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.
With it being Halloween and all, there are naturally a lot of indie horror games being put up on itch.io – even more than normal (it’s a favourite genre with the indies for whatever reason). I’ve chosen Predator and Wreck out of all of these to highlight, because it looks like an impressive riff on the Alien stalker horror game from a few years ago. It’s also an award-winning student project out of Japan, so this might be the work of a star of the future.
There’s a distress signal from a space station, and on arriving there to investigate you find yourself trapped and pursued by an unknown, deadly entity. You need to listen to its footsteps and groans to help stealth your way around it, while also using alarms and fire extinguishers to distract it. You’re never going to have a weapon to survive this nightmare, so it’s all about outwitting the creature. Yes, sure this isn’t the most original concept, but it does look genuinely intense and creepy, and remarkably well-made for a student project. Really, that’s what itch.io is all about.
What if you took Pokémon Snap, but instead made a game about empty spaces like a parking lot, a run-down movie theatre, a dying mall or a roadside motel? This might be something that is only for the smallest of niche audiences, but as someone that does indeed like taking photos of spaces in the world, Interior Worlds is a game that very much has my attention.
Armed with nothing but your trusty 35mm SLR camera, the goal in Interior Worlds is as simple as they come: take interesting photos. You’re able to activate vending machines, phones, sinks, televisions and lights to change up the ambiance of the spaces, but otherwise, it’s all about exploring to find the most interesting angles and taking (and then sharing on social media) the most interesting snaps. Truly a photography simulator for hardcore photography fans, and a form of photography that would never get a look-in by a bigger studio.
It has actually been a few weeks since we had a Playdate game to highlight, so it feels good that it’s one that looks as adorable as Along Came A Spider. This is a charming, brief little game that can be played to completion in around 30 minutes, but with five different endings and the promise of a steep learning curve, it has been designed to be very replayable.
In Along Came A Spider, you’re on the hunt for a special heirloom of the family. You play as Eric Nid, the titular spider, that goes on a grand quest in a town full of danger in the search for this precious heirloom, meeting a band of plucky and memorable spider siblings along the way. Gorgeous Playdate black-and-white visuals and the promise of a transformative use of the console’s crank input mechanic make for a game that looks like yet another whimsical showcase of the Playdate’s unique capabilities.
Finally, for this week, we have a visual novel – itch.io’s other favourite genre – and while it’s very indie it does look like a heartfelt little project. Butterfly Soup 2 is a “romantic sports visual novel about gay Asian-American teens playing baseball and falling in love.” There are four main characters, going through all the typical growing-up pains of being an ethnic (and sexuality) minority in modern America.
The game’s obviously a pretty personal story for the developer, and I do love that the visual novel medium allows people to explore themselves and their own personal stories, but like short stories once did (back in the heady old days when I was growing up). You can play this game totally free, but the developer is offering a digital art book for $5 if you want to support their work. Note, there is a pretty long content warning list with this one, suggesting that the game does deal with some pretty heavy themes, as light and bubbly as it looks on the surface. It’ll only take you 2-4 hours to work through, so it’s a low risk deal, to read something that someone was brave enough to put down on a digital canvas and then share with the world!