Unknown Pleasures: Steam’s latest diamonds in the rough

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Welcome back to Unknown Pleasures, our weekly deep dive into the deep, dark waters of Steam new releases. These are the games that we most liked from the past seven days (with the exclusion of those we’ve already wittered about in detail).

This week, we have Inner Space: The FPS, globular cats, rollerskate simulation, platforming goldfish and a spiritual Myth sequel.

Project Remedium

($14.99/£10.99)

Sounding unfortunately (or appealingly?) like a Victorian school simulator, this is in fact Inner Space: the FPS. Well, kind of. It spins off into characterful nanobot foremen looking after someone’s liver and shooting anthropomorphised virii pretty quickly, and then throws in a grappling hook for good measure. I never say no to a grappling hook. Everything about Project Remedium would seem to scream cheap, but in practice it feels as though this has had a ton of resources pumped into it. The graphics are good, and appropriately other-worldly given the conceit of travelling through someone’s veins, while the English is non-garbled and the full voice acting decent.

I’d almost prefer it as an exploring game than a shooting game though, partly because virus-blasting is hard to buy into, but mostly because the particular approach this has chosen involves the initial weapon being click once per shot rather than hold down the mouse button, which gets old fast, even if it does, I suppose, mean vaguely medical precision as opposed to spray’n’pray.

Aliens & Asteroids

($0.99/£0.79, Early Access)

Entirely retro Asteroids-meets-Space Invaders affair, in which you’re both pestered by flying rocks and zappy spaceships. The overall feel is Geometry Wars-esque, though less gloriously psychedelic. What sets it apart from Oh Another One-ness is a quartet of mega-powers, which take a few seconds to recharge, MMO-style, but if activated at the right time (and in the right direction) can take out a bunch of foes/rocks at once or speed you out of danger. So it becomes this careful dance across your keyboard, simultaneously trying to steer out of trouble and line up these killer shots. It also sets time goals to survive for, which coalesces the whole thing into a steady challenge. Put together far better than the rather my-first-game screenshots might suggest.

On A Roll

($19.99/£14.99, Early Access)

A latter-day Tony Hawk Pro Skater but with rollerskates, basically. Well put together, and straddles a line between comforting late 90s/early noughties familiarity and the inherent physicsy differences of boards and skates, though the Max Payneish fixed-expression photo-faces are a little creepy. There’s some real gnarly maps, such as the plummeting drops of an abandoned water park, and plenty of scope to customise both your skater and their skatepark. Rad! It’s Early Access, so hopefully later builds will introduce a much needed pop-rock-rap soundtrack too.

Fist’s Elimination Tower

($4.99/£3.99)

Wildly characterful survival platformer, in which each of your 25 ‘lives’ is a contestant in a lethal gameshow. When you run out of contestants, you lose. The idea is you have a mere handful of seconds to bounce your way up each level of a colossal tower, which can only be achieved by pogoing off the heads of enemies. Touch the floor and you get zapped, take too long and you get thumped, so go go go. Each contestant is a randomly-chosen weirdo, from goldfish to horses to Mariolikes, and you get treated to the titular, fistular host intoning ‘ELIMINATED’ in an impressive variety of breezy tones when one dies.

It’s a lot of fun, propulsive and manic, but one fly in the ointment is that it’s over-dependent on a ‘press A again when you land to jump higher’ mechanic that is far too unforgiving about when you press, so you can end up losing a slew of contestants to what feels like the game simply not recognising your input. Let’s hope a future patch opens up the window of opportunity for that move by just a few more micro-seconds.

Andromeda Wing

($5.99/£4.79)

Bitmap Bros-esque vertical shmup, but it’s one of those in which you gradually accrue increasingly ridiculous firepower as it wears on, as opposed to bullet hellish perma-dodging. I like the oddly organic enemies – spiders and wasps and prehistoric crustaceans and the like – which are both unusual for a spaceshippy shooter and have a vaguely nightmarish quality to them that puts me in mind of DOS horror-adventure games.

Behind that, it’s straight down the line for sure, but it’s a good time and, crucially for me, not designed for the twitchy hyper-reflex crowd.

Deadhold

($19.99/£14.99, Early Access)

Myth-style, formation-heavy fantasy RTS, which it turns out we wrote about enthusiastically back in 2014. If you’re into rock-paper-scissors strategy with a side order of spellpower management, this might scratch a few neglected itches – it’s sharing some territory with Total Warhammer, but it’s faster, smaller scale and has a fair old emphasis on resurrecting units in the heat of battle.

Good-looking and high-quality, with plenty of delightfully gruesome monsters to behold and slay, but do expect to be involved for each and every moment of its gory fights, not sitting back to soak it all in.

Tiny Echo

($7.99/£6.25)

Samorost-esque hand-drawn puzzler/chillout zone from Might & Delight, but where Samorost likes to go weird this opts for ambience. It’s gorgeous to behold, wandering calmly through a series of wonderful places, with an equally low-key soundtrack (which at times sounds like incidental Twin Peaks music). The puzzles flicker between simply seeing and doing as you wander and a certain element of mild deduction and backtracking, but it’s never arduous. It’s also wordless, and how much it communicates without ever speaking is remarkable.

