The Free Games Of September

September was the month I got truly and fully irritated with downloadable 2D action-adventure games and art games in general, with one exception. I joke a lot about games that basically take Super Mario Bros., recolor it in grey and black, and add some sparse piano music and a loss of childhood innocence and call it a day, but the point is, stop writing poetry in your Trapper Keeper until you've locked down some gameplay that doesn't drive the audience, a.k.a. me, up the fucking wall. And that goes double for your retro pixel art graph paper.

grow Home (PS4)

I don't get it. Or I don't get it yet. When Grow Home came out on PC, I saw a bunch of articles on how it was special and beautiful and revelatory. What I downloaded on my PS4 was basically a crude polygonal exploration game with floaty physics. I grabbed flowers. I grabbed crystals. I grabbed rocks. I fell off stuff. The game told me to do something with an arrow pointing at nothing I could interact with. I'll go back to it and maybe do some research on how to break through the opening bits and actually play the game people were raving about, but right now, I'm not seeing it. Maybe we should have all voted for Zombie Vikings.

Xeodrifter (PS4, Vita)

16-bit retro Metroidvania of a sort. And by 16-bit, I mean a faithful recreation of the resolutions and music available in the Super Nintendo era. Also jumping physics that are floaty as fuck, and a difficulty curve that leaps from trivial to impossible when you switch from regular levels to a boss (without any warning). Those more nostalgic than I might find it charming, but I just find it irritating. I have many better downloadable Metroidvania type games I havent finished.

Super Time Force Ultra (PS4, Vita)

I hated hated hated hated this game when it was free on the Xbox One. It was the worst kind of retro pixel art bullshit - ugly and obfuscatory. And the gameplay was excessively complex. Is it any better on PS4 in an "Ultra" edition? Nope. Some people love this, but I find it constantly irritating.

Teslagrad (PS4, PS3)

Now, see, this is how you do an artsy puzzle-platformer. Sure, the first section, where you play a small boy running across rooftops trying not to get captured by Cossacks, is a bit longer than it needs to be. But shortly, the true game reveals itself. it's pretty good. Don't get me wrong. This is not the first puzzle platformer to fuck around with magnetic polarity as its main puzzle mechanic. But the sort of mid-20th-century European cel animation style is compelling and cohesive and the puzzle platforming hits a good sweet spot. Probably my favorite game from a surprisingly irritating batch.

Twisted Metal (PS3)

This is a very rare offering for a free monthly game - an older, regular-release game I'd always thought about picking up, but never did. So glad I never did. It continues the powt-Twisted-Metal-2 game progresskon of obtuse, awkward controls, overly large game maps, and a desperate play to be "dark" and "twisted" that plays out as just obnoxious. Feh.

La Mulana EX(Vita)

This is a Japanese PC game from 2005 that looks like a Playstation action platformer that's been ported to Vita. It's letterboxed, and it's one of those games where if you leave a screen and come back, all the enemies respawn. It was better than Xeodrifters and is compatible with the PSTV, but that's about all the positive I can say about it.

How To Survive: Storm Warning Edition (XBox One)

This is an isometric survival adventure game set on an island full of zombies. It's kind of like Don't Starve and Resident Evil had an ugly baby. I get what they're going for here, but while a lot of this month's games are too stylized or too arty, this game errs too far in the other direction, and even its attempts at personality and humor fall flat.

The Deer God (XBox One)

Ugh. There's no denying this game understands pixel art better than, say, Super Time Force, with a look that's reminiscent of a 3D Superbrothers. But the gameplay. It's an adventure platformer where you play a superpowered reincarnated deer, which I would normally be on board for, but I got a quest early on and could not for the life of me figure out where the game intended me to go to fulfill it. I traveled for a very long in-game distance, with random animals falling in love with me, until I died. I'm all for the joy of discovery, but here's an idea - give me some easy obvioius shit early on so I can learn what language your game mechanics are speaking, THEN turn me loose. Otherwise I just get annoyed.

Battlestations: Pacific (XBox 360)

Played this long enough to confirm my suspicions - it's one of those war games that sits squarely between sim and arcade. The dogfighting is like all video game dogfighting - find the dot with the box around it and try to point your plane/spacefighter at it and, hold "Fire", and hope you see an explosion. The game may well have other aspects of war to it than plane dogfighting - I saw loading screens that reference firing artillery - but it's not my bag.