Free to be Weird is a kind of spotlight/written let’s play of small, free, indie games. When most people think small, free, and indie they probably imagine some YouTube fodder making loud sharp noises and calling itself “horror”. We won’t be talking about those. Free to be Weird is going to be about unique ideas from voices that might otherwise get lost in the internet. I can’t guarantee they’ll be any good, but I can guarantee they’ll be interesting.
Rock Painting Story is a free 2d sidescroller where you play as a naked man with a spear trying to make it in the Paleolithic. There is a good deal of combat with light puzzles but the main draw is that it’s graphics are evocative of an actual cave painting.
So I can’t decide if Rock Painting Story is a vicious but effective tale of loss and the pointlessness of violence and revenge, or if it’s just kind of stupid. I get that weird, contradictory feeling about every aspect of the game. I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt because one- The person who made this apparently did so during a game jam and two- I really like this game. There aren’t enough games set in this really interesting era and not enough games with such a rich visual language. Not just the cave painting aesthetic (which, in all honesty doesn’t do justice to actual cave paintings.) but with the fluid animations and the clear and clever way your avatar expresses his feelings through pictures and emotes.
It’s just a shame that the actual gameplay doesn’t work so well. Aiming your spear is a joke, everything moves a little faster than your guy responds and these hitboxes are some of the worst I’ve ever seen in a game.
At first I thought the worst part of the game was this pseudo Frogger section where you have to run over these logs to get to the other side of this river. Simple right? It certainly would be if where you see your feet and where the hitbox thinks your feet are could agree. Also, once you get on a log you don’t stay on it so you have to keep holding the down arrow to not fall off, but not too much because you move slightly faster than the logs (the logs still go way too fast).
Then I figured the worst part was when I had to fight two sabretooth tigers at once. One tiger is rough. There are all the aforementioned hit box issues with your own dude, but now you’re dealing with a beast just as long as you are tall who can vault across the screen at a 45 degree angle like an Olympic javelin (faster than your javelins, that’s for damn sure) and his hitbox issues work in his favor. Then you fight two at once
Then I figured the worst part is the final boss. It’s all of the issues from before against a bullet hell boss, shooting waves of oscillating magic at you while you have to shoot your little joke javelin between the waves which cancel out your shot. Yeah, that was probably the worst.
In spite of everything I just wrote I really do adore this game. I slogged through the challenges eager to see what would pop up next and was not disappointed. There are a lot of different things going for such a small game to keep it from getting samey. I even enjoyed the combat once I started fighting other humans. Fighting against humans is a more humane challenge since it’s more about spacial awareness with melee and ranged types than guessing your hitbox.
The story was what really kept me hooked, however. It reminded me of a subtler, more artsy version of the first God of War (Spoiler alert for a free half hour game.).
It’s a standard revenge tale in that a rival tribe burned your village and murdered your pregnant wife but the thing is there’s no sense of justice or anything being better off for getting it. In fact you seem to make the world a worse place; most notably in the part where you kill three or four baby mammoths in front of their mother just to enrage the mother into opening the path for you. I imagine this is a part where more than a few people quit. Those baby mammoths are really darn cute, and it hurts to see the mother get more panicked as you murder her kids one at a time. I felt terrible. I still did it.
Next, when you finally get to the rival tribe you engage in some of the best combat in the game with some really aesthetically interesting enemies. They have headdresses and more advanced, detailed weapons than you. They’re also the only color (red) that really stands out in the game. Then I realized I was basically doing to them what they did to me. I thankfully didn’t murder any pregnant women, but I did kill a lot of people and was aware of it. I suppose it’s because I was killing animals from the beginning of the game that really drove it home that killing people is different.
Even when you face the final boss, a classically sneering, unrepentant villain, I killed myself to kill him. Nothing was gained, nobody survived to learn a lesson. It was a stupid, senseless tragedy no one would even remember. That being said, I could just be overthinking it. Even if I am though, it’s to this game’s credit that I even can interpret it like that.
In summary, it’s not Joe & Mac, but it’s a pretty good caveman game nonetheless.