Summer cleaning game review special #2: WitchWay

Starting this series off with a negative review doesn’t seem right. So let’s fix that today, because I only have good things to say about today’s subject. WitchWay is another one of the games I found in that massive bundle I bought last month, and it’s definitely one of the more interesting ones in there. The premise is very simple: you play as a nameless witch girl, or maybe a student at a magic academy (she is wearing a school uniform-looking outfit after all) who falls down an extremely deep well. Somehow she manages not to break her neck or any bones and still has a lot of energy, so your goal is to reach the surface again. That’s all the plot you get, or at least all I’ve discovered so far. Because this isn’t any normal well: it’s full of chambers, doors, platforms covered in spiky plants that will kill you if you touch them, and lasers that will also kill you if you touch them. Just what the hell kind of well is this exactly?

The central map. That’s a damn complicated well

Luckily our protagonist soon finds her wand, and with that she’s able to remotely control movable blocks that she can use to press switches that open doors and remove obstacles in her way. WitchWay is divided into separate chambers containing progressively more difficult puzzles to solve to reach the exit and make it over to the bucket on a line that acts as an elevator to higher levels and eventually to the surface again. Some of these puzzles force you to get creative in your control of these blocks — after the first few chambers, simply moving them around won’t cut it. The game gives you all the tools you need, however, and it relies on you to use those to find your way out.

All this spiky shit will kill you, but you can ride certain blocks around to avoid traps and carry you to higher platforms

It’s not too difficult to get out of the well — you can even skip a lot of chambers and breeze your way out of there. You can also go the completionist route and find every secret the well has to offer. There are a few artifacts to collect as well as eight rabbits also trapped in the well that you can rescue by collecting them in your hat. All of these are naturally trapped behind walls of spiky plants and lasers that need to be blocked, avoided, or redirected, so a 100% run of this game will naturally take quite a bit longer than a straight play through, probably a few hours in total.

You probably won’t be able to bear leaving these poor rabbits trapped in this well anyway

I enjoyed my time with WitchWay. The puzzles were pretty rewarding to figure out, and there’s a lot of polish on the game — a good-looking pixel graphic style that reminds me of early 90s 16-bit platformers and nice background music. It only sells for a few dollars on as well, which I think is a good value for what you get here. If you need a plot in every game you play, you might be disappointed, but I don’t think this sort of game really needs one. Though the developers probably could have easily added one. But if you really want one, you can make it up yourself. Maybe you’re a Harry Potter fan and this is a background character from the series having her own adventure. Or maybe you’re a Touhou fan and any blonde witch girl character makes you think of Marisa Kirisame, and she’s been dropped into this well by a bored Yukari and needs to find her way back to Gensokyo. It would certainly explain how she can fall hundreds of feet onto a stone floor and not be hurt at all.

Enough of my nonsense. I’ll be following the creators, the four listed here — I look forward to seeing what they might come up with next.

Games for broke people: Helltaker

So I was planning on taking the rest of the month off from the site as I wrote last post. But then the artists I follow on Twitter started filling up my timeline with cute demon girl fanart, and then I couldn’t rest until I found out exactly what that was all about.

And if she’s a cute demon bureaucratic functionary then even better.

That’s how I found Helltaker, a short free puzzle game that tells the story of a guy who wakes up one day and decides he’s going to break into Hell itself to create a harem of demon girls. Forget Dante’s journey through the afterlife: this is the noblest quest someone could possibly have. To do this, our brave protagonist has to solve several block-pushing maze puzzles of increasing difficulty. Each puzzle requires the player to make it to the goal, represented by a demon lady hanging out behind a giant padlock for some reason, within a specified number of steps. Kicking blocks and kicking demon guards to death also count as taking steps, and the addition of spike traps that take extra steps away from you makes things more complicated. Luckily for Helltaker guy, he can regenerate an infinite number of times, so much like Chip from Chip’s Challenge, nothing will stop him from getting the girl(s) no matter how frustrating the maze he’s running might be.

