Don’t be fooled by the number of headings; there’s a whole lot of games covered here.
A visual novel with an arresting style, this “pixel pulp” is told through the ZX Spectrum’s color palette and interspersed with choices to make, death screens to find, and short puzzles (including a wicked game of solitaire) that make it easy to barrel through in one sitting. In a story packed with strange concepts, you rotate through characters who try to survive a gas station onslaught of bipedal cryptids. Mothmen 1966 is a propulsive paid debut for this development team’s aesthetic, though the free Shark Riders from last year is also worth a look, too.
CosmOS 9 Bundle
If there’s one thing to love on this decaying ball of misery we call “Earth,” it’s bundles. And the CosmOS 9 Bundle not only leverages the inherent appeal of roping a bunch of short puzzle games together, but it takes as its concept something understandably removed from our horrible little planet: these are games as though they were cartridges discovered for an interstellar video game console. Of these, the most impressive spin on that idea is IFO, which finds you operating spaceship controls that are only labeled in alien symbols. There is no Tunic-esque manual in the glove compartment, but you find yourself experimenting in similar fashion, clicking on buttons and knobs like a kid who’s a little too young to pay attention to the tutorial.
Others do have more recognizable rules, like the delightful block-pusher Space Ducks: The Great Escape. You control a spacefaring duck tribe who must power up their rocket, with their movements on each precarious planet shifting the terrain to potentially bloody consequences. As long as one duck makes it, though, everything’s fine; whoever reaches the ship takes off immediately, regardless of whether any other ducks are left alive.
Other games take the theme a little more loosely, like the weird turn-based plant-waterer TENDY: Robot Gardener. The rickety automaton will follow your programmed orders, but it also scrambles some of your commands at random so you have to puzzle out a foolproof plan to complete goals that might include destroying dust bunnies, planting seeds, and blasting little clumps of poo around the map for fertilizer.
The standout, though, is Linelith, a line-drawing game from the developer of Patrick’s Parabox that features one of those puzzle twists that’s so good that I refuse to spoil it. Linelith, along with the others, is buyable on its own, but with a hefty discount for getting the whole bundle, why not try them all?
Free in browser (Itch) | bodro, gw3rtyuu, Francis Renaud
Like the manifestation of a particularly ambitious shitpost, the developer of last year’s oddly compelling Tooth Simulator now simulates what it’s like to get famous for recording yourself when you throw your phone at people. I could go on about the surprising interface details and transitions, or I could tell you the ways in which it’s a strange, salient commentary on fame and modern game mechanics.
Mainly, though, it’s quite funny.
Paid (Steam) | ilzard
From the developer of the spooky, spidery Nix Umbra, the mind-bending INTRAQUARTZ tasks you with navigating crystalline structures that could all pass for some pleasant desktop backgrounds. The prettiness, however, belies something quite complex and difficult: using a rover that clings to any surface, you’re supposed to navigate a maze whose walls are all but invisible. There’s energy to be mined within each structure, but once you begin the extraction, the countdown begins. Any move that’s not an instantaneous but limited quantum jump across the terrain brings you closer to collapse, if you haven’t sorted out a reliable path. Besides moving around to view things from another angle in hopes that reflecting light will give you a brief glimpse of the terrain, you have only a couple of terrain markers and some refracting lasers to feel your way through.
I haven’t finished the game, and frankly I’m not confident that I ever will. But it’s a fascinating thing to load up and poke at for brief sessions. INTRAQUARTZ scratches an old and specific itch, from a childhood where I’d played and replayed certain games so often that the only thing that was left to do was chart the boundaries of where I wasn’t supposed to go, finding invisible walls and trying to figure out ways around them.