Indie game designers are a dark bunch. Trapped in a world where most consumers want Sonic and Mario, Snake and Katamari, they are faced with thankless, unpopular and unpaid work. On top of that, they deliver their content for free.
So its no wonder that the games they produce are often in macabre worlds, set amongst winding, puzzling environments, faced with insurmountable challenges. The indie game world is a bit like 'The Tin Soldier' or 'Little Wheel Game,' where a handicapped but lovable protagonist is going about, solving challenges and using wit and cunning, to add sense to a world with more threatening purpose. With that, here is this week's five must-play (for free! And right now!) time-wasters.
An adorable, one-legged soldier is loosed upon a world that makes
'Toy Story' look like a peaceful Eden. Like a 'Nutcracker' from hell, the poor figure hobbles left and right (through the screens), solving puzzles as he goes. A simple point and click, the game requires the player to pick up pieces and help toys fix their injuries inflicted upon them by a mad Jack-in-the-box. The Hungarian-style gypsy horn soundtrack keeps things bleak (as does the pixelated but semi-hand-painted, black-and-white background), but the little Tin Soldier's face is worth it all, as he saves his princess. One complaint: the 'speech' boxes (little bubbles with images) were sometimes confusing, but click away doggedly.
We make no excuses: 'Machinarium
' is about six-months-old. But its little dystopian robot land is adorable and textured enough to be its own movie -- or at least feels more so than, say, '9' -- this list would be incomplete without it. Designed by a Czech development team, the finely detailed game feels very Eastern European, from the silent ways of communication, to the disdain for police state authoritarianism. Best of all is the game's two-tiered hint system: the first is a freebie, and gives the player a goal, while the second is an arcade-era shooting game, and only when it's beaten, does the 'map' of how to solve the level appear. While the demo is free, ponying up for the $20 full game may be worth it, for those who want to see the little 'bot save the day.
Not unlike 'Machinarium,' 'Little Wheel
' imagines some distant land that is overrun by robots. When the energy is turned off, it's up to our tiny little protagonist to go around, electrifying droids to wake them up. With a funky jazz soundtrack and lots of chiaroscuro, silhouetted lighting. Though the little 'activity' circles around hotspots makes this an easier game than 'Machinarium', the game is also sillier, and easier to get through. This stylish little title plays smoothly and has no lag time, and is sure to suck all your productivity away.
It's no secret that we love everything Wallace and Gromit
, but when that man and his too-competent dog take on Flash games, our souls are warmed. 'Rocket Sprocket' is a surprisingly well-realized puzzler, with an equally surprisingly simple premise: collect sprockets, edit your ship, solve puzzles. Wallace and Gromit fly around in a puny little pod-like ship, collecting gears to upgrade their vessel, each time altering it for the right puzzle (knocking something over, creating a 'poking device.') The cutest part is, of course, Wallace's adorable encouragements, like, "Attaboy, Gromit!" This game, while being totally G-rated, is tricky enough to warrant a couple major face-palms.
There is a bunny, in the dark. The bunny wants some food. It is your job to feed the lovable lapin by solving puzzles by the light of, what else, the 'full moon
.' With a fun mixture of puzzles, from timing games to point-and-click, each level ends when the determined rabbit gets his treat. Each level has a different mechanic, just as puzzling as the last, but the reward is heartwarming. And if you don't like feeding helpless hutch-dwellers... well, you are too far gone to be playing these games, anyway.