This is a commissioned post by Leaf. You can find her at @LeafDoggy on Twitter.
In case you weren’t aware, itch.io’s Indie Bundle for Palestine Aid just finished up. Long story short, at a minimum payment of $5, people supported Palestine through the UNRWA and gained access to over 1000 games, TTRPGs, zines, and whatever else included in the bundle. It was a fantastic deal, with games like Anodyne, Minit, Nuclear Throne, VVVVVV, Mini Metro, Crossniq+, and Pikuniku offered. Those games alone are worth far more than just $5.
They aren’t alone, though. The bundle has nearly 700 indie games, and while they can certainly be hit-or-miss, there are plenty of hidden gems tucked away. If you have the time, I recommend taking a trip through the selection and trying just about anything that catches your eye. Worst case, you spend a bit of time with a bad game, but you could just find something else that surprises you.
That said, not everyone has the time to pick through the games, and many people would have no idea where to start. I certainly don’t have the time to play all the games. But I’ve played a lot of them, and I have a fair number of recommendations on where to start.
Oh Jeez, Oh No, My Rabbits Are Gone
This game is just lovely. Rabbits is a puzzle platformer with hints of metroidvania elements. This game has you running around a beautiful environment and saving precious bunnies in a series of medium-sized, nonlinear levels. It has cute pixel art, cute bunnies, cute girls, and cute monsters. What’s not to like?
The gameplay itself operates as sort of a mix between Lemmings, Another World, and A Boy and His Blob, taking some of the best elements from each and fitting them together fantastically. The platforming might feel stilted to those who aren’t used to the old, Prince of Persia-esque strategic jumping, but it really didn’t bother me at all.
As an added bonus, you start the game with a range of color palettes (which change the player character’s palette) based on pride flags.
10 Beautiful Postcards
Are thecatamites games hidden gems? Or are they popular? I honestly don’t know. I love them, though.
The bundle actually has three of their games: Postcards, Magic Wand, and Mouse Corp. I’m talking about Postcards because it’s the one I’ve played.
10 Beautiful Postcards is a weird, esoteric exploration game probably best compared to something like Yume Nikki. It’s a series of interconnected areas, some 2D, some 3D, and you have a ‘goal,’ but really it’s just about exploring, seeing the world and, in this case, reading the fantastic writing. The world is expertly sculpted and filled with characters that make it feel alive.
It’s a bit of a hard game to explain, but it’s fun, it’s funny, and it is undoubtedly unique.
(Editor’s note: If you want to see it explained, though…)
This game is short and fairly self-explanatory. In Depanneur Nocturne, you’re in a store, and the lady who owns the store will tell you about things you bring to her. That’s pretty much it.
The thing is, it’s executed really well. Beautiful art, intriguing writing, mysteries, tiny details. You can pet a cat. It’s just good, and well worth the hour or so it takes to play.
HOO. What a rush. FutureGrind is fast, it’s hard, it’s bright and sharp and intricate and fun. It’s a score-based sports game akin to OlliOlli or Trials, but instead of a normal sport, you’re riding a neon gyrobike going ludicrous speeds that explodes if you make a mistake. It’s a dexterity test that’ll push you to your limits and make you want to push further, flipping and spinning and doing completely unnecessary tricks just because it feels so good.
Where FutureGrind is hard, Silver Grapple is unrelenting. A simple concept—platforming with a grappling hook—is taken to the extreme, I don’t hesitate at all to call Silver Grapple a masocore game. There’s high speed, high precision, and zero margin for error. Honestly, it’s just what I want from a masocore game.
Grapple Force Rena
Swinging to the other side of the spectrum, we have Grapple Force Rena. This is a grappling hook platformer which is not too precision focused. Floaty, slower, with less harsh physics, this is a much more casual type of platformer. It’s still hard—annoyingly so at times—but it’s a different kind of difficulty.
The influence of Sonic runs deep in the blood of Grapple Force Rena. It’s impossible to ignore, from the level design to the bosses to the very structure of the game. Because of this, it’s not for everybody. This game hit just about every note that keeps me away from Sonic games, and at times I struggled through it, but it was plain to me to see that if you like Sonic games, you’ll like this one.
Robot Wants It All
Truly the biggest surprise of the bundle so far. Robot Wants It All is a compilation of all the old “Robot Wants” flash games from the early 2010s, and I went into it expecting a couple hours of fun nostalgia.
