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Asphyx is a Weird, Free Game. Try It.

Hey guys. Yeah, I know, it's been awhile. But I just wrapped up a show, and it's election night, and I'm here watching the results come in and trying out free games. This is one I think you'll like.

It's called Asphyx, and it's a game that lets you cheat if you want to, but you probably won't want to.

In broad terms, it's just a side scrolling platform puzzler - you run left and right, you jump, you hit switches to open pathways you couldn't get to before. The primary puzzle element, and your only enemy, is water - parts of the world are flooded, and you'll need to go underwater without running out of breath.

Here's the hook: it's your breath you need to not run out of. You, the player at the keyboard. The game has no mechanic for monitoring you, and it trusts you. If you want to claim you can hold your breath for four minutes, go ahead, it won't complain. If you want to play honestly, just hold your breath every time your character dips under the water, and take a deep gasp every time he pops out again. If you take a breath while he's under water, press Escape to admit defeat and try again.

It's not a game full of brilliant level design - it's a Flash platformer, and perhaps no more remarkable than any other I've played in that respect. But the personal challenge introduced by its unique honor system is very compelling, and I had a lot of fun testing myself in a way I can't remember doing in a video game recently. It's free, go give it a shot and see how you do. Just don't pass out.

Thanks to RockPaperShotgun for the heads up.


Buy Hero Academy, Play it With Me.

Hero Academy is a game by Robot Entertainment. (They also made Orcs Must Die! and its sequel.) An asynchronous multiplayer game, which is to say that you take your turn, and then the game lets your opponent know that it's their turn. They take their turn when they have time, you take your turn when you have time, rinse & repeat until somebody wins.

It's a fairly simple strategy game - you have a grid-based map on which you and your opponent each have a number of crystals. By deploying offensive and defensive units on to the map, you try to destroy the crystals of your opponent by protecting your own. There are also items you can use to help your team, and spells, and units that have special abilities; a fair amount of variety and depth is contained within a simple formula.

For being varied and deep, though, Hero Academy plays fast. You always have a randomized "hand" of six units/items/spells to deploy, so you don't get overwhelmed by options, and matches don't take that many turns to play out (how long that'll take just depends on how quickly you and your opponent take your turns).

First launched on iPhone / iPad earlier this year, it started out as a fairly straightforward if quirky fantasy-themed affair. The developers have a sense of humor, though, and since the game's release they've added steampunk dwarves, brutish orcs, and - now that the game is on Steam - a team based around Team Fortress 2. Which doesn't make any sense, but it doesn't have to, because it's just a wacky good time and they aren't telling a story here. The result feels like a cartoony board game with tiny expansion packs, which I think is pretty great.

Take a couple minutes and check out the trailer.

If this looks like your thing, it's five measly dollars on Steam. Four dollars apiece if you buy two copies. And you can play against everybody who already owns the game on their iPhones / iPads. The purchase price gets you two of the teams - others are available for a few bucks more, but the game plays great just with the default set.

I've been playing Hero Academy for months on my iPhone, and it gets at least a little of my time almost every single day. Launching the game on Steam and allowing cross-platform play is a brilliant thing for Robot Entertainment to have done. I'm "Ravenlock" (on Steam and in this game). Buy it and play it with me. Thanks.


Free First Person Roguelike? Yes, Please.

I like Roguelikes. I like the randomized levels, I like the brutal but generally fair gameplay, I like the feeling of slow but genuine improvement as you fail a little bit better each time. (If you have no clue what I'm talking about, go look at the articles I wrote for Spelunky, or Dungeons of Dredmor, or Shoot First, or Desktop Dungeons, and you'll get the idea.) I also like free games that experiment with something new. So, even in a slightly rough, unfinished state, Delver makes me very happy indeed.

Coming as so many good things do from TIGSource, Delver is "a first person action roguelike"... an attempt "to combine the mechanics of games like Ultima Underworld with the depth and replayability of a roguelike." In practice, right now it plays a little like Doom, a little like Nethack, and a little like The Legend of Grimrock. Which, itself, plays like a lot of old classic games. Here's a video where the designer speaks for himself a bit:

I've only done a couple runs through Delver so far, but there's a lot I like about it.

