For all the tremendous, big-budget and eye-searingly satisfying triple A fare available for the PC, it can sometimes be easy to forget the gargantuan amount of stellar independently developed efforts for the platform. From Minecraft to Her Story and everything in-between, the indie scene on PC is a veritable embarrassment of riches.
The problem however, is that the sheer amount of indie titles available for the PC means that for every darling that gets celebrated such as Gone Home or Nuclear Throne, real diamonds in the rough such as DiscStorm and Extreme Exorcism tend to fall in-between the cracks and go largely unnoticed as a result. Though some unlikely favorites will always slip between said cracks, we’re doing our best to bring a diverse selection to the minds of the masses.
Over the course of the next few weeks and months then, we’ll be using this space to keep you Gamewatchers appraised of all the indie titles that we feel you should know about. Let’s get this thing on the road then shall we?
Our latest entry into some of the finest indie titles to grace our glorious platform comes Nex Machina - a twin-stick shooter from the folks that brought us the fast-paced platforming of Outland back in 2014.
Nex Machina is a pumped up shooter heavy on the eye-watering visual effects that make even Windows Media Player seem like something from the distant future with its visualisations adding a hypnotic extra layer to a heavy beat. Nex Machina combines booming electronica beats with a fast-paced action-adventure that has you running scared of bullets flying across the screen while you strafe and shoot back while pressing on and triggering various extra walkways.
It’s designed to be a fluid experience from start to finish rarely letting up or slowing down for you to catch your breath. There’s no joy on standing still, after all. The appeal of the game comes from its run n’ gun tactics and blasting through countless enemies with a satisfying beam of light.
There’s a reason it’s being regarded as an arcade classic when arcades are a distant memory. And best of all? It’s local co-op enabled!
Black The Fall
Developed by Sand Sailor Studios Purchase From:Steam
A new game by Sand Sailor Studios based in Bucharest, an independent videogame developer founded in 2014. The studio found itself with the success of a Kickstarter campaign to begin production of an atmospheric, dark puzzle game set in an era of communism we now know as Black The Fall.
After decades of exhausting physical labour, an old machinist who is sick and tired of his life in the heart of communism plots and executes his plan of escape using manipulation and cunning. Later you’re joined by an unlikely ally, an old, abandoned robot and it is your mission to guide these unlikely companions out of this dystopian hell hole and into a brighter, more welcoming world by solving puzzles and outsmarting their oppressors.
You begin in an elevator along with a group of fellow communist workers on their way to their daily duties. From there you make your way through a very dark and very unsettling environment to unravel puzzles buried within this dystopian dictatorship. The player is beset upon by a very oppressive feel and atmosphere from the very get go. You must use your cunning to navigate around mobile turrets and snorting guards. Along the way you come across a designator tool you slyly take from a guard which allows you to manipulate both man and machine and you must use this designator, along with your cunning, to take your chance at overthrowing this Communist state that is inspired by unfortunate real world events from Romania’s history books.
Black The Fall has already received awards for Excellence in Game Design by BIC Award 2016 & Best Indie Game at Gamescom 2016 by Spawn.sk and has been nominated for even more, but is it worthy of being called one of the best indie games? For the act of bringing Romania’s Communist stories to light alone grants them a high position in my eyes, but only you, the gamer, can decide.
Owlboy is a name uttered by some and never forgotten. Managing to rack up 9 years of development time before finally seeing its time in the sun, D-Pad Studio’s first title is a modern indie classic through and through.
Basing itself on a beautiful pixel-art aesthetic, you shouldn’t go into Owlboy expected a Shovel Knight-style homage to 8-bit classics or even something akin to SNK’s masterful understanding of pixel art from back in the early 90s. Owlboy is its own beast in every sense of the word. Building far and beyond the scope of the game’s it attempts to replicate, this open-world platformer as packed to the brim with charm. Dungeons, adventure and a bunch of recruitable allies means there’s plenty of depth hidden away in this quaint love letter.
Despite the overall triumph that Owlboy is for its fans, the awe of the adventure doesn’t simply reside in the game itself. Inspired by games like Super Mario Bros 3 and even the Wii console itself, the creation of Owlboy obviously wasn’t without its fair share of stories. Allegedly worried about the expectations of the fans after such a lengthy development cylcle, Owlboy was technically rebooted a number of times before finally settling on the final version players will speak of for years to come. A battle against depression was thwarted to make this game happen with Simon himself being credited with designing, directing and handles the art of the title all by himself.
Of course; it’s completion wasn’t down to just him. But with movies, documentaries and panels still focusing on the trials and tribulations of indie game development to this day, another success climbing out of pool of bloat is always a story we can get behind. Loving a game is one thing, but admiration for its creation exacerbates that further.
Ah RimWorld. An almost impossibly comprehensive colony creation simulator that borrows liberally from the likes of Joss Whedon’s seminal Firefly television series, RimWorld’s broad premise is that your ship has crash-landed onto an alien planet and you must live long and prosper, or, well, don’t and then die. There’s almost nothing you can’t do in RimWorld, you can tame animals, farm the local environment, build solar panels, scavenge other space wrecks, build terrifying war machines and, on a much more micro-level, take pleasure in watching the relationships between your colonists grow into love or even hatred for one another.
From the top, one of the main things that RimWorld does that elevates it so highly is the sheer amount of customisation that it empowers the player with. You can customise the origin of your story extensively; choosing to be a wealthy traveller with all the supplies and perks that are intrinsic to that lifestyle, or, you can simply elect to take control of a group of natives, struggling along with crude weapons and tools until you can better yourself with research and better equipment. Put simply, there is no shortage of ways to tailor the RimWorld experience to your exact needs.
Viewed from a top-down perspective, each planetoid you begin on is randomly generated each time; fresh with new materials, events, creatures and much more every time you decide to play. Where things get especially interesting however, is with the AI storytellers who shape the events of any given game session. One storyteller (Cassandra Classic) might gradually ratchet up the difficulty, slowly increasing the number of bandit raids on your settlement and increasing the scarcity of some resources, while another storyteller (Phoebe Friendly), provides an infinitely gentler time that allows players to take events at a much more leisurely pace. Again, this is very much a game that it invites itself to be tailored for the player and few do it better than this.
Ultimately, RimWorld has so much depth that it’s almost scary. Everything plays a part; from the attitudes of your colonists and the skills that such behaviours make them more suitable for through to dealing with various types of body wounds, building prosthetics and much more besides there are hundreds upon hundreds of hours of gameplay here to keep players of all skill levels fully occupied. Even better still, RimWorldhas an absolutely thriving mod community that has been hard at work fashioning a veritable flood of new content for the game and they don’t look to be stopping anytime soon. Look, if you don’t have RimWorld, stop reading this and buy it by clicking on the link at the top of this section and if you do, well, what are you doing with your life?
Get ready to explore another mind-bending platformer that dabbles equal parts in minimalist and absolutely graphic. Playdead, the makers of Limbo, have finally brought us a newer game that will push you to the limits and leave you questioning the cause of your progression the whole way through. INSIDE is somewhat of a spiritual successor to Limbo right down to its vague and open-ended context in which “hunted and alone, a boy finds himself drawn into the center of a dark project.”
INSIDE is a platformer in which the player must traverse puzzling environments and often avoid various creatures, people, and pitfalls. Limbo was known for its disturbing death sequences when the player failed to avoid danger and INSIDE pushes the ante up further with its own slew of gruesome endings. That said, the checkpoints are frequent and the game is often quite fair to the player. Players probably won’t die nearly as much as they died in Limbo.