What I got was a testament to what compilations like this could be. They put in the original games, but they also provided easier and harder variants of all the games. They also added unlockable cheats, game modifiers, different robots to play as with special abilities, as well as an entire new Robot Wants game. It’s honestly still difficult to believe this much work, this much love, went into what could’ve been a simple compilation of five games.
It’s far from perfect and the games show their age. But it’s so much more than it could’ve been, and it is ultimately a good collection.
This game’s got a ghost named Fortnite Johnson.
I have to be in a certain mood to play visual novels, so despite the seemingly endless number of them in the bundle, this is the only one on the list. That’s my fault. Don’t pass up the other VNs because of it.
But Spirit Cleaning is good.
I’m not sure if it’s capital-G Good. The cleaning segments are barebones, and it’s very short. It feels like the game jam game that it is. But I still think it’s good. The writing is solid, and funny, and surprisingly interconnected for the premise.
So, give it a shot. If not for me, then for Fortnite.
Weirdly fun. Halloween Forever is a lot like Ghouls n’ Ghosts or an old Castlevania, although it’s a fair bit easier than them. You start with one character and can unlock more with different playstyles in hidden places around the game. It is, like a lot of games on the list, simple, short, and unexceptional.
Unlike those other games, I didn’t come out of Halloween Forever feeling like it was a masterful execution of what it was. It was just kind of regular. Despite that, I probably played through the game at least ten times. The unlockable characters were the main driving force of that, sure, but I wouldn’t play just anything that much for some unlocks. Yet, I did for this.
Maybe there was something shining deep within that I just didn’t recognize, but I don’t think so. I think Halloween Forever is a good reminder that games don’t need to be something special to be good, or fun, or just worthwhile.
Sometimes a game is just regular. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth playing.
Hacknet is wild. You play the game through a command prompt as a sort of hacking simulator, infiltrating other computers and protecting your own. As you do, you uncover more and more of a genuinely interesting, engaging story.
I’m no coder, or computer whiz, but Hacknet made me feel like I could be. As I played through the game, I got more and more competent with the systems. I got faster, and I stopped having to reference guides to remember commands. I knew the knowledge wouldn’t transfer over to real systems, but that didn’t matter. The game was a system, and I was learning it. It was simplified, but if it hadn’t been, I probably would have been put off. The game seemed to know just how intricate it should be to feel accurate while still being fun.
The bundle has a huge number of puzzle games, and if I tried to give them all multiple paragraphs we’d be here all day. On top of that, I have a tendency to judge puzzle games pretty harshly and I wouldn’t be able to resist comparing them to the top of the top like Baba is You or Filament or Stephen’s Sausage Roll, which would be doing them a disservice. Not every puzzle game can offer a finely tuned thirty hour experience. Puzzles are still fun either way.
These are the ones that stuck out to me.
- A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build is a sokobon-esque game about building snowmen. It’s tightly polished, but sadly short.
- Sokobond is a difficult sokobon game about connecting atoms.
- Spring Falls is an interesting game where you strategically lower ground so that water can flow and create fields of grass.
- A Snake’s Tale is a game about maneuvering snakes. It’s a bit like those physical puzzles where you need to slide blocks around to free a car from a grid.
Finally, there’s some games that I enjoyed enough to recommend, but that I just don’t have much of anything to say about. Here’s those.
- Super Win The Game is a simple, basic metroidvania.
- Spooky Ghosts Dot Com is a fun romp through a haunted mansion. (And also a simple, basic metroidvania.)
- They Bleed Pixels is a masocore horror action platformer. A girl with claws, tight jumps, and lots of blood.
- Cats Are Liquid (A Light in the Shadows/A Better Place) is a pair of platformers with a charming story.
- Widget Satchel is a fairly casual, cute platformer that can be a bit wonky at times.
- The Last Librarian is a game I haven’t played much of, but which intrigues me. It takes clear inspiration from A Link To The Past, and my gut tells me it’s better than it looks.
- Backspace Bouken is a typing dungeon crawler. You steal the words off of signs you find littered about, and use them as weapons against the monsters that swarm the place. Clever and fun.
- The Quiet Sleep is a management/tower defense game which is better than its UI would have you believe. It reminded me a bit of Cultist Simulator.
That’s all I’ve got, at least until I work my way through more games. If you want a single, specific recommendation to start with, that goes to Minit, but I think the odds are you’ve probably already played it. If you’ve exhausted all of these, and are staring at the wall of other games, struggling to pick one out, here’s my advice:
Lower your standards. Give yourself a chance to be surprised. It’s worth it.