Since starting to make games, I’ve sadly become a really bad nerd. I’ve been more and more pressed for time and haven’t been able to sit down and marathon the 60+ hour long games that I fell in love with as a kid. This isn’t as unfortunate as it sounds though--some of the best stuff coming out of independent gaming right now are short games that do something interesting, make their point, and let you get on with your life. Best of all, they tend to be free or donationware, though do consider supporting the developers if you like the free content they put out there. There’s a wealth of really amazing free games circulating around the internet, begging to be shared and loved.
Most of these run in-browser. Most of them are delightfully strange. All of them are free, so you might as well take an afternoon and blitz through these. I couldn’t possibly rank them, and there’s many more that I wish I could feature--I’ll likely submit this article and slap my forehead in an "OH GEEZ I FORGOT THAT!?" moment immediately after. However, this will have to suffice--hopefully even just one of these leads you down a rabbit hole of interesting little gamelings and their creators, much in the way you can lose a night by clicking through related articles on Wikipedia.
I’ve started and erased my intro to this game about 5 times, and I think that in and of itself is a really good description of Bubsy 3D. A lot of what makes this game interesting is how it surprises you, so go and behold how Bubsy’s grown up. Make sure you enter the Cheat Codes upon completion for extra fun.
This game has it all and knows it. Best played outloud in a group of friends so that you can collectively feel like badasses as you shout out MANTIS VICTORY SCREAM together.
Candy Box starts out wonderfully minimalist and continues to surprise you as it evolves and shapes itself into something completely different. It’s possible to totally miss the game in it if you discount it on first blush. One of the nicest parts about it is how you can let it run in the background and come back to it at will.
This looks really similar to Candy Box but takes it in a completely different direction. It’s also got some of the most compelling writing I’ve seen in a game this year, and I fell into it instantly and didn’t want to come back out.
Save The Date takes an interesting turn from dating simulator to… well, I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise. Give it a few playthroughs. Save The Date is like that one really observant friend you have that surprises you by noticing things you weren’t even paying attention to yourself. It’s also an interesting examination into how and why we tell stories.
Sounddodger is… well, for lack of eloquence it’s fucking beautiful. This game is a fresh take on music games, and the music selection is diverse and manages to avoid resorting to ONLY dubstep and jpop like so many games of it’s genre.
This one holds a special, horribly biased place in my heart as a game that pokes fun at Burning Man and Silicon Valley startup culture while being an entertaining and difficult Oregon Trail-like.
Sexuality is often portrayed unrealistically in all media, and games are scarcely an exception. Sacrilege unflinchingly examines parts and perspectives of sexuality I haven’t seen well-represented in games, while making it relatable, human, and most importantly honest.
Pause Ahead is a platformer wrapped around a clever mechanic and should be a very good pick for fans of the genre with a twist. See if you can figure out what that twist is.
Finishing up with another amazing game from Arcane Kids, you are an adventurer who must learn the mystery of snakes. Make sure you play this one with sound, and stop by the gift shop after.