The environment of INSIDE is quite a thing to observe. Outside of the minimal context, Playdead brings us another living that feels eerie and dystopian. The nameless boy, non-descript outside of his red shirt, travels through a series of changing environments that range from navigating a strange facility to swimming through underground paths to running through the woods, chased by animals and other danger. The threats escalate appropriately and the game keeps the tension of danger and moments of consideration for puzzle-solving in relatively good balance.
Speaking of puzzles, the game is chock full of interesting and innovative environmental puzzles. Limbo already had solid puzzles going for it and INSIDE brings the extra six years of experience Playdead has had since to a meaningful plateau. Just when you think you’ve seen all the mechanics, possibilities, and threats combined, the game serves you a new and interesting or terrifying new challenge to keep things interesting. The only con INSIDE faces is that it’s short – only about three hours – but if you loved LIMBO or just love a good platformer, INSIDE is a masterclass in design and execution.
More of a guided narrative experience than a game in the traditional sense, Fragments of Him is centred on the death of young chap by the name of Will. The kicker though, is that rather than experiencing the events of his life solely from his perspective, Fragments of Him gives us a cross section of his life and the effect that he had on other people through the memories of his boyfriend, ex-girlfriend and grandmother.
Rather than the more abstract approach that the thematically similar That Dragon, Cancer takes when dealing with themes of loss and remembrance, Fragments of Him elects to weave more conventionally structured tale; the monochrome tint of its characters and environments being much more similar to more traditional fare than the dreamlike aperture of the former. This approach also extends to the mechanics glimpsed in Fragments of Him too, since rather than engaging in the variety of platforming and puzzles seen in That Dragon, Cancer, Sassybot’s game has you exploring and interacting with various scenes with just the mouse and a single button press.
Ultimately, this makes for a much more relaxed affair than most games and when coupled with the lack of fail state in the game, Fragments of Him just over two hour duration makes it an easily digestible prospect if not one that represents especially good value for money. Nevertheless value concerns aside, Fragments of Him does a grandly commendable job of immersing you in the lives of those that were affected by Will’s existence, with a variety of stellar and nuanced performances from the voice cast ably expounding on all manners of philosophy and minutiae of Will’s life, resulting in an experience that at once is both delicately thoughtful and deeply affecting.
Fragments of Him then, is a both an extremely brief and gameplay-lite experience but at the same time it’s also a wonderfully thoughtful affair; deftly meditating on the concept of how memories live on in our loved ones long after we shuffle off our mortal coils. Sombre and touching yet fleeting in duration, Fragments of Him leaves an indelible impression upon you long after the end credits have stopped rolling.
Almost without realising it, I had sunk just over ten hours into Neon Chrome after I had initially planned to have a quick burn on it early in the morning. A ridiculously well-tuned twin-stick shooter that encompasses roguelike elements while being liberally drenched in neon cyberpunk aesthetic, Neon Chrome stands as quite possibly one of the best surprises of recent months.
In Neon Chrome you are tasked with taking down a futuristic megalomaniac called ‘The Overseer’, a particularly unsavory chap, he has designs on controlling society and generally being a massive jerk without compare. Remotely controlling one of three randomly generated gun-toting agents, each of them have varying skills and abilities, such as hacking or dealing extra damage, while you go about the place blowing your enemies to bits and looting bigger and badder weapons to do it with.
Even though you die often, and you willdie often, Neon Chrome does that thing that all good roguelikes should do whereupon with each respawn your character feels a little bit stronger than they were before. Whether that’s an improvement in stats, starting weapons or some other buff which are all paid for with credits dropped from destroyed crates and fallen foes, it’s abundantly clear that developer 10tons have a formidable grasp of what makes a great roguelike.
Elsewhere, Neon Chrome embraces a mixture of hand-crafted and procedural generated levels, with boss encounters that while being absolutely rock solid, never feel unfair. Really though, as good as the roguelike and action RPG beats of Neon Chrome are, it’s truly in the controls that the game shines brightest; deftly accommodating the sort of ultra-responsive movement and shooting synonymous with the classics of the genre. Chuck in a bunch of additional co-op shenanigans and it’s clear that if you’re on the lookout for a new favourite twin-stick shooter roguelike, Neon Chrome is just what the doctor ordered. If you’re not, Neon Chrome might just be the game that you never knew you wanted anyway.
March of the Living
Developed by Machine 22 & Creaky Corpse Ltd. Purchase From:Steam
To say that March of the Living is ‘FTL meets zombies’ is no mere understatement; that’s exactly what the game by developer Machine 22 is and yet, despite being such an obvious marriage of two different concepts, the end of result in March of the Living remains an engaging one that is wonderfully adept at whiling the hours away.
Like any zombie survival yarn worth its salt, the main objective in March of the Living is getting your chosen survivor to safety while along the way rationing your supplies, dealing with other survivors and, well, killing zombies. While there are a number of different characters with varying stats and levels of equipment that become available, you are locked into playing a single character from the outset – Greg, with the others becoming available as you fulfil special conditions.
A procedurally generated adventure that ensures that no one playthrough is the same, you are greeted with a map of the area that shows the paths available to you, taking you through abandoned shops, gas stations, police stations and so on, with each location offering up a bespoke risk/reward ratio of loot and conflict depending on where they are. In fact, the procedural generation in March of the Living is such that you can expect to see over one-hundred and sixty different events in total, with heaps of different dialogue, new characters to encounter and much more besides.
With its exaggerated pixel-art,easily accessible real-time combat and sophisticated survival mechanics that allow you to both scavenge from abandoned buildings or trade with fellow survivors there is certainly a great deal to like about March of the Living. Sure enough, the overall presentation might not be that stellar, but if you’re looking for an FTL-like experience set in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, than March of the Living proves itself to be a worthy morsel to sink your teeth into.
Developed by DoubleDutch Games Purchase From:Steam
Three things are certain in life; death, taxes and the fact that SpeedRunners looks much, much better in motion than it does when shackled by static screenshots. Part racing game and part 2D platformer on crack, SpeedRunners channels easy to play, yet difficult to master gameplay beats with the sort of verve that it’s easy to see why despite being in Early Access for so long the game remains one of Steam’s most popular and enduring titles.
The goal in SpeedRunners is wonderfully simple; you have to reach the score cap before the other three runners do with a point being gained each time you eliminate your fellow runners from, well, the running. Elimination occurs whenever you force your way to the edge of the screen in the direction the that track unfolds and so, as you might reasonably guess, you must do everything in your power to ensure that happens whilst keeping the competition off your tail.
Complicating things are a veritable raft of track hazards to deal with, ranging from multiple routes, boxes that must be leapt over, vertical wall-to-wall jumps and spiked pits to name just a few. Layering the whole experience yet further are the myriad of unlockable arenas and power-ups that can be used to stymie the other competitors, such as grappling hooks, bombs and just about everything you can think of in between.