The beginning of level 3. In this case the demon triplets at the top are your goal (mythology fan points if you can guess what they’re a reference to) and the number on the left keeps track of your steps so you know if you’ll hit your limit before reaching them.

Some of these mazes stumped me for a while, particularly numbers 7 and 9 near the end. Fortunately for the impatient, the game lets you skip puzzles if you’re truly stuck, but if you do that you might miss out on finding secrets in certain levels that are required to get the game’s good ending. Anyway, what’s the fun in half-assing a game like this? Every puzzle is solvable, you just have to exercise your brain to discover the solutions.

However, even if you figure out how to reach the goal in time, you’re not done — you still need to convince the demon girl at the end of the puzzle to join your harem and also not to kill you on the spot. Because you’re just a ripped guy in a leisure suit, and while you can kick the regular demon guards in each level to pieces, you’re no match for the girls. If you screw up the negotiation, you’ll get horribly killed and will have to run the maze again.

The right answer is sometimes not the obvious one

There are also a lot of little additions to the game that add some more flavor — as you can see in the game’s main layout, pressing L gets you “life advice.” This gives you a short dialogue with one or more of your newly won over demon wives, who are just as likely to give you tips about how to complete the level you’re on as they are to complain about how long you’re taking or to start arguing with each other. Or to end up getting you killed somehow.

So the main gameplay mechanic of Helltaker is really very simple — it’s a variation on the kind of sliding block puzzle that has existed for over a hundred years. That provides the substance of the game, but there’s a lot of style as well, and that’s what sets Helltaker apart from so much other free and extremely cheap generic-looking stuff. Someone could easily recreate the puzzles that compose each level of Helltaker using white, gray, and black blocks and dots to represent the characters and obstacles, and it would mechanically be the same game. But the distinctive character art and cute dialogues give it that much-needed style. And that’s the reason I discovered it in the first place, after all, so who can say that isn’t important?

Games for broke people, master hunter edition

You might have inferred from reading some of my posts here that I’m not an outdoors sort of person, and that inference would have been absolutely correct. I hate camping, hiking, trekking, kayaking, and being present in or near sunlight. I like the idea of nature, but I prefer to keep a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your perspective) distance from it. So you can rest assured that the closest I’ve ever gotten to hunting was playing Duck Hunt on the NES.  No real-life hunting for me, thanks.

But who needs real-life hunting when we have The following free games all involve hunting as a mechanic.  Well, sort of.  One game involves hunting, and the other two games are square pegs I try desperately to pound into the round hole that is the theme of this post.  Did I succeed?  You be the judge.


Not a literal foxhunt, with hounds and horses and all that stuff, so you know I’m more or less breaking the theme of the post already.  Not that I’d really want to play a game like that anyway.  No, Foxhunt is instead a short surreal puzzle game set in a very small looping area that looks like the middle of the Antarctic Desert.  The object of the game is to solve puzzles by following clues on cards scattered around the few abandoned structures and mechanisms in the environment.  These clues have been left by “The Fox”, who may or may not be the white fox that keeps showing up to check in on you before running away and disappearing again when you get too close to it (see the screenshot on the right.)  Then again, how would a fox write notes like this with its paws?  Maybe I’m overthinking this.

I found Foxhunt to be pretty nice for what it is.  The game was interesting enough to keep me playing through the 30 to 45 minutes it took to solve all of its puzzles, and some of the design elements makes me think Anomalina, the creator(s) of the game, was influenced by old adventure/puzzle games like Mystand Riven.  I also have to mention the piano that makes up the game’s background music; it makes for the perfect atmosphere.

Anyway, Foxhunt is worth checking out if you want to play a short puzzle game set in a tundra.  The last note in the game also suggests that the developer plans to expand on the ideas in Foxhunt, so they might be worth following.

Nonsense at Nightfall

The aptly titled Nonsense at Nightfall is the tale of a man who takes a sleeping pill that turns him into a cat, a fact that he takes very much in stride for some reason, because instead of immediately trying to turn himself back into a human, he decides to start looking for a mouse to eat (hence the hunting aspect of the game.  That’s not too much of a stretch, is it?)  This is another one of those Game Boy-ish games that seem to be so common on, I guess because they’re probably relatively easy to make and hold a bit of nostalgic value thanks to the old-school aesthetic.

