Sawbuck Gamer is our occasional roundup of free and cheap games ($10 or less).
Icycle: On Thin Ice
Creator: Damp Gnat
Platforms: iPad/iPhone (Universal)
Icycle: On Thin Ice, a sequel to the 2009 browser game Icycle, makes a big promise as soon as it starts. Even before you’re riding a tricycle over giant ice floes in the nude, you’re treated to a James Bond-style intro movie. It’s the whole shebang, with silhouettes of ladies bursting into showers of ice cubes, while the nude cyclist in your control rides around looking for love. His name is Dennis. He wears a Where’s Waldo hat, and his plight is magical to behold. The game that follows is every bit as chock full of weird glee as the intro.
Dennis’ journey sees him cycling across surreal frozen landscapes, jumping over pits, and avoiding spikes. He finds an umbrella early on, which lets him glide gently in midair. Even if it were just about moving through these gorgeous obstacle courses, Icycle would be a worthwhile trip, but the developer, Damp Gnat, just keeps pouring on the weird. Dennis collects icicles as he rolls through the stages. You can use them to buy useful stuff like a vacuum cleaner for sucking up more icicles, or you can buy him a pink nighty straight out of the 1960s. Eventually, the world melts away, and you enter Dennis’ dreams, a place where he’s a jaunty fellow on an old-fashioned bicycle, jumping over reverse mermaids. That’s a promise well kept. [AJA]
Creator: Jay Jaewoo Jeon and Jake Jonghwa Kim
It doesn’t take a historian to know that the list of “most photographed things in civilized times, by volume” probably looks something like this:
3. Human Genitals
4. Relatives in Hawaiian shirts pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa while their children hide their faces in shame
The first three are understandable; everyone loves those. But the appeal of the Leaning Tower snapshot persists even though that photo is always a mistake that has to be lived with forever. Projective explains why people do it anyway.
Projective is a straightforward game that creates puzzles with perspective. Every stage is a room of silhouetted objects. It puts a photo in the corner of the screen and charges you with finding the location where that photo was taken. But the scene depicted in the photo never truly exists in the room, so what actually needs to be found is the location where perspective tricks can be used to fake the picture.
It turns out that faking pictures of any sort is good, simple fun, even if the resulting photo is abhorrent and should not exist. Projective eases in slowly—you start by lining up balls to make snowman-like shapes. Later, the recreations become more complex, like constructing an image of men feeding deer, which requires you to clamber over rocks to stand alongside a tiny deer and carefully align its head with the hand of man in the distance. That’s a satisfying bit of fakery. And yes, the game does have a level where the Pisa photo is recreated, but by then it’s hard to notice the complicity in a crime against tasteful tourism. Projective makes it clear that it’s just fun to take the picture, so you don’t need to put any screenshots in your Kodak carousel. [JK]
Above Average Guy
Creator: Chris Jeff
There’s a thrill to live performance that few things can match—the heightened awareness, the pounding heartbeat, the sense that anything is possible. Performing, however, is a double-edged sword. A large part of the excitement comes from the risk involved: The adoration of the crowd can curdle quickly into scorn. Despite the potential for disaster, people keep getting up on stage, again and again, determined to entertain the masses. So what is it that drives performers? Perhaps it’s a deep-rooted need to connect with other humans. Perhaps it’s a psychological coping mechanism. In the case of Above Average Guy, it’s mind control.
Above Average Guy tells the story of a man who is forced to compete in a bizarre Japanese game show before a packed, monster-filled crowd. The objective sounds simple: Get to the door on the other side of the stage. But like the move from singing in your car to singing in front of a live audience, things get considerably more difficult onstage. Adversaries, obstacles, and invisible barriers pop up to stop you from getting to your goal. Each level brings a new puzzle, and you’ll have to think more creatively box as you go along. If you die, skip a level, or ask for a clue, you’ll lose audience members. And really, what is a performer without their public? Above Average Guy is challenging and at times maddening, but it makes the rewards all the sweeter. Break a leg. [MC]
Brew or Die
Creator: Tim Ned Atton
The popular depiction of alchemy is ponderous work—mostly sitting around in a cloak and mulling over ancient recipes for immortality potions. In Brew Or Die, you’ve got one night to make such a potion, or an insane king will run you through—so there’s no time for the usual beard stroking. Your tools of the trade are charmingly presented in Tim Ned Atton’s obfuscating puzzle game, which places you in a tiny medieval room full of pixelated flasks and a big old guidebook, which offers nothing more than a few explicit instructions on how to proceed.
Atton communicates a lot more about your ingredients than it first seems. For example, since fireproof potions are among the recipes, it’s clear that immolation might be a problem when mixing the seven liquids at your disposal. Note-taking is a must in Brew. The primary way to identify the nameless flasks is by their smell (like “meaty,” “spicy,” or “putrid”), so it can be hard to keep track of what you’re mixing even before you start to test your recipe’s effects on metals or rats. Checking back in the guide book isn’t efficient either, since you can only view a few lines of text at a time. As you toil away, time’s ticking by, with only the moon in the background to judge its passage. Teasing out the elixir of life is pleasingly confusing work, but more tedious than it needs to be. [AJA]
Creator: Adult Swim
Platforms: iPad/iPhone (Universal)
Review On: iPhone
Plenty of villains are into holding princesses captive. But why? If Castle Doombad is to be believed, it’s because damsels in distress are a source of awesome power—their screams—that a savvy villain can harness to build their lair lethal.
Along with a funny concept, Castle Doombad offers a highly customizable take on tower defense games. As the villain, you have to defend your princess-turned-battery from knights, ninjas, muscled commandos, and all sorts of other do-gooders. Your lair resembles the tower in the Donkey Kong arcade game, with plenty of ladders for heroes to scale. You have to spread traps and minions throughout different levels, and you must also shepherd your resources—the screams you’ve collected from the princess and the invaders. The interlopers are crafty, but you have a huge number of ways to deal with them, ranging from your standard spike trap to tentacle monsters to overactive air conditioners that freeze heroes in place. Although most of your hazards are of the “set it and forget it” variety, there are also manual traps in case you prefer the joy of waiting for just the right moment to trigger a deadly surprise.
All of the minions and traps have upgrades you can unlock by beating levels and completing special challenges—you might be asked to win without placing any defenses on the first floor, for instance. Maybe your villain wouldn’t need all those traps and minions if he hadn’t kidnapped a princess and attracted the ire of a bunch of heroes in the first place. But this way is a lot more fun. [SN]