Beyond all the hazards, neat power-ups and the crazy-colourful superhero aesthetic, SpeedRunners greatest and most attractive asset by far is just how well it controls. Creating a pitch perfect marriage of ultra-responsiveness and gravity teasing floatiness, SpeedRunners is simply one of the most eminently enjoyable and satisfying competitive games around. Throw in local co-op play, a level editor and extensive Twitch support and you have a game that will have long legs for years to come. Get stuck in.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday
Developed by iNK Stories & N-Fusion Interactive Purchase From:Steam
When we talk about games, we often talk about how fun they are and there’s definitely a debate out there on whether that’s a determinant factor of a game’s worth. That subject is a mess, but games like 1979 Revolution: Black Friday are exactly the kind that strike up that conversation. It’s an adventure game that uses and is based on the political tensions and civil unrest of the late 1970s in Iran. If that sounds unsettling, it’s because it very easily is, but it’s also kind of amazing.
The game places players in the roll of a young photographer known as Reza Shirazi as his friends, family, and acquaintances, both rough and pacifist, all draw him to a volatile powder keg of political, religious, and philosophical tension. The game unabashedly borrows from an adventure game framework set by Telltale Games in which players choose Reza’s dialogue and guide him through environments and by use of exploration and quick-time events in a variety of soft and tense situations. Things you do in any given event have lasting effects and characters will remember which decisions Reza made and react accordingly down the line.
The game is filled with historical background. There are documents, interactive set pieces, and audio on tapes and other devices that provide a real-life historical anchor to the story being told. It’s a method that reminds deeply of games like E-Line Media and Upper One Games’ Never Alone and Ubisoft Montpellier’s Valiant Hearts: The Great War.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday is a brave and bold game in a world that still feels tension over religion, race and radicalism, especially as it applies to parts of the Middle East. Being that this is a story told from the ground level of intense human clashing of ideals, there is absolutely bias in it, but the player is asked to choose a personal direction for Reza’s reaction to the events, not their own. More importantly, 1979 Revolution asks the player to observe one particular and clearly personal take on historical events as the hope, idealism, passion, and cruelty of humankind as a nation faced the hotly contested change of an era.
Hieroglyphika is a top-down roguelike but wait - come back! It’s not just any top-down roguelike because quite unlike any other game out on the market right now, Hieroglyphika doesn’t have any text, instead electing to speak to the player through a combination of pictograms and numbers.
A turn-based strategy RPG at heart, Hieroglyphika casts players as a plucky adventurer type who must plumb the depths of an ancient Egyptian pyramid in order to conquer the evil within while hoovering up as much loot as possible in the interim. While stripping out text entirely from the game is a bold move indeed, it also runs the risk of making the game veer towards the unapproachable; especially for folks who frustrate easily and would otherwise struggle with regular fare.
Bolder still is that the game has no handholding in it whatsoever and yet, whereas in the hands of other developers Hieroglyphika may have drifted into the realms of the unintelligible, here the game rewards experimentation as little by little you unearth the myriad of systems and mechanics that comprise the experience. Learning the game in this piecemeal fashion soon reveals itself to be a satisfying experience too, as each subsequent playthrough sees you armed with more knowledge and refined tactics than previous attempts.
Whether you’re opening sarcophagi to scoop up precious loot, learning spells or killing enemies to replenish your health, Hieroglyphika is able to genuinely surprise in a way that very few roguelikes manage to do these days. Equal parts inventive and compelling, Hieroglyphika would seem to be the perfect antidote to roguelike fatigue.
Developed by Blooming Buds Studio Purchase From:Steam
It’s certainly not unreasonable to posit that there’s nothing quite like Calendula. This is a game which, quite unlike any before it, deliberately attempts to prevent people from playing it. From graphics card driver errors to corrupted saves and just about every other type of technical malady that you’ve come across in other games by accident, this is a game which is as user-hostile as it gets.
Though deliberately obnoxious, there is actually a fair amount of satisfaction to be had in thwarting Calendula’s multitude of ways to prevent you from playing it, since rather than being true bugs and defects, they are merely approximations of such and thus require ample amounts of meta-guile in order to be conquered. Occasionally too, you’ll catch a glimpse at the game beneath it; an atmospheric and surreal first-person horror yarn that has you stalking various moodily lit corridors and ornate looking chambers.
Still, this is a game that will assuredly not be to everyone’s tastes. There’s no bespoke progression elements, no bosses to fight and no traditional metrics to measure your in-game progress against, instead, this is a game about tinkering and very clever one at that as it forces you to think outside the box in order for you to successfully reach the heart of the Calendula experience; even if that experience is only an hour to two hours long at most.
In spite of being desperately short then, Calendula’s overarching metanarrative and utterly refreshing take on what it means to be a videogame is such that it renders such concerns about longevity largely moot; this is simply something that everybody should experience.
One of the greatest achievements of The Slaughter is that it somehow plunges you into this crazy alternate universe where Ron Gilbert and company never stopped creating old-school, point and click adventures. Indeed, all the hallmarks of early Lucasarts adventures are there; the puzzles, the humour, the 256 colour styled assets and of course, a riff on that iconic coloured font made popular in the early days with titles such as Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle.
Beyond such homage to the golden era of point and click adventuring though, lies a genre yarn which should easily be mentioned in the same breath as those timeless classics. Set in Victorian era London, The Slaughter: Act One has players assuming the role of hapless private investigator Sydney Emerson who, in between trying to make rent and beer money by finding lost dogs and enduring alleyway kickings, is swept into a case involving a serial killer who is preying upon the denizens of the city.
While the game wholeheartedly embraces the traditional point and click adventure approach of finding clues and spouting entertianing dialog in order to progress, The Slaughter: Act One also throws a curveball into the proceedings. This departure is the surreal dream sequences whereupon Sydney attempts to divine clues through a series of increasingly bizarre situations which usually involve him sleeping on the ceiling and talking to a highly intelligent fish.
Clearly though, one of the greatest things about The Slaughter is just how British it all is. From the brilliantly composed soundtrack with period instruments to the sort of acerbic, silver-tongued wit that you would expect to find in an episode of Blackadder, this inaugural act of The Slaughter showcases a point and click adventure with a very different sort of attitude than any we’ve seen before. A real love letter to the classic Lucasarts era of point and click efforts, The Slaughter: Act One is as blissfully entertaining an adventure as you’re likely to get and does a cracking job of setting the stage for what is hopefully an equally bombastic second act.
Doing exactly what it says on the tin, 10 Minute Barbarian is a strategy lark designed with the individual who barely has enough time to breathe in mind. Able to be conquered in ten minutes or less, 10 Minute Barbarian has players taking command of a barbarian horde as they attempt to avert a demon-stuffed apocalypse in the length of time that it might take you to brew a pot of tea.
Naturally, the whole premise would fall flat on its pixellated face if it took you longer than ten minutes to work out how to play the thing. Thankfully though, 10 Minute Barbarian is wonderfully simple to pick up while being mightily difficult to put down at the same time. Viewed from a top-down perspective with simplistic visuals, 10 Minute Barbarian has you moving about the countryside, scooping up recruits for your army and fighting enemies wherever you find them. The fighting itself is pretty much handled entirely by the AI, with a game of numbers operating behind the scenes to dictates who will win based on strength and quality of numbers.
From basic rabble to archers, knights and even dragons (these can actually be controlled by the player and can be used to dispatch tactically placed volleys of flaming death upon your foes), your army can become quite large and multi-faceted, which is just as well really because at the end of a number of days the apocalypse kicks off and you have to lay the final smackdown on the forces of evil and unpleasantness in order to win the scenario. Pointedly, destroying your enemies and liberating strongholds proves to be a key aspect of any sound strategy since once conquered these tiles generate new troops every turn, while scavenging gold will allow you to expand the maximum limit of your forces.
