This week’s itch.io-based Bundle For Ukraine, organized by Necrosoft Games, has already raised $4 million for International Medical Corps and Voices of Children, and still has a week to go. It’s bloody wonderful! It also results in everyone having 992 video games, physical games, books, and albums in their account, which is quite the daunting prospect. So let us help.
Itch.io’s charity bundles are an extraordinary thing. Last year, Alanna Linayre organized a bundle that raised $900,000 for Palestine, while the year before itch.io themselves hosted the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality that raised a mindblowing $8.1 million. Now it’s happening all over again, in response to the atrocities in Ukraine, and hopefully the millions of dollars pouring in will make a real difference.
But each time, the result for the kindly giver is a complete avalanche of games, under which one can become too easily buried. Won’t someone think of the people with too many games to play?
To help, I’ve gone through and picked out some absolute gems amongst the 573 games you’ll now own, to at least give you a way in. I don’t want to spend too much time on the most obvious picks, because I assume you already know to check out Skatebird, Wandersong, SUPERHOT, and Baba Is You. Instead, let’s delve deeper.
One of last year’s best games, Ynglet (from the flawless developer Nifflas) reimagined platforming as a form of swimming, then set it in a minimalist world of colourful joy. It’s a deep dive into satisfying movement, and such a clever study of platforming, offering interesting challenge while feeling calm and happy. It’s pretty damned masterful.
Pixel artist Octavi Navarro, who provided the art for Thimbleweed Park, has turned his hand to a series of episodic adventures inspired by The Twilight Zone. Each of the three released episodes tells a short, mysterious tale with a twist ending, and all of them are included in the bundle. I especially enjoyed the second one, The Goodbye Note.
Don’t be fooled by the odd title card on the video above—Sagebrush is in fact a super-low-poly adventure game, about returning to the abandoned site of a former cult. Many years back there was a mass suicide, and now you are wandering over the collapsing remains, in a surprisingly sensitive, yet very harrowing narrative. It so cleverly avoids sensationalism or exploitation, and instead offers a sombre, moving exploration of a very difficult topic.
Developers Rusty Lake have been making extraordinarily odd, Lynchian games for years, and I highly recommend their archive. From it, you now own the superbly spooky Rusty Lake Hotel, and also The White Room, an intriguingly weird spin-off game that sits alongside the series. Don’t find out anything, just play it. Trust me.
Just out on Nintendo Switch last month, Welcome To Elk was one of 2020's best games, and somehow people didn’t notice. This is an absolutely stunning story of small-town Scandinavia, using mixed media from point-and-click cartoon adventure to FMV film interviews. It’s about death, grief, loneliness and friendship, and manages this without being morose or maudlin. Also it contains gaming’s greatest ever minigame, in which you cannot help but make beautiful music.
I’d forgotten about Secrets Of Raetikon! Certainly it’s unspellable name doesn’t help with that, but what a fool I am, because this is just titrated loveliness. You play a bird in a polygonal world, and your job as a bird is to fly around. That’s what birds are paid for. What’s most important here is just how well it does that flying, making its puzzles and collectibles a pleasure to play, in amongst an animal world. I’m so pleased to have been reminded to play this some more!
You know where a lot of metroidvanias go wrong? They sort of don’t want to be played by you. Sure, they want to be played by Steve, but god, don’t you think braggy old Steve has enough games already? Batbarian is far more interested in you, and couldn’t care less if Steve likes it or not. Bloody Steve. It’s an explore-me-do platform game which lets you choose the difficulty. It absolutely can be Steve-like, tough-as-nails impossibility, but if you find boss fights a barrier to your entertainment, then just set the game to slow motion, or bump up your attack, or make healing far more effective. It’s a game that trusts you to pick the setup that works for you. And then helpfully offers a flipping marvellous time playing it.
Here’s what’s wrong with so many roguelikes: You never see the end! (OK, yes, I know, but let’s just go with it.) Gutwhale is that rarest of things: a short roguelike. Somehow built in only a month, by only three people, this is a manic and wonderful action-platformer in which you can only carry one bullet at a time. Once you’ve fired it, you need to go pick it up again, see? And if you catch it before it hits the ground, then refire, that’s a combo! It’s just brilliant.
As I’ve scrolled through the joyful madness, looking for games with which I’m already familiar and can heartily recommend, I’ve spotted so very many more I now desperately want to play next. This is an astonishing collection of games, raising an astonishing amount of money. Don’t miss out on this.