Tyrian 2000

Tyrian 2000

Tyrian 2000 (by World Tree Games) is a game about flying through space and shooting everything. If you like retro games, shmups or upgrading things, you’ll love this. It’s available for free on Windows and Mac.

When I was a kid, Tyrian 2000 was the best game on my crappy 800-megahertz computer. Despite the fact that it was only a demo and not the full game, I kept coming back to it.

It’s a pure, simple shmup: pick a ship, pack it full of guns and shoot everything that moves. The upgrade system is a game in itself, with hundreds of combinations and upgrade paths for every weapon. Do you want to shoot a zillion bullets a second, or fill the screen with missiles, or carpet-bomb the entire level? It’s possible, and the choices are up to you.

Tyrian 2000 is the best shmup of its age, and possibly this age as well. Definitely give it a try.

Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story

Don't Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story

Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story (by Christine Love) is a game about finding privacy in the most public of places: high school. If you like visual novels, high school drama or social media, you’ll love this. It’s available for free on Windows, Mac and Linux.

When I was in high school, nobody had smartphones and our most effective method of communication was yelling at each other. Things are a lot different these days, and Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story (yes, that’s the full title) is a story about just how different it is.

You play a teacher at a new school, and upon arrival you’re given a tool that allows you to access the private social media feeds of all your students, without their knowledge. The game strikes a balance between traditional visual novel and investigative game, with events in the real world triggering larger discussions online that you’ll need to check out.

A great part of this game are the questions it asks: Can you teach better with this new tool? Do you allow your students to be online and offline all the time? Do people have a right to privacy? It’s your decision, so answer wisely.

The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne

The Everyday Adventures Of Samantha Browne

The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne (by Lemonsucker Games) is a game about introversion, self-doubt and oatmeal. If you like adventure games, personal stories or if you’ve ever eaten dinner alone in your bedroom, you’ll love this. It’s available for free on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Samantha Browne is very hungry, but she has two problems:

  1. She’s an introvert.
  2. There are strangers in her kitchen.

If this problem makes any sense to you, then you should play this game. The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne (aka Choose The Oatmeal) is a game about being an introvert, and all the tiny little struggles that come along with that. Feeling alone in a foreign country, being scared by the sound of doors opening, saying hello to people who don’t say hello back; these are the dire obstacles that Samantha Browne (and you) need to overcome.

It’s a short game, but a delightful one. With scratchy artwork (reminiscent of Scary Go Round), delightful music and all-too-true dialogue, The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne is a tiny morsel of joy for your Sunday afternoon. (Or your Saturday 4:00 am, which is when I played it.)

Katawa Shoujo

Katawa Shoujo

Katawa Shoujo (by Four Leaf Studios) is a game about finding romance in a school for the disabled. If you like visual novels, high school drama or romantic fiction, you’ll love this. It’s available for free on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Warning: This game includes adult content.

Katawa Shoujo was developed by a small team of forum friends and released for free under a Creative Commons license. That alone should tell how much passion and spirit went into this project. A visual novel set in a high school for the disabled, it follows Hisao Nakai’s first days in the school as he comes to terms with his unfortunate diagnosis, enters the school and falls in love with the students he meets there.

This game contains a fair few graphical sex scenes, but it also contains a lot of tenderness and care when it comes to the school’s students. There are real characters here, each portrayed and developed in a positive light. If you like seeing happy, positive characters doing happy, positive things, Katawa Shoujo is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Cookie Clicker

Cookie Clicker

Cookie Clicker (by Orteil) is a game about cookies. Lots of cookies. Way, way too many cookies. If you like idle games, stat-heavy games or ridiculous numbers, you’ll love this. It’s available for free in your browser.

At the time of this writing, I’m currently producing 138,810.8 cookies per second, from a combination of cookie factories, elderly labour and handfuls of sentient mouse cursors. Why am I baking so many cookies? So I can buy more factories, more workers and more cursors. Cookie Clicker is its own goal.

You start with zero cookies and a “bake cookie” button, but after a few clicks you’ll be able to buy assistants that click and bake for you. From humble beginnings you’ll build up an empire producing trillions of chocolate-chip wonders, all so you can buy one more little worker, factory or nuclear cookie-collider.

It’s an excellent side-game, and one that doesn’t demand too much of you. Get a few clicks in, leave it running in the background and come back every few minutes to make some interesting decisions.

Nested

Nested

Nested (by Orteil) is a game about exploring a universe, one node at a time. If you like procedural generation, data visualisation or infinite content, you’ll love this. It’s available for free in your browser.

At first glance, Nested is rather plain: a large black webpage and a single button that reads “universe”. But click that button and it unfolds to reveal more buttons, each labelled “galactic supercluster”. Further down, you’ll find galaxies, planets, continents, towns, people, vehicles, bodily organs and even atoms. And then inside those are other entire universes…

Nested is a universe simulator, presented as simply and sensibly as possible. An infinite series of collapsible universes containing everything you imagine one should contain, down to the atoms in people’s eyes and the thoughts in their heads. Sometimes it feels like the world’s biggest walking simulator, while other times it feels more like a history book about a place that never existed.

Succulents

Succulents

Succulents (by Andrew Gleeson) is a game about tending a digital garden. If you like casual experiences, farming games or soothing music, you’ll love this. It’s available for free on Windows.

As someone who wasn’t responsible enough to have a Tamagotchi, Succulents is right up my alley. You’re presented with a pixel-art rendition of a basement garden, with a bag of seeds, a water bucket and a shovel. When drop the seeds into the ground and water them, they slowly grow into gorgeous little plants.

The seeds you get are random, and if you don’t like what grows out of them you can use the shovel to dig them up and re-plant. It’s a neat little system of planting and re-planting, and over time you’ll build up a colourful and vibrant garden.

Succulents is the perfect background game. When you’re working on something and need a break from the monotony, just alt+tab over to your basement garden and spend a little time tending to your garden.

Joy Exhibition

Joy Exhibition

Joy Exhibition (by Strangethink) is a game about making art for aliens. If you like creative games, procedural generation or painting, you’ll love this. It’s available for free on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Picture this: you’re on a spacecraft full of fluorescent aliens, flying gracefully through the red-and-fuchsia mountains of some planet you’ve never seen before. What do these mysterious beings want from you? Art, apparently.

Joy Exhibition is a first-person game where you paint pictures for aliens. But this isn’t just Photoshop with a weird interface: it’s a very strange and meditative form of artwork. Your studio is a quiet little room with a bare canvas and a row of procedurally-generated paint guns. Each gun shoots paint in a different shape, colour and intensity, with those variables changing fluidly as you move around the room and the canvas.

During my playthrough I found one gun that shot hot-pink vertical strings, but as I got closer to the wall holding the canvas, the strings slowly became darker and more horizontal. Another gun splattered five beams of inky green all over the walls, but the beams tightened when I painted the upper edges of the canvas. Another drew brown caterpillars that rotated depending which direction I was facing.

This may sound infuriating, but as I played I stopped trying to paint anything in particular and just sampled each gun, letting it wreak havoc wherever it pleased. Slowly I started to understand that this game isn’t about painting in the traditional sense, but more about finding serendipitous images in the chaos provided to you. You won’t be painting the Mona Lisa anytime soon, but you might stumble across a Jackson Pollock-esque creation.

When I finished “painting”, I stepped back through the central door of my studio and found my creation upon the wall, with several (also procedurally generated) aliens admiring my handiwork. I joined them for a while and listened to the soothing sounds of the spaceship, before going back and trying out a new set of paints.