It was about twenty minutes into walking down the deserted path when it occurred to me that I really didn't know where I was going. But I was on a quest and the creator of "Smarter than You," an upcoming iOS game, wanted to see if I had what it takes to test the game – even if it meant wandering around outside, through Griffith Parks' unmarked trails. The coordinates from the first round of clues pointed to a seemingly random spot in the park. As it turned out, it took me to one of the highest points. Tired, sweating, and having no clue what to look for, I found the note, beside the tallest tree there, which said that I had indeed bested the second level of puzzles.
Now while I take a very long shower and work on the next code, you should check out this week's pick of indie games that I brought back from the virtual wilderness.
Developer: Dino Polo Club
Let me talk to you today about designing a subway system. Everyone wants to get where they want to go as soon as possible. We all hate waiting, hate getting on multiple trains, and hate the unbearable crowds of the system. Finally, there's a game that lets you take care of that virtually. "Mini Metro" just hit Early Access on Steam (which means they're still working on it, but it's already has all the working pieces). In the game, you get to flex your inner urban planner by designing routes to each of the stations that pop up in your virtual city. Station pops up, stick a train there and then take those people to the next place.
It sounds easy, but if you have ever actually been on a subway train, then you know what problems can arise. With limited resources, you're stretching every car full of citizens to its limit. Will you go with a central station to move people through from there or develop hubs around the city?
Surviving the week gives you a bonus of your choosing like an additional line or a second car to an already busy line. But choose wisely. Next week proves to be more of the same, as unique locations appear and hazards like waterways slow you down. Every week gets a little tougher but you'll get the hang of it – or watch everything melt down as passengers start to riot.
Again, this is an early access game, but you can check out their early version for free right here if you want a taste of the exciting world of urban planning.
I'm always a little nervous pushing console games, since you never know what's sitting in someone's home. Most of the games I suggest here fall into the list of mobile or PC, since most of you are probably reading it on one of the other. But occasionally, there's a game that's so cool that I have to let you know about it, and it happens to be one I've been waiting a long time to get my hands on.
"Hohokum," a game that's nearly as fun to say as it is to play, mixes adventure with colorful exploration as you fly through strange and unique worlds. If you've looked at the trailer above, scratched your head a bit, and tried to watch through it again to garner any sort of meaning out of it -- stop that. This is not a game to be watched, but to be experienced. The puzzles give you some sort of direction to follow, but "Hohokum" is more about flying free, bumping into everything in your path to see what it will do.
Not every game needs a ticking bomb or high score to beat in order make you feel accomplished. Have fun. Goof around a little bit. Bump into a couple of strange creatures while trying to make the world better. Sometimes, fun is its own reward.
Developer: Mike Bithell Games
Keep your fancy cut scenes at bay. Hold that best buddy who will probably get killed around the third act. Throw out the sexy love interests. Sometimes, to tell a great story, you need to focus on the real building blocks of narrative – or in this case, just blocks. "Thomas Was Alone" presents a minimalist world of bouncing blocks and platforming, filling it to the brim with characters with only a little bit of narration. Somehow, Mike Bithell manages to fill a world with more believable character than a "Transformers" movie, but honestly, that's not really that high of a bar.
Thomas, our little red rectangle, moves from place to place, exploring his new and sometimes puzzling world. There, you'll find other shapes like Chris, the stubby square that dislikes Thomas' ability to jump everywhere, but can fit through smaller spaces that his taller counterpart. Players move through the level as the narrator chimes in to interject bits of story. And while you would expect that the story and the gameplay would feel disconnected, that turns out to be far from the case, as the developer does a superb job of connecting these big and sometimes funny personalities with the shapes. Their abilities are their attitudes, in a way.
"Thomas Was Alone" recently became a full play with all the characters appearing, jumping, and hopefully helping each other over obstacles. With the Android version of the game popping up recently, you have no reason left to explore this minimalist world, busting at the seams with life.
Developer: Crazy Labs
Simple yet elegant, forgiving yet frustrating: "Primitives Puzzle in Time" straddles many lines in this game of shapes and stars. Move the shape to the goal in a limited amount of time while collecting the three stars scatters across the board: You'll swipe away at the first couple of puzzles on your iPhone without thinking twice about what's coming next. You really don't even need to pick all of the stars up to finish the level. But soon after a couple of tries at later levels, you'll find that the game is anything but primitive.
The key to this game is both knowing what to do and actually doing it. (That's the key to life as well, but picking up stars is just way easier on the fingers.) Every time you move, the clock ticks down. Often you'll only have a couple of seconds to make it to the end, so you'll need to plan accordingly to make it there before time runs out. As the puzzles progress, you'll find gates that move and other oddities that will make you think twice before making your next move.
The forgiveness kicks in after failing a level, when the game plots out a couple of points for you to do over. Even if you did everything perfect except for this one part, you can try for that one part all over again. "Primitives" may sound simple but you'll find that it's anything except what its name implies.
Developers: The Quinnspiracy, Patrick Lindsey, Isaac Schankler
If you just want to play around and just blow off some steam this weekend, you should probably just abandon this article here. This next game is very serious, and deals with ideas that most people don't feel comfortable talking about, let alone confronting head on. However, while "Depression Quest" may not be a fun game, it's one of the important ones.
The game puts you into the shoes of someone suffering from depression as you move from a worthless job to a relationship that you're barely holding together. Choosing the best answer isn't going to get you out of this, since your state of depression determines what choices you have available. Not taking care of yourself, stop talking to people; you'll find that your range of choices start to drop until even getting out of bed becomes a victory. The road to therapy can be a bumpy one at times as you talk to others about your depression -- it's not a magic bullet, either, since it's something you need to stick with and continue working on in order to get better. "Depression Quest" goes after the heart of the matter in a very realistic way; the path to recovery isn't easy, but it's the only way to get better.
Since it's free to play, you might see if you can get a friend to play over the weekend, who might need to talk about the feelings it stirs up. Games often let us live out someone else's life, but it's not often you find a game that helps us change someone's life for the better.