Nonsense at Nightfall is only about half an hour long and consists of a few easy puzzles, a couple of weirdly creative twists, and a conclusion so obvious that it would have made me angry had the game been 1) not free and/or 2) longer than half an hour.  But since it’s a short free game, the dumb fourth-wall-breaking joke ending really isn’t so bad, and to be fair, developer Siegfried Croes does set it up decently.  This one was amusing enough to make me not regret downloading it, and that’s pretty much a thumbs up as far as these free games go.  Nice job, Mr. Croes.  Just, you know – if you make a longer game to follow up on this one, give it a more satisfying ending, okay?

Duck Hunt

It’s Duck Hunt.  Yeah, someone just made a port of the NES classic Duck Hunt (probably only considered a “classic” because it was included on that Super Mario Bros. cartridge that came bundled with every NES ever sold, but that’s another matter) and put it on as a browser game.  I’m pretty sure that’s not legal, even if you give Nintendo credit for their work.  But since Duck Hunt is 35 years old at this point, I can’t imagine Nintendo caring enough to threaten legal action.  Hell, everyone uses emulators these days, so what’s the difference?

Anyway, this port seems to be pretty faithful to the original game, with two exceptions.  The first is that you’re naturally not playing with the NES Zapper but rather with your mouse, and the second is that the dog doesn’t laugh at you for missing ducks.  At least he never did when I intentionally missed every duck and got a game over.  I know how much we all hated that god damn dog for laughing at us, but leaving the laughing dog animation out of Duck Hunt is like leaving the yeti out of SkiFree.  It’s just not the same game without it.  Or maybe I’m missing something here.  It’s been two decades and change since I last played Duck Hunt, so that’s possible.

The Best (and the Rest) of Windows Entertainment Pack, part 2

Today our grand tour through the four Windows Entertainment Packs continues. Did these early 90s tie-ins really offer that much entertainment beyond the games everyone already knows about? Let’s find out.  As before, the games with a + next to the title were featured in the Best Of collection.

Jigsawed – This “game” takes a bitmap file and cuts it into squares for you to reassemble. Pretty goddamn lazy. And as you can see, it completely fucked up the colors in the .bmp file I gave it. I chose this screenshot of Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion because it fits the time period of Windows 95 perfectly, but now it works on two levels, because Asuka looks pissed off about her colors being all screwed up.

I was initially going to use the infamous “wall of Jericho” screenshot, but, well… while it’s not quite not safe for work, it’s not quite safe for work, either. I’m always thinking about my readers, especially the ones who are working shitty office jobs. I know your pain all too well.

See, here’s Asuka in Paint in 256 colors, looking more or less as she should. It’s not the fault of VirtualBox, it’s the fault of Jigsawed.  Go home, Jigsawed.  You’re drunk.  I’ll call an Uber but you’re paying for it, you lousy fuck.

Klotski – A moving block game in which you have to extract the target block from its box. This is a classic puzzle premise, but the execution in Klotski is lousy because it requires you to do a lot of tedious dragging and clicking. If you needed a way to speed up your impending case of carpal tunnel, play Klotski.

LifeGenesis – Interesting in theory, LifeGenesis is a unique take on Go or Reversi in which you have to place pieces on the board and promote the growth of your own territory, which changes automatically after placing your pieces according to a specific set of rules, while limiting the growth of your opponent’s. The trouble is that the computer opponent seems to be broken. You can place pieces for both players, but the computer player does absolutely nothing. I’m not sure whether it’s just a problem with my copy or with the game itself. It’s kind of fun to draw random patterns and watch them mutate across the board according to the game’s rules, but other than that, there doesn’t seem to be much of anything here to experience.  It’s possible I’m missing something here – if you find it, feel free to post a comment about how I’m a dumbass.

