Welcome back to Unknown Pleasures, our weekly selection of the best new releases on Steam that you (probably) haven’t heard about before.
This week: timelords, broken America, fat suits, Gauntlet vs Smash TV and cyberdog cowboys.
First person puzzle game that’s all about using slow-motion powers to traverse marvellously vast and bizarre structures – furiously rotating floating cityblocks and titanic clocks, like some spectacular collision of Dali and Inception. The puzzles broadly involve slowing time so that you can safely traverse otherwise spasming pipes through the abyss or rows of cars being slammed upwards and downwards through the air.
Even quite early on (the nature of this column is that I only see a little of each game) I felt that some conundrums crossed the line from elegant to fiddly, so I worry somewhat about quite how frustrating Time Waits For Nobody might become much later on, but it really is a sight to behold and I’m very keen to see what other craziness it chucks at me.
(Note: this game was previously entitled ‘Tyd wag vir Niemand’, but they’ve just changed the name to see if it helps sales).
Follow-up to Actual Sunlight, and similarly an adventure game of sorts concerned with the collision of and relationship between modern life and depression. This one uses multiple perspectives – one of a jobless woman who still lives with her parents and her troubled sister, the other of a sneering motivational speaker who claims money is all that matters – to paint its picture of a divided America. The writing is sharp, and the alternation between quiet domestic stress and hollow, noisy corporate chest-thumping effective. The art similarly switches between JRPG-style sprites and lavish hand-drawn scenes, while there’s this throughline that the only interaction you can have with anything or anyone is to lie – to say that you’re OK when you’re not.
Personally, I won’t be continuing with this, because elements of it strike a little too close to home, but it has real power as a tale of today’s world, and the things we do to try and survive it.
Faux-8-bit platformer that, as with so many of these things, has gotten a little too hot and bothered about being difficult for its own good. I’m including it here, despite regularly screaming at it, because I really dig its aesthetic. The ridiculous title drew me in, of course, and I’m delighted to say that it’s straight-up serious and positing a world where the millennium bug really did destroy society. You get to play as a dog exploring this devastated world, which in practice means evading/killing hunters, mutants and, er, angry owls. Well, that’s life without computers for you, eh?
It’s the moody, NES-esque graphics that sell it most, though – evoking early Castlevanias, but arguably with a more certain sense of using 8-bit’s limitations to create gloom and discomfort, as opposed to their being a restriction. Sure, getting spanked by owls over and over again gets old fast, and some levels look far plainer than others, but generally I really dug the look and sound, despite not being an early-console fetishist.
Ren & Stimpy do It’s A Knockout. A local multiplayer game (but bots are available if you want to play solo) about various grotesques using inflatable fat suits to slam each other out of the way of objectives including hot tubs, penguins strapped to explosives and rainbow-hued soiled nappies. There’s an impressive level of invention wrung from a concept that remains broadly the same throughout – the key to its party game success is that you just don’t know which round you’re going to get next, and what delightfully horrid background art it will boast. Simple to control and arranged so that no-one’s going to get left out in the cold, it’s an everyone-laughing-together treat.
Note – this was originally released last year, but Steam is flagging it as a new release for 12 July – I think because it just left Early Access. Don’t blame me, blame the system.
Follow-up to 2014’s Walker-favourite Iron Fisticle, and once again it’s Robotron parsed through a Gauntlet filter. Which means twin-stick shooting with cheery, chubby fantasy characters, spells, perma-death, optional 4-player co-op and more flying hammers than you could ever hope to count, interspersed with a few fairly pointless platforming sections. Super-compulsive, and challenging without being mean about it.
It’s not a true sequel, but rather a refined and relaunched revision of the original, with added cross-platform play and the probably entirely sensible removal of ‘fisticle’ from the title. So as such our existent praise still stands, and now’s a fine time to visit its oddly relaxing (while consistently frantic) monster-bashing if you missed it first time around.
($4.99, £3.00, Early Access)
Roguelite-as-FPS, in which you’re haring around big, faintly Doomish levels, murdering various hellspawn and spending winnings on ammo. As day turns night the scene turns fatal, and you’ll need to hightail it to an exit, then onto the next level with more and harder foes. It’s a simple affair but a solid one, melding the speed of first-gen FPSes with the compulsive collection and perma-death structures of modern times. There’s a real arcade feel to it too, everything dialled up that little further than the norm.
There’s a certain amount in common with Devil Daggers, in that it’s about surviving as long as you can in an FPS-world stripped down to the barest minimum, but at the same time there’s a certain bagginess to it – the ammo-buying, the level-based structure, the not entirely helpful minimap, the shitty zombies. I can’t see it become a way of life like DD did, but I can see it being a week’s worth of distraction.
Spit’n’polished enhancement of a 1994 SNES game about cowboys and robots and dogs with floating battleplatforms. It’s somewhere between lightgun shooter and Final Fight, with an unusual third-person perspective and system whereby moving while shooting controls the targeting reticule, but letting go of fire means the character moves instead. Flicking between these two systems is the chief challenge of the game – you need to be pummelling a Terminator in a ten-gallon hat with gunfire one moment, but dodging his death-beams the next.
It’s a hoot, and really goes for it with genre-fusion nuttiness. Somehow this is both very much of its time and weirdly contemporary. Best played in co-op with a few chums, too.
Representing the puzzle game massive this week is this physicsy joint. There’s an air of weirdness to it, from a spooky-insistent soundtrack that puts me in mind of incidental music from the Crystal Maze to an increasing hateful man-cat ‘waah’ sound effect the plays every time you complete a level. Really though, it’s a game about moving a ball around trap-filled levels by correctly rotating platforms. Gets fairly fiendish fairly fast, and wrings a great deal of variety out of its simple mechanics.
Though both the title and the 315 achievements it offers set off my spam radar a little, this is a solidly demanding wee puzzler with an interestingly unsettling atmosphere.
Better than it probably deserves to be, this hybridises endless runners, roguelites and shmups, then for good measure hybridises Mad Max and zombies too. You are some guy/gal in a car, driving through a dead world, shooting zombies for points and dodging various obstacles in order than you can accrue more of said points before you die. Said points are spent on better guns and better cars, which enable you to keep doing this for longer. It’s very, very obvious, and the controls are on the sloppy side, but it manages to be a blast with it. The infinitely long, brightly-coloured, voxelly environment is a treat to look at, the unearthly plink-plonk soundtrack hypnotised me, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t crave the unlocks. Essentially, this is trash, but trash isn’t always a bad thing.
Pick of the week is… hmmm. Hmmm! The game I most want to play again is Iron Crypticle , though it does slightly feel like cheating given it’s to some extent a repackaging of an older game. Still, good is good, and Iron Crypticle is most certainly good.