2017 has been a great year for games: from Breath of the Wild to Dream Daddy, Cuphead to Night in the Woods, Doki Doki Literature Club to Super Mario Odyssey— we’ve seen so many innovations and cool worlds. For me, 2017 has been the year I got into Itch.io and into so many indie and alt-games, particularly seeking out ones with queer characters and cute graphics. So, with the year coming to a close, I decided to look back at the creators and games I loved this year. So, with that in mind, here are 5 short and free games that you can ring in the end of 2017 with.
1. Butterfly Soup
Where can I begin with Butterfly Soup? I agree with PC Gamer on this one, who said that,
“What makes it great is the character writing. You play multiple protagonists, and each time you switch you gain insights into the others. When I was athletic but shy Diya her internal monologue enriched every situation with jokes and memories, like recalling that the cool rebel Min ran away from home when she was younger, but only because she didn’t want to eat a tomato.”
It’s just a great, well-written game. Not only does it provide a voice to the queer, Asian, and teenage demographic, that I haven’t seen represented much before, but it’s just good writing. I love, in particular, the use of group messaging. As someone of mixed Asian heritage, it was great to see Asian characters not so much as a statement, but just varied teenagers living their lives. I love that they were funny and awkward and nervous, most of all real. I know there’s been some controversy over PC Gamer choosing this as their Visual Novel of the Year, especially with Doki Doki Literature Club, a great game in its own right, making such a mark. DDLC showed how you can really manipulate the Visual Novel form and was disturbing in a way I haven’t seen other visual novels done. But, Butterfly Soup, I believe had much better writing. While the programming was great for DDLC, it doesn’t take you 2 hours to get to the heart of Butterfly Soup. From the get-go, it’s a heartwarming and wonderful experience, with full characters. While the choices you don’t make don’t really matter, I loved just being in Brianna Lei’s world and living in each of these characters. Of course, you can read all about this when I covered it earlier this year, but it really is a story you should not miss.
2. Mermaid Splash! Passion Festival
This is another game I’ve already covered this year, but it’s just so cute. Playing as a mermaid trying to improve in a particular skill and getting closer to a variety of friends, it’s a short and sweet game with tons of endings. In addition, it features a POC protagonist, features romancing other female sea creatures, and as a semi-spoiler, there’s even a trans narrative.
I also just love the overall look of this game and Sofdelux games in general. If you love this game and want more, they also released Disaster Log C for this year’s Yuri Game Jam. If you want to check out individual creators, it’s composed of Nami and DarkChibiShadow, who also make very great games solo as well.
3. Love on the Peacock Express
Loved Dream Daddy but wished there was a Dream Mommy? Ever wanted to do a story about a lesbian Private Investigator a la Sherlock Holmes? This game provides both of those things, in about an hour. Using beautiful environments and well written characters, you solve mysteries and romance 3 different inhabitants of the Peacock Express train. It’s fun, short, cute, and the artwork is amazing. In addition, as you beat each ending, the journal in the main menu provides tons of adorable achievements. It’s a short one and the team assembled only for the Game Jam it was created for, so we probably won’t see a sequel, but it’s a solid, fun game to try before someone inevitably makes a more full-length Dream Mommy.
4. No World Dreamers: Sticky Zeitgeist
“Porpentine’s work is in conversation with troubling feelings and subjects players may not normally talk about. Her pieces regularly deal with trauma, harassment, abuse, and precarity – all of which Porpentine has described personally experiencing as a “trash” woman – but for all the real-life heaviness of their themes, they operate in something like an extra-linguistic realm. Instead of offering direct, accessible commentary on the state of the world, as much science fiction does, her work elaborates hyper-specific slivers of speculative ecosystems with singular rules and behaviors.”
Working with Rook, sound designer and creator of exploratory games like Fallow and Wire Wood Daughters, they have created the first episode of a captivating new adventure. Following various characters, including what seems to be one trans wolf, you go to work at a facility where you gather definitely radioactive trash. Exploring one character’s home, watching her masturbate, and pick through trash that contains her estrogen doses and “girl chunk”, which seems to be a mix between a drug and a lube. The game also has a sitcom like feel with beautiful pixel environments. Fusing Porpentines more text-based stories with Rook’s pixel-oriented character design and immersive sound design, the game is a beautiful and captivating experience. Including a trans character and the anxieties that exist coming with that along with being able to explore an interesting, almost cyber-punk world makes it worthwhile. There’s only one episode so far, but it’s sure to be quite a journey.
If you’ve played Mermaid Splash: Passion Festival (which the creator of this game helped create) or any other visual novel that involves scheduling your days with specific people, Tomai will feel very similar. Essentially, you play Tomai, who has 13 days before he starts working with his father in local government. You get the choice to spend that time romancing one of your friends or spending time with your father or “The Lady”, to get a head start on what your job entails. That being said, this game is more complicated than meets the eye. As a pro tip and slight spoiler: spending all your time with one person won’t *necessarily* get you a good ending. I haven’t played the game in its entirety, but I’ve gotten two pretty bad endings just trying to play visual novels the way I usually play them. What I love is that it includes the option to choose a PG-13 or an R-18 version of the game, as well as non-romanceable characters for non-romance related endings. The writing, art, and representation are great, and it’s just an overall good time. So in terms of inclusion, it checks a lot of my boxes: it has gay and poly representation, a POC main character, inclusion for ace people that don’t want to see sex in a game necessarily, and overall great gameplay.
EXTRA CREDIT: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY!
Everything is Going to Be Okay! may not be a necessarily a game or queer and a lot of people will find it more disturbing than cute, but I find it one of the most important gaming experiences to come out this year. It deals with mental health, attempting to recover from trauma, and what it means to be an artist. Presented in a glitchy, Microsoft OS environment, you go through all of Nathalie Lawhead’s poems and beautiful moments and I find it was one of the most powerful things I’ve experienced this year.
And those are the picks!
I hope you have a Happy New Year and whether you spend New Year’s Eve playing alt and indie games or not, here’s to 2018! If you want to find more LGBTQIA+ inclusive games, don’t forget to check out Queerly Represent Me, which has the most maintained, ongoing catalog of inclusive games on all platforms. Cheers!