Maxwell’s Maniac – Probably the closest thing to a hidden gem among the games that didn’t make it into the Best Of collection. If Maxwell’s Maniac looks familiar, it’s because it was created by Dima Pavlovsky, the same guy who made JezzBall. Despite the cosmetic similarities, though, this is a completely different game that requires you to channel the balls into the required chambers – first the red chamber, and later red and blue chambers depending upon their colors. Maxwell’s Maniac is interesting, though I can see why its sibling JezzBall made it into BOWEP while it didn’t – Maxwell’s lacks that “simple to learn, hard to master” feel that real standout puzzle games have. It’s still probably worth playing a few rounds, though. You might end up liking it a lot.

PeggedPegged. Yeah, this game is called Pegged. If you’re imagining something weird, though, get it out of your head – this isn’t a game about unusual male-female relations but rather a simulation of a simple peg solitaire game. These were popular as puzzle games back in 19th century Europe according to the game’s help file. Not a bad diversion, though it doesn’t add anything to the traditional peg game that you can find on Amazon or probably in a Brookstone way, way marked up. I don’t understand how specialty gift shops like Brookstone and Sharper Image have hung on, in fact. Even before the days of Amazon, when I was just a kid, I’d go in to look at all the weird products being sold, and I swear I never once saw a soul buy anything there.

Sorry, getting way off track here. Pegged is okay as puzzle games go, I guess. They really should have given it a different name, though.  Maybe it didn’t have the same connotation in the 90s.

+ Pipe Dream – Finally, a game you might actually know about.  Pipe Dream was featured in the Best Of collection and is one of the more beloved of the pack’s puzzle games.  And rightly so.  It’s simple to play but involves some tension with a race against the clock to construct pipe before the sewage spills out into the grid, leading to a game over.  Constructing too much pipe results in a score reduction per length of unused pipe, so there’s also some strategizing required.  Pipe Dream is a good game.  And it was even distributed by LucasArts, a company that developed some of the best adventure and space sim games of the 90s.

Rattler Race – A Centipede clone.  There’s not much more to say about it.  It’s a marginally worse version of Centipede.  The controls are okay, but other than that there’s nothing special about it.  If you were starving for Centipede in the early 90s and you couldn’t get to an arcade and you didn’t have a console version of it, I guess you’d have to make do with this one.  There’s no reason to bother with it today, though.

+ Rodent’s Revenge – my second favorite of all the WEP games after Chip’s ChallengeRodent’s Revenge was a fun puzzle game with an original bent.  You play as the mouse in the center of the mass of movable squares, and your object is to trap the cats that spawn in a space of one square, after which they turn into wedges of cheese that you can eat to gain 100 points provided that the screen is otherwise clear of cats.  If any cats remain active, the trapped cat merely takes a nap and waits either to turn into cheese or be inadvertently freed by you while you push blocks around to trap the other cats.  The game board will inevitably turn into a mess, and part of the fun of the game is trying to trap the cats in an increasingly chaotic environment.  And of course, the cats are constant coming after you, and if one catches you, you lose a life.  Later levels include immovable blocks, mousetraps, and other obstacles to complicate your mission.

Rodent’s Revenge is absolutely worth checking out.  No game is quite like any of the others, and you have to use creative thinking to beat later levels.  I don’t bother with mobile gaming much at all, but I’d be surprised if this didn’t have clones in the Apple or Google Play stores.  Probably with a bunch of horrible ads infesting them, though.

+ SkiFree – Probably the most famous of all the WEP games.  SkiFree was included on damn near every PC in the early 90s, meaning that almost everyone played it at least once.  It’s a very simple game and a very short one, but a skiing game was a real novelty at the time, and the creator threw a few surprises into the mix.  I wrote a short retrospective of SkiFree here, so check that out if you’re interested.  The only thing I’ll add is that it took me a while to realize the implication that the “free” in the title at the top of the slope is composed of dog piss.

