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.
Here’s a concept that I just know is going to catch a fair few people’s attention: this is a game where you play as a cat witch. Yes, a cat that is also a witch. Your job is to deliver packages by zooming around on a broomstick. Do your job well and you will earn all kinds of delightful things that you can use to customise your home, while also meeting a whole bunch of “quirky” people along the way. This is a bright, cheerful, combat-free and playful little game that everyone can enjoy.
The production values are really something special, too, with a super-bright, colourful, and bold aesthetic for the world and characters, and A-grade music backing it up as the composer for the title is Mark Sparling, an up-and-coming indie game musician that was previously responsible for the excellent soundtrack in A Short Hike. You get a Steam key when buying the game on itch, too, so why not support this platform while you’re nabbing yourself a pretty entertaining good time?
I actually hadn’t heard of Smile Game Builder until seeing it mentioned as the engine powering Aeternum Quest. Based on what this game seems to offer, I’m pretty impressed with it as an engine. Aeternum Quest is an RPG with a lovely isometric perspective. As soon as I saw the screenshots I thought it was inspired by a fairly obscure Nintendo 64 game – Quest 64 or Holy Magic Century (depending on your region) – and indeed the game listing does mention that this was the inspiration for it.
Now, I would have never in a million years guessed that a game like Quest 64 might inspire a retro-themed modern game, but as one of the few fans of Quest 64, I’ll take it (bring on an Aidyn Chronicles homage, someone!). With turn-based combat, a capture/summon mechanic (which wasn’t in the Quest 64 title, so the developers have tried to add their own touch), and controller support, this could well be the “long lost” console experience that you’ve been looking for.
Stay away from this one if you’re not a fan of bugs. Entomophobia is a Game Boy horror title with some truly boundary-pushing artwork for that console. The Game Boy struggled with big sprites (it actually had hard limits on how much information it could display at once, leading to the infamous “flicker” if the screen got too busy with action games), but this game has a whopping big, intimidating spider to deal with.
Beyond that, it looks like it has a very creepy atmosphere, some excellent cut-scene art, and an intense narrative that calls to mind the horror films of the 80s… perfect for a Game Boy game. You can play this one totally free via the browser, download a ROM to play on your emulator device of choice, but the developer has physical copies on the way too so, for people with those fancy Analogue Pocket consoles, there’s something spooky to look forward to.
Finally for this week, we have an ambitious visual novel from China that is turning to Kickstarter to drum up support for an English localisation. Far Away is a gorgeous-looking game with nine storylines, 16 alternate endings, and over 300 decisions to make along the way. It has a 500,000-word-length script and has been a hit in China, with 98 per cent positive reviews from the 2021 Steam release there.
As the game description goes: “To present the classic features of Hong Kong crime thriller films, the game adopts the dubbing of Cantonese; the use of dark humour, Easter eggs, references to anime and films within the game will surely brighten your mood!” To decide whether this is something you want to support (and, note, the game has already more than doubled its Kickstarter goal, so it is happening), you can try out the demo on itch now.