There’s nothing extraordinary about the story of Amour Libre – or Free Love, as it translates into English. You play Laura, a children’s literature author who met a guy at a party several nights ago. You kissed. But Laura already has a boyfriend, Diego. It’s an all-too-common situation in relationships, and that’s what makes Amour Libre very down to earth and relatable.
You decide how to handle the situation. Should Laura tell Diego what happened? Should she try and pursue this new guy, despite already being in a happy relationship? Or should she just try and forget the whole situation? The choices play out in colorful hand-drawn animation that’s charming to see. It delicately handles the situation without demonising Laura or glorifying unfaithfulness.
89. Alice’s 1997
While some games can take a decade and a huge, dedicated team to produce, it’s worth remembering that not all need such an investment. Take Alice’s 1997, a small tale developed in under seven hours by one person. It’s a simple concept – a calendar in which you rip off the pages one at a time and read their notes – but it makes for an unusual take on storytelling.
With each new page you’ll read little insights into the person’s life, from important hospital appointments and relationship events to trivial but cute moments, such as a new Seinfeld episode airing. Pay attention and all of the pieces will start to come together into a revealing whole.
88. Hot Dog Dreamer
Hot Dog Dreamer is, bizarrely, just as it sounds – you’re a man dreaming about hot dogs. And you’re naked, because doesn’t that happen all the time in dreams? Exploring a surreal world in your birthday suit, you come across a hot dog man who you strike up an odd conversation with. From there, you’re on the hunt for the delicious sausage in a bun that’ll sate your hunger.
Hot Dog Dreamer was created by a few people within 72 hours. While it’s not the most highly polished or coherent experience imaginable, it’s a bit of trippy dumb fun that you can enjoy in just ten minutes. But beware: it’ll probably make you want to eat hot dogs afterwards.
Endless runner games were a big hit at one time – less so in recent years – and an early example in the genre was Robot Unicorn Attack, a Flash game made available on Adult Swim’s website in 2010. Players would dash across platforms as a magical unicorn, smashing through stars and collecting rainbow powerups, all to the tune of Erasure’s “Always,” for some reason.
For what was no doubt a tongue-in-cheek creation, Robot Unicorn Attack gained a lot of popularity, inspiring multiple sequels, spiritual successors and even its own merchandise line. Now just about old enough to generate some nostalgia, you can dive back in with either the original or its more recent mobile sequel, Robot Unicorn Attack 3, released in 2017.
Handulum+ is one of those puzzle games which is deceptively simple in concept. Across small levels, you click and hold to swing a falling ball using the physics of momentum, guiding it towards the finish line. The catch? You can’t let it touch the sides, or a level’s obstacles, ever.
Play long enough and you’ll build up muscle memory and intuition of the perfect timing and angle at which to swing the ball to get it where it needs to go – not to mention, a bit of Tetris effect-style hallucinations if you’ve been playing too long. While the first levels aren’t too demanding it gets pretty tough as you make progress. But like all of the best games in which you fail over and over, you instantly restart, ready to try again for the two-hundredth time.
What happens when an intersection becomes a frenetic clicker game? Let me tell you, it becomes so much more than ‘slightly annoying’. The carnage that often ensues after a quick few taps of Slightly Annoying Traffic is always hilarious, and the cartoon graphics make each pile up strangely adorable.
Your task is to maintain proper order at a busy crossroad by clicking on cars to stop them before they pile up in the centre. It’s a classic ‘once you go wrong there’s no coming back’ scenario; as soon as you let one of those little cars slip, you’ll soon have a catastrophe on your hands. It’s an exciting and addictive experience that will leave you a whole lot more grateful for traffic signals.
Developer JOrbits created Slightly Annoying Traffic for a Ludum Dare game jam event, and now hosts the free game on itch.io.
There are plenty of surreal games out there, but none are quite as disconcerting as this. Normal Human Face Simulator is anything but normal. When a listed feature is “gratifying chewing noises” you know you’re in for a weird few minutes in a competitive face eating simulation.
Peeling back layers of skin to reveal the tissue, muscle, and bones beneath the surfaces of a previously-normal human face is absurdly fun. Your only job is to bite at your opponent’s face and drain them of blood until they do the same to you. Initiate a sly lunge attack and mash your side of the keyboard to bite and chew in this disgustingly delightful yet deeply uncomfortable competition. In the early stages only flaps of skin and the odd chunk of tissue are removed, only to sway gently in the breeze, dangling off your face in a sickening but ultimately awe-inspiring display of grossness. Once you’re into the endgame, however, you’ll be battling it out until one of you succumbs to blood loss. What a charming way to freak out a friend.
It’s difficult for a card game to feel creepy, and yet that’s exactly what Sacrifices Must Be Made achieves. Set in an abandoned cabin against the classic middle of the woods backdrop, you find yourself bartering for food with the only person you’ve found for miles. When the stranger you meet will only feed you if you beat him in a game of cards, you gladly start shuffling; you’re literally starving to death after all.
With a hand of cards denoting different creatures in hand, the aim of the game is to defeat your mysterious opponent by overpowering their creatures. It’s a tried and tested format but the main mechanic here lies in sacrifice. In order to generate creatures worthy of going up against your opponents’, you must first offer up your smaller, weaker creatures. Kill enough stoats and you get yourself a grizzly with substantially better stats.
The theme of sacrifice extends beyond the card game itself, though, and permeates the outer layer of this narrative. In addition, the atmosphere and moody tone of the entire affair is truly impressive, surrounding your mysterious foe with an ominous aura you’re constantly questioning.
82. 2:22 AM
Frying an egg seems like a fairly average daily activity. Try frying an egg in the middle of a weird dream-like showreel of creepy and things quickly shift. 2:22AM is full of experiences like this, experiences that at face value appear perfectly normal and even relaxing at times but within the surreal context of the game become darkly menacing.
2:22AM feels like a disconcerting early morning dream, a moment between wakefulness and free consciousness that blends the fanciful with the mundane. It perfectly captures those dark hours of whimsy, where you can almost feel your brain conjuring the images you’re witnessing only just before you see them. Wandering through the bizarre locations and scenes of 2:22AM, players feel an almost child-like sense of curiosity only partially restrained by unease in such a foreign scenario. Play it alone, play it in the dark, and watch the hairs on your arms stand straight to attention.
Games have a unique ability to tell complex stories of emotion through organic generation of those feelings in the player. Physically placing the player in the position of the protagonist has powerful consequences for empathy and understanding. NORTH achieves this effect sublimely.
Telling the story of a character seeking refuge in a new city, the atmosphere is drowning in desperation, fear and loneliness. While there isn’t really any gameplay to speak of, NORTH shines in its generation of feeling. It’s profoundly powerful if you allow yourself to be fully enveloped in the scene before you. The stark visual style and gorgeous soundtrack are enough to hook you into the abstract narrative as it weaves itself around you. While developers Outlands have received some stick for porting their game to a paid Switch version with very little recognisable gameplay, NORTH’s value is in the intense experience players are invited to embody.