  • The interface is minimal but functional. A hotbar, popups for map and inventory, and a key that toggles between mouselook and interaction with the mouse pointer. That's all it needs, so that's all it has.
  • The world feels at least somewhat complex - nothing like Nethack levels of madness yet, this is still an alpha version - but intuitive. If a trap is on the floor and you can trick an enemy into walking on it, the trap will harm them instead of you. You can also trigger traps by tossing unwanted items onto them (hence the Grimrock comparison), which gives you a good reason to pick up "junk" like skulls, or keep items after their usefulness has run out (wands out of charges, swords you've already got better versions of, etc).
  • Combat is simple but satisfying. Enemies vary in attack patterns and potency, so you'll need to put some thought into which ones to tackle first, and how (melee vs ranged combat being the primary distinction).
  • The game never stops, so you need to be on your toes about things like inventory management and checking the map. I like that I need to find a safe spot to do those things.
  • I like the aesthetic. It's intentionally low-fi, but charming. Good music, too.

It isn't entirely without its problems - there are still some bugs in there, like combat sounds disappearing when I enter a new level sometimes, and I don't like how random the enemy respawning seems to be. It is in the flavor of Roguelikes to have enemies respawn, but in this it seems like a room I just cleared can suddenly have bad guys in it when I go back in, and that's aggravating.

That won't end well for anyone.

Still, I expect I'm going to spend quite a bit of time with Delver. It's still being actively updated by developer Chad Cuddigan - the latest build is only a few days old, and apparently he's working on getting bows & arrows working the way he wants now. If you like it enough to toss him a couple bucks and you have an Android device, it's also in the Google Play store for $2, which seems quite reasonable to me. (It looks pretty great on my Nexus 7.) The Windows version is totally free, though, so get delving.


More Tiny Barbarian!

This is just a lovely bit of news (courtesy RockPaperShotgun again): Tiny Barbarian, which I was enamored with enough to write this article praising it back in February of last year, is getting a sequel! From the developer page:

Tiny Barbarian is back for all-new adventures in the upcoming Tiny Barbarian DX! The new game, currently in development, is completely reprogrammed for a smoother, faster, and more colorful experience, with new enemies to fight, more treasures to find, and pixellated damsels to rescue.

The original was a great example of tightly focused design leading to a short, extremely pleasant experience, and I'm really happy to hear it's getting a follow up. The trailer (which I'll embed below and is oddly silent) makes it look like maybe a few new mechanics are being introduced (beast riding!), but I trust StarQuail not to let it get too bloated.

No information yet on when it's coming or whether this one will also be taken from original Conan fiction (The Frost Giant's Daughter made great source material for the original game, so I'd love to see them take on more of Robert E. Howard's stories) but I'll certainly be looking out for it either way.


Another Free Little Gem - Seedling

Thanks go to RockPaperShotgun for pointing me towards Seedling, a delightful little Flash game on Newgrounds that evokes classic Legend of Zelda gameplay (A Link to the Past in particular) in a pretty great way. Controls are extremely minimal, as Flash game controls are wont to be, but Connor Ullman manages to cram a lot of good exploration, item collection and puzzle solving into what he's got to work with.

From his website:

Seedling (renamed from “Shrum”) is an adventure game in which you play as a small boy who is tasked with finding a seed to replace an enormous tree for your creator, the Oracle.  You will fight many monsters, collect many tools, and eventually find a way to get to the seed—at whatever cost that may be to yourself and this old land you have changed so much along the way.

...Seedling features over 100 areas spread across an overworld with eight dungeons, six different weapons, and several other types of items that give the player new abilities that will help them traverse a world that varies from icy wasteland, to heavy forest, underground caverns, floating clouds, and magic castles.  Boss battles and enemy grunts will meet the player at every turn as they try to gather the tools necessary to reach the seed; a goal that will destroy beings known as the Creatures of the Relic, all while under the eye of the Watcher, who sees and judges your every action.

Here's a trailer, which should make the aesthetic inspiration very clear to anyone who owned a Super Nintendo. (EDIT: @lavos quite correctly points out that Link's Awakening on the Gameboy might be a better reference point for the visual style. I think I have Link to the Past on the brain due to a recent jaunt through the Wii Virtual Console.)

I've only put about a half hour into it so far, enough to get the starting items and explore a bit into the landscape, but there's a whole lot to like here for a free game you can play in your web browser.

One notable change from the classic formula - your health regenerates every room, so if you die, your loss of progress is extremely minimal. I'm not sure that sort of mechanic would serve Link to the Past, but Seedling is twitchy enough that it's nice for it not to punish you too harshly for the occasional failure.

I'll be going back to it for sure. If it sounds like your thing, go give it a try.