I just accidentally spent a couple of hours playing a browser game for free and it was one of the best games I’ve played today. That’s the joy of itch.io. You never know what you are going to find or how much of your precious time it will steal.
For those who are new to itch.io it is a game repository where small, back-bedroom, indie developers upload their creations for critique, exposure and hopefully with a little bit of luck, some financial reward.
The critique comes from the community that provides feedback on all aspects of the game as well as QA testing for bugs that they come across during play. Exposure can come from huge YouTuber Let’s Players who pick up some of the quirkier or funnier games for their channels and promote them to their audiences. Financial reward comes from selling the game either for a price set by the developer or more often by donation at an amount left open for the player to decide. Many games on itch.io are free or offer free demos giving you the opportunity to try games you might never have normally considered.
Itch.io is also a repository for game development assets, game jam entries, visual novels and a thriving supportive development community. If you are a new game developer it’s a great place to learn your craft, gain experience, get feedback and also help you to seek the beginnings of Kickstarter funding to get started.
However, recently itch.io has been expanding its repository to offer bigger games from larger studios and looks to be expanding its store to perhaps start rivalling those of GOG and Steam. Sales and game bundles are starting to become part of the norm and most interestingly of all just recently Double Fine has added their games to the itch.io catalogue. Whether this is a good sign for the direction of itch.io or whether this will change the face of the site to something more commercially driven remains to be seen. But it should be noted that Double Fine have included the infamous Spacebase DF-9 in their collection, a game that they hastily abandoned in early access for other projects. No evidence of the game’s unfinished state is present in the storefront, and itch.io does not yet have such a robust and visible customer feedback system as you would find on Steam, so it is very much a case of buyer beware!
That said, there are some genuine treasures to be found on itch.io. Some of them for next to nothing. Let’s dig for some gold.
Raft is an open water survival game and a real itch.io success story. The concept is simple. You start on a 4×4 square raft in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. A single shark circles you looking for its moment to strike. Various pieces of flotsam and jetsam (from an unknown source) begin to float past your tiny vessel and, luckily you are equipped with a hook on a rope. Gather what materials you can, start crafting food, water, tools and ultimately build yourself a floating pleasure palace. It is very simple but oddly addictive as you expand your raft square by square and then floor by floor until you have built what is essentially a small island.
Raft has proven so popular that it is now moving its way towards a Steam release. The small development team is continually adding updates which at a later stage will include the opportunity to finally dive beneath the cold, uncaring ocean to plunder reefs and perhaps go face to face with the dreaded shark.
Raft is currently available for a donation amount of your choice.
Sure Footing is an addictive endless runner set in the digitised world of Computra. You can play as one of four characters frantically running to save their world from fragmentation by Deletion Dave and his giant hands of death. His sadistic grinning face is omnipresent throughout the level always breathing down your boxy neck, just waiting for you to trip up and fail, hellbent on your destruction.
The levels are brightly coloured cubist biomes in shades of neon and each are procedurally generated so you never really run the same track twice. Each level has its own digitally pun-tastic name, weather and gameplay quirks like suddenly requiring you to run backwards or being layered with even more dastardly traps.
It is fast-paced and sometimes frantic but the art style and soundtrack are captivating and it makes for a great couch competition game with friends.
Currently Sure Footing is available for £5, which quite frankly is a bargain.
Play as a King or Queen of your burgeoning kingdom full of witches, knights, monkeys, cats, aliens, robots, strange blob creatures and plant, sea and star people. You have only two buttons to interactive with, yes or no. People will come to your court and ask you questions, offer you gifts, request your gold or just generally antagonise you. You must either accept or deny their requests which will ultimately affect your population, popularity or treasury. As you succeed you will witness your kingdom grow or shrink outside your castle window until you are finally accepted in the Council of Crowns and win the game.
It is a charming and incredibly addictive game, much in the same vein as Reigns but without the constant death and with a far more bizarre cast of characters, if that is even possible. The art style is very simple but utterly endearing and the soundtrack is great. Some of the questions do get a little bit repetitive but there are enough over-arching quests to keep you engaged long term.
Sort the Court is free to play in your browser or by donation as a download.
What are some of your favourite hidden treasures you have found on itch.io? Do you think the service is changing for the better or worse by bringing in larger developers? Let us know what you think the comments below.