues to mature in the way they present their work, because the ideas seem solid and worth supporting.
I’ll finish this week with a game that looks brutally ugly to me, and I very nearly passed over… but then I realised that there was probably a point to it all, because Indigi Star seems like a very thoughtful, considered and subversive game indeed… and subversive in exactly the kind of way that I like. So I’m not beating around the bush here, it’s a highly anti-imperialist and anti-colonial game and that is something that, sadly, remains as relevant as ever.
You play as a native species that needs to deal with a hostile empire (humans) landing on their planet and proceeding to eradicate and plunder the space. Your job is to heal the land and confront the invaders before you lose everything. And it’s worth noting that the developer is Hawaiian and, it would seem, part of the Hawaiian independence movement: “The poisoning of water, military occupation, language and culture erasure are based on real-world experiences of us Native Hawaiians, and countless others around the world. Please support us in this continued struggle including making fun but also educational games, direct action, and providing material needs to our Lahui (nation)!”
This is something that I fundamentally support. I wish the developers well. I also like the idea that this game is coming from a place of Hawaiian culture and thought. We don’t get many games like that.