Unknown Pleasures: the best new Steam games you haven’t heard of


Welcome back to Unknown Pleasures, our weekly* search for five splendid but under-reported new games released on Steam over the past seven days.

This week: firelight survival, bootleg Podracing, Mario vs Super Crate Box, monkey-free Monkey Ball and lava lamp simulation.

*We’ve admittedly missed a couple of weeks of Unknown Pleasures recently. There’ll be one more of these ahead of Christmas, then the column will return at full-strength in 2018.



Star Wars Podracing (btw – Star Wars Episode 1: Pod Racer is one of the best Star Wars games, don’t @ me) meets endless runner. Your Wipeouty hover-racer speeds along canyons and through derelict industrial plants, with you handling steering and a limited boost which is recharged by driving very, very close to obstacles. The longer you live, the faster you get and the more threatened you are by an unseen pursuer that paints lasers on your back. If you don’t boost fast enough regularly enough, you get splatted – but you also get splatted if you hit a wall too fast.

So it’s a game of risk-balancing at speed. I winced initially at what appeared to be a heavy microtransaction system for ship ugpgrades, but it turns out you can’t actually buy anything – it’s all earned in games, with big in-game currency rewards to be had from levelling up and leaderboard placements. It’s not actually a multiplayer game, but you do get ranked after every attempt, and it’s up to you if you want to pursue that stuff or not.

It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s got racing hoverships and it just feels good, man. Though it does make the endlessly dunderheaded move of not letting you into graphics settings until you’ve had your first race, so you’ll have to suffer playing it in 1024×768 window at first. In terms of UI, it’s also very obviously a mobile port, but the race itself are both keyboard and pad friendly.



Super Crate Box-inspired arcade/shooter/platformer in which you’re locked in one room, bounding about and shooting/evading waves of enemies. New weapons spawn regularly, and you’re forever balancing ‘new thing!’ with ‘thing I know how to use well!’, but the main twist from Vlambeer’s similar game is that you can refill ammo by doing a Mario bounce onto an enemy’s head. As such, the biggest risk-reward loop is chancing close promixity in order to refill your current, favoured weapon, or hanging back and doing your best with whatever you end up with from the next weapon spawn.

But what I also like is that its Spectrum-style colour palette acts as an unlock system – manage to snag enough coins during the frenzy of jumping, shooting and permadeath and you can access a new scheme, in livid purple or toxic yellow, and so forth. It’s remarkable how different each palette makes the game. All told though, it’s familiar but deeply compulsive, and is its own game despite being so ostensibly similar to SCB.



Swimming Inside A Lava Lamp Simulator 2017, basically. It’s halfway between noodly-zen game and a sort of grappling hook puzzle. You’re a bubble in a world of bubbles, finding your way to one giant central bubble by tethering yourself to other bubbles that float along the approximate route to it. In other words, steer well clear of this if you’re ebulliophobic.

Pleasant music, shifting shapes and psychedelic colours make this one a treat for tired senses, though the control scheme – in which you target bubbles you float loosely around, and hold down left mouse to grapple towards them – is perhaps just a little bit more fiddly than the chill-out room ambience might suggest.



Super Monkey Ball by way of Trackmania, which is to say a game about rolling a jumping ball through hazardous abstract runs, as quickly and precisely as possible, but with the benefit of an instant restart button. The latter alone is enough to ensure you keep trying a tricky level rather than give up in despair at all the waiting every time you fail. The lo-texture, stark shape look is extremely striking, particularly when you get to trees and floating rock formations, and hey, you can even chose what colour your angular ball is.

The physics of rolling, jumping and momentum feel just right – and mastering them enables you to snag treasure during your high-speed run – but I must say that the camera leaves a lot to be desired. Will be just tickety-boo after a patch or two, I think. Strong soundtrack too.

