I seriously figured I’d lose interest somewhere in the mid 20’s.
A few months back, Itch.io dropped its Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. For a minimum donation of $5, you got access to 1700+ games and game-adjacent materials. According the the page, “all proceeds will be donated to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Community Bail Fund split 50/50.” Groovy. #blacklivesmatter
So, I got it. Which led to the very obvious question:
WTF am I going to play?
This bundle represents the most perfect example of “choice overload” I’ve ever seen. There’s literally just too much here. I could aimlessly poke around, but surely I’d be missing some good games, right? I could look for a good “Best Of” list, but I figured it’d just be the games that already have a bit of a following. Didn’t seem fair to the other stuff that got roped in. So much was going to get lost in the shuffle.
So, there was only one way around it: roll some dice. Pick shit at random. The bundle has 59 pages, with 30 games on each page (I counted). Tell a random number generator to pick a number between 1 and 59, then pick a second number between 1 and 30, and boom. There’s my new game. And I’m going to go play it.
(I’ve since upgraded my random number generator; I used to use Random.org, but I’m now using a Perl script, which keeps track of what I’ve covered, and also scrapes the page to feed me the basic information for my copy-pasting pleasure.)
I reported my random-number-generated adventures on Facebook at first, but my wife recommended that if I was gonna do it, I should put it somewhere both more visible and less likely to spam my friends. So I resurrected my vanity URL as a blog, and here we are.
I seriously figured I’d lose interest before long, but this is FUN. I genuinely get a little excited to see what the random number generator is going to drop on me next. Even though a lot of these games are … not good. 1700 games, and David Pumpkins rules apply; they’re not all gonna be winners.
But a lot of them ARE good. A few of them are even great. It’s such a delight when I get handed something from the darkened depths of this bundle and it turns out to be a gem, something I absolutely WOULD NOT have played otherwise.
And I’ve really enjoyed blogging about the experience, even though I don’t think anyone other than my wife is actually reading these. (I COULD turn on the comments in these posts, I suppose, but that would mean monitoring my comments, and MOTHERFUCK that.) Are you reading this? Feel free to say hi if you are; I’m at pete at blairhippo.com.
Even if nobody is reading these, they’re fun to write. I like having this little record of cool new shit I was discovering. Once upon a time, I had dreams of making my living as a writer. That didn’t pan out for a variety of reasons, but one of the reasons I stopped writing even semi-professionally was the realization that the part I was most looking forward to was hearing my friends tell me I’d written a good story. Once I realized that, it grossed me out. I felt shitty about myself for chasing that external validation high, so I stopped.
I do not anticipate this will ever honestly result in feedback. And yet here I am, writing it anyway, and enjoying it, taking pride in what I’m producing. It feels good.
It’s still fun. I think I’m going to keep doing this a while longer.
But in the meanwhile, 100 entries deep seems like a good place to pause and take stock of what I’ve found.
Some simple stats: of the first hundred bundle entries I’ve explored, 65 of them were actual video games. I initially thought that’s what all 1700+ entries were, but if that 65% ratio keeps holding, it’s hard to complain.
I wasn’t expecting tabletop games to be as heavily represented as they are, and I wasn’t sure what to do about them. It’s not like I’m going to stop what I’m doing, organize a group (in the middle of a pandemic, no less), and play them. But ignoring them feels wrong. So I’ve just been going through the rulebooks, and trying to gauge how interested I would be in playing the game. Not as fair as actually playing them, I realize, but still seems better than just skipping them. Hopefully if any of their creators have stumbled upon this blog, they won’t think I’m a truly gigantic bag of cocks. Regardless, 24 of the first hundred entries have been TTRPGs, with two more LARPs.
Of the remaining nine, one was a print-n-play supplement that made me work entirely too hard to find any rules for it, so I kinda dismissed that one as “Eh, it exists.” The remaining eight entries aren’t so much “games” as “game adjacent”. Three were desktop tools of some sort (though in the case of Desktop Goose, that’s stretching the definition a bit), two were comic books, two were graphics resources, and one was a game soundtrack.
Let’s take a look back at the standouts.
Note that if you go through my reviews, there’s like a 50/50 chance I felt like a game had at least SOME merit to it — maybe it was lightweight, or more of a funny joke than a game, or I simply felt like it just wasn’t for me. The first draft of this summary acknowledged them, which turned it into a gigantic hellbeast. Let’s let the summary summarize, eh?
Recommended Video Games
This is what I came for, and I found some good ones. These were the best.
Yes, these are in order. And yes, of all the games I played, this crazy-ass little ASCII adventure was the one I enjoyed the most.
