Unknown Pleasures: the best new indie games on Steam

best-new-steam-games

Welcome back to Unknown Pleasures, our weekly digest of hidden gems embedded into the vast mountain of new Steam releases over the past seven days.

This week: praying mantises gettin’ it on, 80s neon puzzling, obscure Russian Doom clones and the shmup where every enemy is your own past.

Dungeons Of Kremlin: Remastered

($3.99/£2.79)

Despite the name, this is not an American electoral system management simulation, but instead an unashamedly throwback FPS. Or so I thought: in fact, it’s a remake of a forgotten 1995 Doom clone from Russia. The fantasy theme makes it more Hexen than Doom, but so long as you don’t mind crossbows instead of guns, perhaps this’ll tick the box if you can’t afford or run Wolfenstein: The New One right now. Slip-slidey movement, big, chunky, mindless baddies, hidden passageways, ridiculous MIDI rawk soundtrack and all that good stuff, all upscaling very well to Big Resolutions.

Many games in the lower reaches of Steam try to accomplish such things, but few actually pull it off – perhaps because, unlike this, they weren’t created during that heyday. There’s plenty to pearl-clutch about here, such as the godawful writing and the lack of any save system whatsoever, but it does achieve that core element: it feels good and has bags of visual character.

Quantum Pilot

($4.99/£3.99)

A bullethell shmup with a killer twist: every one of those bullets is your own doing. Quantum Pilot’s excellent idea is that, whenever you kill an enemy, the next enemy that spawns will replicate the attack patterns you used. So, if you mindlessly filled the entire screen with laser fire, that’s what you’ve got coming right back at you a few moments later. The game tracks this across multiple kills, so you end up facing half a dozen mirrors of your former behaviour at once. To get far in Quantum Pilot, you have to both be incredibly judicious about how you move and when you fire in order to minimise the payback and effectively memorise your actions in order that you can second-guess a screenful of foes.

The presentation’s fairly dreary, but this is exceedingly clever and the gnawing sense of deja vu throughout gives it an ethereal quality despite the mounting intensity.

Nightmare Boy

($7.99/£6.99)

I very nearly kicked this one onto the Pile Of Shame due to a frankly hateful amount of unskippable intro text, but that would have been a mistake. This is a delightfully-illustrated platformer, somewhat in the Metroidvania corner but both more frantic and more accessible. Even if the story gets in the way a tad, the steady stream of wonderful monster art more than makes up for it. There are, I think, two types of suitable Halloween games: properly scary ones and ones that celebrate the innocent, monster-loving cheer of it without falling into cheese. Costume Quest’s a good example of the latter, and I think we can add Nightmare Boy to the list too.

This is a game that says monsters – both the dressing as and bashing thereof – are fun, but without actually making them cutesy or cloying. And again, it’s really pretty, occasionally wandering into an almost Cupheadish animation style, even if some of the main characters are little bit too Videogames for their own good.

Neo Angle

($0.99/£0.99)

It’s the end of the week, and that means it’s time for this week’s weekly Minimalist Puzzle Game Of The Week of the week, in this week, the 43rd week of the 52 weeks of the 52-week year 2017, which consists of 52 weeks, of which this is the 43rd week. Neo Angle is dripping with that 80s retro-neon style that’s either hugely in vogue or desperately tired, depending on who you ask, but in any case it doesn’t go overboard here. The synthy soundtrack didn’t need turning off after three minutes, and the electric hues of its cubes and triangles are a happy change of pace from the usual pastel palettes of MPOTW.

As for the puzzles ’emselves, they’re of the type where you have to figure out the correct path around abstract-shaped levels, but can’t double-back on yourself so have to avoid boxing yourself in. Efficiency of moves is all, but the Vice City vibe is such that it feels organic rather than mechanical. Just A Nice Thing to have on your screen.

Don’t Make Love

($6.99/£4.99)

Sage advice. Even more so given the specific subject matter here, which involves a male and a female praying mantis trying to decide whether or not they should get it on – both knowing that the almost inevitable result is Ms Mantis ripping the head right off Mr Mantis the moment the deed is done. Or… does it? Via extensive anthropomorphism, this is an extremely deep dive into a moral dilemma – and one with more than a little resonance for role-reversed human fears.

Choosing which character to play as, you manually type out responses, and alternately use expressions and physical gestures of affect to reassure, arouse or dissuade. This is, for both parties, a war between rationality and raging hormones, and I think we’ve all been there at some point in our lives. The text parser is pretty responsive, but conversations can loop a little, and you’ll often find yourself apparently thrown back to initial anxieties right when you were on the cusp of consummation (or abandonment) – but really, isn’t that true to the dilemma here? This is deft and thoughtful, where it could have been crass or cartoonish.

