Monsters and Mistletoe

Monsters and Mistletoe
The (Free) Spirit of Christmas

Nathan Meunier | 2 Dec 2008 12:36
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With blood pressures rising like a stormy sea, tempers flaring at a pin drop and once-cheerful moods dampened by months of frozen slush and chilly blasts of arctic fury, there's no mistaking it: The holiday season is in full swing. As the malevolence of wintry tradition continues to barrel down on you, it's often the small, simple comforts that count. Curling up by the warmth of a roaring hearth and melting away into a dreamy haze with the latest blockbuster game of choice can be a lifesaver - unless you're too broke from holiday shopping to afford such delights.

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Your credit cards, maxed out from purchasing thoughtful gifts for a multitude of loved ones, may be worthless, but take solace in the fact there are many wholesome indie gaming gems beckoning for your attention. These wondrous attractions are accessible to neophytes and masters alike, all for the lovely price of completely free. Come! Let us lose ourselves in the swirling vortex of indie freeware bliss. Grab your mouse and follow me.

While costly, peripheral-laden rhythm games continue to clog living rooms and let gamers live out their rock star fantasies, Frets on Fire delivers the rock without all the fuss. This open-source Guitar Hero clone lets you shred through tunes by wielding your keyboard like an instrument. You use keys F1 through F5 to hit the colored note frets and the Enter key to strum. Aside from making you look completely ridiculous while rocking out with your PC keyboard in mid-air, Frets on Fire is a solid recreation of the Guitar Hero experience. Even better, you can import songs from early Guitar Hero games or download other original compositions created by Frets on Fire's growing fan community.

In a similar spirit, Portal: The Flash Version offers a poor man's alternative to Valve's critically acclaimed Portal. It uses the same unique physics concepts of the original but in the form of a 2-D platformer. Despite the very different play perspective, working your way through the game's 40-plus rooms and solving puzzles by using your head and a two-way portal gun is just as satisfying in 2-D. The game's slick cel-shaded art direction is also a faithful recreation of Valve's sleeper hit. It's worth a try, whether you're already a Portal fan or new to the game entirely.

Bubble Tanks 2 takes the arena-style battling of Combat and drops it into a bubble bath full of danger. Piloting a small bubble tank armed with a pea shooter through a series of circular bubble arenas, you'll face increasingly complex foes concocted of the very same bubbles. Trashing their tanks and collecting the spoils lets you upgrade your own vehicle, which slowly grows and changes with every batch of bubbles it collects. Conversely, taking too many hits yourself causes your tank to revert to its weaker forms. The constant balance between trying to crush opponents to earn more bubbles and keeping your tank intact long enough to reap the firepower benefits makes for an exhilarating experience.

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