The flowery bird boy you befriend and help heal, in Compassion.

Compassion is a narrative experience game by Ivan Papiol, about getting help when you're in pain.

You encounter an injured bird, in need of help. When you interact with the bird, the thoughts that appear on-screen reflect more gloomy thoughts about how you deal with pain. Poking the bird with a stick explores the ways you can pull away when someone tries to be there and care for you. Offering the bird some flowers dives into the validation and, well, the compassion you can feel when you open up and let others provide help. If you think about it, in a way, that bird is almost like yourself.

This game carries a tang of extra meaning for me. If you check the archive of this site, things slowed down in July. I had a hard time dealing with some things going on in my life, and figuring out how to navigate the road ahead hasn't been easy.

You can't erase pain, but it's easier when you're taking my hand.

Caring for my flowery bird boy was somehow the highlight of my day. It's games and experiences like this that reenergize me. I'm gonna come back to this game when it feels like the sticks and rocks are clouding my judgment.

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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.

Screenshot of Bird of Passage, which depicts the ghost standing, preparing to enter a taxi, on a Tokyo street.

Bird of Passage, by SpaceBackyard, is an atmospheric narrative puzzle, set in taxi cabs traveling the streets of Tokyo.

You play as a low-poly ghost-bird-eye-thing (a technical term, of course), and you travel at night in taxis, recounting your stories to the drivers who take you around. It turns out that the ghost you embody died in the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake, and is seeking answers as they continue along their path.

The atmosphere and vibrancy of the deconstructed Tokyo are lovely. The game boils down its vision of Tokyo to just the bare essentials to deliver its view of Tokyo—a taxi cab, various taxi stops, bright lights, and road markings all serve to give you the feel of a big city without actually rendering a big city.

Screenshot showing the dialogue options in Bird of Passage, while traveling in a taxi.

This is a perfect game for a pensive dark rainy day. It’s not quite the same, but I found myself getting lost in thoughts in this game—like when you’re a passenger in a long car ride and your mind starts to drift.

Gameplay Tip:

It’s not necessarily easy to intuit the best choices to progress the story. For the best route to the end of the game, and to avoid repetition, keep track of your dialogue choices. One of the taxis you enter will give you a hint for what you’re looking for—once you heed their tip, the route to get to the end of the game will be clear enough with a little bit more trial and error.

My playtime of Bird of Passage was about 30 minutes—but yours can be a bit shorter with the non-spoiler gameplay tip above. It is available on itch.io for macOS and Windows.

The title card of Speak Easy, showing the characters, and art deco style.

Speak Easy, by Shots on Sunday, is a prohibition-era bartending game set in a 1920s-era Chicago.

You take the role of Ruth Moran, bartender, and proprietor of an illicit speakeasy, named “The Straight and Narrow.” Set over three nights, you serve drinks to a revolving cast of characters dropping into your speakeasy. You prepare them a spread of drinks, at their request, from your elegantly drawn and well-used recipe book.

“The Straight and Narrow,” your speakeasy, is set in a smoky Art Deco style as you’d find in the world of BioShock. Inter-day story exposition in Speak Easy is told through slides depicting a vignette of Ruth’s world and inner thoughts, but the biggest story beats come through your interactions with patrons.

Ruth’s Recipe Book in Speak Easy, featuring elegant hand-drawn art

You see unrequited love between two patrons—a doctor and his patient. Sapphire Riviera, another patron, is far too drunk and is claiming to be a star that you should already know. Pearl is an intoxicated police officer, and realistically, a patron you’re perhaps too friendly with—considering the prohibition, y’know. Of course, you also have the occasional drop-ins of the heavy fist of the mob supplying your speakeasy.

The interactivity of the bartending in Speak Easy is well considered, and is easily the best part of the game. Yes, Speak Easy certainly shares mechanical similarities with VA-11 HALL-A, the highly acclaimed cyberpunk visual novel, but the bartending in VA-11 HALL-A is more “click to mix.” Speak Easy’s bartending feels more real—you’re grabbing bottles from the shelves, picking up and squeezing the fruit, and shaking up drinks (with your mouse!) while preparing drinks for customers.

