Ludum Dare 40 recently wrapped up, which means the Internet has been flooded with all sorts of weird, experimental little indie games! This time around the theme was “The more you have, the worse it is”. It’s one of the stranger themes I’ve seen for this game jam and I have mixed feelings about it. I like how unusual this theme is and how open it is to interpretation. However, in execution many of the participants ended up making games based on one of two specific interpretations. A huge chunk of the entries either revolve around the game becoming gradually tougher as you get more points or your character becoming slower as you’re weighed down by money/treasure. Even the more polished entries I’ve found tend to fall back on one of these two interpretations and the former is basically just the standard formula for any sort of score-based arcade game.
Though this jam’s theme has fallen slightly flat, there are still plenty of good games. Let’s take a look at four of the best Ludum Dare 40 games I’ve come across!
I’ll Take You To Tomato Town
This is a very silly game and one which I suspect has a good shot at winning the competition. I’ll Take You To Tomato Town is a first-person shopping simulator of sorts. You must complete your shopping list by grabbing food off the shelves with your long, stretchy green hand, but the store is closing in a few minutes. Complete one list and a friend will call you with requests for yet more food. Complete enough lists and you’ll be tasked with stealing as much food as you can within the remaining time. Once you enter this shoplifting phase security guards start spawning in based on how much food you’ve collected and the value of the food itself counts as your points.
There’s a great sense of comedy here between the fully voiced phone calls and the product named like “bagels that look like donuts” and “donuts that look like bagels”. The calls you get are randomized, adding plenty of replay value as you learn the layout of the store and save more time before the second phase. Aside from everything else, it’s really fun to use your stretchy hand because it sends nearby food flying everywhere once you grab something. I’ll Take You To Tomato Town has enough gameplay depth to make for an engaging, highly replayable score-attack experience, but it’s also a great game to play more casually for the atmosphere and ridiculous phone calls.
What a wonderfully abstract art style this game has! Muldulamulom looks as bizarre as its name sounds, though the gameplay is more familiar. This is an action platformer with Metroidvania elements and it makes use of the theme by adding in more enemies and hazards with each upgrade you collect. The platforming itself is a little wonky, but definitely acceptable for a game jam entry. I like the sheer amount of terrain which your bombs can destroy and the flying carpet is fun to control. Beyond that, the gameplay is standard enough that there’s not much to say about it.
On the other hand, the claymation art style is incredibly impressive and the designs for everything are delightfully surreal. I especially like the trail of afterimages on your wizard(?) and the sword. The lack of music also makes you feel like you’re in a void and allows the echoing, otherworldly sound effects to really shine. The only issue I have with Muldulamulom is a single counter-intuitive jump where the only way to get over a spike seems to be to take damage while jumping on a flying enemy.
InversioSynthesis is a puzzle game with one of the more inventive interpretations for this jam’s theme. Your spaceship has broken down and you must repair its five parts with materials from two universes. The materials appear in two 5×5 grids and each part has a specific number required materials. The catch here is that taking a material from one universe also takes the material in the opposite box (ex: top-left is linked to bottom-right). If one of the two materials is not needed for the current part it creates an anomaly tile in that material’s universe.
Anomaly tiles can still be used alongside other materials and they’ll simply warp to a new space afterwards, but if two anomalies touch they create permanent, useless void tiles in both universes. You must finish a part once you start working on it, but you can tackle the parts in any order, a handy feature which allows you to select the one your current grid configurations suit best. You can technically lose if the entire grid fills up with anomalies and void tiles, but I’ve beaten the game twice now and never came close to losing. InversioSynthesis is a very solid idea and I would love to one day see an expanded version of it with more challenging sets.
King of Coins
King of Coins is one of the many Ludum Dare 40 entries to make money slow you down, but the specific mechanics here are great. This is a single-screen puzzle platformer where the goal of each level is to simply reach the exit (and collect a helmet if you feel like it). Your only tool is a backpack which you can pick up, put down, and stand on. When you wear the backpack you automatically collect any coins you touch and you can use your mouse to aim and toss around coins. The coins themselves have physics to make them bounce around in a satisfying way while the protagonist has tighter platforming controls, which makes for a good balance.
The trick this time around is that the backpack grows in weight and size with every five coins in it so sometimes you’ll want to fill it with coins to turn it into a taller platform while other times you’ll want to fling coins somewhere in advance and then travel there with an empty backpack. The later levels start to change things up with the inclusion of multiple backpacks for added monetary management and backpack stacking. King of Coins is fairly short, even by Ludum Dare standards, yet what’s here is a fantastic combination of a great idea, entertaining physics, and clever puzzles. The potential is here for a more fleshed out version in the future and I would definitely play it.