It's a brave new world, ladies and gentlemen. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and the birds would be singing if they weren't being found dead in their hundreds in Louisiana. But, apart from the mysterious plight of our avian friends, it's a great time to be alive if you're sustained purely by strange ideas put into independent game format.
For those of you still blissfully unaware of what we do here, it's a quick overview of five different free games or mods or whatever. The criteria for selection are essentially a) it has to catch my eye to get featured and b) it has to cost absolutely nothing to play. Know this and proceed to move your eyes downwards in a word reading pattern.
The first game of the new year involves a slight error in the title. House of Dead Ninjas should really not have the S at the end of the word ninja, as the plural is the same as the singular, but hey, it's a fun game, we'll let it off the hook this time.
Available on the Adult Swim site, you control the titular oriental assassin who is attempting to infiltrate a heavily defended enemy fortress to strike at an unknown enemy. Starting by dropping through the roof, you have to make your way down as fast as possible, because there's a timer in the bottom right corner of the game window that, when it reaches zero, indicates that you've died and lost a life. Not quite sure why.
Anyway, there are plenty of time recharging power ups littered all over the fortress, as well as cruel enemies to stab, lacerate and obliterate with your three weapons. Your most basic attack is the short slash with the knife, augmented by a throwing star to eliminate enemies from long range.
Bombs are in short supply but can be used to destroy obstacles as well as more powerful enemies like the huge, bloated brown sumo wrestler types.
It's not hugely sophisticated, but what it is is fun. It reminds this aged correspondent of both Bruce Lee and Green Beret on the Spectrum, both of which are considered classics. With those two in mind, it's easy to have a ball playing Dead Ninja(s). So go, have that ball.
Chainz of Friendz is a smart little puzzler that provides a welcome challenge that doesn't prove too much of a struggle when it gets into the tougher stages.
Your task is to join up the monsters on the grid so they aren't next to more than two of the same colour at any one time. Metal blocks are immovable and have to be navigated around and it can be tricky trying to figure out which routes your monsters need to be placed in.
It's compelling though, even when it gets difficult, although you'll probably want to turn the music off quite quickly. Definitely a great little time waster for the office or when you're trying to avoid having to do some work.
From solitary monsters to lonely chunks of interstellar rock, Effing Meteors is a game where you have to bombard the Earth with chunks of space debris, finishing off the dinosaurs and some exploratory aliens who happen to be visiting at the time.
Hold the left mouse button to bring smaller meteors together to form a giant ball and then drag towards the Earth to exterminate the creatures on the surface. When the aliens turn up, you have to avoid getting your space debris shot down and, eventually, you jet off into space to chase the alien ships.
While peppering the globe with chunks of space rock is reasonably diverting, it turns into a really annoying experience when you start having to chase the alien spaceships through deep space. Frustrating enough to make you almost instantly stop playing, in fact. Something to bear in mind, perhaps.
Next up, a rogue AI simulator. Nerdook, its creator, has attempted to create a game that pays homage to our favourite madcap computer intelligences, in particular GlaDOS of Portal fame.
I am an Insane Rogue AI sees you, as a glowing red mechanical eye, attempting to take control of the mainframe computer on the level before then scaring, wounding or killing the humans.
Flicking lights off scares the superstitious scientists, moving them away from the mainframe and giving you the five seconds you need to hack it. Once you have this under control, you can hack robots to get them attacking the humans, although mechanics can reverse your actions on occasion.
There are quite a few levels, upgrades and trophies to play through and unlock, but it's all quite easy and never really presents too much of a challenge. This lack of difficulty makes it less than likely you'll be spending a deal of time with it, unless you really want to see what happens when you conquer the world (your ultimate goal).
Finally, we've got a classic mod for your delectation. If you happen to own Medieval 2: Total War and the Kingdoms expansion, the Third Age mod is a must play. The forces of France and the Holy Roman Empire are replaced by elves, dwarves and all things Tolkien, all displayed in lovely Total War-o-vision.
There are 14 factions to play with, some only devotees of the Middle-earth will have heard of. There are the two elf factions, the men of Gondor and the riders of Rohan, plus the evil ones like Mordor, Isengard, Orcs and so on.
As epic as the main Total War games, it's a great sight seeing Tolkien's armies crash into each other, more so even than in EA's own Middle-earth strategy efforts.
Well put together and still receiving support from its creators, it really has to be on the hard drive of all Total War enthusiasts. It's slightly tricky to get to work if you have the Steam version of the main game, though.