You have to be careful though; since every tiled move that you make costs one day of time and with a desperately finite amount of time available to you, each movement and decision needs to be prioritised and pondered over, lest you find yourself woefully unprepared in the end. With a massive array of different maps, tweakable parameters and instantly gratifying, bite-sized portions of strategy 10 Minute Barbarian is pretty much the gaming equivalent of a hugely tasty cereal bar and quite honestly, it feels all the better for it.
The Bug Butcher
Developed by Awfully Nice Studios Purchase From:Steam
Clearly, the talented folks over at Awfully Nice Studios have played Taito arcade classic Super Pang. In fact, if their new release The Bug Butcher is any indication, they’ve played absolutely shed-loads of it. This is no bad thing though, because Super Pang was quite frankly a brilliant example of furious arcade shooter action and though it serves as the core inspiration for The Bug Butcher, the developers have done a cracking job of modernising the concept and sticking on the sorts of bells and whistles to bring it kicking and screaming into 2016.
For the uninitiated, Super Pang was an arcade shooter where rather than shooting along the x-axis, your character could only fire volleys in a strictly upward trajectory in an effort to destroy what appears to be massive boiled sweets which then split down into further smaller sweets when blasted. In case you haven’t guessed it, The Bug Butcher swaps out the colourful looking sweet things for massive bugs (which still break apart into smaller versions of themselves when shot) while adding some wrinkles to the formula in order to keep things fresh. One such example is a Spider enemy that threatens to eat your scientist friend and so must be prioritised ahead of other beasties lest your game ends somewhat abruptly.
Aside from being able to play the whole thing in co-op with a friend, The Bug Butcher also boasts some neat power-ups (Super Pang players will recognise some of these, such as the freeze time ability) and a veritable murderers row of massively impressive bosses, who add a whole heap of difficulty to the proceedings and really make you think about your lateral movement and shooting strategies. Of course, the fact that the whole thing is bolstered by some tremendously responsive controls and an exceptionally well-judged difficulty curve doesn’t hurt either.
Throw in some gorgeously drawn and animated cartoon visuals and generously sprinkle some light humour over the top of it and what you end up with in The Bug Butcher is a game that pays that most effective of homages; one which not only does the original concept justice but manages to modernise it with such verve that it could quite easily foster a brand new cult following nearly three decades later.
Developed by Butterscotch Shenanigans Purchase From:Steam
Imagine, if you will, a game that marries the best of Diablo and Don’t Starve and then drenches the whole thing in lashings of Red Dwarf style humour. Sounds great doesn’t it? Well, you need not imagine any longer – that game exists, it’s called Crashlands and it’s every bit as brilliant as you’d hope it to be. After your ship is sabotaged and you (yep, you guessed it), crash land on an alien planet, it’s up to you to try and survive all the while looking for a way to leave the planet and wreak vengeance on the villain who made everything go to pot in the first place.
Chiefly, what makes Crashlands work as well as it does is how well the game intertwines elements from those aforementioned inspirations into one, ridiculously cohesive and satisfying whole. Take the base building for example. In similar games, such activities tend to be either left entirely up to the player to discover, or, a bunch of rudimentary steps are provided to inelegantly guide folks along. In Crashlands however, the developers have taken advantage of the side-quest structure that is so prevalent in ARPG’s such as Diablo and use it to greatly incentivise the player with a proper narrative that goes a long way to not only making such shenanigans enjoyable, but also much more welcoming to those who typically stay away from such fare.
When you’re not building up your settlement, uncovering new schematics and smacking the local wildlife to death with whatever weapons and vehicular monstrosities you’ve fashioned, you actually find that you spend most of the time laughing your rear end off since Crashlands is frequently and legitimately hilarious in a fashion that feels like a cross between classic TV show Red Dwarf and Double Fine’s brand of irreverent comedy. In short, unless you’re some sort of fun-hating ogre, it’s practically impossible to not play Crashlands with a giddy grin on your face that stretches from ear to ear.
Adding the icing to what is already an horrendously luxurious cake is the fact that Crashlands employs something called BscotchID; a nifty little feature that allows you to effortlessly transfer your save files between PC, Mac, iOS and Android versions of the game, meaning that wherever you are, you can keep your game always in progress. Funny, compelling and with longevity in spades if you haven’t worked it out by now, Crashlands is as essential as it gets.
The Steam page for The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human seems to have hit the nail on the head: “Polarized gameplay: It’s pretty chill until you’ve gotta fight for your life!” They’re certainly not wrong in their assessment because The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human feels like some sort of deliriously brilliant marriage between the frantic shoot em’ up gameplay of Metroid and the tranquil, almost melancholic exportation of Ecco the Dolphin.
Set in the far-flung future, The Aquatic Adventure of The Last Human casts players as the titular last human who returns to Earth after being lost to an interplanetary black hole for many thousands of years. With the planet pretty much covered entirely by water, you are tasked with exploring its labyrinthine depths in order to ascertain what triggered such a calamitous change all the while naturally collecting a bunch of power-ups and defeating huge, screen-swallowing bosses in the process.
In setting a Metroid style title underwater, The Aquatic Adventure of The Last Human unfolds a fair bit differently from its genre kin. As mentioned previously, the permanently submerged setting lends a sense of tranquility and restfulness to the game that many other entries in the genre lack; whether you’re just gently milling about the place in your submarine admiring the veritable smorgasbord of underwater life or listening to the holo-recordings of those who have come before you, the game succeeds in deftly balancing the frenetic with the peaceful.
Speaking of the frenetic, the game doesn’t let up at all in that regard with some great power-ups and gargantuan, damage-soaking bosses that will tax even the most stalwart Metroid veteran quite admirably. Of particular note is the fact that because the entirety of the game occurs underwater, your tiny submarine doesn’t move as quickly as you might expect and as such demands special attention when you’re attempting to outmaneuver your watery foes. Sufficiently different from the genre status quo on account of it’s unexpectedly relaxing atmosphere and immersive narrative then, The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human certainly proves to be an enticing prospect indeed.
Qasir al-Wasat: International Edition
Developed by Aduge Studio and Zueira Digital Purchase From:Steam
And now for something just a little bit different. Developed by Brazilian outfit Aduge Studio, Qasir al-Wasat weaves a tale of demons, warlords and portal conjuring sorcerers; the rub however, is that you are the demon, summoned into a magical 12th century Syrian castle to end the lives of three evil doers who are hellbent on bringing war and anarchy to the land. Put simply, this is not your daddy’s stealth game.
Viewed from a top-down perspective, Qasir al-Wasat places an emphasis on stealth as you guide your demon around the castle interiors and its surrounding locales. Immediately the game’s unique visual style comes into play, marrying ancient Arabic and Persian aesthetics to create a stealthy affair that looks quite unlike any other as your demonic avatar sneaks and skulks past unassuming guards and peasants alike.
Speaking of stealth, the particular brand that Qasir al-Wasat employs might seem overly harsh at first as it only takes a single blow to fell your character. Thankfully though, checkpoints are never far away and the actual stealth itself is far deeper than initial impressions might yield. You see, as well as the usual patrolling guards, the game also has you evading traps, solving puzzles (ranging from the simple to the head-poundingly difficult) and eavesdropping on conversations in order to gain insight into secrets that the castle might hold.