The Art Deco atmosphere of Speak Easy, as Ruth prepares a drink for a patron.

In terms of polish, I’d like for the ability to increase dialogue print speed. Also, even though it’s not necessarily a “choices-matter” style game, I felt like there was inflexibility to some dialogue—I wound up sternly kicking out a customer, where I’d have preferred an option to ask them to leave more politely.

This is an excellent showing from a student team of ten. It’s worth dropping in to chat with a few patrons, make a few drinks, and learn a bit about Ruth’s story. My playtime in Speak Easy was about an hour, and the game is available for Windows on itch.io.

A screenshot of Once Upon A Time in the West, showing the lodge where the events of the game take place.

You’re approaching a lodge in the wilderness. As you near, you see the flash of two gunshots, followed by sharp drum beats and a jump cut to black.

These are the first moments of Once Upon a Crime in the West, a narrative murder mystery game, by developer National Insecurities, exclusively available in the Humble Monthly Trove.

On the twelfth day of Christmas


As you enter the cabin, you encounter an array of highly-stylized corpses strewn about and find the bartender impaled with a knife in his eye, beckoning you in. It’s the twelfth day of Christmas, and it’s a good one—“except for all of these dead folk,” the bartender quips. The bartender instructs you to use a magical camera—conveniently left on a nearby table—to step back and relive scenes from the previous eleven days, to figure out just what happened here.

The Bartender, Elijah, stabbed in the eye. (Once Upon a Crime in the West)

You’ll meet a spread of characters with different personalities and reasons for being at this cabin over the twelve days of Christmas. Some are there to get away. Others, mercenaries, trying to find who killed the old sheriff of Old Town. You’ll also meet the new sheriff of New Town—who might also be the new sheriff of Old Town? (It’s hard to keep track.)

You should already be able to tell this isn’t a game that takes itself too seriously. The game is rife with black comedy, witty writing, and silly on-screen gags. Scene changes are accentuated with sharp drum beats and quick cuts. The bartender, Elijah, throws a coin in the swear jar every time he swears—a gag which does not get old. Even the people staying with you at the lodge are hardly fazed by an on-screen death during a poker game—instead joking about it after a moment of reaction.

Some of the cast, playing poker. (Once Upon a Crime in the West)

It’s familiar, but not too familiar

Sure, this game bears substantial mechanical similarities to Lucas Pope’s Return of the Obra Dinn, but that doesn’t detract from it. The colorful and stylized low-poly character graphics are a sharp departure from Pope’s title, and this game has an entirely different spirit and gravity to such a similar situation.

In a way, it’s also a step up in difficulty from Return of the Obra Dinn. After you finish watching the events of the prior eleven days of Christmas, you’re left to deduce what happened by linking polaroid pictures of characters together. The game doesn’t hand hold you during this point—you need to rely on your notes and memory of the dialogue to make these connections. Perhaps the game should allow you to rewatch previous scenes, but this also feels like an extra challenge, one that’s extra rewarding once you’ve made all of your logical conclusions. (If you get stuck, I do have a screenshot of the solution—I can quietly provide it so you can finish out the game. Keep your game open, there’s no saving.)

Gameplay Tip

You can play the scenes in any order, but it seems best to start from the First Day of Christmas. Also, I did encounter some oddities when just starting the game, after placing the camera and scrolling to switch days—the game wouldn’t respond to my scroll wheel. If this happens, you may be standing too close to the camera, somehow. I was able to get it to work if I stepped back.

Once Upon a Crime In the West is available for Windows, exclusively in the Humble Monthly Trove. My playtime was about two hours. It’s worth a shot if you enjoyed Return of the Obra Dinn, or are just up for a comedic murder mystery.

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