The Best Free Games of the Week
Someone must have asciid for an expansive roguelikey JRPG rendered entirely in textart, as we've received one in the form of the delightful SanctuaryRPG. It's a streamlined and grind-free take on Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest and early Ultima and Things Like That, and if I were to hand out badges in this column it would win the coveted Best RPG Featuring Ascii Slimes award (sponsored by that Ghostbusters ectoplasm I used to love when I was a kid). Elsewhere this week: a serene, freeform farming lifesim appeared, along with two very different platformers at opposite ends of the minimalism/maximalism spectrum. Enjoy!
SanctuaryRPG is an ascii-based roleplaying game, words that may lead you to believe that it's a roguelike (it sorta is), an impossibly huge story/history generator in the vein of Dwarf Fortress (it isn't), or a MUD. Black Shell Games' terrific single-player RPG is closer in structure to the last one; it's an expansive firstpersonish fantasy world you interact with by typing numbers on your keyboard. Narration and dialogue is playful and pretty funny, while the lack of painstakingly drawn art has allowed the team to imagine outlandish creatures and scenarios to their heart's content.
Combat – of which there is plenty – takes the form of JRPG-esque turn-based battles, tactical affairs that reminded me of FFXIII with their generosity of choice and focus on timing above all else. Despite appearances – and despite the whole permadeath thing in Classic mode – Sanctuary is actually fairly streamlined and forgiving, downplaying timesinky stuff like inventory management to ensure that you're always moving forward. As such – perhaps fittingly for a game where death is unrecoverable – it has a much faster pace than many games of this ilk.
Sticking with the black-and-white theme for a moment, Maximus Cerebrum is a combatless Metroidvania – it's essentially a much gentler VVVVVV or Gateways, with minimalist puzzles and presentation and a lightly Thomas Was Aloney plot. It's a finely engineered one too, boasting indulgently slick platforming physics and some terrific monochrome pixel art. (Via Indie Games)
JRPG-style farming/life sims are an under-represented genre on PC, so the episodic World's Dawn is one you should keep both eyes on if you've ever been swallowed up by Harvest Moon. You play the part of a new arrival to the cosy rural town of Sugar Blossom, and you're soon let loose upon the neighbourhood to explore its many nooks and crannies, eventually making your fortune by farming, cooking or doing odd jobs, and finding yourself a wife or husband in the process. In a wonderfully progressive touch, your wife or husband (you're allowed either) won't simply move in to cook you dinner; they'll keep their own job, and supplement your income with their own.
The above link covers the Spring season of World's Dawn's eventual year, with future episodes set to cover Summer, Autumn and Winter respectively, which you may recognise if you've ever seen a solar cycle through to its logical conclusion. Head here for much more info on this ginormous game, or scroll your eyes up slightly for a launch trailer.
On the opposite end of the scale to the minimalist Maximus Cerebrum we have the maximalist Mibibli's Quest, an old school platformer that throws in everything but the kitchen sink – and then throws in the kitchen sink – in an extravagant morass of ideas, bullets, chiptunes and colours, while somehow remaining cohesive as it does so. However, it's a (mostly) platformer that also brings back the hated extra lives system of yore, so YMMV if you don't like retreading trodden ground upon death. Don't let that put you off too much – I mean, just look at some of the places this proudly “over 7 bit” game will take you: