Quang H. Tran's Phoenotopia is the kind of game that comes along once in a very long while. While occasionally simple, it's still a better adventure game than most of the full price offerings you can pick up at your local retailer, in terms of art, story, gameplay and heart. The game is set on a post-Earth colony, an idyllic world full of gorgeous retro landscapes straight out of the best of the SNES generation. You play as Gale, a pink-haired everywoman whose simple life as a farm girl is interrupted one day when strange alien ships come and abduct everyone in your village, leaving just you and a couple dozen children left to fend for yourselves. It's your duty to head out into the world and find out what happened to your friends and family, braving myriad enemies and interacting with dozens of colorful characters along the way. In case you have noticed, the writing is far above standard for a game like this. The abduction establishes some real emotional stakes early on, and the wealth of characters you discover in your travels manage to be funny and interesting without being verbose. What's more, the brief nods at a deeper backstory regarding the fate of the old Earth offer some tantalizing hints at a vast and rich universe. Seriously, can you say franchise?
You have several melee weapons you can equip and use with [X] as well as ranged or throwable weapons you can use with [C], including slingshots, sticks, and bombs. You jump with [Z], open your menu with [S], and use the [arrows] for basic movement. By the way, all of these keys can be remapped at any time. Controls are tight and responsive, useful when fighting multiple enemies or leaping across a tricky platform puzzle. Combat feels easy at first, but that won't last. Some of the boss battles are downright devious, and it's easy to work up a sweat when you're being swamped by multiple enemies.
If this game were plopped into the indie section on Steam it would sell faster than chocolate-dipped bacon. This is about as good as free RPG games get. Yes, it's a bit of a "light" RPG, what with its lack of dice rolls and its real-time two-button combat. Or maybe it's a deep action platform game, offering hours of creative challenges and beautiful scenery to explore as you slay your way through an emotionally resonant story. If you're into stat-cruncher RPG's with turn-based combat you might find your kicks elsewhere. But for those of us who remember the heyday of Metroidvania and Zelda games, this is a shot in the arm. Browser games really have no business being this compelling, and all for only the cost of an internet connection. So in short, we've got a free browser game with a rich story, gorgeous visuals, a soundtrack worthy of a Studio Ghibli film, and tight gameplay that's always evolving over hours of increasing challenges. Bravo, Phoenotopia. Bravo.