Ten Underrated Steals from the Steam Summer Sale
The Steam summer sale is once again upon us, that time of year when miserly PC gamers become glued to the Steam storefront. I always use this time as a good opportunity to try to check out lesser known games that I would feel a little risky buying at full price. For those like me, also interested in finding some hidden gems in the Steam store, I’ve compiled a list of 10 recommendations of my favorite underrated games that you can currently get at a good bargain. My list has two criteria. First, I’m trying to avoid popular games that most people have already heard of (or at least that I perceive as being lesser known). Second, all of these games have a regular sale price of ~$5 (I’ve listed all prices in USD) or less to keep with the spirit of the list being about inexpensive games to discover. Of course, it’s always probably best to follow the golden rule of these Steam seasonal sales and wait for the daily deals (or flash/community deals) and if a game you want doesn’t come up during one of those, then you can still buy it on the last day for the regular sale price. The current summer sale will end at 1:00 PM EST on June 30, at which point all games will revert back to their normal store prices.
Super House of Dead Ninjas
Regular Sale Price: $1.74
Super House of Dead Ninjas was the first release in Adult Swim Games portfolio of offbeat titles that they started releasing on Steam last year. This is a fairly straightforward arcade action platformer, where the player controls a swift-footed ninja who must fight his way down the floors of a deadly tower brimming with enemies and traps. The hook of this game is that it is *fast*. As your character is on a timer that is extended with kills and powerups, you must quickly race down the tower, swiftly maneuvering through obstacles and dispatching enemies, to reach the next boss before the tower’s clock claims the ninja as another casualty. The fact that the ninja is moving down the tower, instead of up, only enhances the sense of speed, as gravity aids movement in the direction you’re meant to go instead of inhibiting it. Like most sidescrolling games, I strongly recommend playing this one with a controller if you have it.
Regular Sale Price: $4.99
The Oddbox is a collection of the four Oddworld games which are rooted in the bizarre and cartoonishly alien world of Oddworld. This compilation contains all four games found on Steam: Abe’s Odyssey, Abe’s Exodus, Munch’s Odyssey, and Stranger’s Wrath. The real standout in this collection is Stranger’s Wrath, a game that was an incredibly designed blend of first-person shooter, 3D platformer, and stealth game set in a Wild West-themed region of Oddworld. The other games are also quite good as well, although in completely different genres. The Abe games were sidescrolling puzzle platformers that were fairly innovative for their time, while Munch is a more generic 3D platformer. The only issue with these other games is that, unlike Stranger’s Wrath which has been updated for modern hardware, the Abe and Munch games are much older and may not run as fluently on modern PCs. Still, I recommend buying the entire collection since it is the same price ($4.99) as just Stranger’s Wrath alone, so even if you don’t play the Abe and Munch games, you’ll still come out even.
Super Puzzle Platformer
Regular Sale Price: $1.99
Another Adult Swim game, Super Puzzle Platformer is kind of like a modern reinvention of Wario’s Woods. If you’ve never played Wario’s Woods, imagine a game that is like inverse Tetris. Blocks fall from the top of the screen, but at random instead of under player control, and the player controls a little man running around on the blocks that have stacked up at the bottom. The goal of the little man is to blow up the stacked blocks so they don’t fill up to the top of the screen while at the same time avoiding being crunched by the falling blocks. Attacking a block also damages chains of adjacent blocks with the same color, so it’s most efficient to focus on clearing out these chains first. Like Tetris, the goal is simply to control the stack for as long as possible before you inevitably die. The game does have a bit of a single-player campaign where you can visit a handful of different levels that have different gimmicks, such as fireballs that jump up from lava at the bottom of the level and spider webs and other traps that fall from the top. There are also unlockable characters with different abilities to add to the replay value. For two bucks, the game is definitely a good diversion that will keep players hooked for at least a little while.
Ms. Splosion Man
Regular Sale Price: $2.49
The original Splosion Man was a headliner for an XBLA Summer of Arcade, but its sequel, Ms. Splosion Man, was not treated to the same promotion, which is unfortunate considering the massive improvements that went into this follow-ups. If you’ve never played the Splosion Man games, they’re sort of like modern Donkey Kong Countries, possessing heavy character physics with tight, bombastic acrobatics and lots of stunts using objects such as barrel cannons and grind rails. Ms. Splosion Man builds upon the foundation of the first game with expanded platforming features, such as new grinding rails, rocket cars, mine cart-style levels, secret exits, etc. And while the first Splosion Man only made use of a single steel laboratory background, the levels of Ms. Splosion Man have quite a bit more diverse scenery. Many consider the first Splosion Man to be a hard game, but it really pales in comparison to the challenge presented at the peak of the sequel. This is perhaps the only issue I have with this game, particularly for the third world where the difficult level shoots way up.
Regular Sale Price: $2.49
Half-Minute Hero was originally a PSP game that managed develop a cult following and was subsequently ported to XBLA and PC. The game is fairly unique, in that it is primarily a deconstruction of Japanese-style RPGs. The game consists of 4 different and unique modes in its single-player campaign. The hook of the game is that each single-player level is meant to be completed within a 30 second timer (although the game offers a means for the player to extend the timer which most will need to make use of during their first playthrough). In the primary mode, players take on the role of the chosen warrior of the time goddess, who is hunting down a wizard that is spreading a spell to the evil lords of the realm that will end the world in 30 seconds after being cast. Basically, in each level the chosen warrior rolls up to a village, is alerted by the time goddess that the apocalyptic spell is being cast nearby, and then he must roll out in the village surroundings to grind up to a point where he can tackle the evil lord in his castle before 30 seconds are up. Battles are random and are played out automatically, the only thing the player really controls in combat is whether or not to run from the enemy, and the gold received can be paid to the time goddess to reset the 30 second timer. It might seem fairly simplistic, but the game manages to make it interesting through the use of story events and sidequests in each level. There are three other story modes aside from the main attraction, each with their own protagonists: one is a Pikmin-like RTS, one is a shmup, and one is a defense-oriented hack-and-slash. Each mode has a story that introduces a lot of comedy and charisma. I highly recommend this game to people looking for a Japanese-style RPG that is less heavy and more straightforwardly amusing than the usual affair.
