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.

The Fool and his Money

tfahmI suppose my experiences with Games Interactive and its sequel left me craving an actually good puzzle game along the same general lines. I reinstalled The Fool and His Money over the weekend, and since then it has absorbed enough of my free time that I haven’t gotten around to posting about it. I’m in that mode where I wake up in the morning and say “Let’s try to make just a little more progress in this game before going to work”. That hasn’t happened in a while.

Before I get into the details of the game, it’s worth recounting its history. In 2003, Cliff Johnson, author of the classic Tarot-themed puzzle game The Fool’s Errand, announced that he was working on a sequel, and accepting preorders. This was years before Kickstarter; it was crowd-funded the hard way. The game was repeatedly delayed over the following years, prompting jokes about the appropriateness of the title, but finally saw release in 2012, nine years after announcement. For comparison’s sake: Duke Nukem Forever was released 13 years after it was announced. It did, however, beat TFaHM to market.

I was among the preorderers, and played the game for a while after its release, but 2012 was this blog’s first major slowdown, coinciding with a major project at work. So I didn’t get around to posting about TFaHM at the time, and neither did I get around to finishing it. I’m hoping to correct both of those things now.

My first obstacle to starting the game was that the hard drive I had installed it on was kaput. I don’t have it on physical media, and it’s not on Steam. This is a game that was distributed via the author’s personal web site. Fortunately, that web site is still operational, and I still have the email containing my personal key file and password for it. It seems strange to have to manually apply DRM for a specific game today, when most games are either on a platform that handles it unobtrusively, or simply released DRM-free, as developers decide that it doesn’t help their sales enough to be worthwhile. Heck, just a few days ago, Blendo Games released the source code for Quadrilateral Cowboy, a game that had only been released two weeks previously. And why not? It’s a quirky indie game from a developer with a cult following; it probably saw most of the sales it’s ever going to have in the first two days, let alone two weeks.

It may sound like I’ve just gone off on a tangent, but it’s very easy to read the story of TFahM as being some kind of metaphor for intellectual property law. First of all, the treasures that the Fool accumulated over the course of his Errand are stolen by pirates. Then he finds that the people of the Four Kingdoms have unaccountably fallen into a sort of mania for Wordage, a system wherein people own specific words and can charge money for their use — although the one time the Fool uses a word in the presence of its licensor, he doesn’t pay anything because it’s considered too much effort to figure out how much he owes. The Fool has the unique ability to pull unowned words out of the air by solving puzzles, prompting a flurry of bidding from whoever’s around. But any gold that the Fool obtains this way is somehow magically siphoned away by the pirates. But I haven’t gotten all the way through the story yet, so I don’t know how well this holds up in the long run.