Sawbuck Gamer is our occasional roundup of free and cheap games ($10 or less).
To Build A Better Mousetrap
Platforms: Browser, Mac, PC
Reviewed on: Browser
In Molleindustria’s To Build A Better Mousetrap, you’re an anthropomorphic mouse-manager thrust into some kind of factory situation. Here, you’re forced to balance a number of factors—a steadily increasing labor pool, increased cheese-wage demands, labor disputes, and perhaps most importantly, technological innovation. Can you keep your workers happy enough to reach retirement? And as the game’s tagline asks, “Can you save capitalism from itself?”
To Build A Better Mousetrap isn’t a particularly sophisticated indictment of the free market, but it’s amusing nonetheless. Do you put more mice-men on the assembly line or at a computer? If they start grumbling about cheese-wages, do you replace them with machines? If so, what happens to all of the excess labor whose jobs have been taken over by supercomputers and robots? It’s a delicate balance, with a variety of outcomes. All the game needs is something about the 1 percent of CEO mice who live in giant cheese houses protected by moats of unpasteurized milk. What about them? [Drew Toal]
Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Price: Free with additional mini-games to purchase
Rusty Slugger is a pathetic old mutt with only two loves in the world: his family and baseball. Unfortunately, nobody plays baseball anymore—too busy with their newfangled play boxes and game stations—and Rusty’s wife walked out the door, leaving him with 10 pups to raise on his own. He’d be lost if it weren’t for you, his only customer as he makes a last-ditch effort to sell video games that are based on how great it feels to play baseball. Down on his luck, Rusty needs your business, so he’s happy to let you haggle over his games, pushing prices down with flattering conversation or giving him gifts to help get his life together. And you have every incentive to negotiate, as you’re dealing in the actual dollars and cents you’ll pay to unlock the mini-game. The variable price model is an interesting new concept, both for free-to-play games and Nintendo. It works mostly because of the whole new side of Rusty’s life we see when we tear down his walls. Far more than the baseball or the gimmicky pricing, the real draw here is a compelling family drama played out in episodic conversations with each purchase.
It also helps that the baseball mini-games are pretty great, harkening back to Nintendo’s roots in toys and arcades. With a number of variations to each of the 10 games and high-score contests to challenge yourself and any StreetPass rivals, Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball brings back some of the thrill of seeing your initials onscreen at the local arcade. [Derrick Sanskrit]
Creator: Rezoner (Przemysław Sikorski)
The human body is one of the great marvels of nature, but it’s missing a few desirable features. Interchangeable parts would be nice, for instance. Limbs imagines a future where technology has overcome the body’s innate deficiencies, and easily modified prosthetic hands are commonplace. And since somebody has to fix those hands when they go awry, you play as the lowly repair technician in a manufacturer’s warranty-claims department.
The setup is inspired by last year’s immigration simulation Papers, Please: You occupy a tiny desk, and you have to handle an endless influx of citizens who need your help. Some hands just need a few components replaced, and others must be souped up to the customer’s specifications: A security guard, for instance, needs one finger to be replaced by an ominous “paralyzer” and an electrical system that allows for an extremely firm grip. Limbs has a few details like these that hint at a broader dystopia beyond the walls of your cubicle, but those sketchy bits are the extent of the story. Developed quickly for the recent Cyberpunk Game Jam, Limbs is an attractive novelty with a promising but undeveloped premise. It has some of the same mindless-drone pleasures of Papers, Please without any of the suspense. [John Teti]
It takes a lot of nerve to storm an evil fortress armed with little more than a sword and a few magic spells. Yet countless games have been built around lone heroes smashing around haunted castles and abandoned mine shafts. Rogue Legacy, a recent castle crasher, gives its adventures meaning by making each successive attempt to conquer the castle part of an all-encompassing, cross-generational backstory. Rocketcat Games attempts to give death a similar weight in Wayward Souls, its new bite-sized dungeon crawler, but the final product is too slick to feel consequential.
You start your trek toward an evil tower playing as one of three boilerplate adventurer types. There’s a warrior, a wizard, and a rogue who specializes in stabbing. Designed for quick sessions, you slash through five brief levels of a dungeon, the first being a spooky mine shaft complete with irate workers who attack you, presumably for disrupting their break. Death is permanent and quite likely in your first few attempts, but you can buy character upgrades to even the playing field. But this system also reveals that the playing field was boring to begin with. Apparently, all it takes to become a master adventurer is some extra health and more throwing axes. The adventures in Wayward Souls might be most memorable as serviceable distractions from the morning commute, short enough to prevent you from missing your stop. [Matt Kodner]