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.
Eight Underrated Deals from the Steam Summer Sale: 2018 Edition
Each year when the Steam Summer Sale rolls around, I like to put together a quick list of recommendations for lesser known games that are going for really cheap prices. One of the reasons for doing this is that I think sales like these are good opportunities for trying out underrated or rough around the edges games that you wouldn’t always take a chance on at higher prices. A way to explore your tastes in games, if you will. I have two criteria to maintain the spirit of the list: 1) These are games that I (arbitrarily) feel are underrated or have been forgotten about, and 2) They have a price point no greater than $5 (USD).
This year, the list is coming in hot, since the summer sale started just as I was packing up to take off for a week long vacation (probably the longest vacation I’ve taken in forever). The sale ends Thursday (7/5) at 1:00 PM EST, so I realize there’s not a lot of time left to consider these recommendations. I thought about not doing it this year, but I decided I wanted to keep up the tradition, since I’ve been doing these lists since 2014.
I had a little more trouble writing the list this year because of the time constraint I found myself in, but also because the deals just don’t seem as good as they’ve been in past. When searching for games to put on the list, several titles I thought would be going for under five bucks by now weren’t. In fact, I’m not entirely sure previous years’ lists are still valid, since I noticed that Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed from the 2015 list wasn’t even on sale at all this year! Nonetheless, I still think you can grab most of the titles form the old lists fairly cheap, so I recommend looking over those too if you are interested.
Jazzpunk was actually one of the first games I wrote about when I started this blog way back in 2014, and I think this is the first year that it’s finally hit a price point to qualify for this list. Jazzpunk is more of an interactive comedy than a game. The game chronicles the missions of a secret agent codenamed Polyblank, who lives in a bizarre alternate Earth version of the Cold War. There’s not much challenge to it, rather you spend your time exploring the environment and discovering bizarre situations and odd mini-games to play. The comedy relies heavily on non-sequitur and absurdism, so it can be hit or miss, and of course it will depend on your own sense of humor if you find it funny or not. I found it to be an amusing experience, at least.
Pirate Pop Plus
Pirate Pop Plus is a simple arcade-style game that is based on an old Japanese game called Pang. I don’t imagine many people are familiar with Pang. I certainly wasn’t until I played Pirate Pop. In Pirate Pop, you play as a little pirate guy who needs to clear the screen of these bubbles that bounce along the ground and deal damage to the player upon contact. You do this by shooting upwards (and only upwards) at the bubbles. Each time you hit a bubble, it breaks up into smaller bubbles which are harder to hit, but also bounce lower to the ground which means they are also harder to dodge. As the game progresses, the formula gets varied up with gimmicks like alternating directions of gravity. Pirate Pop is basically an arcade game, meaning you start at the first level each time you play and your goal is to beat your previous high score. It definitely can be fun to play for short bursts when you don’t have a lot of time to play something more serious.
Haunted: Halloween ’85
Haunted was originally released as a homebrew NES cartridge and eventually a PC port was made available on Steam. You play as a kid who wakes up from a nap to realize that he’s late for the Halloween dance at school. As he rushes to school, he discovers that his town has been taken over by monsters. Part beat’em up, part platformer, Haunted plays like a real NES, while most games that claim to be modern NES games play more like idealized versions of games from that era. While it can definitely be fun, it is also crude and frustrating at times. There are 6 levels, and no way to save. This means that each time you start the game, you start at level 1, just like most NES games. If you enjoy playing actual NES games, I definitely recommend it, but to others I would be a little more cautious. Two important tips: The first is that there is a secret uppercut move that is activated by pressing Down+B and does much more damage than the standard attack. The other is to play the game in windowed mode, because I believe there is no way to exit out of the game in fullscreen other than Alt+F4.
Quantum Conundrum is a first-person puzzle game that has a lot of similarities to Portal, but with the veneer of a Saturday morning cartoon. You play as a kid exploring the mansion of his mad scientist uncle. The puzzles are based around the gimmick that you have a device that allows you to shift “dimensions”, which really means that you can alter the laws of physics in the surrounding environment. Namely, you can make objects lighter or heavier, slow down time, or reverse gravity. You are guided through the game by the disembodied voice of your uncle in the same way the GladOS guides you through the test chambers of Portal. In general, neither the puzzles or comedy of the game are quite as good as Portal, but I think it’s still a fun game to play, nonetheless.
