Sawbuck Gamer is our occasional roundup of free and cheap games ($10 or less).
PBS Idea Channel recently produced a video arguing that the internet is cats. Despite the weirdness of the claim, its basis is undeniable. It’s almost impossible to log on to your web services of choice without being overwhelmed by whiskered balls of fluff demanding your adoration. The folks at developer Nitrome have decided that enough (cats) is enough (cats) and made a game all about scrubbing cats from the internet using a virus that multiples every time it devours a cat video. The virus is called Oodlegobs, and it is both as cute and as vicious as it sounds.
The player moves their ever-expanding army of oodlegobs across the obstacle-ridden cyberspace in an effort to infect every last digital kitten. The bulk of the challenge comes from organizing the gobs into living towers to reach high platforms and buttons or jumping gaps in compacted groups to keep strays from falling to their doom. Even in death, though, the oodlegobs can serve a greater purpose. Any gobs unfortunate enough to impale themselves on the rows of spikes that litter the information superhighway act as cushions, allowing the rest of the gobs to venture forward across their backs. The only way to make it through is careful planning, communication, and teamwork, which is where the oodlegobs have the clear advantage—after all, cats are notoriously self-serving and have no regard for others. When’s the last time you saw a video of two or more cats working together toward a common goal, say, opening a can of tuna? Or singing in unison? Ooh, or maybe dressed as the continental congress dancing to “Sit Down, John” from 1776. I would totally watch that! I wonder if that’s on YouTube yet…[DS]
There are a lot of type nerds out there—Gutenberg fanboys and fangirls with their own Platen press at home and who think the 2007 typography documentary Helvetica has good replay value. For these folks, Type:Rider, a gorgeous game that takes the player through the history of lettering, the appeal is obvious. (No one else, it stands to reason, will be geeked to see a likeness of early 16th century French engraver Geoffroy Tory included in the game.)
But how does it play out for those of us whose interest in font aesthetics doesn’t go much beyond a general distaste for Comic Sans? Using touchscreen controls, you direct a mobile colon (the punctuation mark, not the internal organ) as it rolls through the history of type. Most of the obstacles are giant letters arranged in what appears to be some kind of Byzantine illuminocalypse. Your colon traverses them using momentum and well-timed jumps. Meanwhile, the player is treated to a chronological history of the printed word and also to the pleasures of a strange, lonely world. Type:Rider isn’t challenging, in the sense that it’s hard to advance the game, but its sense of exploration and wonder is palpable, even without caring about the fundamental differences between Cambria and Calibri. [DT]
The original Candy Box was a curio whose quaint text “graphics” and spare, naive writing made it an internet phenomenon for a hot minute. The game drew players in with little surprises that emerged as its world expanded, but its most important surprise was the fact that such an oddity existed at all. Candy Box 2 has none of that freshness going for it—a reality that surely wasn’t lost on its creator, aniwey—so it raises the question of whether such ephemeral whimsy can survive in a sequel. And while Candy Box 2 isn’t quite the revelation that its predecessor was, aniwey’s sweetness still has some shelf life left.
In both games, your “quest” is an undirected, ongoing exploration of the game’s secrets, and your sources of power are ever-escalating supplies of candies and lollipops (which tick up as long as you leave the browser tab open). Candy Box 2 places less of an emphasis on watching numbers go up. While you still have a lollipop farm and you still must find ways to hoard more and more candies, these quantitative pursuits are somewhat beside the point. This sequel is more about poking around the ASCII-art landscape to see what you can find.
With the sequel, aniwey strikes a nice exploratory rhythm. Once one mini-quest (say, an undersea battle against jellyfish) wears thin, a new frontier is liable to open up. The Candy Box 2 map seems almost lavish, with a homey little village, a dragon’s castle, and other fantastical lands. But with this new vastness the minimalist visual palette takes on a new resonance, with the text-only look implicitly mocking aniwey’s efforts to craft an elaborate world. There’s something relaxing about a game that refuses to dazzle players, giving us permission to simply be amused rather than demanding that we be wowed. That unassuming friendliness is what endures even as the novelty of Candy Box has worn off. [JT]
The Canadian comedy group The Frantics wrote a genius game show parody for its roster of radio sketches in which the show’s goal was to guess the rules of the game. The contestants squirm and struggle to understand the game’s meta-rules, but they are just as ecstatic to be playing as a middle-aged Midwestern couple performing some inane task on an episode of Truth Or Consequences.
The same principles are applied in Ryan Melmoth’s Mond Cards, except you’re the one doing the squirming and struggling to understand the rules of what appears to be a simple card game. Mond Cards throws you into some sort of alien limbo where an eyeless overlord challenges you to a card game in exchange for your freedom. He gives you some vague hints as to how each round is played, but they don’t make the game easier to understand. Your opportunities to actually play and experiment with the rules are few and far between. (Mr. No Eyes and his friends are real Chatty Cathys.) Just when the game’s rules felt within reach, they would slip away, and I realized I was just as clueless as when I had started. But there is fun to be had from getting lost in Mond Cards’ confusing meta-maze and laughing while fumbling through each hand. [DG]
The story of King Kong is a tragic one. He was happy to just roam around with dinosaurs on his island, but humans had to go and capture him and put him on display. When he tries to escape with the woman he loves, by climbing the tallest tower he can find, he’s killed for his trouble.
Likewise the monsters you’re fighting in Freak Tower don’t seem to have particularly malevolent motivations. Whether it’s a mushroom-covered giant turtle, a flaming lobster, or Cthulhu, they’re just slowly drifting to the top of your apartment building, leaving it and its denizens unmolested. Unfortunately for those creatures, the tower’s residents are eager to kill monsters and sell their parts to interested vendors. You gradually grow your tower by adding either apartments to attract more tenants or put them to work in a variety of businesses. Working residents make you money that you can use to build more floors, and they’ll also defend the floors by chucking stuff at any approaching monster.
Like all “freemium” games, you can use real money to do just about everything in Freak Tower. But there’s plenty to do without spending a dime, like collecting rewards that improve specific businesses and raising pets to live with your extremely weird denizens—the likes of which include syringe-wielding guys with crazy hair and beaker-toting women surrounded by ghosts. There’s even a slot machine that can summon special freaks like a “reviewer” who helps a business do better. You’re probably the bad guy in these monster fights, but that doesn’t make them any less satisfying. [SN]