I’ve been asked quite a lot of times if I could provide some sort of curated guide to the utterly extraordinary Itch.io Black Lives Matter bundle. The thing is, I too am a human being just like you, and as such am equally daunted by the mad joy of what is presently 1,427 games and tools for $5. But by a combination of installing anything that catches my eye, and from what I’ve already played, below are a few games that are definitely worth checking out in amongst the vastness. I’m not going to spend time on the abundantly obvious, but rather just list them all at the bottom. You already know Nuclear Throne is a must-have, so I’ll try to pick out stuff that’s less well known. There are clearly hundreds upon hundreds of games worth looking at here, and I will do a disservice to the vast majority of them by not including them. It’s an impossible task.
It’s also worth noting that right now the 1500-ish games are a lot to manage, and Itch knows it. Their desktop app, while suitable for its regular job, really isn’t up to the sudden arrival of this many games. They are currently working on fixing that.
Before that, though, go give this money. This is raising cash to support BAME Americans affected by the grotesquely racist police brutality that is institutional in the US. It will fund legal defences and bail payments for black and brown Americans caught up in this endless horror, and at the same time get you almost 1,500 games for the price of a beer. They’ve raised an astounding $3.7m so far, and there’s still nearly a week to go.
I think it’s also worth talking about Itch.io too. In a PC market throttled by the monopoly of Steam, and only vaguely threatened by the desire for a monopoly by Epic, Itch is an oasis for games developers. Where Steam takes a colossal 30% of a game’s selling price, Itch lets developers set it to what they want it to be, even if that’s 0%. The result is that Itch has become a home to the most imaginative and eccentric of independent gaming, a space that’s open and friendly and inclusive like PC gaming so often isn’t. It’s a storefront where you’re more likely to see a queer interpretation of match-3 in an story-based setting than a first-person shooter. That this bundle is bringing Itch.io to more eyes is a wonderful thing. Right, that all said, let’s get on with it.
This is a beautifully delivered story, the tale of a young aunt and uncle taking their teenage niece and her friend camping for a night. It’s about the minutiae of that, the relationships between them all, the conflicts of personalities, and most importantly, not about some gruesome reveal or sudden dark twist. It’s just about some people, on a trip. And what a pleasure that is, especially when it’s so well written.
Honestly, describing this fantastic puzzle game is harder than playing this fantastic puzzle game, so just trust me: this is amazing. Or if you want more, here’s my original review.
This seemed apposite given the circumstances. Ostensibly set in a quasi-Eastern bloc city, with its focus on the overthrowing of capitalism with a communist uprising, it really transplants neatly I reckon. It’s a game about rioting through the streets, defeating the heavily armed police forces, and liberating workers along the way. It gets increasingly silly and sci-fi as it goes along, but it’s a neat little brawler that feels pleasingly anti-establishment.
Sagebrush is about returning to an abandoned cult compound, to explore the past and the tragedy that occurred there. But crucially, it’s the most extraordinarily sensitive game, that deeply understands its subject matter and doesn’t seek to exploit it or sensationalise it in any way. Instead it calmly gives you glimpses of its tale, and conveys a depth of sadness that really moved me. This is clever and special.
OneShot might have been the best game of 2016. And yet I’ve barely ever heard anyone mention it. Dismissed perhaps because it looks like yet another RPGmaker game, what with being an RPGmaker game, it is in fact one of the most original and breathtakingly clever games I’ve ever played. This is a game that not only stretches its primitive engine beyond all imaginings, but did stuff with my PC itself that I didn’t know was possible. It’s a wonderful RPG about a cat-like girl trying to return the light to the world, and yet it’s about so much else. Mind-boggling, frame-breaking (its and yours), and unique, I implore everyone to play this.
I completely missed this one in 2016. I’m so glad I’ve discovered it now. It’s an absolutely sublime game, set in a single location, as your car precariously balances on the very edge of a cliff. It’s all about the dialogue choices you make, in many ways feeling like a brilliant experiment with Ink. But rather than just relying on the great, funny and poignant writing as you muse your circumstances, it’s graphically joyful too. As you play, the sun gradually sets, while fauna enter and exit the scene. It’s a single frame, but it’s alive, and it’s extremely compelling. And lasts for far longer than you’re expecting, with multiple directions for your thoughts to follow, leading to multiple endings, based on the dialogue choices you make.
The most recent full-length game from the extraordinary talent of Rusty Lake, this is a mystifying and creepy puzzle game that gradually invokes more and more of the Rusty Lake lore. Spooky and weird, yet without really being able to identify why, its dream-like nature is the best the series has ever been.
Gutwhale only came out last month, so it’s incredibly generous to see it given away here. This is a tough-as-nails rogue-lite action platformer, but unlike so many, it’s short! Not that I can get anywhere near finishing it, but I’ve had a bloody lovely time trying. This should have been an enormous hit.