Strider is a modern take on the classic Capcom action series. This new version of the franchise is a bit more like the old NES game than its arcade counterparts. Rather than a linear action game, this is a fast-paced hack-and-slash set in a massive Metroid-style open world. Those that like Metroid-style games will probably find a lot to like about Strider.
Serious Sam HD
The First Encounter: $2.24
The Second Encounter: $2.99
Serious Sam is sort of a B-tier first-person shooter from around the turn of the millenium. In a time when many action game were going for cinematic-like adventures, Serious Sam had significantly less fluff and focused instead on a more pure action experience that was closer to games like Doom and Rise of the Triad than contemporaries likes Half-Life 2 or Halo. Serious Sam is about the war waged by time traveller and one-man army Sam Stone against an alien horde that is invading ancient Earth. Serious Sam’s signature style of gameplay is to basically inundate the player with a massive number of enemies at once. This might sound like it could get stressful, but I find that the games are balanced enough that they are challenging without being frustrating more often than not. Serious Sam was released as two chapters, the First and Second Encounters, and both are well worth playing, although I would try the first one first to see if you like this formula of gameplay before picking up the second.
Orcs Must Die
A handful or so years ago, there was a huge craze over tower defense games, and while I’m not much of a fan of tower defense, I really dug Orcs Must Die. In Orcs Must Die, you play as a wizard tasked with defending a castle that holds the portal to the human realm from an onslaught of invading orcs. Your magic allows you to manifest a variety of traps in each level that are strategically placed to thin out the encroaching horde. Unlike a lot of tower defense games, the wizard is an actual character that moves around the level, instead of being a disembodied entity that views the action from above. The wizard possesses his own weapons and spells that he can use to attack the orcs directly, which ultimately makes the game a fusion of tower defense and third-person shooter.
Tower of Guns
Tower of Guns is a roguelike first-person shooter from a few years back. The player is tasked with ascending a procedurally generated tower that is filled with relentlessly attacking robotic enemies. The coolest wrinkle to the gameplay is that the projectiles the enemies fire move in relatively slow patterns, which makes weaving in and out of these oncoming attacks as important as dealing damage to the enemies. This always on your toes gameplay is probably my favorite aspect of the game, and it’s one of the better games I’ve played that tries to marry first-person shooters with the roguelike formula.
Best Underrated Deals (<$5) from the Steam Summer Sale: 2017 Edition!
Like the changing of the seasons, the Earth rolls once again around its orbit so that the sun and stars may align for the Steam Summer Sale. I always find the Steam sale is a good time to take advantage of the low prices to try out games I wouldn’t normally. For the past few years, I’ve written up posts highlighting games that I think are underrated gems and are also going for dirt cheap prices. I try to keep the recommendations to lesser known games that are going for under $5, so that people may be encouraged to try some new things without spending a lot. Of course, previous years’ recommendations also still stand, as well. The Steam Summer Sale is set to end next Wednesday, July 5th.
(All prices listed in USD.)
Sale Price: $4.99
The struggles of Sonic the Hedgehog in the post-Genesis world are no secret. There have been a lot of terrible Sonic games since the days of 16-bit glory, but there have been a precious handful of good ones. I don’t think any of them have been great, certainly nothing that has competed with the lofty trajectory Mario has continued to take, but there have definitely been a few good ones. Of these, I think Sonic Generations is easily the best. As its name sort of implies, Sonic Generations features a combination of 2D and 3D gameplay set across a collection of remixed zones taken from previous games in the series’ history. I personally had a ton of fun with both aspects of the game, 2D and 3D. Whereas a lot of Sonic games struggle to get even the fundamentals right, Sonic Generations managed to create a game that cut out a lot of the noise that has held the series back all these years.
Q.U.B.E.: Director’s Cut
Sale Price: $1.74
Q.U.B.E. is a first-person puzzle game heavily inspired by Portal. In Q.U.B.E., the player has the ability to telekinetically manipulate colored blocks to overcome obstacles in the environment. The trick is that each type of colored block has different properties. Unlike its obvious inspiration, Portal, the original release of Q.U.B.E. was pretty absent of any storytelling. It was more focused on puzzle design. The Director’s Cut release that is now up on Steam seems to have a bit more explicit story added to the game, however, I’ve only played the original release, so I can’t say for sure.