There are, very obviously, games on here that are much more polished. There are games I’m liable to come back to, and this isn’t really one of them. But that’s one of the things I like about it; it told its story, and it finished. I don’t NEED to play it again.
Part of this #1 ranking may be the fact that this is the first game I found in this randomized trawl that really EXCITED me. That gave me that slowly dawning realization of “Holy shit, I think I might have found something great here.” But even without that near-term nostalgia, I still admire the hell out of what this game did. With a minimalist palate, it tells a complete and engrossing story, with tense, engaging gameplay. I’ve been working with computers a long goddamn time, and typing commands into a prompt has never had me at the edge of my seat like this.
I still think the best comp for this game is Portal, but without the dark sense of humor. The puzzles are clever, and it rolls out both new obstacles and new tools for dealing with them at a pace that just feels right. The pacing kills it in general; it neither finished too soon nor wore out its welcome.
When your goofy little ASCII game has me comparing it favorably to one of the all-time greats, you’ve done something very, very right.
And the final command I typed in … look, I’m misting up over here about the fate of a couple of LETTERS ON MY SCREEN. I hope those two letters are okay. They’ve been through a hell of a lot.
Just a superb game, and one I highly recommend for anybody looking for a unique indie experience.
The most conventionally excellent game I’ve yet encountered in the bundle, and likely the one I’d be coming back to most if rolling the dice and trying something new just weren’t so. Damn. Cool. This is the one that inspired the most days where I was groggy from staying up too late playing a goddamn game.
The most obvious comp is likely FTL; it’s an adventure roguelike where you’re not so much exploring as you are looking for new resources to add. It’s challenging, and at times a bit too merciless for its own good. But there’s just a gorgeous ton of game here to explore, and I’m looking forward to making some time to get back to it.
Also, dogs are the best companions. Truly this is a game that understands some fundamental truths about the world.
A simple but beautiful and chill game, and another one that I’d have circled back to were it not for the preposterous to-do list I’ve placed in front of myself. The puzzles are challenging but fair, and I felt pretty damn pleased with myself when I solved them. Click the shapes, make them change colors. Are they the right colors now? Very nice. Good job, you. Care for another?
4. Cycle 28
Cranking the “chill” dial all the other way to “NONE WHATSOEVER MOTHERFUCKER,” Cycle 28 was the best pure fast-twitch actioner I’ve yet encountered in the trawl. If I’m in the mood for some dope-ass space gunfights, this is going to be one I come back to. Has some definite room for improvement, as my review notes, and I wish I knew how to advance the plot, but this one had me playing it over and over. Sweet game.
5. A New Life
Visual novel that takes the award for “Most emphatically kicked my feels in their feel-nuts.” Simple and beautiful, and more than a little topical. Take care of each other, you guys.
Minimalist boss-fighting game where you’re basically a big-ass pixel doing battle with other big-ass pixels. Gameplay is kinetic and exciting, forcing me to think as well as move fast. You gotta have a plan, man. You’re not defeating those sins without a plan. I defeated all the levels on basic mode; looks like there’s nothing more I can do until I defeat all of them on hard, and I don’t know if I’m that hard-core. But that’s okay. Still got plenty of game out of this one.
7. 1977: Radio Aut
Playable in-browser at the above link, and will take less than 15 minutes of your time. This is less of a game than it is interactive art. It’s a tribute to one seriously brave dude who, prior to this excursion, I’d never even heard of. Rest in power, Peppino.
Not so much “horror” as “low-key creepfest,” Sagebrush is indeed a wonderfully creepy, moody game about coming to terms with the past as you explore a cult compound where very bad things once happened. The voice acting requires you to be a touch forgiving, unfortunately, but there’s a really solid experience here if you’re willing to look past it.
9. One Night Stand
The first game I played in the bundle, and the only one I didn’t choose at random. This is a combo of visual novel and point-and-click adventure game. There’s a lot of warmth here as you attempt to piece together and work your way through an incredibly awkward situation. This is another one I’ve been meaning to come back to in an effort to get other endings. Though at least I made my walk of shame clothed and with a bit of aspirin in me; that’s gotta count for something.
Less game, more artsy interactive animation. Kids is weird, perplexing, and often a bit unsettling, but it never lost my attention, and I damn sure still remember playing it. I still don’t think I have a handle on just what the hell this game really is, but whatever it’s trying to do, it went and did the piss out of it. Now go jump in that hole. All of yinz.
Stylish, beautiful basketball-themed puzzle-solving platformer. Loses some points for making some of its puzzle a tad arbitrary, but it’s a unified and damned satisfying gaming experience I can definitely recommend.
