Unknown Pleasures: this week’s Steam new release highlights

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Welcome back to Unknown Pleasures, our weekly round-up of the best new but under-reported games released on Steam over the past seven days.

This week: SF startup simulation, nihilistic Tetris, toilet humour and fantasy RPG Tinder.

A sliiightly tricky week, if I’m honest: it’s taken longer than usual to find less than usual. Some weeks there’s a lot of shit hot games, other weeks there’s just a lot of… well, you take my point. I don’t know if it’s just the luck of the draw or we’re starting to see the first consequences of the post-Greenlight age, where getting onto Steam now requires fronting a large sum rather than community enthusiasm or catching the right person’s eye. We’ll see how it shakes out over time, but for now, here’s eight strong or otherwise curious new screen-toys for you to play with.

Startup Company

($9.99/£6.99, early access)

A management sim in ye old Themee Hospitale vein, and focused around a shiny-new San Francisco startup juggling freelance software development and proprietary social networks, streaming platforms and whatnot to try and turn pretend money into unconscionable megabucks. To my surprise, it’s more or less comedy-free, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, the subject matter is an open goal for satire, but on the other there are already far too many tired gags and rote sneering about SF startup culture. Playing it straight – how do these outta-nowhere companies actually make money? – does make a certain sense. I think there’s a lot of scope to deal with stuff like inter-staff conflict and selling out to Google or Microsoft further down the line, but for now this early access build is a very solid money-juggler and office-builder.

The focus is on hiring staff across multiple disciplines – marketing, programming, design, HR, management – to create an organisation that can release, improve and market progressively better products for progressively more eye watering profits. And maybe one day you’ll be able to pay back that insane loan.

I’d like a little more personality from this ideally – although its slightly austere tone is perhaps a statement in itself – but it’s very polished indeed, even in this unfinished first release.

Crushing Blow

($1.99/£1.59)

Insane nihilistic Tetris riff, in which you must furiously demolish assorted items as they tumble from the sky. Bust toy trains and tanks with a hammer, saw logs into splinters and use a magnet to toss iron balls into the recylcing. Mostly it’s smash-smash-smash in a frenzy of plastic carnage, but in order to prevent blockages and a game over you need to swap out to other tools and remove other obstacles. I feel like this is trying to make some sort of point – ‘no future’ is scrawled on the concrete wall behind the object chute – but having ‘smash the state’ and ‘make sure you recycle!’ feels like a conflicting message.

Anyway, it works and is entirely compulsive, this mad, desperate thing, with better-than-it-needs graphics and some particularly tasty physics to enjoy as everything breaks down into shards, and I feel all set to go out and take a crowbar to a few BMWs now. HIS NAME IS ROBERT PAULSON. [This brings back memories of PS3 burn ’em up Trash Panic – Trash Ed]

Supermagical

($4.99/£3.99)

Somewhat early Popcappish match-3/Bubble Bobble affair, in which you’re a witch (which witch? I dunno, wasn’t following the gabbling dialogue very closely) lobbing coloured magic at hordes of gibbering monsters. The right colour spell dispatches a pack of similarly-hued monsters to the underworld, but only if you line the shot up correctly. Any monsters left detached from the horde after that also disappear, but a missed shot spawns another monster.

It’s a simple but effective formula, and you end agonising over whether to spend precious resources to change the colour of your next shot or not, as well as summoning helper creatures that can deal with obscured targets for you. It needs to shut its damn gob, and there are too many leftover references to touching and swiping from its mobile version, but it’s mostly cute, absorbing and gets the breezing through/headscratching balance just about right.

Gotta Go

($4.99/£3.99)

Promise you’ll hear me out here. This is a game about an office worker trying to reach the toilet before they soil themselves. Hey, wait! You said you’d hear me out! [they’re just rushing off to empty their bowels – Toilet Ed]

Yeah, yeah, it’s a faintly wretched concept, and it hits the wacky hammer hard with features such as farting on co-workers or choosing Perks-style ‘toppings’ for your lunch which remix your gastric challenges, but a) I really dig the toilet door sign-style, pseudo-tilt shift art and b) it’s an interesting collision of stealth gaming and social conventions. I can take or leave the fact that it’s about someone who always needs a big poo, but the idea of trying to dodge co-works for fear you’ll be drawn into conversation with them and thus both delayed from a more pressing goal and trapped in terrible chat has something to it.

Trying to navigate my way around this maze of fools, unseen or using either HR-angering dismissive language or parping in their presence to get rid of ’em, is an interesting and tricky new take on don’t-get-caught conventions. I wish it either had a better theme or really went with the humour of the one it has chosen (it doesn’t go much further than ‘farting lol’, although I quite like the parpy trombone soundtrack) but it’s well worth a look despite that.

Defenders of Ekron

($14.99/£10.99)

Attractive twin-stick sci-fi shmup with a few explorey-adventure sections thrown in. The art mixes 90s R-Type flavours with a vaguely French comic style, and it’ll occasionally blossom into enormous mega-bosses.

Possibly a little bit too tricky for its own good, given that it’s trying to add something extra into the shmup mix rather than be for the genre hardcore, but when you’re not getting e.g. killed in the tutorial, it manages to feel like it has a little more substance and style than the average pew-pew bear.

