We explore some short, casual web games on Itch.io and single out the most innovative. No tower defense, hidden objects, or escape rooms allowed!

Sometimes you get tired of epic, long-play experiences and just want a quick, casual time-killer. This especially applies when you’re on the work-from-home standard, getting bored with your game library, and you’re too distracted by current events and general chaos to invest the concentration of getting into a major game title.

We’re not going to get very deep here. We’re just looking for interesting games to review. My criterion for “interesting” is that the game interested me, and I tried it, and found it nice enough to play for awhile. Now I will mildly recommend them to you, without too much commitment. Will that be low-pressure enough? Good, because that’s how your humble author is writing today.

Most 3D webgames are done in Unity

Unity is the game engine to know. It’s a proprietary (as opposed to open source) cross-platform game engine originally developed for Apple. It’s since been ported to 25 different platforms, and kinda-sorta replaced Java, if you can believe it.

If you shied away from Unity before, that was ten-years-ago Unity. Modern Unity apps run smoothly without the crashes and hangups. And they can run anywhere from an Android tablet to a Firefox desktop web browser, so Unity has redeemed itself. Apple-native software always takes a long time to adapt to other platforms.

Itch-IO_We_Become_What_We_Behold

WE BECOME WHAT WE BEHOLD

Standard playthrough: 5 minutes

A game which, as I write, is literally ripped from today’s top stories, although it’s a few years old. It’s a unique game based on snapping photos as a news anchor-person in a public park. The catch is that you have to catch pictures of something interesting going on. The only thing interesting that happens is conflict, however incidental, and every time you post a photo of it the viewers respond by escalating the conflict some more. Soon you have started a civil war and your news stories are famous. Yay you.

The game is more of a media exercise, teaching some sociology lesson that first-year college students will nod their liberal heads to. The game is also rugged so you can’t “lose.” Either you take photos of conflict to stir up more conflict, or else your photo is greeted by chirping crickets. All photos will have the most negative spin pasted on them when they broadcast. That’s your only two choices is crickets or riots.

Creator Nicky Case writes several games in the educational / humorous niche, and also gives talks with titles like “Human Brains Are Awesome, Humans Brains Suck,” so you’d expect a game like this from somebody with a less than sugar-coated view of the world.

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Wyst

Standard playthrough: 30 minutes

A while back, we covered the infamous Myst classic game series and examined its impact on gaming history. Wyst is a fanmade dig at a very condensed, single-level, pocket-universe whiff of Myst. It has some of the same style and themes. You blunder about a surreal landscape, tweaking buttons on arcane devices until you collect three pots and board a zeppelin to get out of there. You can’t die in the game, but falling off the edge resets you.

Wyst is very basic and obviously done as an exercise towards creating a larger game, though this, like typical Itch.io creations, was done as a hackathon dare. Creator Blubberquark Software hints at further expansions to this game or perhaps more to come in a series. As we pointed out in our previous Myst piece, the Myst-style game model where you wander a never-when solving cryptic puzzles without much action doesn’t hold up that well in today’s gaming culture.

However, for those of you who still enjoy the pure cerebral pleasure of solving IQ tests in a 3D environment, Wyst is a lunch-break sized fix. You have to admit, you don’t see Myst-clones every day, not even tiny ones.

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Evolution

Standard playthrough: 30 minutes to accomplish a goal, infinite if you make this your new hobby

Evolution is a design game where your job is to build a creature (really, a simple 2D robot) which can perform feats of locomotion like walking, climbing, or bounding over obstacles. It can be as simple or as complex as you’d like. You have a kit bag of parts to work with, joints, bones, and muscles. Once you start the simulation, muscles will automatically expand and contract repeatedly. It’s a lot harder to get going that it looks until you start understanding some basic engineering concepts.

It’s really not fair to classify this as a game, because it’s more like a virtual set of Tinker-Toys. In fact, if you built a model out of some construction kit like K’Nex and bound it with rubber bands you could somehow coerce to flex repeatedly, you’d get this environment. Once you have the model running, the game assigns random AI patterns to its movements then selects the best ones from a generation to evolve into the next. Your build never changes, but how it moves does.

It’s better to explain with a video:

Evolution has been around for a while. Developer Keiwan has a submissions process for users to save their best creations. Keiwan has produced a couple other innovative toys worth checking out.

Itch-IO_Impeached

Impeached

Standard playthrough: 15 minutes

As the title suggests, this is a political simulator, although it is silly as all get out. You act as president in a series of sessions which come in three stages: You sign your choice of two executive orders, then defend your choice in a scrum of reporters, picking between two answers each time which determines your continued fitness to serve office. Finally a verdict comes out in a newspaper headline, where any news is good news except for… “president impeached”! You have three meters at the bottom left corner of the screen which tell you *something*, but hanged if we know what they do. All I can tell you is that when any of the meters run out, it’s game over.

Developer OddBird has no documentation on their site, not even at any of the places where their game is ported. There are no helpful popup messages that tell you what’s what. There seems to be no consistent correlation between your answer button and what the meters do. You are on your own! See these guys? They don’t get this game either:

Nevertheless, Impeached is a funny, entertaining bit of political satire. This game appeared right around the time you-know-who was on the docket. The sweeping proclamations on the executive orders are way outside a president’s power. The answers you give the media are all crazy nonsense. Yep, they’re talking about him alright!

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Backrooms

Standard playthrough: 5-30 minutes, depending on if you want to beat every difficulty.

*sigh* 4chan strikes again! This game takes a bit of explaining. It starts with a creepypasta meme of a photo posted on 4chan, somebody reposted it with a Slenderman-type story on it, it went viral, and then this game became the realization of the meme.

Are you ready for this? The “Backrooms” are a lost dimension which people accidentally stumble into sometimes, possibly from a dead mall or a mostly-empty office building when they got off on the wrong floor of the elevator. They’re just this endless maze of funky yellowish rooms and hallways, carpeted and florescent lighted. Like an endless, unfurnished dentist’s waiting room. That’s it, you’re damned to die of dehydration there.

The game adds an actual goal (a glowing multicolor exit) and a pitfall (a vague static ghost) to avoid. You can also “drown in the dream” if your timer runs out. This spare game is worth toying with once or twice. Creator IEP Games fleshed this out into as full a game experience as they can, with mood music that ranges from soothing guitar to jarring glitchcore, the whining hum of commercial lighting, and a decent attention to lighting and texturing. There’s even a free roam mode where you just run down the halls of procedural generated maze until your wits flee you.

Anyway, Backrooms has its own wiki adding on to the mythology. It would be fascinating to see more games spin out of urban legends, and also SCP Foundation tales.

Pardon me, I don’t find Backrooms scary so much as irritating, but I see exactly why people do find it scary. It represents our late-stage-Capitalism existential dread: A man-made, commercial-looking structure long abandoned. I call this genre “Industrial Gothic,” a personal fetish I can never fully explain to the public, but trust me, it’s a genre. Others have even caught on to the late-stage Capitalism vibe, or else they wouldn’t set photos of real-life Backrooms against vaporwave music:

See, everybody has had your nightmare.

 

About the author

Penguin Pete

Penguin Pete

Geek tribal bard for the Internet, before "geek" was cool. Linux power user, MTG collector, light saber owner, cult movie fanatic, comic book memer, video gamer, Unix beard currently measures six inches.