Sale Price: $2.49
Virginia is a first-person narrative game that left a huge impression on me last year. Virginia tells the story of FBI Agent Anne Tarver who finds herself caught in a mystery that possesses shades of both The X-Files and Twin Peaks. Two of the most interesting aspects of Virginia is that the story is told with entirely silent characters, and individual scenes mostly only last a few minutes at the most. The pacing, absence of dialogue, and dreamlike story beats result in a game that packs a strong surrealist punch.
Volgarr the Viking
Sale Price: $1.99
Volgarr the Viking is a hack-and-slash sidescroller for people into hardcore challenges. I find it akin to retro games like the NES Castlevania or the Shinobi series. This game is really really hard, but completely possible to master if you put in the time to hone your skills and learn the game’s levels. You’ll have to die a lot if you want to finish Volgarr, but the point is to learn from each death and to adapt. Hard as it may be, nothing in the game is unfair. I only really recommend this game to people who are into games with brutal learning curves.
Odallus: The Dark Call
Sale Price: $2.99
Like Volgarr, Odallus is another retro-inspired sidescroller. The difficulty, though, is quite a bit more generous than Volgarr, although I wouldn’t call it an easy game. In addition to sidescrolling action and platforming, Odallus has a bit more of an open-ended nature to it which encourages the player to explore. It’s not a “Metroidvania” per se, but there are many secret areas with hidden upgrades in the game that allow the player to access new areas. Furthermore, many of the levels have multiple exits, which lead to alternative paths on the world map. As a consequence, you do a lot of backtracking and exploring like in a Metroid game.
Lara Croft Go
Sale Price: $3.39
Lara Croft Go is a turn and grid-based reimagining of the Tomb Raider series that was first released on mobile phones a few years ago, but the game has also made its way to Steam and Vita. Replacing the platforming and action that the series is known for with turn-based puzzles might not seem terribly exciting, but the creativity that the designers put into Lara Croft Go resulted in a really inventive experience. Many of the series’ trademarks find new interpretations, such as dangerous creatures to outwit, traps to outmaneuver, and precarious pitfalls to escape. I will say, I have seen this game go for lower than the $3.39 Steam sale price on the Android app store, so if you like playing games on your phone, it may be best to look out for it there.
Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition
Sale Price: $5.99
I try to keep this list to games below $5, but I made an exception for Sleeping Dogs. One of the most underrated games to come out at the tail-end of the Xbox 360 and PS3’s life cycle, Sleeping Dogs is a GTA-style open world game that is set in the Hong Kong criminal underworld. The game tells the story of Wei Shen, an undercover police officer, as he works his way up the ranks of the city’s organized crime. The game differentiates itself from GTA by placing a greater emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, ostensibly because firearms are harder to come by in Hong Kong than the USA. In addition, Wei Shen’s tale was surprisingly well-developed, and the game had probably one of the best stories I’ve seen in a game like this.
BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
Sale Price: $4.94
Runner2 describes itself as a “rhythm-music platforming game”. It’s actually one of those games where the character is constantly running, but unlike most games in the genre, the levels aren’t randomized and they have a finite end. In the game, you control Commander Video (with additional unlockable playable characters) as he runs, jumps, slides, and kicks his way through… wherever he is. I’m not actually sure what this game’s odd setting is supposed to be. It’s called a rhythm game because if you’re making the correct moves at the correct times, the actions correlate to the rhythm of the soundtrack. The game is a sequel to BIT.TRIP Runner, which is also a pretty good game on sale.
Sale Price: $1.49
Hard Reset is a first-person shooter with a heavy focus on fast-paced action and large swarms of enemies. It’s sort of like Serious Sam, in a way, where the game just likes to spam hordes of enemies at the player, although I don’t quite think it gets to the same scale as Serious Sam. It’s definitely a game where the player has to stay on their toes. The game takes place in a visually incredible cyberpunk setting where robots have overtaken all but one last human city. I recommend the game mainly to people looking for an unfettered action experience.
