Welcome back to Unknown Pleasures, our weekly round up of ten of the best (or thereabouts) new games released on Steam that have not, as yet, enjoyed the fifteen minutes of fame that they deserve.
This week: I’m actually covering two weeks’ worth of games rather than the usual seven-day crop, as I was away for a bunch of last week. The larger pool means more strong options than usual, including: high-speed 4X, FMV anxiety attacks, minimalist Shadow of the Colossus and the singular nightmare that is Hand Simulator.
(Early access, $14.99/£10.99)
A delightful turn-based but high-speed wargame, with more than a few shades of Advance Wars to it, but a more grounded (and WW2-themed) approach. Art-wise it evokes Civ a bunch too, which I’m not complaining about. The name’s appropriate, as it’s as much about wearing the enemy down with bombardment and suppression as it is simply shooting them.
Lest that sound like a slow and tedious affair, not a bit of it – Attrition’s big draw is how g’dang quick its matches are. They rarely last more than a few minutes, involving as they do just a few units per side and a heavy focus on striking first and then hopping off into the mountains or woods to up your defence.
There’s not much that’s especially novel here, perhaps, but it all hangs together well, is fast and punchy (a rarity amongst wargames) and is remarkably good shape for an initial early access release. It’s perhaps comparatively expensive for an Unknown Pleasure, but random map generation for skirmish and multiplayer means it should keep on giving for a while.
Choice’n’consequence FMV game, or Extra-Visual Novel, perhaps. Steve suffers from high social anxiety, and you have to choose how he copes in situations such as locking himself in the bathroom while his housemate throws a party. It flits wildly between funny and empathetic, using silent movie comedian stylings to convey Steve’s rabbit-in-the-headlights struggles. It also tilts into the surreal frequently, as well as managing to be surprisingly touching, given it’s essentially lots of clips of a beardy-man doing weird things with an impassive expression.
Sometimes it’s effective, other times it’s a bit of a drag – almost every scene is longer than it needs to be, and clearly deliberately so for filmic reasons, but the long waits do mean some punches don’t land. Still, there’s a lot more going on here than the super-cheap, arch-indie look might suggest. Sweet and bleak as well as silly.
Our entire team of Important Videogame Experts agreed that Shadow Bug very strongly reminded of them another game, but none of us could remember what it is was. Which makes me feel a weird, nagging guilt that I’m being unfair to some mystery game lost to memory, or that only exists in a collective dream. One of you sweethearts can tell me what is it below, I’m sure. So: let’s include Shadow Bug regardless, as it’s a pretty good time in what I can only presume is its own right.
It’s a ninja-y platformer starring a rotund insect assassin, in which you cannot directly jump, but if you click on an enemy to attack them, you will immediately teleport to them. This includes passing straight through walls, but, via some confusing feat of internal logic, if there are spikes en route you’ll get stuck on ’em and die. So it’s about figuring out a route across a hazard-filled or otherwise locked-down level using this indirect hopping method.
It feels really, really nice to control, although in the sections I’ve played thus far it’s perhaps over-easy, having a slight phone game click-to-make-it-happen-for-you vibe. But it does get into controlling your arc of descent to land in the right place or timing attack-o-teleports to make your way up a chasm with a row of spikes at the bottom. Levels are short, gratification is instant and it’s quite pretty too. Man, I’m sure I’ve played something a lot like it before, though.
Very attractive 2D action game in which every enemy is – oh no! – an enormo-boss. Drinks deep from the Shadow Of The Colossus and Titans Soul well, but, as is perhaps the inevitable evolution of that formula, removes even more of what we traditionally expect from an action game. There’s no between-fight world at all here; you just take a breath then plunge right back into pretty, gouraud shaded hell.
What I really like about this one, besides the titanic beasties and good looks, is that a) it’s ultra-minimalist, with you having no abilities to call on beyond hit, block and dodge and b) actually I lied, you get one more ability, which is that of INFINITE HEALING. While this removes some of the oh no dead, start again aspect of games like it, it’s absolutely true to the spirit of This Sort Of Thing nonetheless. Healing takes a few seconds to pull off – seconds in which you really need to be stabbing or shielding, so it’s still an almighty risk and requires a firm grasp of the enemy’s timing.
Sure, there’s a slightly bare bones vibe to She Save (oh baby, when she moves, she moves), but it’s really accomplished. One of those ‘woah, where did this come from?’ sort of games.
An unfortunate name – not least because it’s all a bit early 90s – stuck on a game that favours concept over execution. You play as a schlub who keeps dozing off, and cannot wake up from the resultant dream until he has a found a way to die within them. Jumping off a building, getting hit by a speeding train, that sort of thing. Shades of Groundhog Day, perhaps, although some dreams are heavily based on other games or films. With all its buffoonish physics, characterful low-poly graphics and big flappy hands, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that this might have started life as a VR game, then later switched to normal-o-vision.
