Cheap As Free: Games I Have Been Playing Edition

Joel Couture
MASH Veteran
 
November 20th, 2012

Broke? Game store closed for the night? If you’re reading this then you’ve got everything you need to play some excellent free games right now! In Cheap as Free, I look at fantastic games that won’t cost you a penny, often developed by people who just love games as much as you do.

I managed to find a couple of neat games this week for you guys to play for free. Many of them are quite short, but all of them will give you a fun evening at absolutely no cost.

A Mother’s Inferno is a very cool indie project about a mother trying to save her son from some creature that snatched him on a train. Moreso, though, it’s a gameplay version of the stages of loss, with your actions and the monsters representing each stage. There is a bull-like monster for anger, you have to offer a demon your eyes for bargaining, and that sort of thing.

I’ve seen the concept done before, but the discordant visuals steal the show here. Despite only having one path through the game, the visuals and the character’s reactions to monster attacks all serve to disorient the player. The screen gets blurry or filled with patches of darkness and light at different times. You get assaulted by visions of what you’re supposed to do next, all of it bleeding together to really convey the sense of panic and confusion the main character would be feeling.

Somehow, the game manages to make objectives quite clear even when it’s visually overwhelming. Enemy weak points are marked in a bright red that stands out when you’re playing, so much so that it is almost painful to look at and fits in with the jarring colors. The visions that pop up to mess with the player also show what you’re supposed to be doing in the next sequence, so some of the efforts to confuse the player will also help. It sounds silly saying that, but the system somehow works.

I can’t really call it a complaint, but I didn’t really care for the game’s attempts to confuse and disorient me. It’s probably because they worked, and it really did set me off a couple of times. It’s not a pleasant effect by any means and it isn’t supposed to be, but it’s something I can see players disliking. It’s great if you like to explore new sensations in games and see what else they can do, but if you’re not willing or interested in that sort of thing you might not like it. It really is something interesting to see, though, especially given that it was all made during a 48 hour period by its developer. Check out the link above to learn a bit more about it.

Slime Bomb Knight was another cool game I stumbled across. One important thing that none of the sites for this game discuss is that you really shouldn’t know what it’s about when you go into it. This is a game that is ruined by knowing more about what to expect from it, so I really recommend that you play it without doing any research into it. Feel free to read up on it and its developer afterward, but try to go into this game as blind as possible.

If you desperately need to know something about it, then all I can tell you is that it’s an Atari-styled platformer. I knew a lot more than that going into it, and it really did take away from the game’s payoff. It’ll only take you about ten minutes to go through the whole thing, so you should just trust me and play it. You really don’t have much to lose.

I never expected to play a claymation rendering of Hell in my life, but Will You Ever Return? does just that. It’s a short exploration game at its heart, one that tasks you with finding skulls and a few other items hidden all over the bizarre landscape. It’s done with a sense of humor, something that should go without saying when you have hell and claymation in the same sentence.

The visuals alone are worth the half hour you might spend playing the game. It’s just absurd to see all of these flaming pits and people in agony all rendered in clay. I’m not talking some skilled craftsman working with it, either, but rather clay figures that look like they were put together by a kindergarten class. I don’t mean that as an insult to the developer as the simplistic creatures just add to the silliness of the experience and were probably a conscious decision on his part. The goofy internet images and stupid jump scare picture just add to the bizarre atmosphere as well. It’s the sort of game that will have you chuckling and scratching your head the whole time you play it.

What’s strangest of all is that I can’t help but shake the feeling that this work is trying to say something significant. Despite pulling visuals from the movie Ghost and being an exploration of this silly version of hell, it feels like there is some message there about loss. It’s ridiculous most of the time, but there’s still something about sifting through all of this madness just so you can say one last thing to your girlfriend that is oddly touching. Its portrayal is deranged, but the character’s last quests are still something human and relatable. Whether you’re into unique visuals in a game, silly dialogue, or strangely emotional games, it’s worth your time.

I know I said these games would be short, but sometimes that’s only the case if you’re good at the game. L’Abbaye Des Morts is a ZX Spectrum-era platformer by developer Locomalito, a guy currently working on the Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts-like game Maldita Castilla. It’s at least another month before that game gets released, but in the meantime there’s a lot of frustrating fun to be had in L’Abbaye Des Morts (and all of the other neat games he has available for free on his site).