Sale Price: $0.49
Toki Tori 2+
Sale Price: $3.74
Toki Tori is a sidescrolling puzzle game based on a cult-classic Gameboy Color title of the same name. In the game, players guide a big yellow, egg-shaped bird as he/she attempts to collect all the eggs in each level. The catch is that the bird (whose name I assume is Toki Tori) can’t jump, meaning players must carefully figure out how to maneuver through each stage without getting stuck. (Don’t worry, if you do get stuck, there’s a time rewind mechanic that allows mistakes to be undone without having to reset completely.) Furthermore, the bird is given a specific set of limited use items in each level to help him/her get around. These items include things like teleporters that allows it to go through walls and a freeze gun that neutralizes enemies.
The sequel Toki Tori 2+ is also worth playing, perhaps more so since it ditches discrete levels for an elaborate open-world. It’s a huge change from the first game. This time, the bird sets off on an adventure to find five mystical frogs hidden in the massive overworld. Instead of items, the bird must learn how to manipulate creatures and objects in the environment using two moves, whistling (attractive) and stomping (repulsive). This game has generated a cult-following of its own due to the unique approach it takes to the puzzle-platforming genre.
That’s all the recommendations I have for this year. If you have recommendations of your own, please feel free to leave them in the comments section!
Best Underrated $5 or Less Deals from the Steam Summer Sale: 2016 Edition!
Once again, the Steam summer sale is upon us. One of the big reasons I look forward to the summer sale is that it gives me the opportunity to check out games I’m curious about but not confident in paying full price for. Over the past few years of this blog, I’ve made a tradition of doing a write-up during each summer sale about ten deals that I think are underrated “steals”. These are games that are discounted below $5(USD), and are games that I think probably haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. The past years’ posts can be found at these links: 2014 Edition, 2015 Edition Part 1, 2015 Edition Part 2
The Summer Sale this year is much different than the years before. Since the institution of Valve‘s new refund policy, which occurred before the last Winter Sale, the prices on games are constant throughout the length of the sale. Previously, games would get a base discount for the entire sale period, but certain games would go on even deeper discounts as limited time daily and flash deals. This created a reason to check back on the store each day to see the new daily deals, but now that’s all gone.
Valve has never explained why these changes to the summer and winter sales have happened, but most believe the culprit to be Steam’s new refund policy. Since this new policy allows for no-questions-asked refunds within a 2 week period of purchase, those limited time sales would be rendered pointless, since if a game you bought went on a daily deal, you could just refund it and buy it again for the cheaper daily deal price. Honestly, I feel like the lack of the daily and flash deals has removed a lot of the eventfulness and fun of these big Steam sales. It was always exciting to check back each day for the new deals. Now, despite the fact that the sale runs for 12 days, you only really need to visit the store once during the whole sale since nothing changes from day to day. On the other hand, I find the new refund policy to be an important pro-customer move on Valve’s part, so I’m stuck having to accept that these changes to the summer sale are a necessary sacrifice.
The current Steam Summer Sale started on June 23rd and will run through July 4th. Now here are the games I recommend this year. All prices are listed in USD:
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – $1.49
A touching and immersive puzzle adventure game with a rich story to tell. I played Brothers last summer and wrote a very positive post about it. Brothers tells the story of two brothers who set out on an epic journey through a fairy tale world to save their dying father. A controller is basically required for this game, as the player controls both Brother’s simultaneously, one with the left stick and the other with the right stick. This game is for those who are looking for something with a lot of heart.
The Last Door Season 1 – $1.99
Another game I’ve wrote about before. The Last Door is a moody and atmospheric point-and-click adventure game with pixelated graphics and an amazing orchestral score. Set in the Edwardian-era, fans of Lovecraftian horror should not miss this game. Puzzles are similar to the point-and-click adventure games of the 90’s with a focus on creative uses of items and inter-character dialogue, but I found the difficulty to be very fair, not too hard but not too easy. The game has been released in two seasons of five episodes each, and both are on sale for less than $5.
Antichamber – $4.99
Antichamber is an oddball first person puzzle game with some similarities to Portal. The story behind the game is intentionally vague, but the players find themselves in a position where they must escape a large facility that is governed by non-Euclidean geometry. Non-Euclidean geometry is kind of one of those Matrix-style Neo moments of “you have to see it to understand it.” This game is a great puzzler that is full of mind-bending spectacles.