A game you play for mood and tone more than anything like challenge, and it’s packed with small details and animations that really hit that living cartoon feel.

BlobCat

($9.99/£6.99)

Neat-o puzzler with a touch of sneaky programming to it. You have indirect control of a mouse which is attempting to safely reach its mousehole without being caught by one of the titular, blobular cats, who roll around the levels like feline takes on those giant death-balloons from The Prisoner. However, the mouse also rolls, helplessly colliding with walls and reversing direction, or tumbling straight into the cats’ path. To counter this, you can place a limited number of movement commands onto the levels tiles. If the mouse rolls into an up arrow, it’ll change direction to move upwards, if it hits a left arrow it’ll turn left, and so forth. So it’s a matter of figuring out the quickest route to the exit with minimal commands placed, and also factoring in the hungry movements of the cats.

Simple but ingenious, managing to use a slightly different sector of my brain from the average puzzler, and it uses the ol’ mobile game structure of star ratings depending on your speed and efficiency in order to motivate you to better yourself.

And finally, it’s time for Pick Of The Week. In all honesty, nothing super-super grabbed me from the latest selection, so apologies for no full-force enthusiasm, but I reckon the game I’m most likely to return to from this crop is Fist’s Elimination Tower. The controls need a little tightening up, but the concept of a large but finite pool of ‘contestants’, each one different but loads potentially squandered in the space of a single, five-second level, is a fascinating rethink of the concept of lives and permadeath, and lends with a new and weird form of tension.

28 Comments

  1. Nimdok says:

    About damn time someone ripped off ChuChu Rocket.

  2. kyatt says:

    Oh wow, thanks – this is quite the honor!

    To clarify the bouncing, Fist’s Elimination Tower follows Mario bouncing rules, so if you press the jump button mid-air and hold it while making contact with the next enemy, it’ll do the bounce. Sorry about that; I do need to figure out a more concise and non-trademark-infringing way of conveying that to the player.

  3. heretic says:

    That Tiny Echo looks nice – wishlisted

  4. KDR_11k says:

    Organic enemies are pretty standard in shmups, it’s notable when the last level does not attempt to channel Giger or Cronenberg.

  5. CmdrCrunchy says:

    Andromeda Wing appears to be not so much ‘Bitmap Bros-esque’ as almost a literal remake of Xenon 2.

    Which means I’m almost definitely going to buy it.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      I’m puzzled by the name. If they haven’t called it Xenon 2 Remastered because they haven’t got the rights and are trying to hide that they made a direct duplicate of an existing game, I’m definitely not buying it.

    • BrillBill says:

      Its a rip-off pure and simple. They don’t want to seem to discuss the similarities on their Steam page as my post was just deleted… Even the updated graphics look very similar to the Bitmap Brothers attempt at a remake, Xennon 2000.

  6. Tony M says:

    I’ll definitely check out Andromeda Wing. Anytime I see that kind of screenshot I assume its a game in the “Bullet Hell” arcade genre, so I stay away. But I’d love to play more games that are closer to Xenon 2 in design.

    Does anyone have more recommendations for games I could try that are in that space?

  7. April March says:

    I don’t get it. In Fist’s Elimination, do different contestants have different abilities or not?

    • kyatt says:

      All contestant changes are cosmetic, although I somehow find myself playing better when one of the horses shows up (maybe because I don’t like losing them).

  8. Throwback says:

    Some of these games sound amazing. Deadhold and BlobCat in particular.

  9. Traipse says:

    You had me at “Myth sequel”. Deadhold, I’m yours!

  10. Harlaw says:

    Heads-up to any Humble Monthly subscribers – if you bought the June bundle, your Humble library contains a DRM-free copy of Tiny Echo. :)

  11. Avioto says:

    I was hoping this would include X-Morph: Defense, but maybe it came out too late for this feature.

    It’s a really fun mix of tower defense and top down shooter.

    Tiny Echo is going on the wishlist. Apparently it’s really short, so I’ll probably wait for a sale.

  12. GameOverMan says:

    The level shown in the Andromeda Wing’s video reminds me of the C64/Amiga/ST game Phobia, in vertical scrolling form.

  13. Foosnark says:

    I was just thinking last night, as I started tooling around at random at the rally school in Dirt 4, how much I missed the Tony Hawk games. On A Roll looks like good fun.

  14. fiendling says:

    Deadhold looks fantastic, I’m buying this immediately.

  15. UnConsolable says:

    So about that trailer for On a Roll.
    Anyone else get any weird vibes? Like Blue Jam type vibes? The game looks sorta wonky, the voices seemed a bit dreamy and (at half speed) the couch shots looked less like ‘faux interviews’ than they did parodies of psychiatric interviews.

  16. TheBetterStory says:

    Tiny Echo looks so charming!

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