Perhaps for this reason, there’s a shallow mini-game vibe to it all, offset by a glee at what visual tomfoolery it will throw at you next. Some of the puzzling’s pretty decent too, and there’s clearly some money gone into this. Maybe a new title and less mitten-like hand animations could do it a world of good?
Agreeable and flashy top-down shooty-buggy game with cod-Steampunk style and slightly Micro Machinesy controls. There’s a lot of pointless jabber in panto-level French accents, but out on the track it’s a festival of destruction, with the central conceit being that you have to destroy enemies to stop your car running out of pressure.
Feels a lot like a glossier version of something you might have played in 2003, but that’s no bad thing – hold down accelerator, do the twin-stick shooting thing with the mouse, get showered in coins to spend on upgrades. Familiar, but fun.
Another victim of The Terrible Indie Game Naming Plague Of 2017 – I came close to scrolling right past this, presuming it to be another of the monochrome platforming games about depression which exist in sufficient quantities to fill their own dedicated column. That would have been tragic, because, though it does feature elements of existential noodling, it’s also a really tight, really menacing shooter with some serious Quake-era aesthetics, though it readily goes off into its own places too.
Lots of thoughtful design and art here, and it changes up environments in unexpected and sinister ways. Despite expecting another throwaway cod-retro FPS, within minutes I was sitting up straight and paying attention, and it only got better from there.
($19.99/£14.99, Early access)
4X distilled into lunchbreak galactic domination, in which you are the baddie. (Shades of Dungeon Keeper there, though there’s no scenery-chewing villainy). You control just a handful of fleets, which can move only one planet per turn, and auto-attack any enemies near to any world they move into orbital range of, but you get to trigger special attacks yourself as and when energy meters refill. If you win, you capture the planet and gain resources and/or access to shipyards, which you’re going to need for the final push against the goodly Galactic Senate and boss enemies such as continent-sized robo-sharks. You even get a few FTLish choice’n’consequence sections when you invade a new planet.
It’s the fast but not at all dumbed-down pace which really shines here, though. There’s a boardgame feel to it, but it’s extremely well-suited to solo play – you’ll end up with an empire of planets within a few turns, though of course you’ll need to defend it as well as pushing onwards for more. This is really good, some witlessly meme-y humour aside, retaining many 4X tropes but throwing out just enough to be punchy. Still in early access too – looking forwards to seeing how it shapes up later on.
I feel as though I should be sneering at this, given it’s basically a Pipemania rip-off with oh-so-Gamemaker art and the same pounding Eurocheese song playing in every level, but: well, I don’t. Instead, I’m struggling to stop playing its frantic tube-rotating puzzles. It’s the dumbest, cheapest thing on one hand, but a solid good 99c time on the other.
Its conceit is that you’re an electrician restoring power to homes, but it doesn’t go any further than that – you’re left to get on with rotating increasingly insane networks of pipe-pieces to create one constant flow of electricity. It’s the star rating, based on how long you took, that drives it – I found myself racing through, rotating speculatively and rolling with the consequences rather than ever stopping to agonise about what the best move would be. And, all the while, I nodded helplessly along with that one thinly techno tune. NRG! NRG! NRG!
As much as Lee & Herring have forever made me wary of that old “it’s like x but ON DRUGS!” cliche, yeah, give me this one – it’s like Pipemania on happy pills. Although I should say that Steam reviews are complaining level 16 is broken. Hopefully that’ll be rewired soon enough.
You’ll come out of an hour with this either feeling that it’s been the emptiest waste of time you’ve ever had the misfortune to be involved with, or with triumph roaring through your views. This is the most mundane of acts, something so many of us are fortunate to take entirely for granted, looked through another lens, that lens being “bloody hell, isn’t the range of complex actions we can perform with our hands just by thinking about it for the tiniest sub-fraction of a second absolutely incredible?” Sure, us oldies all rolled our eyes at the fidget spinner craze, but you trying using one when you have to invidually control each finger with a keyboard button, manually raise and lower hand height with the scroll wheel and risk every single movement tipping the thing back onto the table.
And that’s before you get onto the revolver reloading sequence. My God. My God. Opening the chamber, picking up a single bullet, closing the chamber: that’s the best part of an afternoon.
Clearly, it’s either nightmarish or tedious from one point of view, but pulling any of these things off, even for a moment, is a spectacular achievement, and I wound up deeply appreciating what the human hand can do as a result. A lot of physics work has clearly gone into making this wonderful, terrible thing as wonderful and terrible as it is, and if you can play it with a crowd, you’re all going to have an absolutely joyful, belly-laughing time with it.
And Pick of the Week this time iiiiiiiiiiiis…. I reckon Space Tyrant. It does turn-based galactic strategy at speed very well, with a rapid and satisfying sense of both achievement and conflict. If I’d have had something else for breakfast today, I might well have gone with This Strange Realm Of Mine, however.