The Swapper – $2.99
The Swapper is another puzzle game, but this one is played from a side-scrolling perspective. The main mechanic is that the player can materialize clones of themself across the environment that move synchronously with each other. Set aboard a derelict space vessel, the game’s story has a highly philosophical bend to it. This is a great game for gamers seeking out something a little more cerebral and thought-provoking than the average title.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die – $4.94
D4 is a modern narrative-focused adventure game, similar in vein to Life is Strange or Telltale’s work. D4 tells the story of David Young, a former detective of the Boston police who has gained the ability to travel through time to the scene of murders after witnessing the bizarre death of his wife. From the creator of Deadly Premonition, D4 is heavily inspired by the works of David Lynch and his own iconic brand of weirdness. This is a great game for those that enjoy bizarre tales of mystery, but I will warn you that the game ends on a cliffhanger, as it was meant to be the first “season” of an ongoing series. Unfortunately, the director has recently taken a break from game development due to medical issues, and I fear that the story of D4 may never be finished. Nonetheless, the game is a wild and bizarre ride while it lasts.
Organ Trail – $2.99
A lot of you probably fondly remember Oregon Trail, an old educational game that was widely available in elementary schools all across America in the 90’s. (I’m not sure how popular it was outside of the US.) Oregon Trail was about the planning and management of an expedition of American colonial settlers that sought to settle in the Oregon frontier. Proper decision making with regards to the expedition’s limited resources was key to the survival of the group to the end of their arduous journey. Fast forward to the modern day and here we have Organ Trail, a mixing of Oregon Trail nostalgia and zombies. Very similar in design to its inspiration, Organ Trail instead features a group of survivors in a zombie apocalypse setting out across America in search of a safe haven on the west coast. Yeah, I know it sound a bit contrived, but I thought it was an amusing game for only a few bucks.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet – $2.99
Games based off of the “Metroid-vania” structure are getting to be a dime-a-dozen these days, but Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet came out before the craze took over, and I think it was a bit overlooked at its release. Featuring art similiar in style to the works of Genndy Tartakovsky, ITSP is a dual-stick shooter with a heavy focus on exploring a vast interconnected map, ala Metroid. Players take on the role of a tiny UFO who must venture inside the titular Shadow Planet to save his homeworld. A good title for those looking for a light-hearted, visually-striking action adventure game.
VVVVVV – $1.24
VVVVVV features an aesthetic and design that is reminiscent of old Commodore 64 games. It’s one of those retro-inspired platformers that is hard as nails. You guide the captain of a starship that has crash landed in an alternate dimension and must explore a large interconnected map to find his missing crew members. The game has no jumping, but instead the player hits a button to reverse the flow of gravity from either up to down or down to up. VVVVVV is not a particularly long game, but I think most players looking for something with a tough but fair challenge will be satisfied with it. The soundtrack is also an incredible collection of catchy chiptunes and electronic beats. Veni, vidi, vici.
Nova-111 – $3.74
Nova-111 is a highly unique and experimental action adventure game that came out late last year. The game centers around a tiny spaceship exploring alien worlds filled with hostile creatures and dangerous obstacles. What makes Nova-111 unique is that it has a turn-based and grid-based structure akin to old roguelike RPGs. That is to say that the ship and enemies move around on a grid, and each time the player moves the ship (which counts as one turn), the enemies take a turn to move. It’s not really an RPG like the old roguelikes, more of an action adventure game, but I think it blended the elements of these two genres very well. The game was a great surprise to me earlier this year when I played it on the Vita.
Outland – $0.99
Outland was a game that recently released on PC, but was released on Xbox Live Arcade ages ago. It’s a melee-focused sidescrolling action-platforming game that takes place in a beautifully silhouetted world. The main gimmick behind the action is probably familiar to the Ikaruga fans out there. Enemies and projectiles are colored either blue or red. The player has a barrier that can be shifted between blue or red, and the color of the barrier dictates the enemies and projectiles that the player is immune to. At its core, Outland is just a well-designed action-adventure game that I think fans of these sorts of things will love. I cannot emphasize enough that at 99 cents, this game is easily the best deal on this list.