This is a very smart puzzle-platformer, all about bending the platforms of the world to meet your needs. With a great and original gimmick, it doesn’t rest on that laurel, but rather cleverly expands your understanding of the potential as it introduces new puzzles with extremely deft hands.
This short adventure, made as a love letter from Alasdair Beckett-King to his girlfriend, is utterly hilarious and always worth replaying. There’s a free version of this out there, but this is last year’s HD remake, now sold to raise money for the RSPB. It’s having a week off that charity to offer money to another. I adore this.
Octavi Navarro is one of the best pixel adventure creators in the business (probably best known for his art on Thimbleweed Park), and The Supper is a great example of his brilliance at short storytelling. It’s a superbly malevolent game, and well worth your brief time.
I’m definitely going to be writing a full review of this one soon. A lovely little wordy puzzle game, in which you must fill all the blocks of a grid by spelling words from the letters along the top and side. Any blocks covered by the intersections of those letters are filled, but cannot overlap with previous words. It leaves so much room for your personal approach, whether that be lots of little three letter words, or trying to occupy huge sections with your best sesquipedalian efforts. Or indeed both. The larger the grid, the more intriguing the task, with plenty of them to be getting on with.
This is my absolute game of the year so far, a brilliant and deeply insightful game about leaving home. Using deckbuilding mechanics, it explores the nature of conversation, how we’re affected by the vocabularies we experience, and how that distances us from our routes. It’s also a lot of fun to play, as you join a caravan to visit nearby desert towns, to procure goods to sell in your curiosity shop. It’s moving and clever and funny and unlike anything else you’ve played, and was released barely a month ago – it’s utterly incredible that it’s included in this bundle, God bless them.
This rogue-lite FPS from one-man dev team Terri Vellman dates back to 2014, but plays like fresh hell. Which is a good thing. I assure you. It’s a super-simple game, yet brutally hard to be good at. The learning curve is a complete pleasure, the movement lightning fast, and the use of sound spectacular. Everything in this game has a unique noise, from dropped coins to impending enemies, meaning you play with your ears as much as your eyes.
I’ve completely lost perspective on whether Hidden Folks is still a well loved secret, or a success that should be in the Abundantly Obvious list below. But who cares, because I love encouraging people to play it. This is Where’s Wally/Waldo/Whomever to the power of 100, sprawling screens of intricate detail, packed with tiny people, animals and items to spot. Some are hidden behind interactive objects, others are stood right there, literally waving. It’s fun, and funny, and none of the imitators that have followed have come close.
Patrick Smith (Vectorpark) has added his wonderful Windosill and Metamorphabet to the bundle. The latter game hugely encouraged my son to learn the alphabet long before he started school, and was always a pleasure to play with him. But I’ve picked the teeny tiny Sandcastles to feature here, simply because I think it’s the only Vectorpark project I’ve never played with before. I didn’t even realise it was his before I checked it out. This is just about pulling up magically forming sandcastles from the sand, before the waves wash in to knock them all down. It’s a tiny little distraction, but shows off all of Smith’s design brilliance as the randomly formed castles take shape. Add the sound of the beach, faint cries of seabirds, and the washing tide, and it’s essentially therapy.
If this were about buying Trawl at full price, I’d be really hesitant to recommend it. As something you just got in the megabundle, it’s a really nice curio to take a look at. This is about being on a small trawler boat, letting down your net, and then – like all fishermen – steering the ship’s wheel until the radio picks up a super-creepy musical station. Wait for the bell to ring, bring in the net, and see what odd object you’ve found. After three objects your radio blows up, and you can head below to type up your discoveries on the typewriter there. Yes, it’s most odd, but every detail is so nicely realised, especially the typewriter. And on four plays, I never found the same object twice. It seems such a missed opportunity that the typed letters, put in bottles and thrown in the sea, can’t then be fished out by other players. Instead they appear as notepad files on your computer. Still though, I love how much work has gone into such a neat little idea.
I’ve been meaning to play Luna ever since I played Luna. I’m so glad this bundle finally prompted me to. This contains some of the most beautiful animation I’ve ever seen in a game. I’m not convinced that its fairytale actually makes any coherent sense, and despite playing through it I’m still not entirely sure how its interaction is meant to work. But it matters none when it’s this damned pretty.
The Abundantly Obvious
You already know you should play all these games, but there’s a good chance you haven’t yet, and need the reminder. They’re all in this ludicrously good bundle.
- Nuclear Throne
- Quadrilateral Cowboy
- Super Hexagon
- A Normal Lost Phone
- Starseed Pilgrim
- Octodad: Dadliest Catch
- Night In The Woods
- A Short Hike
- Loot Rascals
I will keep adding to this list as I play new things that have caught my eye. But hopefully this is something for you to be getting on with.