Ladies and gentlemen of the academy, I would like to present a new video game for your consideration. It is timely and stylish and it runs in a browser. It deals with an important subject, and - heck - it will probably make you bust out crying.
It's called Kissing Leann Rimes.
I found Kissing Leann Rimes on Gamesgrow.com's endlessly thrilling website, and it's pretty much my favourite new IP of the last 10 years. Your job, as you may well have guessed from the title, is to help the vocal power behind The Right Kind of Wrong (I googled her) "kiss her favourite man as much as possible". What you probably didn't work out is that, while she's kissing him, you also have to help her avoid the gaze of a rather strange well-dressed fellow standing nearby.
What's he doing there? What's his story? Why does he get so annoyed by the mere sight of the princess of country music - and the woman who gave the world One Way Ticket (Because I Can) - flinging all this woo about? It's basically Metal Gear Solid meets Heat mag, then, and I urge you to drop whatever you're doing - unless you're carrying a fragile elderly person over some rugged terrain - and play it immediately.
KLR, as us fans refer to it, is the platonic ideal of a Gamesgrow game. It has a design idea plucked straight from the deepest reaches of WarioWare, an art style that suggests most of the people who worked on it were off their gourds on lighter fluid, and a title needlessly sharpened by out-of-date SEO tactics. Look! Leann Rimes has a twelve o'clock shadow, and her sinister expression makes her resemble the shape-shifting villain of an old X-Files episode. Listen! The flamenco music that plays over the "action" has a loop of about 10 seconds before it repeats with an audible click and pop. Read! The instructions are written with the kind of fevered, illiterate urgency you normally only associate with ransom letters or suicide notes.
Gamesgrow didn't make Kissing Leann Rimes, but it proudly hosts it and dozens of other titles that are just as weird, slipshod or hard to categorise. It's a pretty strange site all round, really. The accompanying text is filled with spelling errors and a quiet undercurrent of insanity, there's IP theft and purloined art assets wherever you look, and the About Us page boldly takes you to a 404. Having asked about the office a bit, it seems the site is basically an aggregator, but the whole thing has the endearing odour of organised crime.
When I try to picture the Gamesgrow offices, for example, I can only see inscrutable men in beige leather jackets, working out of the back of an industrial laundry and maintaining their complex sex lives on time-battered Blackberries. "Mary-Beth at eleven tonight? That sounds like the right kind of wrong!"
Still: games, eh? Clones, botches, egregious horrors that purport to hail from the extended Ben 10 universe. Most of the titles here are so bad that they're not worth even clicking on, but a special few are sufficiently bizarre and horrible that they start to feel like satire. Finished kissing Leann Rimes? Right on cue. Let's see what some other offerings from this astonishing site - and the hundreds just like it - have in store for you.
The king of the jungle rides a "hog" over some "hills", collecting bananas and avoiding pursuit from RedLynx's lawyers. I made that last bit up, but they may actually appear as bosses in a later level. I got bored and stopped playing so I don't know for sure.
As you may have gathered, this is the world's weirdest Trials clone. I particularly like the abrupt stage conclusions, and the even more abrupt explosion that greets each and every one of your mistakes, no matter how trivial. Boom.
Seriously? What does that title even mean? What it means, I guess, is that you're in for a bizarre Flash escort mission, as you protect an armoured truck from gangs of teenage girls on Vespas, all of whom have presumably been imported wholesale from a completely different game. Meanwhile, a nice mid-western man talks about aggravated battery on the CB radio, and a cheap-o Casio version of Rap Superstar plays over the credits. Wonderful stuff.
I know what you're thinking: how do you top Tear Her Clothes 5, right? I guess you throw in a few more clothes and a bit more tearing! Yes, that should to do it. Otherwise, there's always Christopher Nolan.
Choose your girl, ready your mouse (not a euphemism) and get ripping. Don't worry, the clothes in question appear to be made of paper, and that sound you hear is only your sense of self worth drying up and blowing away like autumn leaves on a stiff wind. I like to interpret this game as a fascinating study in gender decontextualisation and the male gaze, incidentally - otherwise I'd have a very hard time explaining what it's doing in my search history.
(Brilliantly, the "Prev Page" tab reads "Perv Page". Social commentary?)
Sonic, Mario, and whoever the other one is fight each other against a chugging rock soundtrack while every game designer who's ever employed a quick time event starts to feel very bad about things. Vapid, riddled with IP theft and guilty of essentially playing itself at times, this is definitely in on the joke. It's also a pretty good low-cost alternative to God of War 3.
I wish this was an action game about dermatitis, but I'm afraid it's just a mildly sexy spot-the-difference challenge. It does contain a beautiful Japanese lady's head framed inside a life preserver, though. So, you know, 6/10. Nautical!
This is seriously smart stuff: an ecological theme, tight side-scrolling action, and a fascinating loading ad for cleaning staff based in the Hull area. Any takers? Batman's stuck underwater, by the looks of it, and you have to navigate spikes while shooting little black lozenges at foes. "Let's yell for him!" suggests the instructions. I tried. Yelling does nothing.
Topical, this one: Mario's headed to the red planet, and he appears to have taken his Steve Albini records with him. The angry soundtrack's the least of your problems, though, as Nintendo's plumber is also saddled with floaty controls (something to do with the Martian atmosphere?) and a lame star-collection agenda. Hopefully, if Curiosity comes across anything even remotely like this on its globe-hopping travels, it will at least be able to use those nice chunky tyres it's got to back right over it and do some donuts.
A collect-'em-up where the collectables can't be, y'know, collected. That at least gives the team something to aim for when Lazy Goat Adventure 3 comes around. Included in this list purely because I like the music.
Optimus Prime falls off a ledge and can't get back up because of his piddlingly underpowered jump. Eventually, he combines with a weird duck-headed robot who can jump a little bit higher, and they live happily ever after on another ledge a little further to the right. From the people who brought you Mars Mario! The Michael Bay tie-in we wanted but were afraid to ask for.
If you're only going to play one game this year with a loading bar that generally gets stuck at the 87 per cent mark, this is probably a safe bet. Why Amsterdam, though? Maybe it's a good thing it doesn't load.
What's one worse than match three? Match two, of course - the obscure gaming classic that provides the rock-solid basis for this brilliant perfume-management action adventure. Click on bottles, listen to some old-world jazz-folk fusion, and try not to think about the haunted face you just saw in the loading screen. That's Lady Anna, apparently. Don't make her angry.