This Week's Waste of Time

Our long haul through the Independent Games Festival entrants begins

e7: That little blob? You.
e7: That little blob? You.

And so it begins. Time for the yearly trek through the roughly 400 video-game entries to the Independent Games Festival. This year's fest puts local indie-gaming overlord Brandon Boyer at the helm even though the event itself takes place in San Francisco. Going through all these games is going to take a while so we let's get started.

Let me first lower the expectations of me as a martyr, playing all 400 games and sharing my thoughts with you. That is not going to happen. As is the purview of this blog column, I'm only concerned with games that are playable on your average Web browser at no cost. That easily cuts the contenders in half. Winnowing down the entrants even more is the fact that many of the games are not finished and therefore unplayable in their current state. They're obviously out as well. What's left is less than a tenth of the original 400. So, stop pitying me, if you were, in fact, empathizing with me.

Without further ado, here are the playable games for entrants 1-100 (or so):

Take control of a geometrically headed creature and explore the world of consumerism with this important message disguised as a platformer. Try and find all of the items to improve your home's bling factor. How do you win? That's the twist. A twist I won't spoil here. Honestly, Afterland's gameplay appears to be an afterthought so you might want to skip this one if you already understand that material goods will not bring happiness. Commies.

Another platformer with the unique element being that you can flip your character so as to turn the sky into the ground and vice versa. A slightly more attractive take on the Shift series of games, you can read all about how these games work on a previous Waste of Time column. It's an interesting use of negative space, but has certainly been done before.

This one's for the kids, or adults who forgot their grade school science lessons (like me). Players are put in control of a cell who must fight off diseases and ultimately save the world. The lessons go pretty fast for any real retention, but repeated plays or a more in depth review between chapters of the game would fix that. The story is just silly and corny enough without going overboard. The controls are intuitive and introduces slowly making the educational trip painless. The very idea of a painless educational trip is reason enough to recommend CellCraft.

This is part of an increasingly popular genre of indie games that I call WTF games. Put random elements together, focus on getting laughs more than making it fun, put in a lot of save points, and you have a game that will likely grow tiresome after a few minutes. This one features a dinosaur that is brought into the future to help fight a war. Or something like that. Ugh.

Crush the Castle 2:
You've likely played a game like this before. The physics-based "destroy everything in sight" gameplay is undeniably fun but this has been done numerous times before. Take, for example, Crush the Castle 1.

One-man programmer/designer/composer, Jonas Richner takes a page from the shadowy world of Limbo, and drops a Roomba-esque creature onto a mysterious planet with only your own body as a weapon. Hurl yourself at laser-wielding enemies to destroy them. What's more, you can't jump, only depress yourself into the spongy landscape and be launched when you release. It's an interesting mechanic that's just tricky enough to make players want to master it.

This week's winner? Surprisingly, I'm going to give it to CellCraft for being one of the few educational games that balances entertainment and education without seeming like it's trying to pull the wool over kids' eyes. I've played enough that mask their lessons in a way that always feels duplicitous to me. CellCraft is more of a teachers aid, and does the job well.

That's all for now. Entrants 100 through 200 will be coming next week.

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This Week's Waste of Time
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James Renovitch, Feb. 8, 2013

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TWWT, Independent Games Festival, e7, Cellcraft, Crush the Castle 2, Contrasaurus, AltShift, Afterland

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