Unique, artful games for summer

Now is a great time to catch up with some chill, beautiful indie games with unique styles and emotionally moving art.

Summer brings long, languid days and vacations – the perfect time for games, but also a slow time for big new game releases. Now is a great time to catch up with some chill, beautiful indie games with unique styles and emotionally moving art.

$2.99, Android and iOS, rated E
Florence” is a mobile game that tells the story of one young woman’s life and relationships. The elegant, welcoming ink-and-watercolor style doesn’t look anything like most video games. It’s subtle, simple and balanced, not oversaturated, heavy on details and made from polygons. It has the feel of an illustrated novel come to life. Except unlike a novel, there are scarcely any words.

The story unfolds over a series of short chapters. There is no branching narrative, or very many choices. Instead, there is a series of interactions and very simple puzzles, all accompanied by a soundtrack of flute and strings that does some important emotional lifting to set the mood. These puzzles are never hard to solve, but that’s not their purpose. Instead, they create an interactive experience that evokes a particular feeling.

“Florence” tells its story with the player’s help, and the player’s actions mimic the main character’s emotional experiences.

For example, when Florence is on a first date, she and her love interest are shown having a conversation via colored balloons appearing next to them, like in a comic book, but without words. To make Florence’s balloons appear, you have to slide puzzle pieces into place to fill in the color. As the conversation continues and the two start to hit it off, the puzzles get easier, reflecting that feeling we’ve all had when you get to know a new friend and talking to them becomes more natural.

“Florence” is full of wonderfully crafted gameplay like this, and at just $2.99, it’s well worth your time and money.

$16.99, Mac, PC and Nintendo Switch, rated E
”Gris” is one of the best-looking games I’ve played in years. Instead of high-resolution, super-detailed, dynamically lit blockbuster graphics, it has a restrained, precise and gorgeously spare art style that feels like stepping into a surrealist children’s book. Whereas “Florence” is firmly grounded in the real world, “Gris” is a flight of fancy in a strange world of ancient ruins and sprawling structures.

The gameplay in “Gris” is very classic 2D platformer fare, in the mold set by games like “Super Mario Bros.” You move through the levels, jumping over obstacles and unlocking new abilities to solve environmental puzzles. Although not a difficult game, “Gris’” puzzles require more effort than “Florence’s” and it feels much more like a traditional game. Yet “Gris” packs just as much of an emotional punch as the understated “Florence,” taking advantage of color, music and sheer scale to deliver its outstanding moments.

More expensive than “Florence,” “Gris” is also more expansive and offers a longer experience, and at $16.99 is worth every penny for those in the mood for something that’s beautifully moody and moving.