Another thing that Qasir al-Wasat does well is how it makes you think about murder. While your demon is quite obviously an assassin, you can only kill a finite number of times with each death leaving corpses and trails of blood that can lead suspecting guards to your location. Naturally, this results in a neat bit of risk and reward as you’re forced to gauge when the optimum time to take a life is in order to progress through the castle. Supported by an intriguing narrative with multiple endings and the demon’s own monologues as he attempts to comprehend the strange world that he has been summoned into, Qasir al-Wasat is much more than your garden variety stealth title and is worthy of inspection by both stealth fiends and genre newcomers alike.
Echoes of Aetheria
Developed by Dancing Dragon Games and Degica Purchase From:Steam
A throwback to the old-school 16-bit style JRPG where bright colourful characters, a top-down perspective and turn-based combat ruled the roost, Echoes of Aetheria is one of those pleasant surprises that in addition to providing a cracking little tribute to those classic Japanese adventure titles of yesteryear, the game also happens to be a decent effort in its own right, too.
Undoubtedly a big reason why Echoes of Aetheria feels so compelling is because of the writing and characters. Set in a sci-fi fantasy world (one that deftly evokes memories of Square Enix’sFinal Fantasy VI no less), the game kicks off with a wedding between two formerly warring nations which is then, you guessed it, interrupted by a mysterious antagonist who whisks the princess away, forcing you to give chase in an odyssey that spans the world, international conspiracies, a whole host of androgynous-looking men and much more besides.
It’s standard JRPG plot fodder for sure but at the same time it’s also genuinely funny at turns because the dialog is liberally laced with hefty doses of humour and whimsy. Elsewhere, the turn-based battles that we’ve all come to expect from this sort of fare are present and correct. Showcased from an isometric perspective, Echoes of Aetheria has players taking turns with the AI controlled enemy, smacking the brown stuff out of each other until one side falls over completely. Spicing things up are a number of special abilities, magical items and a neat positioning system that allows ranged characters to use melee types as aggro shields while they pepper their foes with damage.
With hours upon hours of classically inspired JRPG narrative and gameplay, Echoes of Aetheria might not innovate a great deal, but what it does manage to do is provide a good old fashioned slice of JRPG goodness with the sort of gusto and verve that a fair few of its more expensively produced genre stablemates seem to lack.
Developed by Lazy Bear Games and Tinybuild Purchase From:Games Republic
Cast as a young lad who must pursue the shadowy assassin who killed his father, Punch Club takes that classic tale of the untrained underdog who would become champion and thrusts it into full on ‘tycoon’ territory with an effort that’s more about careful planning and management than it is about memorising excessively long combo inputs.
Decked out in a visual veneer evocative of the 16-bit era, Punch Club is all about hitting the gym, learning new moves and winning fights in order to reach that final battle with the game’s ultimate antagonist; the man who murdered your father. It’s not all just hitting the weights and focus pads however as players must also learn how to stay rested, keep their nutrition in check and their state of mind happy as all of these things can either positively or negatively affect a fight.
In addition to such considerations, it becomes paramount to also hold down some sort of employment too since, well, all that protein-stuffed meat and trips to gym aren’t exactly going to pay for themselves. Intriguingly, when the fighting itself starts, Punch Club allows players to choose which skills and abilities that they will go into the fight with and then the AI gets on with making the scrap happen between the player and his opponent.
While the total lack of control over your character in the fight might prove concerning for those used to more immediately gratifying fare, a larger issue is the randomness that comes with each fight can sometimes result in you winning a match you shouldn’t have or losing a bout you should have won. Still, which such occasional haphazardness does grate from time to time, the overall charm and compelling nature of Punch Club’s charmingly retro narrative goes a long way to keeping you hooked from beginning to end.
Taking us back to a simpler time, Bard’s Gold is a platformer with action RPG elements that doesn’t actually ask much from the player on the surface of things. In fact, to complete each level, players have to ‘simply’ find the key hidden somewhere in the level and walk through the door so that they can progress onto the next level to do more of the same.
Where things get tricky though is in the instant-death dealing traps, monsters and bosses which permeate the space in between the beginning and end of each level. Oh and lest I forget, there are also no checkpoints too, so yeah, there’s that to contend with also. Luckily however, you are able to collect gems which can be turned in at a vendor for a variety of new equipment, armour and trinkets in addition to a smattering of temporary and permanent character upgrades.
While Bard’s Gold bears some similarity to fellow action platformer Rogue Legacy, the reality is that the game plays a lot slower than Cellar Door Games superlative genre entry. Instead, the developer of Bard’s Gold have seen fit to slow down the proceedings which in turn forces players to assume a much more ponderous and cautious approach to their platforming and foe-smacking antics.
It also doesn’t hurt that Bard’s Gold controls extremely well too, with pixel-perfect leaps and strikes all made possible by the game’s ultra-responsive feedback. With that in mind though, it should go without saying that having a controller on hand is a requirement rather than a recommendation for [b]Bard’s Gold[/b] as keyboard controls will not get you very far. Like all the best challenging games then, it’s clear that the developer understands the need to empower the player after every death. Whether that’s learning a new enemy attack pattern, uncovering a key weakness of a troublesome boss or the accrual of a new upgrade, dying in Bard’s Gold hardly ever feels like the reductive condition that it typically does elsewhere.
In spite of its budget price point, Bard’s Gold has a lot to offer. Boasting some decent level design, oodles of treasure to loot, secrets to discover and a collection of fiendishly difficult bosses to overcome, Bard’s Gold might not be the most spectacular or groundbreaking title available, but it is certainly among the most relentlessly entertaining and an easy recommendation for fans of the genre.
“This is the happy ending of a man who is dying.” is one of the opening lines from In Between and so, quite early on, it becomes pretty clear that this isn’t going to be your regular sort of videogame. Placing folks into the shoes of a man whose life is slipping away from him, In Between takes players on an odyssey of self-discovery and reflection as our protagonist seeks to deny his impending death while reminiscing about the good times and bad times of his life.
Wrapping up these themes is the puzzle platforming gameplay which sits at the centre of In Between. Bearing some similarity to Terry Cavanagh’s superlative VVVVVV, In Between builds upon the concept of that game by having players completing levels by changing gravity in four different directions, instead of two as they navigate their way around the hazard laden levels.
Pleasingly, German developer Slightymad makes the most of the puzzle platforming elements and across In Between’s sixty or so puzzles has crafted a set of some truly ingenious, yet challenging conundrums for the player to solve. A nice touch in particular is that every time the narrator talks about a new element in the story, so too do the levels accurately reflect it. For example, early on, the narrator begins to talk about darkness and the need to embrace it and then the next set of levels have our protagonist running away from encroaching shadows. So certainly, the fashion in which the puzzles and the narrative are tied together is quite impressive indeed.
Of course, such design prowess would be for nought if the control of the protagonist was compromised but as to that I can happily report that the game controls extremely well with a high level of responsiveness. Another key pillar of In Between’s experience is the aesthetic. With beautifully hand drawn levels accompanied by haunting background music and some truly great work on the part of the protagonist’s voice actor, In Between is a real audiovisual tour-de-force.
With such a tremendously layered and dense narrative compounded by a beguiling audiovisual aesthetic and a collection of expertly judged puzzle platforming challenges (not to mention an absolutely stellar final act), In Between is an easy recommendation for anybody with a love of puzzles, platforming and deep, profound narratives.
