2022-08-21: Choice Paralysis - Itch.io Bundle for Racial Equality highlights (1?)
Gigantic itch.io charity bundles have become something of a thing the past couple of years, and as far as I can tell the Bundle for Racial Equality got that ball rolling. You can't afford not to get them — literal HUNDREDS of games and TTRPGs and art assets and toys and whatever for the price of like a single large pizza, and all that money's going straight to charity, too. Kinda makes Humble Bundles look like fuckin scams in comparison. They do massively contribute to the continued devaluation of games, I suppose, but that's a hot take for another day. Point is, that's a shitload of games. How are you going to pick out the best ones?
You'll look up "best itchio [topic] bundle games" on your search engine of choice and find hundreds of listicles and Reddit posts and Twitter threads, probably. But all possible combinations of words have already been said, and there's no such thing as original content, so here's my list to add to the pile. A list that should be refreshingly free of roguelites, because I hate roguelites. Except Prey Mooncrash. I love Prey Mooncrash.
I'm not going to insult your gamer cred be spending two paragraphs explaining what Celeste is. Here's an extra terse (scrollable!) list of games that you've probably heard of, but might not know were in the Bundle for Racial Equality.
This is one of those games like Observation and In Other Waters, that I think should have its own genre label at this point. Eye of Ra is technically a point and click, but based around a program-like interface as your main method of interaction. The premise is that you're the loneliest man in the galaxy, just one little guy up on a space station which exists basically just to shoot down stray asteroids. It's slow and contemplative, and uses your character's isolation to very interesting narrative effect. You have access to a regularly updated news feed, which weaves a web of geopolitics and culture and intrigue that you basically never actually experience directly - it's uniquely isolating to have all of this stuff
play out when all you see is the Earth (and other shit in the solar system) slowly, slowly, slowly floating across the screen, with the silence occasionally broken up by a request to blow something up with your big laser.
There are three Space Hole games, two of which (2016, 2018) are in this bundle. Dude weed lmao etc, I know, but these are genuinely some great ball rolling games - abstract, trippy, got great soundtracks, and psychedelic as fuck. 2018 is a huge step up from the first game in terms of polish and visual spectacle, and even though there's some frustration to be found in some of the levels and occasional cases of not knowing where hell to go next, the journey is more important than the destination. Lie back, chill out, maybe consume a weed if legal in your country, and enjoy the vibes. That's what Space Hole is about.
If you asked me what system Destructivator 2 was homage to, I'd probably point to the Amiga, but, full disclosure, I'm such a little baby zoomer that the Amiga was long dead by the time I was born. I have no idea how accurate of a guess that is, but the game channels the punishing, arcadey vibes of that era very well - no deep lore, no fancy 3D graphics, just running, gunning, and ridiculously boppin sample-tracker-like music.
ISLANDS is less a game and more an art piece. There's a series of ten surreal (in a subdued way) scenes which you have to interact with in some way to proceed, with no tutorials or button prompts or text of any kind to guide you. It's not a puzzle box, mind - there's rarely a strictly logical way to proceed, and when it's not self-evident what you're supposed to do, just sorta feeling your way through tends to work out. The appeal here is in the sound design, visuals, and animations, and it does very well on all those fronts. But narratively, is it profound? Is it meaningless? Is it a metaphor cloaked in allegory and symbolism? I dunno.
Anodyne is a game which is somehow simultaneously comfy, calming, unsettling, and uncanny, often all at the same time. At its core it's a fairly conventional 2D Zelda-style adventure game, but the fantastic pixel art, unusual music, and dreamlike world make it a much more than just yet another Zelda clone.
There's a sequel out, by the way. (also on steam)
It's a hybrid 3D platformer/2D adventure, and it's not in any of the itch bundles. Go buy it.
Wide Ocean Big Jacket is a charming little interactive rom com about a young couple taking an even younger couple camping. They arrive, set up camp, have some entirely normal camping experiences, think about some of their young couple emotions, and leave. There are no freak occurences, no serial killers, no mindblowing dramatic reveals, just some heartwarming slice of life adventures. It's a nice palate cleanser, if nothing else.
Sagebrush is a
narrative adventure game about exploring the compound of a long gone suicide cult. While I don't know much about cults and can't vouch for the game's accuracy, the atmosphere is strong and the narrative is really quite unsettling. Not necessarily in a tensed up "am I going to get stabbed by a scary monster" sort of way, but in the sense that you have to reckon with a powerful and frightening aspect of human nature: faith. At least you and I can rest easy knowing we're too reasonable to be suckered into something as obviously deceptive and manipulative as a cult.
I think this one's actually a free web game, but it appears on the bundle page so I'm putting it in. It's one of those games built around a unique control scheme, where the challenge comes less from the level design and more from figuring out how to use the controls in the first place. In this case, you're in a jet that can only go forward and up, and when you're not thrusting forward, you're doing a barrel roll. As far as these games go it's quite easy to adjust to, but the game is extremely short so by the time you start getting comfortable it's already over. Great way to spend a few minutes.
The itch page for Crystal Towers 2 says it's "inspired by the shareware of the 90s", and that's pretty obvious once you start playing the game. While some of the sights and sounds are more "inspired" by Sonic, the game tends to shun imitating the NES or the Genesis in favour of being the sort of platformer that wouldn't feel out of place on DOS alongside Jazz Jackrabbit and Commander Keen. It's not as polished as some big name retro platformers like Shovel Knight, but it's still good fun. That, and I'm all for more PC representation in nostalgiabait. Can't let Nintendo have a monopoly on this shit, you know?
As far as I can tell this is an F-Zero/wipEout style racer where the drivers are characters from the developer's past works, and it's weird. Unlike some games that try to be abstract or allegorical or whatever, this game is just straight up fuckin weird. The characters, the stages, the music, the announcer, nothing really fits quite right, and most races devolve into a claustrophobic clusterfuck where wacky video game physics work together to send you flying forward at the speed of sound out of absolutely nowhere. The game is also very fun! It's tricky to actually stay on the course when you get catapulted ahead, and the discordant nature of it all gives it an bemusing, confusing, amusing sort of feeling that's hard to put into words. I'm not certain that's what the developer intended, but it sure is what I got out of it.
And that's it for now. There's a fuckload more games in these bundles so I'll probably post more small lists like this, both so they're easier to read and so I don't spend ten years on a single page with five hundred games on it.
As a tangent, looking through these games, a lot of them had links to articles from proper big games news outlets like PC Gamer and Rock Paper Shotgun and whatnot, and they're actually pretty cool lists that I've never fuckin seen before. Do they publish them while nobody's looking or something? I've had a couple outlets on my RSS feeds for several years now and half the time it's just bandwagon articles about the newest Fortnite update, or pro gamer tips for some (usually multiplayer) flavour of the month that all the streamers play for a week before going back to gambling or GTA roleplay. I suppose it's nice the little guys are getting any mainstream love at all, but god knows they could at least make it a bit more prominent.