The player, at the entrance to a dungeon, in Atma.

Atma is an adventure game made by teamatma. You play as Shaya, a guardian who keeps a balance between the spirits and the material world. Your lover and fellow guardian, Atma, tries to create an urja—or go through the process to become an elder—prematurely. This creates a rift, allowing spirits to wreak havoc in the material world. Your goal is to seek Atma’s key of memories.

Your primary way of interacting with the world is by a sort of spell casting, called mantras. With your mantras, you can do things like draw a line to assemble a bridge, or attack enemies by connecting a line between to hit them with lightning.

As you venture into a vibrant eastern-style forest city, you meet an ornithologist, who gives you a quest to unlock a new mantra. This quest grants you the power of wind, to solve unique puzzles and dungeons, as you continue on your goals.

One of the intro panels in Atma

Atma is a shining example of high-quality content put out on itch daily. It’s incredibly polished, with vibrant art, good gameplay focus, and a great journey and experience. It totally succeeds in its goal of making you feel like a real guardian of the material world.

Atma is great for players seeking a vibrant eastern atmosphere with a story that matters. It’s available for free on itch.io, and an average playthrough will take about a half-hour.

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The old man talking to the fish in Under What?

Under What? is an interactive visual comic by Dan Gartman. It’s an adorable little tale of a fisherman who falls in the water and has some unexpected lovely banter with an old fish under the sea.

The art of this game shines brightly—you can tell the game is made by an artist with a sharp eye for visual storytelling. The sequence where the fisherman falls into the water really makes it feel like you’re drifting downward with him, even though you’re just watching a short visual comic. The vignette of the fish city has such a vibrant and alive atmosphere, I almost want it as a framed painting in my house.

The fisherman falling into water.

Though the game is most potent for its art, the writing isn't all that bad either. You make small talk with the fish, and you're also subjected to few semi-philosophical questions. It's also got a few punchy jokes—if you (the fisherman) quip that it stinks like fish, the fish retorts, “have you ever had to smell smoked people?”

Under What? is a short and sweet little experience—it’ll take fifteen minutes of your time and give you a few laughs. It's a great sort of game to click through with your morning coffee. Under What? is available on itch.io for Windows.

Screenshot of the coffee shop in Notebook Detective, before you gain entry to the speakeasy.

Notebook Detective is an atmospheric mystery game from students at Breda University. Uncover the mystery of a murder that occurred in a speakeasy set in the 1920s.

While investigating the murder, you hear the stories of three narrators as they discuss their perspectives and information about clues.

The UI contributes to the mystery of this game. As you advance into the speakeasy, different world objects serve as interactive elements in the puzzle. You’ll have to hunt out the correct combination for a door, tune a radio station, or find a phone number to dial. You also take notes by dragging around words in your notebook—anything can be a clue.

The Speakeasy in Notebook Detective, with a blood stain on the ground.

As you uncover the mystery and start to put the pieces together, do know that you only get one shot to make your guesses, or else you have to restart and find the clues all over again. If you don’t know you know the answer to something, make sure you’ve unlocked all the clues and available to you—there’s twelve—and have gone over each of them in the notebook carefully.

It’s worth playing Notebook Detective to take in the art and atmosphere. While it may not be the most story-heavy experience—check out Speak Easy for a similar atmosphere but a stronger story—the art-heavy environment and innovative UI are worth your time. Notebook Detective is by a team of students from Breda University. I played version 1.1, and my playthrough took about 45 minutes.

Drifting aimlessly near a sunken crane in The Things We Lost in the Flood.

In The Things We Lost in the Flood by Dean Moynihan, you drift around in a rowboat in a post-apocalyptic, flooded wasteland, sending and receiving messages in bottles from fellow players.

This is a game about loss, discovery, and creation. You're sailing through a flooded world—a flood caused by a tap opening in the Atlantic Ocean that "never really stopped." Drifting by ruins and ravaged buildings, your goal is to make sense of what happened to the world. While exploring the lost world, you also discover notes which other players have left in the world, you can also leave notes for other players.

You hold a great responsibility in shaping the experiences of others in the game too. Sometimes, people will leave critical hints that help you make sense of something you didn't understand, and you owe it to others to leave notes that might help them with their experience—or choose to throw away the bad ones. The game also provides prompts that help create a semi-philosophical atmosphere, such as "what are you afraid of."

