The days are longer now. The sun doesn’t retreat to the west before 8:00 PM, offering more light to cast an unsightly shadow against your computer screen as you settle in to find something to play. You’d think with the arrival of spring there would be more time to devote to games that were released in March like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Mass Effect Andromeda, but dedicating 60+ hours to something is a lot harder than it sounds.
It’s tempting to want to sit down and run through an RPG that requires a lot of attention, but there are some fantastic alternatives out there if a break is required. Itch.io is a platform where game developers post their projects–often for free (although I would encourage you to support the developers if you can). Here are seven games that you should play right now, especially if you’re in the market for something that breaks the mold.
Packing Up is a first person game set inside of an apartment that you’re in the process of moving out of. It’s hot. The fan is on full blast, causing the posters by the window to move about frantically. There are 32 items for me to pack into three boxes of varying sizes, where I can delegate how to stack my belongings. What I take is up to me. As I walk around to inspect every item, there is a memory is attached to each object: the math textbook I neglected to stow away was full of messages left by friends, and the dinner plates I carefully stacked on top of a basil plant caused me to wonder if I had ever used them, since they were found in my closet. It reminded me a lot of when I would go into a frenzy and decide to reorganize my room once every six months. After picking up the music player and placing it in the shoebox, I was left with silence. A moment to reflect. Packing Up is sure to conjure up the nostalgia that comes with leaving a space after having lived in it for so long.
Robin by Robin.
In Robin, you play as a woman with chronic fatigue syndrome. A puzzled doctor cannot figure out what’s wrong with you, and sends you home. You spend the weekend deciding what tasks you wish to complete, provided you have the energy to go through with them. Every action takes up a lot of willpower, so it becomes a matter of: what am I capable of doing? As I look at the dirty clothes on the floor, I wonder if those are more important to tend to than eating. The clothes could wait, right? But I don’t want to live in filth. So I’ll do the dishes instead. But now I’m exhausted, and I wasn’t able to finish doing everything that I wanted to do.
After I went to bed, a wall of text stared back at me, pointing out everything I had neglected to do. Having to choose between showering and reading wouldn’t normally be an important decision, but to me, every action was a calculated risk. Playing through Robin is a reminder that we all face invisible battles, and if you managed to get out of bed, that’s a start.
It’s Always Monday by Alonzu.
Mondays are the worst, right? Well, in It’s Always Monday, the game takes that expression and offers a commentary on the traditional 9-5. I took on the role of Bob, who works a cushy office job. There are expense reports to be written, coffee to be made, and a trail of sticky notes left on my computer reminds me that there are only 4 more glorious days until Friday; more specifically, they remind me that I’ll be “free.” As I walked around the office to talk with my co-workers, instead of normal cooler talk I was met with defeated conversations about the monotony of office work. “Sometimes I ask myself, why did I bother to get up?” a faceless employee asks.
When that got a little too heavy for me, I opted to walk around and explore instead. The environment is bleak and grey, with muted walls and no windows. The door marked as “exit” is literally chained up, a glaringly obvious comment about working in a corporate environment. Eventually I was able to find freedom, although it wasn’t the kind of liberation I was expecting. It’s Always Monday is dark and may cause an existential crisis, but it’s definitely the kind of commentary that deserves to be acknowledged.
Awkward Dating Simulator by Kate.
At first glance, I assumed that Awkward Dating Simulator would be a text adventure where I would be playing a character that was on a first date, which I would inevitably ruin. It turns out I was very wrong. There are a series of questions (“What would be a perfect day for you?”) followed by a prompt (“hold hands”) that you must answer…with an actual person, sitting near you. This game is to be actually used in tandem with a real date, and it’s fantastic. It’s like a local co-op multiplayer game, except the potential to become uncomfortable increases tenfold. It’s an incredibly interesting idea, which could either work as an icebreaker or backfire terribly. But love is about taking risks, right?
I Ruff You by SoGoodGames.
Speaking of love, I Ruff You is a short dating simulator that placed me in the paws of a very good boy and allowed me to explore a small dog park to find a suitable bachelor. It turns out wooing other canines is a hard task, and I immediately blew my chances with the corgi after making the mistake of sniffing his food. It’s silly, and the dialogue is full of woofing, snarling, drooling and tail wagging. Eventually I was able to form a relationship with the chihuahua, and we spent the rest of our days chasing tennis balls and barking lovingly at each other.
Morphé by Pixelfoot Games
Morphé is the epitome of a relaxing game. The only goal is to spend the afternoon relaxing on the mountaintop, and create ambient music to go along with your mood. It rained the day I decided to download this, so being able to retreat to a beautiful low-poly environment and orchestrate whatever tunes my brain could come up with was a lovely endeavor.
I’m awful at composing music, but that didn’t matter here. Morphé encourages the player to experiment with sound by walking around and activating “obelisks”. They controlled the shape of sounds, allowing for me to fine-tune and customize until I reached the desired result.
Empty by DustyRoom.
The objective of Empty is to rotate the view to align objects of a same color. Objects that become invisible disappear, which allows you to progress. It’s an incredibly zen puzzle game with a mesmerizing soundtrack that caused me to zone out while I dragged my mouse inside each tiny room, trying to figure out different ways to complete “cleaning” the space. Once I was finished, the space would turn a bright white. There is no timer or score, so I was able to relax and imagine every possible outcome without fear of having to start over. Inside each room are objects–a purple vase can be matched with a purple wall or a purple rug. There’s not much outside of matching colors, but the complexity is challenging and had me stumped several times.
What free games have you played recently? Let me know in the comments.
Images: TurnFollow, Robin, Alonzu, Kate, SoGoodGames, Pixelfoot Games, DustyRoom.