Last month’s Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality was a massive hit with gamers, raising over eight million dollars for the NAACP and Community Bail Fund. The key to its success was the sheer size of its offering for a $5 minimum donation: 1,741 products from 1,391 different creators. It’s a motley collection of video games, development tools, tabletop RPGs, comics and zines. There are some well-known titles in there like Night in the Woods and Octodad, but sorting through the rest of the pile is an absolutely massive undertaking and we wouldn’t blame you for feeling intimidated. So several Engadget editors have stepped forward to highlight some old favorites and new discoveries from the collection.
Editor’s note: If a download link is not available on the game page when you click through, you need to access “My Library” from the menu options in the upper right hand corner, followed by “My Purchases” and “Bundles.” You can then search through the list of games to download individual titles. Anything you click “Download” for will be automatically added to your library even if you don’t actually download it right away.
A Short Hike
There I was one night, tired and anxious, trying to find something to take my mind off of the mountain of work in front of me, a seemingly impossible cross-country move, and the hellscape of pandemic life as we fight for racial justice. I needed a game, stat. I decided to pick the first thing that caught my interest in the Itch.io bundle, and stumbled across A Short Hike. It was exactly what I needed. I meant to check it out for 15 minutes, and ended up playing for nearly an hour.
It’s a no-stakes, gorgeous pixelated spin on the Zelda formula, where you make your way to the top of a trail while encountering a host of fun characters. You play as a bird slowly upgrading their gliding, climbing and running abilities, all managed by a Breath of the Wild-like stamina meter. There aren’t any enemies to vanquish, just a pleasant world to explore, money to search for and golden feathers to find (which increase your stamina meter). And best of all, it controls like a dream. It brought back all of my childhood platforming nostalgia, where finding my way to a hidden power-up felt like a life-changing discovery.
I’ve never been motivated by achievements in games, aside from those that add to the story. Don’t Move, a game devoid of narrative with gameplay that exists purely for achievements, ended up delighting me enough to complete several playthroughs in two days. There are only three options at any moment: right, left, or standing still. When I first moved, I died. The game began tracking my attempts and offered an objective. As I met goals, more stats were unlocked, tracked, and given goals.
I usually enjoy grinding through a game, and Don’t Move has some of the purest grinding I’ve ever encountered. All I could do was keep moving (or not moving) until I maxed every visible stat. Then I tried combinations of the moves to unlock trophies, without even knowing how it worked. A QR code near the end pulled me away from my computer screen for a moment, driving home the absurdity of the whole thing.
Although clearly designed to highlight the downsides of chasing achievements, it was fun to explore. And, while there were no story-oriented rewards, it did include the only worthy consolation prize: costumes. Well, palette swaps. For an 8-bit ninja.
Itch.io’s recent racial justice bundle included a lot of compelling games, but you’ll find few as joyous asThe Floor is Jelly. The game turns a simple idea into an exuberant experience. What if the floor were made of wibbly, wobbly gelatin? The answer, it turns out, is awesome.
You’ll start and finish the game jumping, but The Floor is Jelly builds on that simple action in creative and unexpected ways. It’s all thanks to those jello floors -- and, in some cases, walls and ceilings too. At first, the jelly acts like a trampoline, allowing your character to jump higher than they can on their own, but soon enough you’ll use it to maintain momentum, slip underneath dangerous obstacles and more. With Nintendo-like precision, The Floor is Jelly consistently expands on its mechanics just as you feel like you’re mastering them.
If you typically avoid platformers, don’t worry; you don’t need Celeste or Super Meat Boy levels of control to make your way through The Floor is Jelly. The game is also wonderfully complemented by a simple but beautiful art style and a serene soundtrack co-penned by Fez and Hyper Light Driftercomposer Disasterpeace.
The Floor is Jelly was criminally overlooked when it came out in 2014, but if you feel like you need a moment of peace and joy in an uncertain world, look no further.
Far From Noise is about reflection. The game opens with an unnamed protagonist stuck in a delightfully vintage car (a Citroën 2CV, perhaps?) teetering on the edge of a cliff. If you've watched The Italian Job, this setup should be incredibly familiar. Unlike the 1969 classic, though, you're not trapped with a bunch of other likeable swindlers. It's just you and a glorious oceanside view, painted in a surreal and stylish mixture of purple, red and blue. Understandably, the character panics. That fear is replaced with shock and awe, though, when a majestic deer approaches the car and somehow starts to talk.
The pair have a strangely-wonderful conversation about nature, death and loneliness. The subject matter is bleak, but the characters express enough sarcasm and humorous anecdotes to keep the atmosphere breezy. The game is effectively a visual novel, with occasional dialogue options that you select with a cursor or arrow keys. You can change small details -- the name of the character's car and what they were studying at university, for instance -- but not the final outcome, which is purposefully ambiguous. Despite the lack of closure, it's a memorable hour or two that can be appreciated by anyone who is struggling to find happiness or purpose in life.