Pick of the week this week is…. let’s go with Don’t Make Love, actually. I’m always a sucker for games which seek to evoke one very specific thing, and this an extremely considered mingling of animal crackers and very human dilemmas.

10 Comments

  1. Pulstar says:

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    • AlishaDavey says:

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  2. April March says:

    There was a Molleindustria game about gun control that did the same thing as Quantum Boy – except it didn’t even tell you that, which was part of the point. I think it was called Good Guy With a Gun? Anyway, I still think it’s a good thing for good ideas to be reused in different genres. If Quantum Boy was a twin-sticker shooter I’d have bought it already.

    • Baines says:

      I know a few games have used a similar mechanic over the years, where copies of your previous actions become your current enemies.

      Extreme Exorcism literally makes it ghosts. You are a ghost hunter, fighting waves of ghosts. Each wave adds a new ghost, which copies the player’s actions of the previous wave.

  3. SavageTech says:

    And again, it’s really pretty, occasionally wandering into an almost Cupheadish animation style, even if some of the main characters are little bit too Videogames for their own good.

    I respectfully disagree.

    Cuphead is beautiful and conveys the distinct fluidity of early animation so perfectly that it would fit right in with the works it imitates. Everything is visually cohesive, and the palettes are varied while remaining true to an overall style.

    Nightmare Boy is a heinous mess that perfectly conveys why Flash is not considered the pinnacle of graphical achievement. It has no sense of cohesion beyond looking like a teenage boy’s notebook doodles come to life. The palette is just a sea of bright colors that fail to stand out against each other. And the animations? They literally look like Flash keyframe tweens. At 1:10 in the trailer above you can see the skeleton’s boot sliding around his ankle, clearly just hovering above it rather than attached to it in any meaningful way. The sound and speed of its movements indicate it’s supposed to be this hulking monstrosity groaning to life, but its movements are smooth and perfectly incremented.

    Like, if you enjoy the game and the graphics that’s fine, but the only way that Nightmare Boy would look like Cuphead is on a 320×240 monitor with CGA graphics.

    • syndrome says:

      “that perfectly conveys why Flash is not considered the pinnacle of graphical achievement”

      You do understand that Flash is perfectly capable of reproducing Photoshop quality imagery as well as Illustrator quality vector art featuring full transparency? And that it employs one of the best animation tools on the market?

      Now you wouldn’t want to call a Photoshop “hardly a pinnacle of graphical achievement” wouldn’t you? So silly.

      This mix up between the developer’s skill and a browser-based plugin technology that doesn’t feel as powerful as C++ is what killed it (it’s the browsers’ fault really, say hello to Microsoft, Apple, and Google who fought a war for 10+ years to push Flash out of the scene).

      Flash is a marvellous technology that introduced slick animated interfaces to the world, and let more intuitive design for human interaction to appear, while it also opened many doors for the indie scene to emerge. Not to mention the browser experience, for better or for worse, as there was always a wide spectrum of those who tackled something that actually needed true programmers, not just web charlatans. This was a hardcore business error on Adobe’s part.

      The entire coding suite is free of charge and ActionScript is far superior to any Javascript or similar, and a vastly better language than a programmer could ever wish for (in 2017 mind you). There are even non-proprietary players for the purists out there, and the project to natively support the Adobe’s was never adopted by the mainstream corporations.

      Stop thinking with someone else’s brain. Enough with the shallowness.

      Learn what Flash is before you repeat the politicized and almost completely untrue sentiment about it.

      There are people who spam this forum with incessant “I’ve earned a 1M bucks yesterday” yet you never seem to consider Python or PHP as poor technologies.

      • jgthespy says:

        Let it go, man. It’s over. If it were actually worth keeping around, the great browser conspiracy to kill it would have never happened. Flash was good for its time but it deserved to die.

  4. Kitsunin says:

    Don’t Make Love is great. We just decided to take a big step in a relationship of my own, and the head-eating metaphor is brilliantly accurate in a lot of ways.

    • Kitsunin says:

      I will say, however, that it was $4 on the Taiwanese store, where I bought it. $7 seems a bit steep for what is a pretty simple, short experience. But I suppose it’s an extremely niche little game, so they need to make up for that somehow.

      Probably still worth the $7 though. It made me self-reflect and might possibly even help me better myself, which isn’t something you can say about many games.

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