It's Steam for the indie crowd
Over the past few years, the gaming portal Itch.io has been making a name for itself as the indie antithesis to Steam. There are no barriers to entry for game developers, unlike with Valve's storefront. Additional features, such as the ability to tip creators, has turned Itch.io into a breeding ground for games that are off the beaten path. Spending a few hours on the site (or in its PC app) is a fine way to expand your sense of what games can do.
To get you started, here are a dozen of the best, weirdest, or just plain interesting indie games—both free and paid—that you'll find on Itch.io, but not on Steam.
This game from Daniel Linssen is part platformer, part chat room. Type out a line of text, and it becomes an obstacle course full of projectiles, springboards, and moving platforms. The best part? Anyone who enters the chatroom can immediately play your creation, and vice versa. [Free, store link]
This take on the survival genre strips away all landscaping and scenery, and puts you on a plank of wood in the middle of a vast ocean. Survival involves looking for salvage that you can craft into potable water, food, and better living conditions. You'll also have to contend with an ever-present shark that seems to hate your personal comfort. [Free, store link]
Project99 doesn't refer to any particular game, but rather a series of experiments from Sun Park, Jooeun Hwang, and Jaewon Yoo, released in a bundle every month for 99 cents apiece. February's entry, for instance, uses the keyboard's ZXCVBN keys as the controls for a slot machine-like RPG, a groovy audio/visual experience, and a spacebear rescue mission. [$0.99, store link]
There's nothing overly weird about helpcomputer's Prime Mover, but it is a fiendishly difficult platformer that pays homage to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum console. Each screen presents new obstacles to navigate using your jetpack and drill, and you've only got three lives and three continues to get through the whole thing. [Free, store link]
It's hard to say whether a Henry David Thoreau simulator would get much traction on Steam, but it's right at home on Itch.io. Players must learn self-reliance through fishing and foraging around Walden pond, but Game Innovation Lab also hopes you'll break from survival mode to appreciate the natural—or, computer-generated—splendor all around you. [$18.45, store link]
It's hard to say exactly what Loren Schmidt's Strawberry Cubes is, aside from a platform-like game with unclear rules that makes heavy use of glitch effects. Perhaps the game's official description will help?
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Maybe not. [$2.00, store link]
Let's be honest: Burgerwave, as a game, is not particularly good. But you have to appreciate the audacity of a game in which you roll a cheeseburger along fluorescent pathways, dodging the occasional spinning ketchup bottle, while listening to the soothing synths of a vaporwave soundtrack. Somewhere, there ought to be a market for this. [$1.00, store link]
If you're a fan of Super Meat Boy, Daniel Linssen's splotchy, high-difficulty platformer will probably scratch a similar itch. The goal in each of Outline's 50 levels is to reach the exit, a task that requires precise leaps, avoidance of deadly obstacles, and a narrator that seems to strongly dislike you. It's theoretically beatable in an hour, and immensely satisfying if you can. [$3, store link]
Perhaps it's a commentary on video games' dogged pursuit of realism. Or maybe it's just a pleasant simulator of natural light for people in windowless offices. In any case, don't expect too much in daffodil's window blind simulator, beyond fiddling with some things on your virtual desk and listing to a trippy soundtrack. Just relax and take in the atmosphere. [$5, store link]
League of Lonely Geologists
This isn't so much a game as it is a shared admiration for shiny things. Root around on a virtual dirt surface, and you'll dig up rocks that can be named, described, and traded for other players' discoveries. Every unearthed stone then appears in the game's online catalog, which currently has about 500 contributors. The collaboration, it seems, is its own reward. [Free, store link]
What makes Shelly Alon's mouse-controlled shmup different from others is how it fashions itself as a portal to some 1990s operating system, with blue screens of death and indecipherable error codes breaking into the field of play. It's worth playing for the format of the main menu alone. [$1.99, store link]
Vision Soft Reset
BetaShark's platformer borrows heavily from Metroid, but with one crucial distinction: Enemies' moves are telegraphed ahead of time. While the gift of foresight might seem like a cheat, it has a neat way of eliminating trial-and-error without sacrificing intensity. Vision Soft Reset is a work in progress, but you can play it for free in the meantime. [Free, store link]