Hey, welcome to another edition of itchy tasty, a roundup of games worth playing on itch.io. My goal is to offer encouragement to other indie devs and also learn some stuff about game design along the way.
You can check out my games on itch at: builtinaday.itch.io
This edition has an accidental theme: games that started as submissions to jams. I didn’t intend to do this, these just happened to be the games I had the most fun playing. I’ve never submitted to a jam, so I’m taking it as a sign to finally participate in one.
Ludum Dare 45? Anybody? Oct 4–7, if I’m not mistaken…
Profile: Robin Field (@robinorwhatever)
(Ludum Dare 44)
I tried this because of how much fun I had playing ‘Little Lands’, another game by Field. This a 2D open-world crime game, like ‘Retro City Rampage’ but with the spooky aesthetics of ‘Deadbolt’ or ‘Grim Fandango’. You are a skull-faced, purple-suited monster with a bounty on your head and you must steal enough money to pay it off. Whether it’s busting open vending machines and ATMs, shooting rich guys (look for the monocle and tophat), or just a classic bank robbery, there’s plenty of ways to find cash.
The visual style is fantastic: great palette choice, rich atmosphere, a gameworld that feels lively and a retro-look that isn’t stale or overly familiar. I played the jam version and the post-jam version, and the visuals seem the same in both. Designing a look this complete in 72 hours is remarkable. The differences between the two versions are more related to the gameplay and map layout.
The only things that feel missing are some sort of running ability to make getting around town easier and a dodge roll to make combat more fluid. Including stuff like that in a jam submission is a tall order. I only bring it up because on the storepage Field mentions maybe doing an expanded version. It is wicked hard in it current form: my best run was a little over $7,000 and I died on my way to heal at the hospital. The challenge is part of the charm, but slight tweaks to the traversal/combat systems would take the game to new heights.
It also contains my favorite glitch I’ve found in awhile. If you walk along the top street on the map you’ll see a gate that leads into an alley, the one with a trashcan next to a highrise. If you stand near the trashcan and walk to the right, you start walking on the face of the building. From there you can walk around the periphery of the map and cause all sorts of chaos. It was an awesome moment, one of those strange discoveries you make goofing around with a new game.
Check out the rest of Field’s profile. The games have consistently lovely visuals and clever concepts.
Profile: mystman12 (Micah McGonigal — @mystman12)
Game: Baldi’s Basics in Education and Learning
(Meta Game Jam 2018)
This is great stuff, the kind of thing I hope to find on itch.
It’s a horror/comedy parody of 1990s edu-tainment games, featuring an increasingly sinister host: Baldi (THAT’S ME!). Incorrect answers bring out Baldi’s dark side, and the school becomes more of a haunted house as Baldi hunts you down.
It was genuinely unnerving playing this with the lights off. Despite its comedic overtones there is a truly frantic feeling that takes over once the chase begins. I understand it’s meant as a more comedic/satirical experience, but try playing this in the dark, in the middle of the night with your back to an empty doorway.
And if that makes me sound soft, guess what: I already know that I’m softer than Twinkie filling, so admitting this isn’t a big deal.
I’m a fan of subversive humor, like seasons 1–7 of ‘the Simpsons’ or ‘Dr. Strangelove’, so the style and sensibilities on display here were immediately appealing. And it’s not steeped in winking, self-referential humor and there’s nothing mean-spirited about it either.
Guess it’s time for me to make a mod called “Baldi’s Basics in Homeschooling”. But I can’t make it too realistic, otherwise it would be a game me about sleeping until noon every day. Seriously, my childhood was like when Cartman was homeschooled on ‘South Park’.
It looks like there’s a ‘complete version’ on the way, but this is worth playing as is. Think of how hard it is for a game to get a laugh or to unnerve/disturb you. This game can do both, when most can’t do either.
Profile: barret232hxc (Barret Vasilchik @RagTagBarret)
Game: Space Is Limited
I stumbled on the Game Maker’s Toolkit channel last year. I guess Youtube finally realized that if I’ve watched (and rewatched) every Super Bunnyhop and Raycevick video then maybe I’d like a different channel that does thoughtful content on gameplay and game design. Besides the superb videos, the channel’s been hosting an annual jam since 2017. This year’s jam nearly broke itch, but it seems like everything worked out.
This year’s theme was ‘only one’ and this game has a fun take on it. It’s a puzzle/platformer but when you move the space behind you fills in, so a space can be occupied only once. You collect orbs to unlock the exit, but the right order and the correct path aren’t immediately clear. The filled in spaces can also be useful (like stacking them to reach higher platforms) but mostly block your path.
The only thing you might find frustrating is that the exit isn’t indicated while you collect the orbs, only after you’ve collected them. I’m chalking this up to working on a deadline, since it doesn’t add to the challenge in a fair way. The concept and puzzle design are clever, but this design element detracts from them instead of enhancing them. Maybe have the exit be transparent when the level starts and then fills in when you collect the orbs?
Otherwise it’s a good time. Minor design issues like that are easily forgivable in a jam submission, especially one this charming and fun to play. The levels are laid out in the menu, so if your stuck you can still try them all.
Even if you’ve grown tired of the puzzle/platformer genre, there are still cool ideas. Sure, there’s a bunch of smartasses on the internet who will tell you this genre is ‘played out’, but they’re a bitter lot. Meanwhile you’re sitting back with a pair of shades on, downloading the choicest indie games and wondering just what the hell everyone is complaining about.
You know what they’re not complaining about? THIS GAME (which makes sense because it’s good) or MY NEW HAIRCUT (which makes no sense because it really sucks).
Profile: P1X (collective founded by Krysztof Jankowski — @w84death)
Game: Tanks of Freedom
(Global Game Jam 2015)
Earlier this year I spent a few weeks learning the basics of Godot, because I’d like some variety after years of only using Unity. While looking for examples of games made with Godot I found this project, an open source, turn-based strategy game. I also really liked ‘Into the Breach’ (another strategy game with pixel art), so I took a chance on ‘Tanks of Freedom’.
If you’re a vet of games like ‘XCOM’ or turn-based strategy in general then this might look overly simple at first. Well, I’m currently stuck on mission nine and it feels like I’ll need a miracle to get farther. Of course, I felt the same way about mission six and eventually got through it. So, a lack of difficulty is not an issue.
Each mission gives you a building to secure. You have a mix of infantry, tanks or helicopters to start out and get an amount of ‘action points’ each turn. You can activate other buildings (to generate more units) and resource depots (for more action points) along the way.
While it sounds simple, it’s actually quite tough. Even after a dozen attempts and knowing the map layout exactly, I can still get smoked by the other team. Most strategy fans I know desire a certain degree of challenge, as long as it isn’t too unfair. The challenge is steep, not unfair.
The visuals are nicely done, a very ‘offbeat’ look. Most indie games wear their inspirations on their sleeve, but I’m not sure what I’d compare this style to. More like ‘Tanks of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’, because there’s ‘no father to its style’.
I considered cutting that last line, but if someone wants to complain about a Wu-Tang reference then I’d rather not have them as a reader. But then again, reader complaints ain’t nothin’ to fuck with…
I know I’m just recycling the modding joke but oh well:
I’d like to make a mod for this game featuring the Marx Brothers. Instead of “Tanks of Freedom” I’d call it “Tanks, You’re Welcome”.
(*Throws self out of a window*)
Thanks for reading everyone, now go play some good games…