12. The Guilt and the Shadow
The starkest “feel-bad” entry on the list, this is a darkly lovely game of exploration and despair. I’d have liked it more if I didn’t feel like the underlying story was working so damn hard to keep me at arm’s length, but there’s enough here to satisfy. This is less of a game than a mood, and it maintains that mood perfectly.
13. Winterlore I
Another game I’d have enjoyed more if I’d felt more connected to the story, this point-and-click puzzle solver nevertheless kept me engaged enough to see it through to the end. I wanna see where it goes next, and hope I’ll get to find that out later.
14. Touhou Fan Game Jam Black Lives Matter Collection
If you missed out on the larger bundle but still want to turn a donation to charity into playable games, here ya go. I refer you to my original review for the game-by-game breakdown. Some of the games here are crap, others are interesting trifles, others are surprisingly damned good.
Recommended Physical Games
Note that in most cases these recommendations are untainted by actual game experience. Nevertheless, these are the games I’d most be interested in playing.
1. Costume Fairy Adventures
Thoroughly realized game of goofball fairy misadventures. It’s very easy to imagine a group that would have an absolute blast with this guy.
2. Hot Bro Gay Dragons
Hey, it’s the one I played! Fun, silly way to spend some time telling someone you love how awesome they are. Also, pretend to be enormous and gay.
3. Ironsworn: Delve
Game supplement for a game I don’t play about an aspect of fantasy RPGs that tends to bore me, yet somehow makes me want to check out the game and do the stuff I normally find boring. Neat trick.
4. Dragon And Warrior
A role-playing game where you’re collaboratively creating a board game that you could probably go back and base a video game on, which you could then sell on Itch.io. It’s the game nerd circle of life!
5. The Stars Whisper
LARP. One-shot. Could be deeply moving with the right crowd. If you’re interested, don’t read the rules, just try and strong-arm whoever normally does your LARPs into running it for you.
6. A Mother’s Love
Solo game/writing exercise that needs cards and a Jenga tower. Win or lose, you might get a pretty solid short story out of the deal.
Recommended Other Stuff
The best of the oddities I’ve encountered thus far.
Voles of the Dusk
Comic book piss take of the post-apocalypse, starring rodents.
Desktop Dungeons Original Soundtrack
Fine goblin-punchin’ music. Also available on Spotify.
Look, I have no use for art assets for a pew-pew space shooty game. But if you’re working on a project like that and are all “Damn, the gameplay is there, but my spaceships all look like ASS,” here’s your solution.
“What if my desktop were plagued by a simulated goose that occasionally wandered by to be an asshole to me?” said nobody, ever. And yet this exists.
Dishonorable Mention: Headliner: NoviNews
I don’t want to rehash my negative reviews. I’ve thwacked those games once; handing them an encore beating just feels mean and shitty. But this one deserves some special recognition.
When I initially reviewed it, I came down hard on it for being on the wrong side of history, but honestly felt a little bad about it. It’s not like the game devs could have had any idea that pandemic denialism would be so grody two short years later. I ultimately backed down and gave the game a tentative recommendation; it really does look great, and it really does what it’s setting out to do.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what it’s setting out to do is actually pretty awful. So I want to make it clear that when I left this game out of my recommendation list, it wasn’t an oversight, it was a deliberate snub.
The modern media landscape really is more than a bit fucked-up. Bias and agenda-pushing are both endemic, so much that one major “mainstream” news outlet is little more than a propaganda wing for one of the country’s two major political parties. That same party relentlessly attacks all sources of uncomplimentary news as illegitimate, creating an immensely toxic environment where nobody knows what to believe, and everybody is actively cultivating their own personal reality bubbles.
Headliner presents itself as an attempt to explore this dynamic, as a way of showing how the news is tempted to push an agenda. It does nothing of the sort; instead, it asserts that the news HAS NO CHOICE but to push an agenda. There is no objective truth, there is no way to balance the need to entertain against the responsibility to inform.
There is no point to demanding that a news outlet do better, because it literally cannot. It’s simply a matter of what “truth” it shall attempt to coax into reality, what flavor of propaganda it’s going to peddle. Expecting anything else is naive. Everything really is just “fake news,” and there’s nothing you can do about it.
To which I say: fuck off. Get the fuck out of here, and take your cheap adolescent nihilism with you.
Fuck this game.
What Comes Next?
Am I going to do ANOTHER hundred games?
Fuck if I know.
But I can, at least, do game #101:
Page 17, Game 20: No Pineapple Left Behind by Seth Alter
“Dehumanize kids and make money.”
Oy. What have we said about “cheap adolescent nihilism,” bundle? Am I gonna need to put my rantin’ pants on for this one too?