It's not often that I play a game and, midway through, realise my mouth is literally hanging agape. It's certainly not often that a free game on the internet makes that happen. Which is why it's been so delightful this week to discover Wonderputt, a game so magical that I've done my best not to spoil any of it in my write-up below. Elsewhere, there's a game about punching people so they'll take your free stuff, a room escape game that riffs on The Wizard of Oz in a troublingly dark way, and a point-and-click adventure drawn in crayon and marker pen. Read on for this week's free PC gaming picks!
Damp Gnat . Play it on Kongregate . (Immediately.)
Hmm. How to tell you about something quite so extraordinary, quite so unexpected, without spoiling the magic...
It's probably safe to tell you that you'll be playing a game of crazy golf on what looks like an insane modernised version of an M.C. Escher piece. To start with it's pretty colours and curves, but look a little closer and you'll realise that it's a vast city, drawn isometrically, stretching upwards into the sky. The game begins with a series of meteors slamming into the ground, thus creating your first hole.
It's safe to tell you that its fixed and uncomfortable viewpoint means you have to really think about the aim of your shots, but it's absolutely never fiddly or frustrating. It's a game that requires precision, but the physics are spot-on, even adapting to the specifics of the environment. Each hole offers a new challenge, but the rules remain the same. You never feel cheated out of that birdie, or anything but ecstatic at that hole-in-one.
But what I can't tell you about are the things that elevate it above being just a fun and pretty diversion. The way what begins as a straight-forward game of crazy golf grows so magestically, so surprisingly, and so consistently. Wonderputt is an endlessly, joyously creative game. It deserves to be universally played and celebrated.
Fear is Vigilance
Randomnine . Play it on the developer's website .
From the creator of Beacon comes a strange little game about shifting free safety alarms to students in a park. A version of Fear is Vigilance was released a while back, but now it's been updated, and it's rather good, in its own quirky way.
Unfortunately, no one's that interested in your safety alarms, even though they're free. So, back at home, you hatch a plan. If you go to the park at night and beat people up, the next day people might be more inclined to buy a safety alarm.
And so it goes. Each day you hope people are a little more scared, and a little more inclined to take one of your alarms. What starts with a smile quickly takes a dark twist, but it's always entertaining, whichever part of the game you're in.
No Place Like Home
Sachka Sandra Duval, Reynald François . Play it on JayIsGames .
You're in a bathroom, the sink covered in a thick brown dirt, the mirror smeared. "They'll tell me when it's time to have a wash," says the protagonist.
This is a particularly dark, impressively atmospheric room escape game, one that's as much about unraveling the mind of a thoroughly disturbed character as it is about finding the key to the front door. Few of the puzzles are especially interesting (although few are irritating, either), but it's the story that propels you onwards - a story that riffs on The Wizard of Oz in some compellingly strange ways, told via collected notes, your character's musings, and the environment around you.
It's immaculately presented in all its grimy detail, taking on an art style that sits uncomfortably between two poles, its soft colours and blurred edges giving way to unsettling scenes of a life gone wrong. This is one of my favourite room escape games in some time. It's a shame so few are this interesting.
The Book of Living Magic
Jonas Kyratzes . Play it on Kongregate .
This is a surreal, quaint and prosaic point-and-click adventure about a girl from the city of Dull. She's bored there, feels like she doesn't fit in, only makes herself happy by going around hitting people over the head. Which can't be good for her interpersonal relationships. One night she dreams of the Book of Living Magic, which promises to make everything better. So she sets off in search of it.
With a unique art style, some excellent writing that flits between serious and silly with absolute precision, and a focus on conversation and exploration over and above puzzles, The Book of Living Magic has a real sense of identity. What might put people off is the simplicity of interactions, which don't stretch much beyond clicking on someone to either exchange an inventory item or have a chat about something. But it's all so lovingly crafted, with such attention to detail, that I found myself not really caring. You might. But it's well worth a try either way.