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.
The King’s Dungeon
It has been a while since we last featured a Playdate game on this weekly list, but rest assured, the itch.io developers continue to love that tiny game console, and there is plenty being produced. The King’s Dungeon looks like a particularly charming little effort. The Playdate isn’t capable of big and complex games, but by working around its limitations there isn’t much you can’t do. Case-in-point, this is a Metroidvania – a challenging genre of exploration and complex platforming.
The game has a silly concept: You’re playing as a character that got locked in a maze-like dungeon because they ate the king’s cheese, and now you need to help them find a way out. You’ll do that in traditional Metroidvania fashion, by tracking down abilities to give you access to ever-deeper parts of the dungeon. With a lovely 1-bit art style, and an all-new second map, speed timers and more just added, this looks like one of the biggest and best “traditional” games currently available on the console.
The Great Artists
This is a game that is very much after my heart, as it’s about both art and narrative. The Great Artists tells the story of five phantom thieves plying their trade in an art gallery, over the course of 10 minutes. Your role is relatively simple – you’re able to move the camera, stop time, and jump between specific times on the timeline to experience the story specifically to your interests.
In other words, it’s a game that has been designed to be enjoyed for just 15-20 minutes or so, and gives you control over how you experience the narrative without giving you control over the narrative itself. Backed up with a lovely, abstract aesthetic that calls to mind the likes of Van Gogh and the impressionist movement, The Great Artists looks like both a celebration and satire of the art world, and I do love that.
There are so many horror games released on itch.io, and most of them are some kind of homage to the fond memories that the developers had playing them bac in the day. Cannibal Abduction is one such example of this. This game is a homage to the PlayStation 1 era, when Resident Evil, Alone in the Dark, and Silent Hill dominated the genre. It was an era of atmospheric set cameras, blocky polygons that could elicit more fear than they deserved, and gritty little narratives that never overstood their welcome.
In Cannibal Abduction, you’re thrust right into an old-school, B-grade plot. You play as a young man that has been stranded after his car breaks down, and subsequently abducted and imprisoned in a house by a family of cannibals. Your job is to sneak your way around and escape, by hiding cleverly, solving puzzles, and making the most of limited saves (you need to collect tapes to save). There are even multiple endings, based on how you play, to encourage replay value and give you a plot with plenty of secrets that need to be solved, bit by bit. This could be an excellent “modern PSX” title for retro horror fans indeed.
Elonkorjuu – Live Harvest
I know that I tend to be quite hostile to the FPS genre now, but I actually used to enjoy them (it’s mostly because it’s dominated by military themes these days, and game developers lack the intellectual maturity to grapple with those themes). Back in the days of 2D sprites in faux-3D worlds, when Wolfenstein and Doom and Heretic and Hexen ruled supreme, I spent a lot of time playing these games. That’s where Elonkorjuu comes from, and as such, it caught my eye.
You’re actually playing as a vampire/reaper of sorts, where you need to hunt through levels to track down all the living creatures and “harvest” them using your sickle. It’s a dark theme, with wn appealingly dark aesthetic to it, and the developer has even included a level editor with it. You’ll need to know a bit about coding and what-not to make the most of it, but surely there will be some people that embrace that with open arms, and hopefully the game builds a bit of a community around it.