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.
You’ll see something of a theme emerge from this week’s itch.io wrap – we have a lot of retro-inspired stuff to share this week. I’m not sure what caused all the developers to do this. Perhaps there was a game jam or something. Anyhow, the first cab off the rank is Colonos III, a ZX Spectrum 48k game that will remind you of the joys of really ugly colour palettes. I’m not saying that critically, either. The ZX Spectrum’s bold, bright colour options and sound capabilities are not the most aesthetically pleasing, objectively, but today, in 2022, there’s a warm nostalgia about them that makes the experience delightful on a whole different level.
Colonos III looks like it has been inspired by Blaster Master. There’s a top-town section where you traverse the world in a vehicle, and then platforming bits where you make your way around on foot. As far as the plot goes, you play as the chosen member of a group of survivors on an off-world colony on Mars. Your goal is to explore the red planet and make “one last rescue.” Intriguing, no?
Donum is another ZX Spectrum 128k game, but this one has a vastly different aesthetic and tone to Colonos III. This is modelled after those black-and-white adventure games that were all the rage once, and inspired heavily by horror tropes. This game has been in development for two years, and has a very creepy concept.
From the game’s description: “Since you found that strange box in your garden, every night, every dream, has become a real nightmare for you. A thriller from which you don’t know how to escape. The only thing you can do at the moment is play the macabre game that some strange beings, who call themselves ‘guddomer’, force you to play every night.” The concept art is quite unsettling, and the level of detail that has gone into the ‘1-bit’ graphics is amazing. You’ll be navigating the world in true text-based adventure style, and hoping that you don’t see things that can’t be unseen…
Speaking of games that were two years in the making (this week’s game summaries are segueing from one to the next beautifully), Super Dungeon Maker has had a similarly lengthy development cycle, and bills itself as being a combination of Zelda and Mario Maker. In other words, the thing that fans have been asking for for as long as Mario Maker itself has been around.
While it’s not actually a Zelda game (because of course it wouldn’t be, as that would be shut down instantly by Nintendo), Super Dungeon Maker is a very faithful homage to the likes of Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. And then you make your own dungeons, Mario Maker-style. It’s such an excellent concept for a game that it’s amazing Nintendo itself hasn’t done it yet. The game’s running a Kickstarter to get itself finished (all you can download off itch.io currently is the demo), and the fact that it has already exceeded its goal and the Nintendo Switch version stretch goal, with 23 days to go, should tell you everything about how excited people are for this one. Who knows, Nintendo may well take notice and ask the developers to make a Zelda version. It happened with the Crypt of the Necrodancer.
Last on our wrap this week is a Game Boy game that immediately caught my attention because it has a strong Shadowgate Classic point-and-click horror adventure vibe. Batty Zabella is a “horror comedy designed to push the limits of outdated hardware.” It certainly looks like it does that, with richly detailed character art and scenery.
Basically, you’re exploring a gothic fantasy setting, trying to help the titular main character save her family from a cursed evil and rid her home of an onslaught of phantoms. Batty herself is… well, a bit fanservicey and kinky, so you can expect a bit of low-brow and raunch humour in this one. That in itself is quite unusual for Game Boy development, so it’s going to be fun to see if it can work!