Hidden Gem Recommendations for the 2020 Steam Summer Sale
In these deeply uncertain times, one thing you can always count on is Steam’s seasonal sales. Steam’s Summer Sale is ongoing now through 10:00 am PST on July 9th. I always enjoy the Steam sale as it’s a great opportunity to take advantage of some of the exceptionally low prices to take a risk on games I’m curious about but not entirely certain I’ll enjoy. As such, each year during this time I’ve made it a tradition to recommend lesser known “hidden gems” that go on sale for under $5. If these deals aren’t enough then previous years recommendations are, of course, still valid.
Nex Machina is a top down twin stick shooter from Housemarque, a group that is known for its arcade-style action games. In this game, the player fights an unrelenting horde of rogue machinery amidst a world streaked by the neon chaos of explosions, laser blasts, and voxelated destruction. As an arcade-style game, it’s relatively short, choosing to focus on high score and replayability, and some people may be turned off by the lack of a save feature, meaning that if the player quits their session, they must start over from the very beginning. This is a great game for people looking for fast-paced action and non-stop sensory overload without the trappings of more story-oriented action games.
I’ve written about Little Nightmares before, and it’s now available at a great price. As a “nightmare” puzzle-platformer game, it’s impossible to not compare this title to the likes of Limbo and Inside. In Little Nightmares, a mysterious child navigates a dementedly distorted world using their wits to evade the grotesque monsters that hunt her at every step. Little Nightmares is a great game for players who enjoy puzzle-platformers with a focus on aesthetics and cryptic world building.
Gato Roboto is a fairly recent release in the “Metroidvania” genre. After surviving an emergency crash landing while on patrol in space, a simple house (space?) cat dons high-tech power armor to explore a hostile abandoned installation to find help for its human companion. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the game is its stark monochrome visual presentation which can be a “like it or hate it” kind of thing. In-game collectibles can be found to unlock new color palettes, but they are all composed of simple 2-color variations. While the game has many elements of a Metroid-style adventure, it can be very linear in progression, so those that enjoy the sequence breaking and exploration focus of those games may need to look elsewhere. Gato Roboto is a good choice for players who like sidescrollers that are equal parts action and platforming. The heartfelt and goofy journey of this cat who becomes an unlikely mech pilot to save its human will also resonate with pet owners who love their companions.
I wrote about this game a long, long time ago when I played it on the 3DS, and while I think it is one of the best sidescrolling platformers I’ve played in the past 10 years, it’s also a game that is highly divisive. 1001 Spikes follows Aban Hawkins as he explores dangerous, trap-laden ancient ruins in search of a long lost treasure. This game is hard, with as much emphasis as I can put on the word, and borderline unfair. It’s the “borderline unfair” part that makes the game so polarizing. Traps in the game are hidden incredibly well with only subtle hints to their existence (if any), often leaving the player with a frantically tight window of time to react when triggered. As such, it can often be viewed as a trial and error ordeal. The gimmick, though, is that the player starts the game with 1001 lives to complete the challenging quest, and after they run out, there is a reasonably generous continue system that only incurs a small penalty to progress. 1001 Spikes is a game for people who like super challenging platformers like Super Meat Boy and Celeste and have the patience and tenacity to stick with it.
I try to keep this list to lesser known games, but that’s based on my personal perception, which is not always the best gage. With that in mind, Vanquish may be the most well-known game on this list as a product of the acclaimed director Shinji Mikami and Platinum Studios (of Bayonetta fame). Vanquish feels like Mikami’s attempt to do a cover-based shooter in the vein of Gears of War. Gears of War, of course, was heavily influenced by Mikami’s Resident Evil 4, so this is a snake eating its own tail situation. Vanquish involves the ultra-American protagonist Sam Gideon ona mission to reclaim an American orbital city colony (an O’Neill cylinder to be exact) from Russian androids. What sets Vanquish apart from other third person shooters is that Gideon has an extraordinary amount of mobility due to his ability to rocket slide around the combat zone. While the game has plenty of chest high walls to hide behind, Vanquish’s enemy encounters are designed in such a way that Gideon can’t stay in one place for too long, meaning he has to constantly rocket boost from point-to-point to evade enemy fire. The result is a more kinetic action game than was typical for games of that era. I recommend Vanquish to all players who enjoy big, bombastic action shooters.
Another game that I’ve covered for Halloween, Night Trap is the legendary interactive movie from the Sega CD that heavily contributed to the creation of the ESRB in the US. Night Trap tells the story of a group of high school girls that have been lured to the trap-infested Martin house to be captured and fed to pseudo-vampiric entities known as augurs. The player is an agent of an outside security force that has hacked into the traps of the house and intends to turn them against the augurs. The player must cycle through video feeds of the house party, keeping an eye out for signs that an augur is preparing to strike and triggering the appropriate traps when necessary. In hindsight, the moral panic that surrounded this game was laughable due to how utterly tame the “violent” content actually is. Night Trap is goofy and cheesy, and I’ve found it to be fun while it lasts (which is really not very long). The brevity of the title will turn many people off, but I think this game is an interesting artifact of gaming history, worth it for those who are fascinated with the culture of gaming that existed in the ‘90s.
Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara
Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara is a compilation of two arcade beat’em up classics, Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara. These games are mostly notable for their relative depth when compared to other arcade beat’em ups of the time, featuring RPG mechanics, branching paths, and equipment and spell mechanics that set them apart from their contemporaries. For fans of the arcade originals, there are a fair few extra goodies to unlock. I recommend this compilation to anyone into ‘90s beat’em ups.
Serious Sam Double D XXL
The Serious Sam series has had a few smaller spin offs made by indie creators in partnership with CroTeam, and Double D XXL is an enhanced version of the first of these spin offs to be released. The game reframes the Serious Sam formula as a 2D sidescroller similar to Contra. Serious Sam games are all about fighting off giant swarms of alien enemies that are advancing from all directions, which doesn’t necessarily translate perfectly when a dimension is stripped out, but Double D makes up for it with some of its own ideas. The most notable is their gun stacking system, that allows Sam to combo weapons together to equip as many at one time as the player wants. Serious Sam is a series known for its strange enemy design, but Double D XXL somehow manages to out weird the mainline entries in this respect. Mutant stacks of pancakes that blast vuvuzelas are seemingly too bizarre for even CroTeam’s main team to touch. I recommend Double D to players who are into tough, dumb, action games.