Clearly the best bits that anyone really remembers about the Tron movies, are the scenes when they’re chucking those great big glowing discs at each other, right? Well, a group folks have taken that notion and basically developed it into an arena based arcade game with a focus on blisteringly fast, twitch-based action and some of the most addictive multiplayer you’ll have seen for a long while.
Like all the best things in life, DiscStorm is blissfully straightforward. Folks can choose from one of four different competitors and embark on a single-player campaign, where, aside from learning the ropes and sharpening their skills, they will also unlock additional costumes for their chosen DiscStorm player as well. Once into the game proper, the goal is to strike down your opponents by tossing your rather deadly disc at them, with up to three discs being able to be thrown before they are required to scooped up again for later use. Additionally, airbourne discs can be caught and incoming enemy discs may also be deflected assuming that you have at least one disc in reserve.
Make no mistake though, the single-player campaign is not merely an afterthought or distraction but rather a fully-fleshed out solo game mode that has some real surprises of its own. Each level you see, is designed around a particular theme such as a robot factory, a dense jungle or a haunted house and whether its portals that allow you teleport or stone pillars which can be used as cover, there’s always some bespoke environmental feature to keep things interesting.
Elsewhere, the foes in DiscStorm’s campaign do brilliantly in training players for the game’s multiplayer mode with enemies that can only be hit in behind for example, really forcing folks to work on their rebound game while other opponents mimic human players in an effort to replicate the frenetic conflict which is synonymous with the DiscStorm’s competitive multiplayer offering. It also doesn’t hurt that the game is steeped in some really quite attractive pixel art and liberal amounts of self-aware comedy, too.
As good as the single-player campaign is though, arguably the core of DiscStorm’s substantial appeal lies with its perilously addictive local multiplayer mode. Here, up to four players (with AI enemies making up the numbers if need be) can gather around a single PC and hit it off against one another with dynamic multiplayer, goal-based gameplay that changes with every round. One game for instance, might be a regular point scoring content whilst another might be a game of tag where the person who is ‘it’ has a bomb ticking down on them which can only be removed by ‘tagging’ another player with their disc. It’s simply hugely responsive and great fun to play with some mates and aside from a lack of online multiplayer, DiscStorm looks to be a no-brainer purchase for anyone looking to get stuck into high-caliber, local multiplayer shenanigans.
Gryphon Knight Epic
Developed by Cyber Rhino Studios Purchase From:Steam
You know what, Gryphon Knight Epic might just be the best thing I’ve played all week. Its premise is thus; a knightly hero (who looks nothing like Arthur from Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins series) of the realm has grown complacent after slaying a dragon and after dividing the spoils among his comrades, soon realises something is amiss as one by one they all turn a bit nasty and decide to take over the realm for themselves.
Fairly typical fantasy fluff then, but whereas you might be picturing some stuffy RPG in your mind right now, Gryphon Knight Epic is actually a side-scrolling arcade shooter that takes those RPG elements and expertly blends it in with a hefty dose of comedy and enough retro charm to make you forget that polygons ever existed.
In mixing its scrolling shooter DNA with RPG mechanics, Gryphon Knight Epic opens up a world map and lets players decide in which order they wish to tackle the levels ahead, with these missions encompassing all types of locations from deserts to jungles, castles and dank caverns. In further subscribing to its RPG leanings, the game also allows players to upgrade themselves with monies dropped by vanquished foes, too. This occurs in between levels where weapons can be improved, squires can be bought to provide additional buffs and potions can be purchased to provide much needed healing or extra damage effects.
Elsewhere, the game is absolutely drowning in retro arcade chic with vibrant enemies and backdrops that are overflowing with character and charm. The bosses are massive, great big colourful things too that are just as challenging to beat as they are interesting to look at, while the dialogue spouted out by the various characters in the game is often entertaining and highly amusing. Furthermore, rather than just following the bog standard side-scrolling shooter template, Gryphon Knight Epic actually mucks about with the established formula a bit, allowing the player to change course and travel in the other direction to kill any remaining enemies and pick up any overlooked loot in the process.
Ultimately, Gryphon Knight Epic was that most pleasant of surprises; an effort which managed to marry the genres of yesteryear into something that’s truly entertaining and enjoyable to play. So yeah, I loved it to bits and unless you have a toweringly frenzied hate for fun things, I imagine you will too.
Developed by Black Shell Media Purchase From:Steam
On initial inspection, Sumo Revise looks absolutely insane and quite honestly, it’s an impression that the game manages to uphold throughout. Still, dig just a little deeper and a neat, if massively eccentric yarn manifests itself that borrows liberally from the likes of Super Smash Bros, QWOP and Nidhogg.
The setup is simple; up to eight players (AI folks can be brought in to make up the numbers if need be) take control of a brightly costumed sumo warrior and, as per the tradition of the classic Japanese sport, the objective is to knock all the other dudes out of the area in order to win.
Boasting seven different arenas and a number of different customisable game modes such as Free for All and Capture the Flag, Sumo Revise is arguably an affair that’s best enjoyed with friends. This is especially true when experienced locally while sharing the company of some alcoholic beverages, as Sumo Revise certainly proves itself an effective catalyst for eliciting laughs and all around fun time.
What is a little surprising however, is the fact that the controls do take a fair amount of getting used to. Rather than the ultra-responsive feedback that a game such as Nidhogg provides, Sumo Revise can feel more than a little sluggish in the beginning and that, coupled with the somewhat overdone pixellated retro aesthetic, entails that the game won’t be for everyone.
For those who do persevere and possess the requisite number of flesh and blood mates however, Sumo Revise proves itself to be assuredly entertaining and certainly worth the relatively meagre price of admission.
If you’re looking for something a little different from the norm, stuffed with challenge that you can just dip in and out of at your leisure, than you could certainly do worse than IronDrop Studios’ ROGUS: Kingdom of The Lost Souls.
With a bespoke focus placed on high scores and pixel-perfect platforming combat, ROGUS casts the player as a wizard who is looking to be reunited with his long lost love amid a cataclysmic event that has caused scores of monsters to pour forth. In truth, the whole thing is just a setup for some hyper-frenetic monster bashing, but honestly that’s quite alright given the compelling nature of the gameplay underneath.
Like all the good examples of the action platformer genre, ROGUS is easy to play but quite difficult master. Progressing from left to right, players take control of their beardy protagonist as he swats down a variety of different monsters through use of both his sword and a variety of different spells.
From defensively minded spells such as shields to more offensive fare such as lightning strikes and the ability to morph into a gigantic, Groot-like tree giant, the player must combine all of these while ensuring that their platforming game is on point in order to survive. Sure enough, ROGUS becomes very challenging, very quickly and while death comes swiftly, so too does the desire to restart and chase that better time score.
In the end, ROGUS is a highly playable affair that while it could do with more content and variance in foes, nonetheless serves as an effectively entertaining bite-sized proposition that provides a robust foundation for possible future entries.
Super Chibi Knight
Developed by PestoForce and Armor Games Purchase From:Steam
It is absolutely impossible to not have any sort of fun with Super Chibi Knight. Truly, it is. Lovingly crafted by a pairing of father and daughter, Super Chibi Knight is an RPG action platformer that takes the imagination of an eight-year old child and generously wraps it around some of the most pixel-perfect gameplay the genre has seen in a long time.