Stones – Once again, this title has nothing to do with private parts or acts involving them, but rather with… mahjong tiles?  Are those ever called “stones”?  I’ve played mahjong, and I never heard anyone call the tiles “stones”.  The help file claims this is loosely based on the “ancient Chinese game of mahjong”, but what it means is that it’s based on mahjong solitaire, which is a completely different thing (also, neither of them are ancient unless the late 19th century and the 1980s respectively count as “ancient”.)  I was never a fan of mahjong solitaire, and I’m not a fan of this game either.  You have to place all the tiles on the board such that their neighbors match at least two of three attributes.  I don’t know, maybe someone would like this game.  I didn’t.

Going out on a sour note here, unfortunately, but there are still nine games left to review.  Look forward to the exciting conclusion, coming soon!

The Best (and the Rest) of Windows Entertainment Pack, part 1

Some time ago, to commemorate the godawful month of February, I decided to play and review every single game in every one of the four Windows Entertainment Packs published in the early 90s for use with 16-bit Windows operating systems. Why in God’s name would I do such a thing, you might possibly ask. Everyone knows about the Best of Windows Entertainment Pack that was a tie-in with most 90s versions of Windows, but there were quite a few other games featured in the four regular Windows Entertainment Packs that you had to actually buy that didn’t make the cut. BOWEP included some real gems like Chip’s Challenge, SkiFree, and Rodent’s Revenge that I spent some hours playing as a young boy in the distant, mystical past of the pre-internet era, so I wondered whether there were any overlooked classics among the games that were left out.

An embarrassment of riches

Turns out there weren’t! Not quite, anyway. But I had to dig through all of the following games to confirm that, and some of them are, if not necessarily good, at least interesting. I threw in the BOWEP games as well because why the hell not – those games will be marked with a + before the title. See if you can find a pattern (i.e. that most of the non-BOWEP games suck!)

I admit that this is going to be of interest to literally no one, but that describes most of the posts I write. Before we get started, I should note that there are 29 games in the queue, far too many to jam into one post and expect anyone to have the patience to make it through to the end without succumbing to a coma, so I’ll be dividing them as evenly as possible throughout three posts – ten games in this and the next post and nine in the last.  I’ll be sorting them alphabetically, not by which pack they were in, because I’m positive no one cares about that and I can’t be assed to keep track of such a detail.  For the same reason, I won’t be subjecting any of these games to my patented seven-point grading system.  You’ll know how I feel about each of them well enough, I promise.

Chess – It’s chess.

No, nothing else to say. It’s just chess. If you like chess, you’ll probably like it. Or not. It doesn’t seem to have a lot of features. Decent enough for a chess game, maybe, though I don’t have the expertise to judge it very well.  It’s probably safe to say there’s no reason for anyone to play this version anymore.

+ Chip’s Challenge – Definitely the best game in the pack, with a lot more time and care put into it than any game in a game bundle tied in with a new OS has any right to. It is an absolute classic as far as puzzle games go. See my full retrospective of Chip’s Challenge here. I wrote everything I had to write about the game in that post.  Suffice it to say that you should check out Chip’s Challenge if you have any interest in puzzle games.


Cruel – This is a solitaire card game, the first of several in the pack. The icon is slightly interesting – the Windows Solitaire icon with a knife stuck through it – but otherwise, there’s nothing special here. Move randomly dealt cards to complete four suits in sequence from ace to king. Seems to be entirely based upon luck. I don’t know why the icon features a knife or why the game is called “Cruel”, unless the cruelty lies in how boring it is to play.

+ Dr. Black Jack – This is a little more than a plain old blackjack simulator. Dr. Black Jack gives you advice about your game, counseling you about when to hit and stand, and even features advice incorporating card-counting techinques. Kind of like Kevin Spacey in the movie 21, except Dr. Black Jack won’t try to grope you. Not a bad game if you want to play some no-stakes blackjack or need some extremely basic training before you take a trip to Vegas.

+ FreeCell – Another solitaire card game, but this one is special. FreeCell really needs no introduction. It’s bundled with Windows 10, for fuck’s sake. Everybody knows FreeCell. It’s perhaps the most maddening of all the solitaire games because you can see exactly where every card is, including the cards you need that are inaccessible, sitting there buried under a pile of immovable cards, mocking you.

