A Game By Its Cover had a simple concept: Browse through Famicase – a gallery of fictional NES game cartridges created by a variety of artists and designers – pick one, and make the game real. The gauntlet for this free-wheeling development jam was thrown down on September 6th and just 21 days later, 128 strange new games have popped into existence ready for you to browse and play for free on Itch.io right now.
Dev-jams like this represent the scruffier, most experimental side of indie gaming. You never know which of these might grow into one of our all-time top 15.
Beyond the initial directive of using a Famicase cover as the inspiration and the optional goal of making it compatible with the Winnitron indie arcade cabinet format, A Game By Its Cover had absolutely no rules. Participants were invited to go as wild as they wanted, diverging from common sense and reason as they saw fit, and the resulting crop of games is all the stronger (and stranger) for it.
From SNES-inspired ninja platformer Juniper Keep Assassins, to adorable subway selfie snapping score-attack simulator Hikari’s Station and a multitude of point-and-click adventures like the moody and monochromatic Hell, it’s a great showcase of today’s indie scene’s unrestrained creativity, aided immeasurably through easy access to creation engines such as Game Maker, Unity and Twine.
Jams like this are also a hotbed of avant-garde VR development. While I don’t have the hardware for it at present, I desperately want to try out Heinous Unicorn Joust VR, a game about being a magical unicorn, seeking out a human to strip naked and serve as your mount to ride into ritualistic trials of combat. The developer is working on a non-VR version as well, but for the time being, I must look on jealously at those capable of experiencing this first-hand.
On a slightly less bizarre note, the browser-based Rōshigumi is worth a stab. Somehow, the dual concepts of vector graphics and samurai swordfighting from the chosen cover-art have become tangled with Asteroids-style spaceflight. The resulting game sees you zipping around the screen as a samurai spacecraft, cutting foes asunder and using your blade to block incoming fire. Not only is this one fun and easy to play, but absolutely nailed the look of old vector graphics hardware.
That’s just five that caught my eye, and there’s another hundred and twenty three to pick through. Give it a look yourself; take a poke around the A Game By Its Cover lineup, give some a try and and share your favourites in the comments below.