Liberally stuffed with gaming references ranging from Angry Birds all the way through to Shadow of the Colossus, while boasting the sort of gleefully vibrant visuals that make you want to set your copies of Battlefield and Call of Duty on fire, it’s clear early on that Super Chibi Knight is more than just a mere familial collaboration; it’s a true love letter to the games which played such a key role in our formative years.
Viewed from a top-down perspective, our plucky heroine traverses a lovely cartoon styled game world completing quests and side-quests, while smacking monsters about and upgrading a variety of different abilities and equipment. When the proceedings turns towards the action, the perspective shifts to a side-on, 2D view where Super Chibi Knight effectively undergoes a metamorphosis into a platforming, hack and slash RPG similar to those birthed by the Castlevania series.
Robustly supported by responsive controls, a gorgeously welcoming interface and pixel-perfect player agency, Super Chibi Knight’s impressive action platforming beats are just an extension of the superlative caliber that it demonstrates elsewhere and throughout. A key ingredient to the success of the game is the game world itself. Generously crammed with entertaining dialog and awash with the sort of boundless imagination which has long deserted many of the elder auteurs in the genre, Super Chibi Knight’s myriad setting spans everything from haunted forests and pirate ships, through to temples and lost mines and in showing such variety does a great job of providing a kaleidoscopic aperture into the unfettered imagination of an eight-year old gamer.
Adding another layer of charm to the whole effort is the voice acting, since the main protagonist is charmingly voiced by the programmer’s daughter, Super Chibi Knight’s aural presentation finds itself neatly correlated with the loose and colourful visual aesthetic that the game showcases throughout. With the younger of the father/daughter duo denoting Spelunky, Super Meat Boy and Castle Crashers as her favourite games, and gazing upon the excellence of Super Chibi Knight as a result, it appears that in this case at least, we have an industry star in the making. Perhaps we should let the little ones take the reigns more often if this is indicative of the sort of result that we can expect.
Straight off the bat, Sylvio’s take on the first-person survival horror genre is immediately compelling and not just because of its overt Twin Peaks/Silent Hill overtones, either. Rather than just stumbling about in the dark waiting for all manner of nasty things to leap out at you, Sylvio instead plays on the notion that anticipating the terror is far worse than actually experiencing it.
Played from a first-person perspective, Sylvio casts players as paranormal investigator Juliette Waters who finds herself stranded in an abandoned park after a devastating landslide. Where the sense of foreboding really creeps in though, is how Julliette employs the gadgets and tools that she has available to her. You see, in addition to the standard-issue torch that has featured in just about every horror game since the year dot, Juliette can also use a stereo microphone which if you’ve ever seen The Conjuring is probably the most terrifying item you could probably ever have when you’re falling about in the gloom. Here though, it guides her towards all sorts of pant-wetting supernatural phenomena which isn’t nearly as bad. Oh wait, it is. Yes it is.
Adding a great deal of atmosphere to the proceedings is the quality and effectiveness of Sylvio’s voice work. Juliette’s voice actor in particular absolutely nails the character, doing a top job of believably selling the player on the creeping dread that the game exudes at every turn while also evoking tones making her sound like a more softy spoken, tense version of Swedish actress Noomi Rapace in the process.
Away from its pulse-pounding atmospherics, Sylvio is at its heart, a game all about exploration, picking up clues and solving the mystery of just what the fudge is going on in that infernal park. There are some platforming sections and even a little bit of first-person shooting to be done (the game’s air-powered shotgun enables you to fill it with many different types of ammo, ranging from rocks and spuds to pieces of glass), but really this is a game about tenseness, fear and the overwhelming desire to escape.
With Juliette’s stereo microphone thrust in front of her, crackling away at the smallest hint of ghoulish shenanigans, Sylvio certainly stands as quite the curio. While it might feel a little rough around the edges in places, the game nevertheless remains a testament to developer Apostrophe and their willingness to do something a little different with the now well-trodden survival horror template.
Dungeon Crawlers HD
Developed by Drowning Monkeys Games Purchase From:Steam
Originally a strategy title for iOS and Android devices, Dungeon Crawlers HD shouldn’t be overlooked on the basis of its humble mobile origins. Indeed, with a hefty dose of humour, a bizarre yet charming penchant for Ghostbusters references and some accomplished turn-based strategy, it’s fair to say that Dungeon Crawlers HD is punching way above its weight.
One of the beneficiaries of its mobile DNA is that Dungeon Crawlers HD is designed to be accessible from the get-go, allowing armchair generals to get stuck in at a moments notice. Even if you’re a complete strategy novice, the game has a sufficiently comprehensive enough tutorial that you should be able to get going pretty quickly.
Once into the game, Dungeon Crawlers HD feels very similar in some ways to the board games of old, such as Hero Quest, as the objective is to kill as many monsters as possible all the while obtaining better gear and upgrading your character. From the offset, your party begins with an unlikely trio comprising a warrior, priest and wizard; each with their own unique skills, strengths and weaknesses.
Boasting a full single-player campaign complete with a full story, new characters to recruit and rock hard boss characters to scrap with,not to mention as a smattering of other adversarial modes, the amount of content that you get for your meagre amount of money is pleasingly substantial. Elsewhere, the actual turn-based strategy gameplay proves challenging, even on the easier difficulty levels, as later levels change theme and monster type entirely, while introducing new wrinkles to the formula such as traps and secret rooms to discover.
Liberally laced with plenty of humour and of course, an abundance of Ghostbusters references (just check out the first ‘slime’ creature you encounter), Dungeon Crawlers HD is a scrappy little turn-based strategy game whose charm, clean presentation and entertainment value all help to set it soaring well above what its throwaway budget remit might otherwise suggest.
Sometimes, just sometimes you crave for something instantly satisfying that you can put down as easily as you picked it up in the first place. Sometimes, you just want something that is so devoid of complexity and depth that you can get stuck in without having to engage any sort of higher brain function.
Being a port of a mobile title (thankfully stripped of the micro-transaction nonsense that plagues the platform), Crash Drive 2 offers just that; simplistic and instant arcade style thrills coated in a lo-fi veneer, that while engaging for quick bit of vehicular action in fifteen or twenty minute bursts, doesn’t have enough fuel in the tank to hold your attention for any substantial amount of time beyond that.
An open-world racer, Crash Drive 2 throws players into four differently themed arenas rife with stunts, hazards and secret areas to discover. Rather than being a standard A to B style racer, Crash Drive 2 is a persistently online affair where players hook up to a server and random, objective-based game modes cycle through. Each of these modes is pretty varied too; from coin collecting and stunt competitions through to nifty tank-based battle games, it’s fair to say that there’s enough to keep folks busy during a quick session.
There’s also progressional mechanics at play too. As well as the worlds and different race modes on offer, Crash Drive 2 lets players unlock and upgrade a wide range of vehicles that can be purchased from funds accrued by competing in the various game modes. The drawback to this though, is that once you’ve blown through the rather generous lump sum of cash that the game provides at the start, you’ll find that money trickles in very slowly and earning enough to max out the stats on one vehicle, let alone upgrading to the next, soon proves to be quite the grindy chore.
Progressional stuff aside though, it’s abundantly clear that Crash Drive 2 works at its best when it simply just wants to accommodate the player with quick, bite-sized bursts of arcade racer gameplay. It’s a humble little affair all told, but so long as you go into it with managed expectations and the wish to be satisfied with a quick session every so often, Crash Drive 2 pulls off its modest remit quite successfully indeed.
