Browsing Itch.io's popular games page is the perfect place to find small, interesting indies. I always have a quick scour when I have a lunch break to fill or want to play something a little different. The turnover of games is pretty quick, with each week bringing new, creative indies to the forefront and it's been like that since the website launched eight years ago.
But one particular game has held the top spot week after week for a string of months now, and that's Friday Night Funkin'. It's a beatboxing DDR game where you use WASD to match the onscreen arrows at the right time to some killer music, and it's a riot. Not only that but FNF's consecutive top placement has been backed by a ravenous fanbase. The community's love for this game has, in short, exploded online.
Thanks to the FNF being open-source, fans have modded their own creations with brilliant results, the top list on Itch.io featuring plenty of inspired fan spin-offs. Individual songs in the OST have been downloaded and listened to millions of times on Spotify, and YouTube videos featuring modded creations reach millions of views.
It's pretty incredible to see and it's well deserved for what is a fun and dynamic rhythm game. But, the one thing that stuck out for me when I first played it, was how Friday Night Funkin' feels so distinctly like Newgrounds. It was a throwback so hard I got whiplash.
It's strange how a game released last year has the ability to feel like it was from one of the old gaming titans of the early 2000s. Newgrounds was such a distinct time in gaming history, a place where many animators and developers cut their teeth and gained a following long before social media was even a thing. It's no surprise then, that FNF's creators actually met through the site, with the goal of creating the "Newgrounds game they've always wanted."
Friday Night Funkin' was first made as an entry for the Ludum Dare 47 back in October 2020, and then got uploaded to Newgrounds. Soon after, the team released a chunky update exclusive to Newgrounds, which brought in so much traffic it crashed the site, forcing it to undergo offline maintenance for several days.
It's a testament to how wildly popular Friday Night Funkin' is, and all despite it not even being finished yet. A Kickstarter for the full release, Friday Night Funkin': The Full Ass Game, launched in April 2021 and reached its goal of $60,00 in a couple of hours and soon went on to raise over $2 million—no surprise there.
It's quite amazing to see another small indie reach incredible heights, and it's a trend we've seen again and again, like with Among Us, Phasmophobia, and Valheim. Part of the appeal and success for Friday Night Funkin' is that it feels distinctly like a 'Newgrounds game'. It's bold character designs, a hint of cheekiness, simple inputs, the addictive vibe of a difficult Flash game—it's a hyper-specific feeling of a moment in internet history, and trying to describe it is like explaining Can I Has Cheezburger to someone.
Friday Night Funkin' doesn't inherently feel like a Newgrounds game because of these features alone, but the outpouring of work the community has generated. The team's decision to make it open-source and to have modding be as easy as possible is reminiscent of the tools and accessibility of early creators using Flash. FNF inspires the same creativity Newgrounds inspired at its peak popularity, where people come together to share their creations.
I haven't been on Newgrounds in over a decade and seeing Friday Night Funkin' sitting at number one on the top of site's' most popular games, scrolling through McMillen’s The End is Nigh, Cavanagh’s VVVVVV, Metanet’s N++, and Ubisoft’s Trials, Alien Hominid, The Impossible Quiz, Happy Wheels, and many more, is a nostalgic feeling.
Friday Night Funkin' reminds us of a special piece of internet history and how it paved the way for artists and developers alike. Adobe pulled the plug on Flash in 2019, and Newgrounds has never reached the heights it did in the 2000s, but it's great to see the same community spirit lives on through games like Friday Night Funkin'.