Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality: My Picks

Probably anyone reading this blog knows, but: Itch.io has a truly monumental bundle going right now, called the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, consisting of “1,659 items” (as of this writing; the number keeps going up 1The final count is 1704. ), mostly games, many of them good, for a minimum price of $5, all proceeds going to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Community Bail Fund. It’s running for just two more days. A more ambitious games blogger than myself could spend the rest of their life blogging just about this bundle.

Since such a massive collection is in obvious need of curation, people have been posting lists of their picks on social media. I figure I might as well do the same here. I’m not saying these are the only games in the bundle worth playing, just that they’re the ones that I personally have played and would recommend to others.

  • Interactive Fiction and other largely text-based stuff
    • Voyageur: There are quite a few choice-based space-exploration games out there, but this is probably the most polished. Sort of a cross between 80 Days and FTL.
    • What Isn’t Saved (will be lost): A sci-fi meditation on memory and difficult choices. Almost unbearably tense.
    • Wheels of Aurelia: I’ve mentioned this one in passing before. It’s an interesting experiment in interactive dialogue: you’re talking while you’re driving, so your attention is split and the conversation is affected by what turns you make and how fast you go. Set in 1970s Italy, with a story very concerned with the politics of that time and place.
    • Dominique Pamplemousse in “It’s All Over Once the Fat Lady Sings”: Claymation adventure game detective musical with interactive sung dialogue that actually manages to fit the beat of the background music.
    • Extreme Meatpunks Forever: A lo-fi Visual Novel about gay fugitives in a messed-up world, peppered with mech-fighting action sequences where you try to shove fascists off cliffs. I don’t usually have a lot of patience for VNs, but Meatpunks has a unique energy.
    • The Quiet Sleep: Hard to describe. It’s an abstract system for telling stories by means of resource acquisition on a hex grid.
  • 2D Platformers
    • Celeste: Previously. Extremely polished, the pinnacle of Matt Thorson’s 2D platformer career. Tough as nails, but paradoxically kind-hearted.
    • And Yet It Moves: Previously. Puzzle-platformer in a rotatable environment with a torn-paper aesthetic.
    • Pikuniku: I’m only a little ways into this, but it’s a metroidvania with a very strong aesthetic. Characters are simplified in a way that complements their comically blunt demeanors.
    • BasketBelle: Previously. Intriguingly combines shooting hoops with platformer mechanics.
    • Four-Sided Fantasy: Another high-concept puzzle-platformer, based on giving the player control of whether the screen has wraparound or not at any given moment. It’s a device that turns out out to have more legs than it sounds.
  • Other Explorey Environments
    • Oxenfree: I’m not wild about horror movie tropes, but the interaction and dialogue system is definitely worth a look.
    • A Short Hike: A charming and relaxing mountain climb in a recreational area with anthropomorphic animals. Kind of like a one-sitting single-player Animal Crossing.
    • Minit: A high-concept action-adventure, exploring what uses a game can make of short time constraints. Very well-done formal experiment.
    • Anodyne: A light, fanciful action-adventure, similar to an early Zelda game in both mechanics and graphical style, but more wry and deliberately surreal.
    • The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human: Previously. Melancholy 2D underwater metroidvania. Just you and a submarine against immense monsters amidst the ruins of human civilization.
    • Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, And The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist: Fourth-wall-demolishing first-person nonsense from one of the Stanley Parable people.
  • Other Puzzle Games
    • Mu Cartographer: Previously. Recommended for anyone who likes fiddling with unlabeled controls to figure out what they do.
    • GNOG: A collection of pure jiggery-pokery puzzles themed around grotesque headboxes.
    • Adjacency: One of those abstract puzzle games with soothing ambient music. Simple mechanics, but gets very tricky (in ways other than increasing the number of parts).
    • Puzzle Puppers: Basically, numberlink with elongated corgis. Has some complications beyond that, like teleporting tunnels, but that’s the essence of it.
  • Not cleanly categorizable as any of the above
    • Art Sqool: More satisfying as an aesthetic than a game, but worth a look just for that.
    • Nuclear Throne: One of the best action-roguelikes out there.
    • Glittermitten Grove: A delightful fairy management sim. I hear it has some secrets. Maybe you’ll have better luck finding them than me.
    • Windosill: Previously. Short, dark, surreal twitch-and-wiggle game from Vectorpark.
    • Metamorphabet: Another Vectorpark game. I don’t like it as much as Windosill — it’s pitched more at the kiddies, so it stops short of giving them nightmares. Still worthy, though.
    • Quadrilateral Cowboy: A satisfying hackery game, and one of the few cyberpunk games to take the “punk” part to heart.
    • Old Man’s Journey: A peaceful and aesthetically pleasing travel story where the main mechanic is raising and lowering the level of the ground.
    • The Hex: Six videogame characters from different genres meet at an inn to witness a murder. I didn’t think much of this at first — it seemed indulgent, and the mini-games built around each character not well-developed. But it won me over with its increasing complexity, deepening story, and pervasively sinister atmosphere.

