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! It’s that time of the month again, when the best example of the itch.io spirit lands. Indiepocalypse is a truly wonderful initiative – it’s a monthly bundle of 10 games that you simply would not discover, much less play otherwise. However, in the context of a bundle of experimental and different games, each title in the collection suddenly becomes interesting and worth a shot. In this month’s collection, we’ve got a 2D retro-platformer that promises “NES-HARD”, an atmospheric horror game, a PSOne-era-themed adventure game, a chicken-based pen-and-paper RPG, and an “extremely queer top-down action RPG.” And that’s just a snapshot of what is on offer.
In addition to the games themselves, you also get a monthly zine, which includes interviews with the developers, comics, and other interesting tidbits. You even get the Zine Maker software tool that was used to produce the issue, so you can create your own. Indiepocalypse truly is the most spectacular little ongoing project, and it would be really nice if at some stage someone starts to produce physical editions of these bundles, as they are some of the best efforts to celebrate games as an art form that we’re ever going to see.
“A world where animals keep pet humans,” is certainly a way to pitch a horror game, and Before The Night looks like the most adorably twisted thing you’re going to play in some time. The game tasks you with playing as Lisa, a pet human, who needs to scramble to survive her existence among the animals. She has a task: she needs to revive her dead master, and to do so she needs to steal some previous Flowers of Life that are kept within the animal village.
The problem is that as soon as you pick one of these Flowers, night comes, and with the night comes nightmares. Now, rather than try to trick your way to a flower, you need to run for your life while being pursued by things that are anything but cute. This sounds like an excellent little gameplay loop for a horror game, and with an aesthetic that looks like it comes from the same place as one of NISA’s Yomawari titles, Before The Night could be one of the most refined and clever things you’ll play on itch.io.
This week’s obligatory Playdate title is a simple little thing that you’re going to want to have on your console. Playdice is a collection of four classic dice games: 10,000/Greed, Push It, Solitaire Dice and Yacht. With the exception of Solitaire Dice, each of these games features pass-and-play multiplayer, leaderboards, and fun use of the Playdate’s crank to actually roll the dice. For a console that’s all about slipping in your pocket for those quick moments where you need to occupy some time with a game, this is the perfect title for it.
But wait, there’s one more little feature in Playdice that will be enormously handy for the hardcore board gamers; there’s a “free dice” mode, where you can use the application to roll up to six dice with no rules; perfect for when you’re playing a board game and somehow lost all the dice, or simply want to play a dice game of your own invention and don’t have ready access to any physical cubes.
Finally for this week, I wanted to highlight one of those simple little games that make up so much of the itch.io experience – games that you’ll only play for a few minutes, but have a heck of a time doing so. Duck Trust is a super-simple cooperative game about two rubber ducks that need to work together to balance a tilting lily pad, so that neither duck falls off.
While you’re moving around to work together, objects will fall from the sky, and might knock you out. To protect yourself, you can turn to stone for a time, but this has the obvious effect of leaving you unable to move around and help balance the lily pad. That’s all there is to this game, with the goal being to try and beat your best “survival” time with a buddy. It can be played on a single computer with a single keyboard, is the kind of thing that pairs of all ages can enjoy together, and is just one of those well-designed little games that will bring a smile to your face as you play. All for the grand cost of absolutely nothing.