Underrated Gems from the Steam Summer Sale: 2015 Edition! Part 1
The Steam Summer Sale is here at last! This time it appears to be running until the 1:00 EST on the 22nd. (That will be when all the deals will be taken down.) I always find this a great time to take advantage of the low prices to try games that I might not usually be inclined toward. It’s a great way to expand and develop your tastes! Last year, I wrote up 10 games that I thought were underappreciated gems and were also steals during the sale, and here I am again with another list of recommendations. Of course, the 2014 list is still just as valid during this year’s sale. This is going to be a long post, so I’m splitting it in half. The second half will be available very soon.
All games on this list meet the following criteria: 1) They must be under $10 (USD), 2) they must be at least 50% off, and 3) they are lesser known titles (or at least I perceives them as such). I’ve played through all of these, so they are based on my personal recommendations, and, consequently, they all favor my own idiosyncrasies a little bit. I’ve tried to keep the prices for the list as low as possible to inspire people to maybe take a chance on games that are out of their comfort zone and try something new. For the same reason, I’ve tried to keep it to titles that are lesser known, so you won’t see anything like FTL or Rogue Legacy on here. (Not that those aren’t great games that you should check out if you haven’t already.) The pricing criteria apply to the games’ regular sale price. Many of them may go lower during a flash or daily deal. As always, follow the Steam Sale flow chart to maximize savings.
Rise of the Triad (2013 Reboot)
Regular Sale Price: $3.74 (-75%)
Rise of the Triad is a rebooting of Rise of the Triad: Dark War which was a somewhat forgotten FPS in the era immediately post-Doom. You really don’t need to have played that game to enjoy this one, but you do need to have an appreciation of the early styling of PC FPS. The story is that you are an agent of HUNT, an elite, multinational anti-terrorist organization that is launching an assault against the fortified hidden headquarters of a Nazi secret society. And that’s basically all there is to that. It is a game that is intensely action-driven. And this game is fast. Like really fast. While the game has controller support, I think most prefer the precision of KB+M for a game this quick-natured. I almost always play action games with a controller nowadays, but KB+M just felt way more natural for this game.
There are a lot of games that claim to capture the feel of old-school FPS, but this is probably the one that actually lives up to that ideal the most. I think anyone who might have fond memories of adrenaline-charged, run-and-gun action games should not pass this one up.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Regular Sale Price: $9.99 (-50%) (will go lower on daily or flash)
I’ll say this upfront, I’m pretty sure this game will go down to $5 during a flash or daily deal at some point. It’s been that low before, so I would wait for that price. This is actually the second Sega-themed racer put out by Sumo Digital. The first game, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing was actually a fairly decent kart racer, but Racing Transformed really just completely stomps all over it in quality, design, content, and ambition. While its predecessor was a kart racer, Racing Transformed is really more an arcade racer with a fantastical and whimsical bent. The track are far more creative and grandiose than what had been seen in the first game. Racing Transformed borrows the Mario Kart 7 idea of having transforming vehicles (as the name implies), so you’ll be racing on wheels, water, and through the air. In addition, it’s not just the vehicles that transform, but most of the tracks will transform in some way between laps.
Really this game leans heavily on Sega nostalgia with characters and tracks built around themes from not just popular Sega series like Sonic and Jet Set Radio, but also deep cuts like Skies of Arcadia, Golden Axe, and Space Channel 5. I think one of the strengths of the sequel is that it avoids relying so heavily on Sonic themes and more evenly uses Sega’s massive catalog of brands and characters.
I think any Sega fan will probably get a kick out of it for just for how well it makes use of the many Sega worlds it dives into. And even if you’re not a long time Sega-fan, it’s still a fundamentally good racer that focuses more on “arcadey-ness,” which makes it pretty unique considering how serious racers have become over recent years.
