Seeing as how quarantine might last a while, here’s some more freeware.
“Romeo and Juliet”
Released as an exclusive for subscribers to the Onion Games newsletter, “Romeo and Juliet” is game director Yoshiro Kimura’s first solo project, and it’s surprisingly captivating. While the sound effects are recycled from “BLACK BIRD” and the soundtrack is just a short, cheesy loop of Kimura reciting a song a capella, the overall experience is almost hypnotic. The simplistic gameplay is packed with character: you are a lovestruck and possibly inebriated man, Romeo, who automatically spins around while approaching the right side of the screen. Above Romeo, there is a man on a crane (who I’ll call Tybalt) throwing sea urchins and a woman on a tower (Juliet) throwing hearts. To explain any further would be to futz with your first-time playing experience, as “Romeo and Juliet” applies the standard Onion Games method of discovery-based progression. Give it some time, and eventually it’ll click, revealing the subtle brilliance behind the unusual first impression.
“Jeffrey Goes On A Walk”
“Jeffrey Goes On a Walk” was included in this article because it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t get talked about in game reviews — a free joke game. Ryan Weaver, the tortured soul responsible for what he himself describes as a piece of “garbage”, was making a larger project in Unity — and lost all of his work in a freak accident. Rather than turn to alcohol or self-harm, Ryan decided to channel all his stress and anger into a small game over the course of the following day. The result? A surreal platformer with a laggy camera, minimalistic yet disturbing graphics, and music that is best described as “pointy” overlaid with screams and recordings of someone (presumably Weaver himself) rambling to themselves about the value of stress. There are no goals, and many parts of the blocky environment are inaccessible. The framerate never exceeds 20 frames per second. The entire thing is a pointless assault on the eyes, ears and brain.
I love “Jeffrey Goes On a Walk.” It’s worth playing just to see it in all its absurd glory. It is a masterpiece of our time.
“Life Tastes Like Cardboard”
I’m just going to go right out and say that “Life Tastes Like Cardboard” is probably one of the most important indie games of last year, if not one of the most important games I’ve ever played. It purports to be a game in which “you walk around and press the ‘interact’ button,” and the terse description ends with the word “sorry.” The trailer and screenshots make it seem like every banal walking simulator and award-bait-writing-exercise game out there; for the first hour or so, this appears to be what the game actually is. Then you play it all the way through, and you’re sat there in front of your computer, aghast from the sheer power of it, baffled by what you just experienced. My run of “Life Tastes Like Cardboard” was done the day after it released, and I left a positive review of it on Steam – which was followed by a wave of acclaim that managed to get it to IGF (the Independent Games Festival, where it was nominated for — but did not win — a Nuovo innovation award).
The fact remains that despite the game’s melodrama, bugs, plodding pace and deplorable inclusion of an anthropomorphized dog as a major character, “Life Tastes Like Cardboard” managed to play the strings of my flinty heart like Clapton guitar or Mozart piano while remaining completely genuine throughout its entire runtime. It’s an off-the-wall trip through a world of half-baked symbolism half-baked on purpose; there are homages, autobiographical tangents, and moments that will strike you like nothing else in gaming. “Life Tastes Like Cardboard” says and means far more than a “Katana Zero” or an “Untitled Goose Game,” and I hope it reaches the classic status it deserves in the future. It’s original, it’s powerful, it’s honest, it’s meaningful, it’s amazing and most importantly of all, it’s real.
And for all those who need a distraction from quarantine, many developers on itch.io are temporarily making their games free, such as Jack Spinoza.
Gaget is a student in Fairbanks public schools, and has developed six games, all of which are featured in the compilation Rong Wrong November ‘19. He is a neutral game reviewer.