It was the best of times
Last year was an incredible year for games. With the end of the last generation of consoles and the beginning of a new one, we had plenty huge blockbuster games to play in 2013 before putting our Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s to rest.
However, a few of the smaller ones (unfairly) fell through the cracks. But January is a slow month—the perfect time to dig into your "Unplayed" category on Steam and test out a few that slipped by.
I did just that. I now return with 11 games I missed the first time around that deserve a fair shot.
First up is Eldritch, the fabulous lovechild of Minecraft and Lovecraft.
Eldritch treads three well-worn paths: voxel-based graphics, roguelike-like progression system, and H.P. Lovecraft inspiration. And yet somehow it's still compelling.
Explore adorable, voxel-ized versions of Lovecraft locations, including “Dagon” and (with the new, free expansion) “At the Mountains of Madness.” In tone, it’s like playing a more sophisticated version of something like Lego Star Wars.
Designer David Pittman worked on BioShock 2, and Eldritch uses the same left-hand-magic-right-hand-weapon control scheme for combat. It feels innately familiar, even with such minimalistic graphics.
If you black out or hear your voice speaking an alien language while playing, however, please stop immediately and consult your copy of the Necronomicon.
I took a look at Memoria because of the gorgeous, hand-painted artwork. I stayed because it's genuinely one of the best point-and-click adventure games I’ve played in recent memory.
You inhabit dual roles. In the past you are Sadja, a fearsome warrior princess who disappeared without a trace long ago. In the present you are Geron, an innocent bystander called in to solve the mystery of Sadja's disappearance.
The tales unwind in tandem, and it's fascinating to watch how they interweave. It's not that the story is always unique or surprising, but it's told in a sophisticated manner and (if you're like me) it will stick with you for a while afterward.
And as I said, the artwork is stunning.
Every time I think I'm done—just burned out—on side-scrolling puzzle platformers, someone comes along and demonstrates there's still more blood to be drawn from the genre.
Combining a semi-Soviet aesthetic with smart, electricity- and magnetism-based puzzles, Teslagrad is a joy both to play and ogle. While there’s a fleshed-out narrative about a tyrannical king and your ill-treated homeland (told through a series of incredible Punch and Judy-esque theater shows), at the end of the day what I loved most about Teslagrad was the childish sense of wonder the game imbued.
You’re a kid wrapped up in events far larger than your standing, and it’s magical.
Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians
Beatbuddy relies too much on a gimmick, but, on several occasions, the gimmick is spectacular enough so that you don't mind.
While Beatbuddy looks like a standard side-scrolling action game, every item and enemy pulses in time to the beat of the music, contributing its own sounds—laser beams pew-pew like synthesizer notes, while crabs tsk-tsk with a hi-hat flourish, and the list goes on. By the end of the level, all the disjointed parts come together to form an entire piece of music.
The game's not quite as fun to play as it is to listen to, and it wears out its welcome long before it's over, but the first few times you see everything come together in one sweeping piece of music? Spectacular.
Knock-knock was made by the same team that made Pathologic. If you've played or read about Pathologic, then you know the kind of weirdness you're in for. If you haven't, let me summarize: extremely weird.
In Knock-knock, you're an insomniac with a scratchy voice who wanders his house and plays hide-and-seek with monsters that are determined to catch him. Your goal? Stay safe until the sun comes up.
Knock-knock is less "jump-out-and-scare-you" horror and more psychological nightmare. I can honestly say I've never played a game like it, and can also say I probably never want to again, but it's...interesting, to say the least.
Electronic Super Joy
Electronic Super Joy is another in a now-lengthy collection of ultra-hard platforming games, so what makes it stand out?
Did I mention your character lost an arm in the Disco Wars of 1515? That he's on a quest to avenge his butt after it was stolen by the evil Groove Wizard? And that you fight the Pope?
Electronic Super Joy is an ode to dumb, backed by solid platforming and a soundtrack that I can only describe as auditory energy drinks.
Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure
There's no need to review Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. After nearly eight years, the game finally gets a PC port. Because why not?
This game is akin to the first Fast and the Furious film—the creators took making it extremely seriously, which makes the end result even more amazing.
I'm not saying buy this game. It wasn’t great even at the time. But do you want to play a game where one character is an albino named White Mike and another character named Spleen owns a pit bull named Dulce? If yeah...maybe buy this game.
And hey, maybe you’ll rekindle your love for Jane’s Addiction in the process.
Not the Robots
Let me give you the short pitch: you're a stealthy robot who eats furniture.
Yeah, that's what convinced me to play Not the Robots. Your goal in every level is to eat your fill of the bland office furniture while avoiding veritable legions of enemy sentry robots and lasers.
It's the unholy child of Splinter Cell and Katamari Damacy, and it's incredible. Also, incredibly dumb.
Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe
This air-hockey game is the spiritual successor to one of the earliest games I remember playing—Shufflepuck Cafe on the family’s old Macintosh.
Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe suffers a bit from some poorly implemented grinding for items and the like—you'll play against the roster of opponents a lot if you want to get the most from the game.
Still, how many air hockey games are released these days? And how many good ones?
Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe is the only one I can think of, and as a nostalgic throwback to Shufflepuck Cafe? I got a lot of enjoyment from it.
Redshirt effectively shows the utter banality of our social media-connected world. Unfortunately, it does so by being utterly banal to play.
You're a grunt serving aboard a starship, and you must manage your various social media outlets and friendships in order to earn money, make friends, and move up the ranks. Maybe one day you'll finally escape your tedious job.
The game is humorous and, as I said, a great indictment of social media. Unfortunately it gets a bit tedious to play after the joke wears off—like analyzing an occasionally funny spreadsheet.
I wouldn't necessarily say to skip it, but know you'll probably get tired of the game long before you make it to the end.
Up front: Tiny Brains is better with friends. You can play alone, but I can guarantee you’re not going to have as much fun.
In Tiny Brains, you’re play as lab animals with…odd augmentations. One can push things with its mind, another pulls, a third creates ice platforms, and the fourth can switch places with an object—say, if it’s behind bars.
It's a neat idea that works well in co-op, and the overall "animals-in-a-cage" aesthetic of the game is phenomenal. But the puzzles aren’t very challenging, and switching between animals in single player is a chore.
Round up a group, sit in your living room, and prepare for some old-fashioned couch co-op. That’s how you’ll get the most from Tiny Brains.
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