Ys: The Oath in Felghana
Regular Sale Price: $7.49 (-50%) (will probably go lower on daily or flash*)
Do you like to hack? Do you like to slash (preferably while hacking)? If either of these things sound appealing to you, then Ys: The Oath in Felghana might be up your alley. For those who don’t know, Ys is a long running action RPG series from Japanese developer Nihon Falcom, and Oath in Felghana is widely regarded as one of the series’ finest chapters. Ys follows the travels of Adol Christin and his bro Dogi as they perpetually stumble into conflict with long-dormant ancient evil entities It’s not so much an action RPG in the vein of Diablo, which focuses on loot, grinding levels, and randomized dungeons, rather its more like if Zelda became entirely combat-focused and got rid of all its puzzles to have something that’s focused just on tearing through hordes of enemies. Like I said, it’s for those seeking a fast-paced, hack+slash experience.
I will admit that I haven’t played through the Steam version, but I’ve beaten the game on PSP, and the Steam user reviews are “Overwhelmingly Positive,” so I’m confident it’s a good PC port. I will say, though, that if you’re looking for a traditional JRPG, Ys might not be it (which might be a relief to many of you). It’s not a very story heavy game, but concision works to its advantage. Falcom works with an anime artstyle, but it’s a rather tame anime artstyle that avoids becoming the over-embellished mess that most anime artists lose control to. In addition, the story and characters are rather heartfelt and mature. The writers of the game expertly avoided the anime tropes that most people find obnoxious. But then again, there story is not really all that elaborate.
*Often Ys has a series sales as part of a daily/flash deal, so I would keep a look out for that.
Regular Sale Price: $1.49 (-70%)
Gateways is a small, but fun little 2D puzzle platformer that I think went entirely unnoticed when it was released. It’s basically Portal in 2D. Here, you play as a mad scientist who has lost control of his lab and must use his inventions to regain power. That’s really all there is to it. Your primary ability to tackle the obstacles you face is your portal gun, but it goes a step beyond what Portal does with its mechanic and allows the portal gun to be upgraded with a number of offbeat functionalities that cause the puzzles to reach far more mind-bending states than what you see in Valve’s series. In addition to just point to point teleportation, there are portals that shrink or gigantify the protagonist, portals that shift gravity, and, by far the most impressive, portals that allow for time travel.
The time travel in this game is by far its most mind-blowing aspect. Many video games, like P.B. Winterbottom, make use of “time travel” by allowing you to “record” a time clone of yourself that will repeat your actions, but Gateways actually has portals that connect two points in recorded time. That is, the portals connect both a recorded “past” and the (constantly moving forward) “present” state. I have a hard time fully articulating how it works in words, but it is a mechanic that is utterly unique in a world of puzzle platformers who often derive their mechanics from a handful of commonly recurring archetypes.
Regular Sale Price: $7.49 (-50%) (will probably go lower on daily or flash*)
Binary Domain is a bit of a peculiar title from the 360 generation. From an era during which action shooter games pave-rolled over the Japanese domination over consoles, Binary Domain is a fairly earnest attempt by Sega’s Yakuza team to not only try to crack into the genre but also inject some new ideas into the saturated field. I think it’s a fairly good action game. It doesn’t reach the same peak as Vanquish, but it doesn’t fall into an abyss like other Japanese shooters of the time like Quantum Theory and MindJack.
The game features an international team of peacekeepers who have been sent into Japan to arrest the leader of the Amada Corporation who has been creating illegal human-like robots. Of course, the mission doesn’t go that easy, and you end up fighting his vast army of robots through the streets of cyberpunk Japan. The game’s main gimmick beyond the gunplay is that the team members have a dynamic interaction system, and you can respond in various ways to their conversations using the d-pad (I strongly recommend a controller for this game). Depending on your responses, each team member will either grow to like or hate you, which will influence their actions in the heat of battle.
The story gets a bit…ummm… anime weird, for lack of a better word. It’s an okay story I think, but I have a hard time following the characters’ motivations sometimes. When the villain finally revealed his ultimate evil plan to the protagonist, I really didn’t understand why it was such a bad thing. It seemed really innocuous, maybe actually good for the world. Still, I enjoyed my time with the game. The gunplay is merely competent, but still fun. And even though the story turns into a poor imitation of a Philip K. Dick novel, I really enjoyed fighting alongside the cool characters that made up my team. After all, one of your partners is a French karate robot who might as well be voiced by Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast.
*Since this game comes from a major publisher, I fully expect it to go lower on a featured deal at some point.
Well that’s all for Part 1, make sure to keep an eye out for Part 2 coming soon!
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.