Developed by No Pest Productions Purchase From:Steam
They’re not lying you know, this game really is a Bastard’s Tale. Though, in actual fact, it’s probably more accurate to refer to it as the Tale of Many Bastards, since No Pest Productions retro-steeped brawler does a grand old job of throwing one hard bastard after another at you with the sort of regularity that makes you question what kind of person you were in a previous life.
I won’t call it the ‘Dark Souls of fighting games’ because, well, that whole analogy of comparing difficult games to Dark Souls is about as fresh as a graveyard. What A Bastard’s Taleis though, is a highly skill-based, weapon-centric brawler that provides a sustained challenge that is so stiff in the early going that its hair-yanking frustrations are only alleviated by the satisfaction of getting just that little bit further each time.
You see, when you take your sword-swinging knight from left to right, you’ll come across a variety of different foes who are hell-bent on bludgeoning/stabbing/slicing you into the afterlife. Where the challenging and skilful combat bit comes in though, is that every strike that your opponents throw at you can be blocked or deflected with the correct guard posture and likewise, the situation is reversed when your knight goes on the attack.
It’s a great little system really as it impresses the notion of proper form upon the player when it comes defending against enemy attacks. As there is no uniform block button that suits all attacks, players must instead read telling shifts in their opponent’s stance to work out which attack will be unleashed next. Because of this system and due to the variance in the foes that you’ll come across, A Bastard’s Tale has a seemingly unfair difficulty curve which in minor increments gives way to immense satisfaction as skills are improved and reflexes are sharpened.
While A Bastard’s Tale doesn’t look like much on first glance, it’s definitely one of those affairs that takes a willingness to dig a little deeper in order to unearth its qualitative riches. Hopefully a sequel or expansion will see the core concept expand in future games, since multiplayer, a proper story mode and other such additions would all serve to compliment what is already an assuredly competent core experience.
Developed by Big Green Pillow and Curve Digital Purchase From:Steam
So few games these days seem to take into account the substantial, crack-like allure of local multiplayer. So it is an absolute delight that Porcunipine by developer Big Green Pillow has waddled onto the scene to remind us of those halcyon days of folks huddled around a computer, having a good old lark while they engage in compelling competitive play.
A top-down arena based battler, Porcunipine has players choose from a variety of different porcupines as they set out to skewer and puncture each other with their horrifically sharp quills, all the while scooping up the skulls of their fallen foes for precious points.
Intriguingly, Porcunipine seems to have a nice whiff of Acid Nerve’s brilliant Titan Souls about it too, since each player only has one quill to fire at their opponents who can only take one hit in return before the quill has to be picked off the floor to be used again. Adding to the chaos is that the quills themselves can actually bounce off walls and, besides leading to some impressive trajectory killshots against other players, can actually kill the player who originally fired it off in the first place.
Rounding out the package are bots that can be used to make up the numbers in the case of absent players, survival modes and other assorted solo content but really, Porcunipine’s charms are best experienced locally with friends and it’s this that makes Big Green Pillow’s effort so perilously engaging.
Simply put, with its cheery chip-tune serenades, comical gore and dynamic arenas with their own, life-ending hazards, Porcunipine proves to be a frankly horrendously entertaining and effortlessly playable prospect whose every pixel bleeds pure fun and dares you to give yourself and your friends over to its substantial charms. Get stuck in.
Tea Party Simulator 2015
Developed by Power Up to Maximum Purchase From:Steam
Thanks to Goat Simulator and its ilk, when any game attaches the ‘Simulator’ suffix to its moniker these days you wouldn’t be remiss for thinking that the experience in store would be a nonsensical one. Thankfully, while in the case of Tea Party Simulator 2015 that declaration is very much true, the game also provides a fair whack of bite-sized fun, too.
In truth, Tea Party Simulator 2015 is exactly how you would imagine organizing a tea party to be like after ingesting copious amounts of hard drugs. You play a familiarly disembodied hand who, at the behest of possibly the most miserable teddy bear ever (called Ted, no less), must arrange a tea party by placing certain required items on the table before moving onto the next challenge.
What follows are sustained moments of clumsiness as your wayward limbs and digits knock and fumble against objects and generally manage to achieve the exact opposite of what you want them to do. To say that the experience is akin to waking up from a hangover whereupon you’ve spent the whole night sleeping on your arms, would not be too much of a stretch in all fairness.
As is probably clear by now, Tea Party Simulator 2015 certainly bears a great deal of similarity to Surgeon Simulator as it shares that game’s penchant for forcing players to interact with worldly objects in the least elegant way possible. Also, much like the Bossa Studios developed physics yarn, the game similarly trades more on its capacity to amuse rather than on providing satisfying or innovative gameplay to captivate its audience. So don’t expect any super deep gameplay systems or anything like that because, well, you simply won’t find it here.
That said, there is actually some variety in the locales that the game provides, from sun-kissed beach houses to even outer space, it’s fair to say that Tea Party Simulator 2015 has no real qualms about taking the player just about anywhere. As an added treat, the developers have riddled the game with meme-themed Easter eggs that not only elicit a chuckle when found, but also meaningfully extend the longevity of the whole affair too. Ultimately then, Tea Party Simulator 2015 might not really do enough to properly separate itself from other efforts that pursue similarly wacky avenues of entertainment but regardless, it remains wholly able to provide bite-sized lumps of clumsy fun all the same.
Sometimes, just sometimes you’ll have a hankering for something a little more simple and accessible from your PC games. A throwback to the arcade platformers of old, Commander Cool 2 (don’t worry if you haven’t heard of the original) is basically just that.
Sure, it might look like a mobile title and some of its gameplay systems certainly suggest a healthy dose of that design DNA, but look past its lo-fi veneer and you’ll discover a wacky little 2D action platformer that doesn’t ask much of you but gives a lot of entertainment in return.
As befits its modest premise, Commander Cool 2’s objectives are simple; players simply have to proceed from left to right and reach the exit of each themed level. Along the way there is a whole heap of platforming to be done with crumbling ledges that must be avoided, walls that must be clambered up and chasms that must be double-jumped over. Elsewhere the game has players vanquishing foes with a rather, shall we say eclectic selection of weapons that includes such things as a tree trunk that shoots rocks and a chicken that fires eggs, to name just a few.
Layering the proceedings is the three star, multi-goal structure that most recalls the mobile heritage of Commander Cool 2. Each stage you see, has multiple objectives to complete such as collecting all the coins, avoiding death and completing the level in question in a particular time. Luckily, these goals stack so you don’t need to nail them all in one try and most fortunately, you have infinite lives and instant retries so pursuing them is never an arduous task anyway.
Further adding allure to the package is that the entirety of the campaign can be tackled with up to four players in local co-op, bringing a social immediacy to PC games that we really don’t see enough of. Of course, the whole affair would be for naught if the player control wasn’t up to scratch but Commander Cool 2 feels both responsive and satisfying as a homage to that bygone era of arcade games. So sure, Commander Cool 2 might not make a lot of sense and it may not have especially lofty ambitions but that doesn’t stop it from being a heap of bite-sized, accessible fun all the same.
If there are any games that have just been released or due to be so shortly, let us know in the comments below and we’ll do our best to get them slotted in above because, after all, even the smallest indie games deserve a bit of love too.