Describing a game as a side-scrolling endless runner doesn’t inspire much interest today. Introduce the concept in 2009, however, and you might have a slightly perkier reaction. Canabalt’s website declares that the game “popularized the infinite runner genre”, bringing the experience to mobile, PSP, Oya, Flash, and was eventually ported to Commodore 64 by Paul Koller.
Jump, duck, and sprint across rooftops and construction equipment to escape… something. It doesn’t matter, Canabalt is purely about the gameplay; the smooth grace of each jump and the impending doom chasing you forwards.
Emily Short is a Goddess in the interactive fiction world and her 2000 debut Galatea represents one of the most well known IF experiences in the industry. Slated as “a conversation with a work of art”, Galatea is a rich, mind-blowingly complex dialogue experience between a recently awakened statue and the player.
Everything you say to Galatea alters her perception of you and her future responses, creating a web of different endings and versions of the story this statue is trying to tell. The game has since won multiple awards, making Short one of the most recognisable names in the industry. A play through will last however long you make it, but you’ll be hard pressed to find them all.
Slither.io is survival at its fittest, at its best. This super-accessible massively multiplayer online game follows on from the likes of Agar.io in an every-worm-for-themselves wriggle royale.
Spawn into Slither.io and you’ll soon come across other worms which may ‘fight’ you in a slithery tango, with the first to bash their heads being the loser – and meet their demise. Just as the circle of life teaches us, the victor can then gobble up their remains to become a bigger, longer snake-worm. You’ll also find orbs of sustenance around the level, including elusive, powerful ones you need to chase after. Slither.io is simple and addictive, traits which contributed to its viral success when it released several years ago.
“When you wake up this morning from unsettling dreams, you find yourself changed in your bed into a monstrous vermin. You are Jeff Bezos.” We’re not sure if we’ve seen a better opening line in a game in years.
No prizes for guessing who you play as in this wacky text adventure. While inhabiting the body of the richest man in the world, your aim is to spend as much of his mind-boggling wealth for the greater good as you can before you’re stopped by your family, Amazon or even the law. You pick which good cause to fund next, whether solving the Flint water crisis or paying for the college education of your baristas, and the game does the math on how much this costs and its negligible impact on your colossal money reserves. It’s both impactful and downright hilarious.
While SpaceEngine has elements in common with the infamous No Man’s Sky, most notably an impossibly large, procedurally generated universe, what sets this apart is that said universe has been created through actual scientific knowledge and data. The result is an awe-inspiring space sim that belies its gratis pricing.
And when we say impossibly large, we mean it – billions of light-years across, apparently, not that we can manually verify such a crazy claim. And you can explore it however you wish, either by freely zooming around the camera or physically travelling by spaceship. It’s an astonishing project that’s essential playing for science and astronomy nuts.
Cube Escape: Paradox may be a free offering, but it’s anything but a basic, standalone product. It’s actually the tenth Cube Escape game, a series which has been on the go for several years, as well as being part of the Rusty Lake universe of games and closely integrated with Paradox: A Rusty Lake Film, which is also free. Get all that?
In fact, it would benefit you to play at least some of the previous related titles and watch the film before diving into this one – many available as free online Flash games – so that you have some sense of what’s going on. Paradox is a fascinating room escape game bolstered by an interesting story and sense of mystery. And if you enjoy the first chapter, you can pay a small sum to continue the story in the second.
24. SUPER CRATE BOX
Rami Ismail and Vlambeer are big, innovative names in the indie space, evident with Rami’s latest project, Meditations, an exploration of different micro-experiences every day for a year. One of Vlambeer’s earliest was Super Crate Box, a heavily arcade-inspired arena shooter in which you face neverending hordes of enemies with the help of crates of randomised weaponry which drop around the level.
It’s a pure, hyper-focused experience with tight controls and mechanics that lends itself well to ‘just one more go’ over and over again, with each run probably only taking you a few minutes, if that. Whereas console and iOS ports of Super Crate Box are available for a nominal fee, the original PC release is still a no-brainer of a freebie.
There are two things which stand out about A Raven Monologue’s style. Firstly, the animation is absolutely gorgeous, with intricate hand-drawn art that’s colourful and full of personality. Secondly, it has no sounds other than a beautiful background soundtrack – for this is a story about a crow that cannot croak and his relationships with the people in his town.
Whereas this five-minute, not particularly interactive experience will raise the hackles of the ‘not a game’ police, it’s an absolutely worthwhile undertaking nonetheless. Twice, in fact, so that you can see the different endings. A Raven Monologue is a heartfelt story with very little to ask of you – so why not try it for yourself?
22. What Never Was
What Never Was is one of the more recent releases on our list, having only been out for a month or so at the time of writing. A short but satisfying first-person puzzle adventure, you play Sarah as she explores her late grandfather’s attic. What should have been a regular house clearance, however, reveals that ol’ Gramps had a lot of secrets up his sleeve.
There’s a lot of the sort of puzzles you’d expect, uncovering old journal pages, searching for keys and hidden levers and devices, slowly unpeeling the layers of mystery surrounding the abandoned attic. It’s a very competent puzzler with good production values and feels reminiscent of 2018’s Lake Ridden, another first-person puzzler about uncovering the secrets of an old house. Despite developer’s Acke Hallgren intending for What Never Was to be a short, standalone experience, the positive feedback they’ve received has led to them planning a followup.
Summer camp. For those who grew up in America, those two words will evoke either a nostalgic joy or a deep sense of dread. For Bridget, the protagonist of Birdland, it’s very much the latter. This interactive work of fiction explores not only the trials and tribulations of forced ‘fun’ but also teenage sexuality and, more unusually, bird people.
You experience Birdland one day and night at a time. In the former you’re getting stuck into activities and coming to terms with the feelings you develop for another girl at camp, and in the latter you have bizarre dreams of anthropomorphic birds. What happens in these dreams then impacts your day, including the ‘stats’ of your different emotions. It’s a clever concept, made all the more enthralling by some very well-written exposition.