The original FreeCell featured 32,000 different configurations, one of which was famously unsolvable. If you want to read a near-obsessive analysis of the various versions of FreeCell, check out this site. Anyway, as much as I don’t care for most of these solitaire card games, FreeCell is good. You’ve got to respect a classic.

Fuji Golf – Now here’s a shitfest. Fuji Golf tries to simulate an 18-hole golf course and falls flat on its face for the simple reason that the mechanics of the game are ass, relying on finicky as hell mouse controls to make fine adjustments. The only good thing about this game is the opening screen with a nice pixelated depiction of Mt. Fuji for some reason. Other than that – I’m admittedly not good at real golf, but 14 shots on the first round? Fuck you, Fuji Golf.

Go Figure! – This is one of a couple of educational games in the pack. The player has to arrange an equation with the preset numbers to arrive at the solution given by the game. I can’t really fault a basic educational game like this. If you drew a line of educational game goodness vs. shitness with Oregon Trail on one end and Mario is Missing! on the other, Go Figure! would be right in the middle.

+ Golf – Thank the Almighty God this is not another golf game like Fuji Golf. It’s just another solitaire card game. There’s seemingly no lack of solitaire games in this package. Golf isn’t that bad, really – you just select the cards on the top of the piles in sequence and try to complete the sequence without exhausting your turns. A lot more simplistic than FreeCell but not as boring as Cruel. Might kill five minutes while you wait for your porn torrent to finish downloading.

IdleWild – This one was a real surprise – it’s a screensaver pack! Not a very good one, though. Especially if you already had After Dark installed, which you probably did if you were using a computer in the early 90s. Most of the screensavers in IdleWild are either eye-destroying or boring. But it’s something different, at least. And it features a crappy slow-loading depiction of the Mandelbrot set! That might have been impressive when it was released in 1991.

+ JezzBall – I already wrote about the existential nightmare that is JezzBall. I will not write about it again.

That’s it for part 1.  Stay tuned for part 2, coming soon!  It will definitely be more interesting than part 1, I promise.

Retrospective: JezzBall (and the pain of existence)

Years ago, I wrote about two PC games that were packaged free with computers running Windows 3.1 and 95. SkiFree was a fun time-waster for a few minutes, and Chip’s Challenge was a surprisingly deep, well-crafted puzzle game. However, there’s a game from the famed Best of Windows Entertainment Pack bundle that I neglected to write about, a game that many consider to be a classic on the level of SkiFree and Chip’s Challenge.  A horror game that plumbed the depths of the psyche even more thoroughly than did Silent Hill 2.

I’m talking about JezzBall.

The beginning of stage 2.

JezzBall is a puzzle game in which the player must trap balls (the help file calls them “Jezz atoms” – yes, Jezz atoms, that’s not a typo) that are bouncing around a chamber while a timer runs.  The player can trap these balls by creating walls that reduce the size of said chamber.  However, there are a few catches – the wall is broken if a ball hits it before it’s completely built, each wall that’s broken costs the player a life, and the game is over if all the player’s lives are exhausted or if the timer reaches 0.  The object of the game is to reduce the chamber’s size by 75%.  The player starts with two JezzBalls, or Jezz atoms, or whatever, to trap, and each stage adds another ball to the mix.

You thought this was just a simple puzzle game, but check out this deep lore.

Perhaps you have fond memories of playing JezzBall back in the 90s or one of its clones more recently.  Or maybe you played the 80s arcade classic Qix that this game is based upon.  But did you ever feel uneasy about it?

Most people would say that JezzBall is just a little puzzle game, a fun diversion.  But for me, it’s more.  Playing this game is like looking into the abyss.

In the world of JezzBall, your only purpose is to seal atoms into small areas.  And after you’ve reduced the space they can move in to 25% of the screen, the game “rewards” you with an additional atom to deal with.

Your job becomes more difficult the further you progress, but do your nameless, faceless supervisors care?  No.  Trap more atoms.  Keep trapping atoms.  There is nothing else.