A New Life is a recent visual novel from Angela He, the creator behind Missed Messages and Wholesome Cats (which is uh, exactly what it sounds like). So I went in expecting lots of dreamy, pastel-washed images, clean character designs and an emotional, possibly whimsical story.
And there’s that, but there’s also a lot of tragedy in A New Life. It’s a game about two women who have their little meet-cute moment, and then making the choices that will extend that encounter into a whole life together. But living isn’t easy, especially during a pandemic (yes, the game has its own highly contagious virus for your couple to worry about). And the happy ending may not be what you expect: It’s touching and sweet, but sadly, more in a “opening sequence of Up” way.
These days it’s like airports only exist in my memory, but playing An Airport Game quickly reminded me how stressful they can be. This short RPG challenges you to make it from the entrance to boarding within one game hour, with the clock only advancing during key interactions. My first attempt, I chose the quickest or safest options and “won,” but my character arrived at the gate hurried, hungry, and could only board by yelling at an overworked employee. The end screen let me know the game disapproved, and I needed to be nicer.
So I slowed down and fully explored the encounters in the airport, attempting to be kinder. It took a while for me to really let go of my expectations of airport behavior and finally achieve peak “niceness.” It’s an experience filled with recognizable background characters, RPG tropes and heart-warming flight delays alongside airport standards like security lines, moving walkways and the mighty Toblerone. The only disappointment was how quickly I explored every detail, but watching someone else play through the next day was almost as much fun. In both the game and real life, the airport experience is better when it’s shared.
Working retail is one of those experiences you either love or hate. In Night of the Consumers, your position as a stock boy definitely falls closer to the latter. It’s your first day on the job, and your mission is simple enough. Grab the boxes of goods strewn about the store and put them on the shelves. It would be simple, if not for the angry customers at every corner, waiting for you to finish stacking a shelf to ask you annoying questions. Alas, this is your state of being.
You have three options: lead them to the product they’re looking for, run like the wind, or wait it out and get fired. If you can figure out the layout of the store quickly enough, you may get your job done. But the controls are the biggest stumbling block of the game: I was unable to map the buttons properly to my gamepad, so instead I switched to my laptop’s trackpad and buttons, which was frustrating. Also, the title’s first-person perspective and frantic pace means that anyone who is susceptible to dizziness (like me) can only play the game in small doses.
Even with these stumbling blocks, it’s the aesthetic of Night at the Consumers that works best. The customers really do come off as bloodthirsty zombies, and I can imagine that life is like this for anybody working a double shift at Walmart on three hours sleep.
There’s a very minimal level of interaction in Wide Ocean, Big Jacket. It’s the story of a childless couple who goes on a camping trip with their precocious teenage niece and her boyfriend. You put up a tent. You walk through the woods. You sit around the campfire and tell scary stories. It’s what some would derisively call a “walking simulator.” (Though there is a part where you get to do cartwheels on the beach, and I also enjoyed the birdwatching sequence.)
But it’s entirely worth it for the writing, which is parts funny, or poignant or just plain weird (rats in the sink). Camping trips are one of those situations where people tend to open up to each other, so the moments where the niece is asking about sex, or the couple argues about having kids, have so much weight and authenticity behind them. Those types of discussions don’t lend themselves to easy answers, and the game is smart enough to not try to cheapen them by having everything tie up in a neat bow at the end.
In these weird and stressful times, we all need some peaceful relaxation in our lives. Games like Milkmaid of the Milky Wayprovide that in spades. You play as a milkmaid named Ruth, living on a farm with her trusty cows. After a short quest to make butter and cream to sell, Ruth and the cows are unexpectedly whisked away by aliens looking to use them to save their own milk beasts from going extinct. But at what cost to both Ruth and her trusty cows? Insert dramatic music here.
What Milkmaid of the Milky Way captures better than most is the feel of an old school LucasArts point-and-click game. Everything you need to advance in the adventure is presented to you piece by piece; if you find an object, it’s guaranteed to be useful eventually (or you can use a walkthrough if you have no idea where to put the thing into the other thing). The game is gorgeous, utilizing pixel art to create painterly landscapes and settings, as well as unique designs for the aliens and their technology. Dialog is presented in rhyming verse, giving the presentation a storybook quality that never manages to get old. It also helps that it’ll only take you about ninety minutes to finish the complete story.
Playing through Milkmaid of the Milky Way in its entirety makes me want to download some older point-and-clicks ASAP and continue to feel relaxed. A good story and a unique visual style really is all it takes to satisfy. Hopefully these ones will also have cows. And cheese. Cheese is good too.
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