Using the backdrop of the persecution and execution of the Cathars in the 13th century, the game has you fleeing a group of crusaders and hiding in an abandoned church. Unfortunately, said church is filled with evil creatures that are very interested in seeing you dead. It was a cool back story, especially when you think about how the main character finds that staying in this dangerous castle and facing these monsters is a preferable fate to going outside and facing what was waiting for him there.

The game takes platforming and makes it just a little bit more stressful, too. Usually, you can jump on an enemy’s head to kill it or at least do something to fight back. You’re helpless in this game, though, and you will easily whittle through all nine of the lives you start the game with because of it. There are many lives strewn throughout the church to keep you going, but the extreme danger you’re in will probably eat up all of them as well.

The game is pretty devious with its platforming. Your character has a decent jump that can get him over a lot of stuff, but the game is very good at combining hazards. You rarely have to jump over just one thing, typically having to contend with a cliff, poisonous drips from the ceiling, and other attacks all flying around you. The windows to get through some of these areas are pretty small, and you have to be patient and wait for the opportunity to get by. It took a lot of tries to get through.

Getting around enemies is just the start, though. This game encourages you to poke around and try things. There are lots of levers and actions the player can perform that the game doesn’t explain, and there are a few hidden passages that need to be found to finish the game. I tended to look at the rooms as individual puzzles rather than pieces of a single place when I played it, and it slowed me down quite a bit. The whole building is one large puzzle, and while it’s not excessively complicated it will keep you busy for a while before you finish it.

Despite its simplistic colors it has a dark vibe to it. Its character models are large and cartoonish, but the subject matter makes everything a little creepy. The back story is typically something you can throw away for most platformers, but in this game it tied everything together. The representations of creatures in the game were primitive, but the whole ambiance of the game really makes it fun to play through. Fans of challenging games and horror games should both like it.

Finally, there was the Megaman Sprite Game created by the same guy who does the webcomic. It’s…odd. It’s also a good time for the hour or so you’ll be playing it, and it really scratched the RPG itch I get every once in a while. I have a lot of trouble finding the time for an RPG these days, something that’s made even worse by the fact that I hate leaving games unfinished. So, finding one that I could get through in just over an hour had me sitting down and playing it as soon as I heard about it.

Until the game tells you otherwise, always walk on the paths the game provides. I know it sounds silly, but there is a bad ending in the game that revolves around you stepping off the path. That probably sounds stupid to you, and I assure you it was, but it’s in keeping with the rest of the game. It carries itself with a bizarre, internet sense of humor. I’m not talking about memes and lolcats, but it does seem to have a similar style of humor. If you’re in the right mood this game can be downright hilarious, but it’s the kind of funny that is just about impossible to describe to another human being without showing them the game.

As an example, Protoman is your uncle, and he has a broken leg and has become fat from being confined to a wheelchair. He now has a hatred for the ozone layer because it lets him get horrible sunburns. Also, basketball seems to factor into a lot of jokes, either as a nod to the equally ridiculous Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden Chapter One of the Hoopz Barkley Saga, or because basketball is just funny in and of itself. I really can’t explain why, but deranged basketball-based humor just seems to work on me. It’s all silly and can be really funny if you’re in the right mood when you play it (I’m especially open to stupid jokes around 2am when I’m half-exhausted), but just don’t expect to be able to explain it to anyone afterward.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s a good RPG, either. Overworld exploration and grinding are at a minimum to keep the game short, and the dialogue is all infused with the game’s bizarre humor and charm so it’s fun to read. The combat plays out pretty much the same as it would in any other RPG, except there are no MP to keep track of or anything like that. Instead, you can use magical attacks at will, but they aren’t as high-powered as they might be in another game.

The free magic makes them game pretty easy, but really, it’s not the sort of game you pick up for the challenge. It’s something fun to play if you feel like an RPG but don’t really want to get invested in one. The sense of humor could turn some players away, but if you’ve ever spent an evening watching videos on YouTube then you’ll probably get a kick out of the weird jokes. Good luck talking about it when people ask what you’ve been playing, though.

META

A horror-obsessed gamer, Joel is still spending his days looking for something to scare himself as much as Fatal Frame. Even so, he has ridiculous action games and obscure gems to keep him happy in the meantime. A self-proclaimed aficionado of terrible retro games, he's always looking for a rotten game he hasn't played yet, and may be willing to exchange information for candy.

Specialty: Horror