Flame Of Memory


This War Of Mine-’em-up which a little more successful in terms of ambience than it is features, but it’s both a soothing and a stressful way to pass an evening. You control a pair of nameless, faceless, e’er-silhouetted survivors in a country invaded by an unspecified enemy, trying to stay alive in the woods. That means finding fuel for the fire, maintaining food and water, treating wounds and catching Zs as required, and the main mechanic for that is forays to far-off locations in search of supplies. When you do that, the game switches to become a sort of Inside-lite, a side-scrolling torch-evasion affair, taking shelter in the shadows.

It’s quite basic and looping in practice, but certainly not unpleasantly so – managing these lost people’s needs by firelight, to a sombre acoustic guitar soundtrack, even stirred a few STALKER memories in me.

Pick of the week this week is… I’ll go with Gunlock. I’m extremely conscious of the debt it owes to Vlambeer, but the combination of head-squashing and colour-unlocking gives it a vibe of its own. Most importantly, I didn’t want to stop playing.


  1. jusplathemus says:

    Polyball is seems like a new iteration of Marble Blast, just as Trine seemed like a new iteration of The Lost Vikings. Though I’m definitely not against using a base idea and expanding on it in a meaningful way that works, just noticing.
    Oh, and thanks for the article, I really like these ‘Unknown Pleasures’ series!

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      johannsebastianbach says:

      Oh boy, I fricking LOVED Marble Blast! It’s a shame they went the console exclusive road after Gold. I’d love to play anything that comes remotely close to these all time favorites of mine, will definitely try out Polyball!

    • poliovaccine says:

      Agreed – I think in general, too, games are one form of media which can afford to be more uniquely, directly iterative – i.e. with patches and sequels and remakes and expansions and spiritual successors – than most other forms of media. Their practical elements make it feel a lot more acceptable to, say, redo an old, well-loved idea but with a single twist, or crossed with a new and novel aesthetic. Stuff that might not fly in books or movies is absolutely the evolution of some games.

  2. cpt_freakout says:

    Breakneck seems like the Pod Racer fix I need. Thanks!

  3. Baines says:

    For a game that compares itself to Super Monkey Ball in its store description, I’m not seeing anything of Super Monkey Ball in either Polyball’s trailer or in a quick scan of Let’s Plays.

    I don’t mean just the stage design or goals, but also the (apparent) mechanics and controls. Super Monkey Ball was about tilting a stage so that gravity would move the ball, which is functionally different from just accelerating a ball directly. Similar goes for jumping, as the jumping in Polyball looks to just be the function of a jump button.

    Is there something that comes through in playing it that doesn’t come through in video form? Or is it just that both games use a rolling ball for the character.

    • quasiotter says:

      It’s not like Super Monkey Ball mechanically. It’s basically a racing/platforming game with a ball, where you steer it and press a button to jump.

      Momentum is a ball-rolling game where you move the entire course and use gravity to do its thing. The unique/sometimes annoying part about that is you can rotate the course 360 degrees (in fact, it’s required in some levels). I played the demo and it was pretty cool.

  4. Spider Jerusalem says:

    Was worried these had gone away. Glad to see it hasn’t!

  5. Martijn says:

    When I saw ‘Studio Monolith’ in the trailer for Polyball, I thought it was a smaller game by the Shadow of Mordor/War studio, but it seems to be another Studio Monolith. Confusing.

  6. ShrikeMalakim says:

    Breakneck reminds me an awful lot of Race the Sun but with more polish.

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      zapatapon says:

      My first thought too when watching the trailer.

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      Phasma Felis says:

      Ditto. Strafing rather than steering, enormously broad but hazard-packed course, struggling to stay ahead of implacable doom, daily challenges (and thus probably procedural generation)–yeah, it’s Race the Sun with a shiny coat of Sci-Fi replacing RtS’ lambent minimalism. Nothing wrong with that, really, but I don’t see the podracing influence in particular.

    • nottorp says:

      Yep, it’s definitely Race the Sun slightly improved.

  7. sagredo1632 says:

    Don’t know where else to be commenting this, but I’ve been playing a lot of Solar Settlers recently, and I think it’s a pity that RPS hasn’t covered a single release from BrainGoodGames. IMO they’ve created some of the best original board games to be released on the PC.