Regular Sale Price: $4.99
Gunpoint was a game that released on Steam last year that I think flew under most people’s radar. It’s actually a very cool sidescrolling stealth game starring a corporate spy whose missions require him to infiltrate secured buildings with the aid of unique gadgets such as pants that let him jump to the height of buildings and a coat that muffles the sound of breaking windows. In the late game you can buy a gun that can only fire a single bullet, but otherwise it is almost a pure stealth game with very little combat. If a guard catches sight of the spy, he’ll likely dispatch with your intruder right there. Outside of the missions, the game reveals what is actually a fairly clever storyline with a protagonist whose flippancy can drive a lot of joking absurdity. The only drawback, perhaps, is that the game is kind of short, probably ~2 hours for most gamers, but it does have Steamworks integration for the ability to download and share user created levels. I have a feeling this one may come up during a flash or community sale, so if my description sounds appealing to you, I would keep an eye out for it.
Regular Sale Price: $3.99
Super Splatters was a game released on Steam last year that mostly went unnoticed. It can best be described as belonging to the Angry Birds genre of flinging stuff into other stuff with the intended goal of destruction. In this game, the player flings strange blob-like gelatin creatures around an arena with the goal of spreading their juices across explosive orbs that burst into fireworks when wet. I know that sounds incredibly strange and weird and maybe kind of gross, but the blob-like characters are actually given personalities that have a lot of heart. The hook of the game is to fling the blobs in such a way to achieve stunts, such as sliding along ramps to achieve high speeds, creating explosive chain reactions, or performing reversals of trajectory midair, which contribute to the maximization of the player’s score. Definitely I recommend this to people interested in a fun arcade-style game with a lot of personality and cool effects.
The Blackwell Bundle
Regular Sale Price: $4.99
Blackwell is a 5-part series of point-and-click adventure games which chronicle Rosangela Blackwell’s, a spiritual medium, and ghost buddy Joey’s task of helping the troubled spirits of the recently departed accept the reality of their situation so that they can move onto the next world. The Blackwell Bundle collects the first four parts of the series, with the final fifth chapter, The Blackwell Epiphany, having only been released very recently. Despite the fact that it incompletely compiles the series, there is plenty of content here which will hold gamers over until they’re ready to buy the final chapter. In each adventure, the protagonists encounter a new lost spirit (or spirits) and must investigate the causes of their death with the goal of using that information to help the apparition come to the realization of their post-mortal state. As point-and-click adventure games, these focus far more on dialogue, investigation, and putting together clues than they do on impenetrable inventory puzzles. As you might imagine, the stories of this series can be fairly bittersweet at times, and fans interested in good adventure games that leave behind many of the vices of their old school counterparts should definitely check these out.
Legend of Grimrock
Regular Sale Price: $5.09
Legend of Grimrock is a pretty cool take on first person dungeon crawlers. You assemble a party of prisoners cast into the dungeon confines of Grimrock prison, working under the promise of your jailers that if your party can reach the exit of the prison, you’ll be absolved of your crimes and earn your freedom. The game allows you to create a party of fantasy characters from a few different class-types and race-types (humans, insectoids, lizardmen, and minotaurs). I should make it clear that this is a dungeon crawler in the style of Wizardry, not Diablo. Each floor of the dungeon was thoughtfully designed by the developers. It is not a randomized game, and enemy and loot placements were specifically designated by the developer. Consequently, the game provides a balance between combat, solving puzzles in the dungeon, and exploring for secret areas. It is really a fantastic dungeon crawler, as it captures a striking feel of wandering through a dark, dangerous, claustrophobic dungeon filled with magic and mystery. When you look down a corridor and see the partially obscured form of a creature crawling around in the shadows, Grimrock definitely leaves an impression. Although it is not as insanely large in scope as the later Wizardry’s, I definitely recommend this game to fans of old-school dungeon crawlers and dark fantasy games.
System Shock 2
Regular Sale Price: $3.99
Before there was BioShock, Irrational Games produced this sequel to Looking Glass’ original System Shock, and if you’ve played this game, you’ll know that it creates the template from which BioShock was made. The main character wakes up from cryosleep aboard mankind’s first faster-than-light starship, the Von Braun, only to find that the ship’s main computer has gone insane and the ship has been taken over by a horde of mutants and insidious worm-like aliens. The rest of the game sees the player exploring the spaceship to find a way to escape, as well as to neutralize the alien menace. Seems pretty simple, but the story actually gets more complex than that in ways that I don’t want to spoil. Additionally, you really don’t need to play the first game to understand the plot, as the opening FMV does a pretty epic job of establishing the setting. This game is actually a hybrid of first-person shooter and RPG, with an experience point-like system that the player uses to level up their abilities in three prime areas: weapons, psionics, and technical skills (e.g., hacking and repairing systems). The game also has shades of Dead Space in it, as the atmosphere is survival horror-ish and the structure of the Ishimura was based on the Von Braun. (Supposedly, Dead Space started out as System Shock 3.) I count this among my favorite games and one of the greatest games ever made.