Money-saving, time-wasting bliss

I posted about Popcap Games a few months back, and how I spent a hundred bucks to download every single game in their catalog, simultaneously giddy and terrified at the prospect of staying up all night every night for the rest of my life playing them. I love those games, but I will admit that the prices over at Popcap are a bit steep. So this time around I figured I’d focus on some games that are a little easier on the pocketbook.

How does 100% free tickle your fancy?

Kongregate is a site that features LITERALLY THOUSANDS of free games. They have some sort of upload-your-own-game-you-created-yourself thing going on, so it goes without saying that the bulk of these are likely to be indescribably awful. But the best of them are professionally produced, utterly delightful wedges if internet joy. Apparently a lot of game developers use the site to provide more exposure for their stuff. And since by now I’ve lost what must be hundreds of man hours to them all told, I’m happy to be your guide to the hot mess of seething flash programming that is Kongregate. Here are a few of my top picks:

One resource that's apparently endless, though: barbed wire.

This was the first Kongregate game that ever sucked me in. You try to repopulate a city that’s been overrun by zombies, slowly, one block at a time. It’s a basic resource management scenario where you weigh the dangers of sending out search parties and decide how many survivors to commit to reclamation, research and basic defense against the ever growing zombie hordes. Amount of time I spent utterly obsessed with it:about four days. Although that’s not a firm number, because I never did manage to beat the game on “hard” (damn you, ever-growing zombie hordes). And I’m pretty sure now I have to try one more time as soon as I finish writing this post.

It's significantly bloodier than Angry Birds, actually.

Crush the Castle
Ever play Angry Birds? This is the game that the Angry Birds team emulated after coming up with their goofy little bird designs and deciding to try making a game out of them. How does it play? Basically like Angry Birds. You chuck various types of rocks and bombs at structurally dubious castles in an effort to smash all the little royal guys inside to a bloody pulp. It’s weirdly cathartic. Amount of time I spent utterly obsessed with it:a day or two. Then I discovered there was an iPhone app, and it pretty much monopolized public transportation hours for the rest of the week.

Miniphant swarm!

Elephant Quest
This is one of those silly little things that probably shouldn’t be as fun as it is. You’re an elephant, and a bully named Wooly has stolen your bowler cap, sending you on an epic quest to get it back (fortunately, you have a laser cannon strapped to your back). The artwork is fairly adorable and the dialog is hilarious, and by the time I realized that leveling up meant I could put my intelligence points toward weapons targeting or use my charisma points to cultivate a “miniphant swarm,” I was hooked. Amount of time I spent utterly obsessed with it: A good day and a half.

Die, you little treasure stealing bastards.

Cursed Treasure
I love a good tower defense game, so I checked Cursed Treasure out after I had decided to write this post to see if it was solid enough to recommend. And it turns out it might be my favorite tower defense OF ALL TIME. Little guys storm your home base to steal your gems and cart them back out again, and you set up a series of defenses to keep them at bay — it’s not redefining the genre or anything. The thing about most of these games, though, is that I’m not terribly good at them — I think I’m doing all great until level 5 or 6 when some new unit type shows up and just crushes me with overwhelming force. In Cursed Treasure you earn experience points to upgrade your towers and overall effectiveness, which carries with you as you progress through the game. This means you don’t actually NEED any particular tactical skills other than perseverance — once you get to the point where you realize you suck you can just go back and play easier stages again until you level up enough to crush those little bastards. Amount of time I spent utterly obsessed with it: At least 3 days once I realized there’s a level expansion pack too. Oh, and Kongregate has an unrelated reverse-tower-defense game (where you play the attacking units instead) that’s worth checking out as well.

Seriously, it's like a fever dream.

Burrito Bison
You’re a Mexican wrestler in a buffalo mask who gets magically transported to some kind of dystopian candyland to fight in the gummi bear arena. Just go with it. The game consists of flinging yourself out of the ring into a crowd of terrified, fleeing gummis to see how far you can make yourself bounce. Each attempt earns you cash that you can spend to make yourself slipperier or bouncier or whatever — it sounds really dumb, but I probably had more raw, concentrated fun playing it than any other game on this list. The first time I got a good enough fling to bounce myself through the arena gates and into the open streets of Gummitowne, I let out a shriek of glee and literally jumped out of my seat. Amount of time I spent utterly obsessed with it: two solid hours. People, two hours is all you need with Burrito Bison. Go play it right now.

Um, it does get better.

Upgrade Complete!
This one is also pretty simplistic, but was a hoot to play. It’s kind of a Xevious-style shooter where you have to gun down spaceships coming at you from the top of the screen, earning coins as you go to purchase upgrades for your ship. The thing is, you have to purchase upgrades for EVERYTHING. The game starts out with graphics that look like something from a 1982 Atari game, until you purchase a graphics upgrade. It doesn’t have a title logo at the top of the screen until you buy one. In fact, you can’t even start playing until you purchase some menu buttons (the game generously loans you a couple hundred coins to get you started). And when you complete level 20 you just get a generic “game over”… unless you’ve earned enough cash to purchase the “good” victory screen, which declares you the best winner they’ve ever seen, congratulations FOREVER. Amount of time I spent utterly obsessed with it: it only took maybe 45 minutes to get through it all, but my friends, that was 45 minutes well spent.

I have a few honorable mentions as well — Moby Dick is a pleasant little game where you swim around eating fish, growing your whale and killing as many fisherman as possible in what the game creators assure me is a fairly accurate adaptation of the Herman Melville novel. Doodle God is so simple it’s barely even a game — you just cross basic “elements” together to create more complex ones — but it’s still fun to realize that once you’ve created “human” and created “beer,” you can cross them to create “alcoholic.” Gravitee Wars is kind of a little physics simulator where your little guys stand on little planets and you shoot rockets at other little guys to try and knock them into space before they do the same to you. And Light-Bot is a mathy puzzle game where you program a robot with a series of commands to get him to cross over various obstacles and switch on lights on the floor grid. Good times! (If you’re mathy).

You can’t tell me that you don’t have time to waste RIGHT NOW messing around on the internet (you’re here, aren’t you?). Go forth, my friends, and Kongregate.

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Matt Youngmark is the author of Zombocalypse Now, a full-length zombie choose-your-own-ending novel (for grownups!) from Chooseomatic Books. Back in the day, he worked the newsprint mines at Tacoma Reporter and Pandemonium Magazine

3 Responses to “Money-saving, time-wasting bliss”

  1. matt says:

    Also, today is my birthday. That is all.

  2. matt says:

    Here is another one that somebody sent me for my birthday! Feed the king cakes! I am the king today FEED ME CAKES.

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