The Humble Indie Bundle is the post-scarcity economist’s wet dream. In the age of effortless copying, it is the most innovative and consumer-friendly approach I’ve yet seen to selling digital content. You pay what you want to, from $0.01 to $10,000 (some gaming philanthropists actually approach the upper extreme). In return, you get a digital package of usually good and sometimes-incredible games from independent studios.
A portion of the profits go to those studios, a portion to charity, and a portion to the Humble Bundle, Inc.; you use adjustable sliders to choose what proportion of your money goes where. All purchases are DRM-free, meaning you can copy them without consequence, and cross-platform, running on Windows, Mac, (usually) Linux and (sometimes) Android devices.
On top of all this, it makes money. Humble Bundle 9, which is currently up for sale, has already sold over 500,000 copies in six days, totaling around $2.3 million in sales. And it still has eight days to go.
Humble Bundle V, released in May 2012, is generally considered to have offered the best deal. It included critically acclaimed indie hits like Bastion, Limbo, Braid and the horror masterpiece Amnesia: the Dark Descent. While not achieving the success of that iteration of the deal, I think that this week’s Bundle 9 comes close. Pay more than the average ($4.61 at the time of writing) and you’ll get three truly excellent games: Mark of the Ninja, FTL: Faster Than Light and Fez. Consider the other three games in the bundle, as well as those not yet added to it, as icing on the cake.
Mark of the Ninja is a two-dimensional stealth side-scroller. You play the titular ninja as he battles against both external foes and growing doubt within himself. Although the story is cliché and the gameplay is somewhat thin in terms of content and variety, Mark of the Ninja is nonetheless a very solid, clean and beautifully-drawn game. It alone justifies a $5 price tag. If you want to know more about this game, check out my review of it last March, in issue 148-18. Now, on to the two titles that really make this Bundle stand out.
On the surface, FTL is a very simple game. You are a lone ship captain tasked with delivering some vital information to an allied fleet across the galaxy. All the while you are pursued by a large rebel fleet and must stay ahead of them while hanging back long enough to gather critical supplies. A full run won’t last longer than an hour or so; FTL relies on the high degree of variety in replays to make a full game.
There are two main interfaces. One displays the interior of your ship, with its various rooms and crew members, alongside a similar (albeit fog-shaded) display of whatever other ships you encounter. The other is a sector map, which shows the various routes you can take to get to your destination; but you spend the majority of game time on the first screen, where the bulk of action takes place.
But to call it action would be a misnomer. Combat in FTL constitutes more of a complex puzzle. You have control of all of your ship’s systems and can pause the game at will. How you defeat your foe is your call. You can temporarily divert power from your life support systems to boost your weapons, reactivating them just in time for your crew to breathe. You can invest in an expensive droid control system to harass the enemy, or buy a teleportation deck to send an assault squad to wreak havoc on the interior of the enemy ship. Trying out new tactics and adopting the ones that work for you are is the way to play FTL. Paired with a sleekly minimalistic design and an absorbing soundtrack, FTL’s gameplay will leave you coming back for study breaks over the next few months. If I had to pick one game from Bundle 9 as a true winner though, it would without a doubt be Fez. This game charmed the pants off of me. You play as Gomez, a pixelated little chap living in a two-dimensional world. His world is transformed — quite literally — when a mysterious cube speaking a strange language bestows upon him the titular three-dimensional hat, which ostensibly gives him the power to see his world in an entirely new light. The world is three-dimensional, but you only see two dimensions at a time. Imagine if you could take the first stage of Super Mario Bros and rotate it 90 degrees, and there you have the idea behind Fez.
This central conceit makes for an incredibly entertaining platformer from the start. The environments in the game are varied and interesting. The sounds created from Gomez’s interactions with the world, especially when you solve a difficult puzzle, are extremely gratifying. In a sentence, Fez is a joy to play.
But this only scratches the surface of Fez’s appeal; the first play through is the just the tip of the gameplay iceberg. If you become obsessed with the quest to collect all of the anticubes, Fez’s maddening purple collectible, you’ll soon be sucked into a world of puzzles unprecedented in video gaming. Collecting the cubes nearly superseded my studying for final exams as a goal during the spring of 2013. This is, as some have put it, “the real Fez,” and it is what really makes the game special.
If I didn’t already own the three games mentioned above, I would jump on the opportunity to buy Humble Bundle 9. They easily justify a price of $10, $15, even $25. At full retail, all six games would go for $120. It would be a crime for any lover of games, or even a casual player, to pass up an opportunity to own these for a measly $5.