Soon enough, the pace of your job will become unbearable.  You will have a very limited amount of time to trap several atoms without any clear way to separate them into their own chambers.  Every time you try to build a wall, it breaks when an atom hits it before it’s complete.  You try to build a wall starting in the middle of the chamber to at least create a partial wall, but when atoms hit both ends of your wall you lose two lives and are that much closer to a game over.

JezzBall doesn’t care.  It will continue to throw additional atoms at you until you break.  The difficulty curve of this game starts with a gradual slope that leads to a 90 degree cliff face.  And when you fall from that cliff, as we all eventually do, you’re given the “honor” of marking your shame by entering your score on the leaderboard.

Other games I played growing up had an end goal or a winner.  Mario, Sonic, Zelda – the games in these series taught us that perseverance leads to victory.  The NES Mega Man games were difficult, but even an average or poor player could beat Dr. Wily given enough time and patience.  Chip’s Challenge, one of the other BOWEP titles, was a long game, but it also had a final level and an ending to offer.

JezzBall mocks your delusions of victory.  There is no happy ending in JezzBall, just as there is no happy ending in life.  No matter how skillful you are, no matter how far you get, a round of JezzBall always ends in failure.  It only offers you the option to play again.

And if you refuse to play again, it says nothing else – the game simply leaves you sitting in front of a black screen.

Life is a cruel joke.  Life is an absurdity.  Life is JezzBall.

I rate it a 5 out of 7.

Games for broke people (8/6/16)

The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us.

– Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

The above statement is as true now as it was when Melville wrote it over 160 years ago.  Paying for things is terrible, and it’s especially terrible when you don’t have a steady job or a consistent source of income.  So while I look for a job and wait the three months it takes the state bar to grade exams, I’ll also be looking at some free and free-to-play games on Steam.  I can’t expect anything amazing from a free title – what I’m looking for is not necessarily a full meal, but more of an hors d’oeuvre.  And since you don’t pay to eat hors d’oeuvres, that analogy really works, doesn’t it?

Today, we’ll look at two puzzle-platformers featuring blocky protagonists.  But these two games are totally different in every other way.


mandagon3 mandagon5

The things I know about Tibetan Buddhism can be counted on no hands, because I don’t know anything about it.  So I may be missing a lot of meaning in Mandagon, a very short game whose developers claim is inspired by Tibetan theology.  However, I don’t think you have to be an expert in that field to appreciate this game.  Mandagon tells the story of a sacrifice, and the player has to explore what seems to be a large temple sitting on a mountaintop to make that sacrifice.  The one puzzle in the game is extremely easy to figure out – it hardly even counts as a puzzle, and the whole experience only lasts about half an hour, or an hour at the very longest.  But the point of Mandagon seems to be in the exploration itself rather than in finding the goal.  The art is good, and some of the visual touches are very nice (the flags and chimes that flutter in the wind, for example.)  Together with the background music (really more like ambient sound) the atmosphere created is both ominous and strangely relaxing.  The mention of theology in the game’s description put me on my guard, but Mandagon isn’t preachy or heavy-handed either, so don’t let that scare you away.  It’s well worth a play.

You Have 10 Seconds

10-1 10-2 10-3

The simply and honestly titled You Have 10 Seconds could not be less like Mandagon.  Where the focus in Mandagon was on exploration and relaxation, the focus in 10 Seconds is get to the goal NOW.  YOU DON’T HAVE ANY TIME TO SIT AROUND AND LOOK AT SHIT.  GET MOVING!

10 Seconds requires the player to take his nameless block of a protagonist to the goal on every map within ten seconds.  If he fails to do this (if time runs out or the player runs into a hazard) one life is lost.  While extra lives can be gotten in some levels, the combination of time pressure and obstacle-dodging makes 10 Seconds a fair challenge.  It’s very simply animated, and the music can get annoying, but the game is basically effective at what it tries to do.  For a total cost of $0.00 and at a tiny 33 MB, it’s worth at least downloading if you have any interest in games of this sort.