1 The final count is 1704.

A Couple of Good, Short Platformers

refunctRecent comments begging me to play something short and good after my recent experiences put me in mind of Refunct, a very pleasant game I played a while back, and replayed more recently when it got Steam trading cards. I wound up idling to get all the cards, mind you. This is a game that takes about a half an hour to play through even if you have no idea what you’re doing. But it’s a high-quality half hour. It’s a little gem of a puzzle-platformer, and furthermore, it’s study in first-person platformer technique, unencumbered by story.

The whole thing is set on a group of rectangular concrete pillars and slabs in the middle of a calm ocean. Some of them have buttons on top, and standing on a button causes more pillars to rise up from the waters. In fact, you can see them under the surface waiting to be summoned, the entire game lying latent. Also, any platform, whether it’s useful for reaching a button or not, changes color when you stand on it, turning brownish with a grassy green carpet on top. This provides direction, as the places you need to get to are visually distinct from the places you’ve already been, and also an implicit secondary goal of reaching every platform, not just the ones you need.

The really impressive thing about it is the wordless tutorial aspect. It keeps introducing new things you can do, and for the most part, it introduces them simply by giving you a reason to try doing them. For example, at one point there’s a button at the bottom of a narrow pit enclosed by slabs. It’s easy to jump in, but how do you get out? Inevitably, the player tries wall-jumping, if only by accident as a result of flailing around in the game’s first small enclosed space, and discovers that it works. You’ve had the ability to wall-jump all along, but you probably didn’t notice until that moment.

basketbelleAnd now that I put that into words, it reminds me of a moment in another charming little platformer I played some time back and have been meaning to write something about ever since: BasketBelle, a sort of stylized urban-fantasy game about the value of family and the power of basketball. Actually, it’s a little inaccurate to call it a platformer; its mechanics are kind of all-over-the-place, and its last few levels are all about flying forward unstoppably and dodging obstacles. Its best and most memorable parts, however, are basketball-themed platforming, with levels based on the clever conceit of throwing a ball through a hoop to open the door to the next level. Sometimes the level geometry forces you to do this from a considerable distance, and you have to clear the ball’s path of obstacles for it to work.

The father of BasketBelle‘s player character is a retired basketball star. Several times in the story, starting with the opening cutscene, it’s asserted that he had the power of flight. Toward the end, you encounter him, and he reveals that you too can fly, and always could — and then tells you the controls for doing it. Now, when I read those words, my reaction was “Wait, is this true? Did I have this power all along? Could I have used this technique to fly at earlier points in the game?” And so I tried starting the game over, and discovered that it was a lie. Even though I, the player, knew how flight is done, the ability to actually do it was locked until I reached the point in the story where the PC learns that he’s always had this power.

So basically, we have here two games with common element, of discovering that you have an ability that you didn’t know about. But BasketBelle does it entirely at the level of story, while Refunct does it entirely at the level of gameplay. And I have to say, I like it better at the gameplay level. At the story level, the moment is entirely unreal, just part of a story I’m told. At the gameplay level, it’s half-real: wall-jumping is a fictional ability, but in a way, it’s really the case that I had this fictional ability all along.