War Tech Fighters

($14.99/£9.99, Early Access)

Gundamish flying mech third-person shooter, which manages a fair old whack of spectacle despite being visibly a few years away from the bleeding edge. I like: that it involves a torrent of gunfire, auto-firing missiles if you can lock onto a target for long enough, and an decent array of different finishing moves including stabbing with a bus-sized sword and roundhouse kicks. Looks a bit like the more coherent parts of a Michael Bay Transformers flick in that regard, and plays a little like Strike Suit Zero.

I do not like: the ultro-generic rawk soundtrack and the lacklustre voices. But that aside, it’s definitely decent robo-bothering, with tons of shootybang and the added benefit of being IN SPACE and thus free of the metal corridors one might usually expect from such things.

Questr

($14.99/£9.89, Early Access)

To be clear: this is in here far more for concept than it is for execution. Any other week I’m not sure I’d have included it, but there’s not too much gold in them thar hills right now. Questr rethinks party-based RPGs as a battle of personalities rather than of straightforward combat prowess which, in a way (and I’m not totally sure even the game realises this) puts it closer to the likes of Lord of the Rings and Game Of Thrones than games usually manage. Riffing heavily off Tinder, you form your party by swiping left or right on offered members (not like that – it’s not that close to real Tinder), trying to form a group with broadly similar alignments and interests. Your adventure then progresses automatically and randomly, with morale gained or lost based on how well the group is getting along with each other, and occasional enemy encounters offering a choice of attempted resolution based on your gang’s suggestions.

One might claim that talking a selfie with a dire wolf will calm the beast down, or another might recognise an evil Enchanter as their ex and thus suggest caution. At the end of it all, your chance of success is dictated by the party’s overall morale – so a group who’ve been disagreeable throughout are more likely to see you wind up with a failure.

A lovely concept, running wild with the idea that fantasy sagas are ultimately more about inter-character drama than big action, but in its current form the choice elements of Questr are entirely arbitrary – you have no idea which option will work, so it’s just a grind through chance. I think it can pull this stuff back a bit as it travels through early access, and I’d also suggest a total reworking of the writing while it’s at it, as right now many of the gags are too plain and obvious.

20XX

($14.99/£10.99)

MegaMan-inspired roguelite/platformer mash-up. We wrote about its initial arrival on Steam Early Access two years ago, but it had its full release this week, which perhaps makes it a good bet for fancy-pants-upped retro-style bouncy-shooting for folks who felt let down by that other spiritual MegaMan successor, Mighty Number 9. 20XX’s big draw is proc-gen levels so you’re not running the same gauntlets time and again, plus perma-death and power upgrade features to further the whole rogue thing.

Enjoyment of it to some degree necessitates a love of Capcom’s hardcore action platformers from the 90s, but I was never spent much time with ol’ Megsy and I quite like this, chiptune headaches aside. The jumps can be fiddly, but it’s good-lookin’ and more or less avoids the whole ‘getting stuck on that one bit’ element that dogged its 16-bit predecessors. Oh – has a co-op mode too.

Pick of the week is… Well, I’ll go with Startup Company. It’s a bit short on charisma, but I’m a sucker for a good management sim, and this does a good job of applying the formula to the exhausting world of software development, as opposed to pleasing a crowd. It’s arrived into early access remarkably fully-formed in terms of features and appearance too, so hopefully later iterations will amp up the personality.

5 Comments

  1. Baines says:

    During Early Access, I found 20XX’s proc-gen levels to be one of its biggest weaknesses. Maybe it has changed on the path to full release, but before the levels just felt like an ill-fit mashup of romhack-style challenge screens.

    Honestly, “ill-fit mashup” kind of described 20XX as a whole for me. I know it has its fans, and the failure of Mighty No. 9 created an even larger audience positive towards 20XX, but I just didn’t find it to be that good.

    • Philsco says:

      Oh yeah, they continued to work on it. There is more variation, and they polished it up quite a bit. The game has been a lot of fun to play through early access, and even before its official launch I felt like I got my money’s worth. There’s now a “final boss” level, perma-upgrades, reworked “Skulls” and such and so forth. Animations are shinier, too. If you already have it, plug it back in! I’ve recommended this to a few friends, and they’ve all enjoyed it.

    • Aspirant_Fool says:

      I think they’ve gotten better with level generation. There are certainly more available elements than there were early on, and while I still see the occasional ‘blank spot where there could have been a crate’, they’re few and far between, and never take more than a second or two of your time regardless.

      I’m not in love with the evolution of the animations/graphics in general. A lot of stuff that I thought looked fine before looks a little busy/sloppy to me now.

      All in all, I come back to this at least weekly. Procedural generation allows for daily challenges and run randomness that just adds replay value over the OG MegaMan games. The only thing I feel like they’re lacking at release is more ‘biomes’ to build levels from.

  2. Someoldguy says:

    The only two mentioned here that interest me are the early access games, so I’ll take RPS’s advice for once. I’ll wait for them to shape up instead of jumping in when it’s still unclear if the finished item is going to be great.

  3. KDR_11k says:

    Why in the world would you name a game that’s not a parody “WTF”… Also WarTech was already the western name of a shmup PVP game series (Senko no Ronde).