Around a year ago, I joined a fortnight-ly Itch.io game club after picking up the Palestinian Aid Bundle. The club leader would post a (semi-curated) random game, and everyone would play through it.
The large itch.io bundles are perfect for buying entirely more games (and sprites, and rulebooks, and engines) than you need, while feeling like you’re helping to make the world a less terrible place. It’s the perfect way to build up a crushing, overwhelming backlog and get some unusual games without a large investment.
Here’s a sampling of the games I played and enjoyed from the bundle:
This is an interesting visual novel about a terrorist attack in the UK and political/social reactions to it, told from five different perspectives. The timeline varies by perspective, and each perspective is (typically) linear in one direction or the other, so you have a fair amount of freedom about whether you want to go forward or backwards in time. It does a good job of immersively pointing out factors that lead to radicalization, and offers a few choices here and there as well.
Some of the perspectives could’ve been better fleshed out, but playing Closed Hands is still an entertaining and edifying experience. If you’re even considering playing a visual novel about radicalization, there’s a good chance you already have several ideas this game explores bouncing around in your head – for example, that radicalization is a gradual process and frequently comes from disaffection and a sense of belonging from the (radical) group. That said, Closed Hands is a good way to ponder these ideas in more detail and see things from several perspectives.
If you ever wanted to play a town simulator game with no combat, no fail state, no pressure and no negativity, this might be your game. Calico is weird, but in good ways. It has standard “life sim” features like income and shopping, but it all feels disconnected, as if it intentionally delivers those experiences independent of any consequence. Once you have your cat cafe on your magical island, you’re free to do as you like. It’s unlike Rune Factory or Stardew Valley in that you never have to spend money to make money. You never have to check on your animals – they will always be happy and hang out in your cafe, assuming you put them there.
As you continue to explore, more and more silly features get unlocked; you can, for example, use a potion on a tabby cat to make it large enough to ride. Or turn your hair into a weird, starry nothingness. Or cook pastries by shrinking down and throwing various ingredients into a magical bowl. It’s delightfully whimsical. At the same time. Calico is buggy and unintuitive. Calico’s atmosphere can be delightful, and it’s worth a play if you are in the mood for something chill – but it is so chill that it might feel pointless, because there is nothing to overcome.
Death isn’t something that games (or people) typically dwell on for long. Coping with death is an even less frequent topic. From that perspective, what A Mortician’s Tale is trying to do is worthwhile. One of the ways that it normalizes thinking about death is through routine – you walk through similar steps to prepare bodies for display or cremation, and the idea is likely that you’re thinking about the person’s life.
A Mortician’s Tale also spends a lot of words and time lambasting the modern funeral industry (pushing more natural/ecologically friendly alternatives, which is worthwhile but seems tangential to the “coping with death” focus). While I agree with its arguments, it seemed to dwell on the topic more than necessary.
Fortune-499 is a rock-paper-scissors themed deck building game set in a large, stratified corporation and a pseudo-realistic scenario – magic exists, but generally what you have access to is more grounded. As a fortune-teller tasked with investigating mysterious happenings in various departments, you face off against (mostly) demons in a rock-paper-scissors game. There are several special rules that get introduced and your built deck resets between days, so it feels at least as much like a puzzle game.
While the core rock-paper-scissors rules are solid, the rules added later make it feel a little less strategic. Fortune-499 isn’t particularly long, though, so it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The story is relatable to anyone familiar with ridiculous corporate infighting and nonsense, but remains generally positive on the individuals involved.
I’m definitely not the right person to compare this to other “walking simulators”, as it’s a genre I have never gotten into, but this game is weird, interesting and short. It feels somehow warm and comfortable, but at the same time vaguely unsettling. It sounds like an odd combination, but it’s like a cozy little alien world you’ve been invited to for an hour of shopping at a convenience store. There are lots of things to interact with and (possibly) purchase at the store, but you’re looking for something special for your sweetheart… without saying too much, there are some difficult decisions to be made that end up feeling more personal than I expected.
I normally pick games with detailed stories, nested menus, and unnecessary anime tropes, so it was fun to play a completely different set of smaller games. If you picked up one of these bundles, I recommend flipping through the library and seeing if anything catches your interest – or joining a game club like this to experience some games you wouldn’t pick for yourself.