Hop Dude Nights is one weird tale. As the titular Hop Dude, you’re helping to find a lady’s missing cat, but things soon escalate when the lady is hit by a tranquiliser dart and you go on a mad investigation that gets yourself arrested. The game is based on a series of comics, and was funded through the creator’s Patreon.
While some of Hop Dude Nights is played through amusingly drawn comic strips in which you choose from a series of options, it also has battles which play like a parodical RPG. Its visual style and surreal humour feel like a throwback to the early days of internet humour – simpler times. The bonus? You get to listen to a soundtrack of smooth jazz throughout. If that’s not a deal-closer, I don’t know what is.
59. Zenge: Starborn
Zenge: Starborn is a tile puzzler with a difference. Rather than moving around a typical grid of square blocks, Zenge features differently-shaped polygons that slide across rails. The objective is to move them back and forth until you form one whole shape in the middle, like an abstract jigsaw. The tiles can be rotated in some of the puzzles, too, meaning it can take a while to get your head around.
As its name suggests, Zenge: Starborn has a space theme, generating images of planets and meteors when a puzzle is completed. While the later puzzles get pretty complex, chilled background music keeps a laid-back mood. Take all the time you need – this is a lovely puzzler to kick back and relax with.
Many walking simulators have you strolling through a beautifully-rendered landscape, a quaint British village, or perhaps exploring someone’s home. Not so with Bernband. This quirky game by Tom van den Boogaart is an exploration of an alien city – and not a ‘realistic’ one, either. At a super-low res and level of fidelity with pixellated models and aliasing everywhere you look, Bernband is a stylistic oddity.
Walk around this extraterrestrial habitat, however, and you’ll discover it’s charming in its own weird way. Whereas the environments are grey, the aliens are varied and colourful, and their city skyline paints bright lighting across the backdrop. With no dialogue or story to speak of, there’s no real purpose to this otherworldly jaunt other than discovery. Drink it in, jaggies and all.
You can tell Ending wasn’t a commercial venture, because its choice of name is ridiculous in its ubiquity – don’t you know the importance of unique branding, of SEO? But though its naming isn’t smart, mechanically, it’s a clever little thing. You’re a squiggle trying to find its way to the exit across a range of levels, but you have to avoid a bunch of obstacles along the way. Every time you move a square, so do they. Time it right and you can smash them into pieces. Get it wrong and they’ll do the same to you.
Ending might not look like a lot, with its monochrome world of basic shapes displayed within a tiny low-res window, but quite a lot of thought is needed to best your blocky opponents and make it through to the other side unscathed. It doesn’t help that your turns are limited to 48. A nifty little brainteaser, for sure – it just might take you a while to find it on Google.
56. The Navigator
Try not to think too much into The Navigator’s concept. You’re a boy sailor on a ship, and you can throw your anchor to reach very small planets which hover just above the sea, and even pull them towards you. While it may not make a great deal of sense, it’s a lovely little creation, with hand-drawn animation and a blissfully chilled-out soundtrack.
Anchor a nearby planet and you can form a makeshift rope bridge or pull it towards you. By walking across the micro-planets and shifting them around in the sky, the boy can use them to reach each level’s exit point. It’s not overly taxing, on the whole, which makes it a great choice for when you’re tired or feeling stressed. At under an hour long, The Navigator won’t take up much of your time, either, so it’s an easy recommendation.
55. Beach Date
Who doesn’t love a trip to the beach? Okay, agoraphobes probably, recluses and those with a deep hatred of finding grit in their shoes for a fortnight afterwards, but a beach trip is otherwise a popular venture. Beach Date, made for an itch.io Sunset Jam, is a short experience of two young lovers doing just that.
It plays as a light-hearted romance sim in which you control the arm of a girl and manipulate the environment around her and her boyfriend, whether that’s by throwing sand over themselves or grabbing for a packet of potato chips or a bottle of wine. With each playful activity it brings the two of you closer, with your eyes meeting in a tender embrace. You can find out more about Beach Date and the ideas behind it in our interview with Nina Freeman and Jake Jeffries.
54. Shark Simulator
Games like Goat Simulator and Surgeon Simulator provided a much-needed retort to the ‘serious business’ sims, opening the floodgates to bizarre pseudosims. Shark Simulator is a great example, a rag-doll style shark attack game in which you comically terrorise an island and aim to kill as many humans as possible.
While Shark Simulator doesn’t take itself too seriously, with wonky physics and unlockable shark costumes and accessories like a giant morningstar attached to your tail, it’s surprisingly well-made. Its polygonal world is attractively bright and saturated, with shops and a handy map to help you get around.
Grimm isn’t your classic Disney fairytale. In this collection of fables including Jack and The Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White, amongst others, you’ll explore the fantasy world and do your best to stop a happily ever after. While Grimm is available episodically for a small fee per episode, you can play the first one for free.
By running around the fairytale world, you’ll corrupt it with your evil, turning water into lava and colourful landscapes into desolate wastes. If that weren’t enough, you’ll do your best to spread crude humour – i.e. fart jokes – to everyone you meet. High-brow this ain’t. But it’s a light-hearted affair in which each episode only demands half an hour of your time.
There’s an elegant simplicity to text adventures, one of the earliest video game genres. With only text, that text has to be well-written to make an impact – but when it is, it can be quite special. Take the example of My Father’s Long Long Legs, a game with nothing but white-on-black words and some sound effects which nonetheless manage to build a heap of creepy intrigue.
A tale of a family recounted from a young girl’s perspective, you click on bold text within the vivid descriptions to decide which rabbit hole to go down next. Before long, you realise there’s something not quite right in My Father’s Long Long Legs, but it does a good job of keeping that sense of mystery alive throughout.
51. Orchids to Dusk
Some games are short because there are only a few levels between you and victory. Orchids to Dusk, on the other hand, is short because you only have a few minutes before you die. A stranded astronaut on a remote planet, you take your last steps across a wondrous landscape before your oxygen tank runs out.
In those few short moments, there’s a lot to appreciate in Orchids to Dusk. The colourful flora and fauna, swaying gently across the golden sky. A calm, resolute acceptance of death. And a clever online feature which adds extra poignancy to the situation.