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Unknown Pleasures: Steam's latest diamonds in the rough

Our weekly best of the rest

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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.

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Alec Meer

Senior Editor

Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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