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Freeware Recommendations

From time to time, I come across freeware games that are interesting and worth a play, but that don’t necessarily warrant a full review.  Here are the latest (the first is a Windows download, and the other two are playable in your browser):

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Kyoto - This is a game in which you use your mouse to manipulate objects on screen to change the scene and create beautiful audiovisual effects.  Your mouse can simply rustle the leaves of a tree, or it can play the whole screen like a giant guitar (reminiscent of one of my favorite bits in Sword & Sworcery EP).  It’s usually at this point that someone says “it’s really more of a ______ than a game,” but I don’t buy that here.  There are very clear systems in place, you learn how to engage with those systems, and you make demonstrable progress until you reach a conclusion.  It’s absolutely a game in every respect and a damn good one.  If I’m not being very descriptive, it’s because finding out what does what is a huge part of the enjoyment to be had here.  I’ll just say that it is fun, beautiful, free, and will only take you about ten minutes, so I can’t see a single reason not to give this a shot.

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Dark Run - This one is a unique take on the endless runner genre.  You are in a very dark dungeon, and are being chased by a wall of black creatures and must try to get away.  The rub is that you can’t see very far (both because of the darkness and the zoomed-in camera perspective), so you have to choose which way you turn on faith or intuition.  If it’s a dead end or you run into a protruding wall, you will lose valuable seconds as the creatures come ever closer.  In addition to the creatures behind you, there are also a number of other enemies throughout the dungeon that will slow you down or chip away at your health, so avoiding them adds another layer of strategy and tension.  The reason I say this is a take on endless runners (even though you control your own movement) is that there doesn’t appear to be an end, and the goal is to just make it as far as you can and try again.  I’m not sure how much mileage you’ll get out of it, but it’s a lot of fun in short bursts.

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Pro Gamer: The Game - This is basically a minigame collection with an elaborate upgrade/RPG system.  But it’s also a big joke poking fun at gamer stereotypes and the industry.  You play as a gamer playing on another screen, and the money you make from playing games (it’s a little unclear why people are paying you to play Frogger,but whatever) can go to purchase better TVs, better chairs and predictable snacks like Mountain Dew and Cheetos.  Some of the jokes (like those snacks) are really tired and cliche and seem to come from an outsider’s perspective, but there are also some really clever bits that clearly require an inside knowledge of games, the games industry, and even current topics in games journalism.  That and the fact that it may be lampooning the very idea of RPG elements and grinding upgrade systems makes it difficult to figure out what level of irony the game is operating on.  

The minigames themselves, which are really the heart of the game after all, are mostly low-res clones of old games like Breakout and Tetris (though there is a Canabalt clone in there which livens things up), and they are functional, but not amazing.  So the humor is all you’re left with, which hits more than it misses, but is definitely not perfect.  I recommend playing a couple of the games and glancing at the available upgrades and calling it a day.  That will get you the essential experience of the game in a few minutes and spare you wasting your time on the rest.