The Best Free Games of the Week

Tom Sykes

Spotted in the free games safari this week: a game about listening and bartending and CYBERPUNKS and liquid ratios, the new game from them what made A Dark Room (be excited), cat puns and an interactive space toilet. Today I watched a jettisoned pixel poo pirouette into the infinite, and so can you. Enjoy.

Gridland by Doublespeak Games

Play it online here

You've all played A Dark Room , yes? Whaaaaaat. Then go and play A Dark Room . Now. I'll wait.

*17 hours pass*

...It's good, huh? Doublespeak games are masters at making engaging, low-octane games you can play in your browser while doing other stuff, and Gridland cements that. It's a match-3, but it's really a game of building and survival: by day you match bricks or wood or stones or paper, to gather materials needed to construct a little village at the top of the screen. Neat little elements of this phase include the need to match corn to feed your heroic worker, and the way he or she will lug blocks and hammer nails when milestones are met. It's a lightly animated game, but these cute actions are a lovely reward for matching three or more things together.

When night comes, the colours invert and rats, zombies, skeletons and the like emerge as you connect their relevant icons on the game board. In this phase you're merely trying to survive, by matching swords (to attack), shields (for defence), and using the occasional found potion to supply yourself with an item or to clear the screen of baddies. Either these bits are too easy, or the difficulty gradient is too shallow, but my main concern here was getting back to the building phase in order to finish construction of my outstanding hamlet. Gridland doesn't appear to have quite as many surprises as A Dark Room—and, crucially, it's not a game that will play itself while you check Twitter—but it's an unassumingly lovely and charming hybrid that will eat a good chunk of your weekend regardless. Soz!

On the edge of Earth: 5000 by Roope Tamminen

Play it online here

Don't play On the edge of Earth: 5000 because you can sit on a toilet and make a poo float out onto the eternal canvas of space, by which I mean, don't play On the edge of Earth: 5000 just because you can sit on a toilet and make a poo float out onto the eternal canvas of space—there's other stuff going on in here too. You're a dude on a spaceship with a task to perform, that task being to terraform a nearby planet. This involves a lot of slow-walkin' between terminals, a bit of figuring things out, and quite a lot of entertainingly animated interactions along the way. Like space sitting. Or space shitting. Or opening the airlock seeing the gravity change before your eyes. A cute game of fiddling with things set in a big tin can in outer space.

Meowgical Tower by Neon Deity Games

Play it online here

I missed this from the GameBoy Jam the other week, and I'm not sure how because look at that pun. As you may have guessed, Meowgical Tower has you playing as a cat, a cat that meows. I'm not kidding: there's a dedicated meow button, which gives you something fun to press while you wait for your next temporary weapon. This is a lot like a top-down Zelda game, with blocks to push and enemies to bash and a well-designed boss fight later on, but with weapons—tools, really—that are regularly taken away from you. Your first is a key, which gets stuck in a lock; your second is a snapped-off lever, which quickly finds its rightful home. It's a small mechanic, really, but it's always surprising to find something that messes with the formula in a game modelled after the Zeldas of yore. Meowgical Tower is lovely to look at and lovely to play, aside from some sticky collision detection on doors and blocks.

VA-11 HALL-A by Sukeban Games

Download it here

'VA-11 HALL-A' is a collection of letters and numbers that here means 'Valhalla', which is a lot less irritating to type. Valhalla is a visual novel bartending game, which makes perfect sense now that I've thought about it a little bit. Your second customer—a cybernetic assassin—says as much, stating that bartenders are the best when it comes to gathering information, even if they don't tend to do anything with it. It's a game of hearing people moan, mixed in with sections where you have to make cocktails, with a branching storyline that depends on which drinks you made and how adept you were at making them. I find this much more interesting than selecting options from a menu, even if I'm terrible at the actual bartending bit. A smartly told, character-driven story set in an interesting cyberpunk world, VA-11 HALL-A is currently being fleshed out into a fullerer and longerer game, which you can find the details of here . There's a prologue available while you wait, but the main game should be out this December.

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