Searching through the darkness for messages in bottles in The Things We Lost in the Flood.

Intriguingly, a game that subsists on sharing notes with anonymous players still manages to be enjoyable and thought-provoking. I uncorked a wide variety of personal letters, stories of peoples anxieties, loss—you name it. This artificial wasteland you're drifting seems to create a somewhat safe space for some people.

It's worth diving into The Things We Lost in the Flood. The outcome of this world is shaped on cooperative gameplay, so you won't necessarily get a complete experience after any set play period, but it's good to jump in for quiet introspection in the scope of a video game. It's available free on itch.io, for Windows, macOS, and Linux.

An exemplary level of Golf: Become Human

Golf: Become Human isn’t your average golf game. It’s not even a golf game, really.

The game description on itch.io keeps it simple: you play as a human turned golf ball, trying to complete trials to earn your humanity. A few minutes into playing this, I was exclaiming to friends that this game is “vaporwave, the game,” and oh boy, is that true—but I didn’t even know what I was really in for.

The first level, where the god teases you that you can get your body back.

An inversion of expectations

The game starts as a pretty average 3D platform golf game. You get how this game works instinctively—aim, click, and release to hit the golf ball toward the hole. You’ve seen golf games before, this isn’t much different.

The first three levels serve as a tutorial. A god-like character drops in, introduces each level, gives you some aesthetic quips and then leaves you on your way.

Everything changes and all sense of normalcy is disposed of when you hit level four. At the end of level four, the game transforms into a rubber band physics-based rock climbing game. “Figured a pair of arms would be useful,” the god quips when you start slingshotting around.

You, now walking around as a golf ball with toddler legs, in Golf: Become Human.

Skillfully applied wackiness

So once you get into the meat of the game—past level four, that is—Golf: Become Human hits its real stride. The game throws new mechanics at you, then augments them to increase complexity and to keep you guessing.

For instance, the rock climbing mechanic keeps evolving each time you encounter it, level by level. It starts off as a “climb to the top,” in the next level it adds corners, then animated bumpers, and then jumping springs and barriers. It skillfully builds from the underlying rock climbing game you found earlier into something devilishly complex and unexpected—but something I really wanted to bite into just so I could see what the game is going to do next with it.

It’s not just golf and rock climbing. There’s some platforming and flappy bird style gameplay too. You can also find the yellow flag hidden levels—which offer side-courses of gameplay varietals, like bowling and plinko.

Screenshot of Golf: Become Human, featuring bowling as a golf ball.

The ultimate mashup game of all time?

Yeah, this game is really vaporwave meets frog fractions meets the PGA tour series…with a jumble of other games you’d find in a discount bin heaped in too. That's a strength, not a crutch—everything feels at place here.

To accompany the vaporwave art aesthetic, Golf: Become Human includes its own lo-fi soundtrack from YouTube creators Lee and Zeeky Beats. The soundtrack is short and loops a few times. Once you’ve heard enough, feel free to sub in your own vaporwave soundtrack, from artists like Macintosh Plus or 2814.

Honestly, the origin of this game is mysterious to me. If you play through the credits—yes, the game gameifies the credits—you find that the game is made by a collective named “rootlads,” and lists some names in the credits, but I was unsuccessful in tracking any of them down. I weirdly suspect that there’s a deeper metagame to this, but I’m unable to find evidence of it. No social accounts, nothing. But the game is content-heavy and is polished deeply enough that it’s a surprise to see that the creators are nowhere to be found, short of posting the game.

Gameplay Tip:

There’s honestly a few bugs. The game can crash from time to time, mainly while aiming golf balls—wait for the green flash before clicking. If the game does crash, you can press R after relaunching to pick up at the checkpoint you left off at.
Oh, and strokes don’t really seem matter—or at least, I didn’t bother to three-star every course. The game always lets you continue to the next level.

A landscape shot of one of the last levels of Golf: Become Human, featuring the rock climbing in the distance.

Depending on how you feel about this sort of irreverent jokey complexity, Golf: Become Human may sound either fantastic or terrible to you, but you should really play it. It changes in ways that keep you guessing, in an irresistible sort of way that just made me searching for another hidden level, or to keep seeing how the game will evolve next.

My playthrough of Golf: Become Human took about an hour and a half. It made for a very delightful Sunday evening game. Golf: Become Human is available on itch.io for Windows.

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