Unknown Pleasures: 5 fine forms of fun from Steam

 Death, taxes, idiots congregating in doorways, and the best new Steam games.

Revolution! Rise up, comrades, and join me, your mighty new host of Unknown Pleasures! No more shall we labour in the asset flip mines. Our days of languishing in the fields of the Plunkbat clone are over. Never again shall we line the trenches of pages 1 through 7 of the new releases list. Well, I will, obviously.

The first question for the new regime: What are the best new games on Steam that you may have missed over the winter holidays?

Golden Hornet

"best new Steam releases" -dead -space -star -waifu -rogue

A twin-stick shooter that, unusually, feels and plays like the retro games it’s based on, but without all the clunky bits that even the best of them mysteriously acquired in the last few decades. Somewhere between Defender and Choplifter lies your attack helicopter, flitting about to blast down hostile jets, choppers, tanks, and charmingly tiny soldiers. When the coast is reasonably clear, it’s time to land so your own small human friends can jump aboard for you to drop back at base – but be careful, as if too many of them fall to enemy fire, you’re out. Blow up all the targets and/or rescue enough dudes and you move along a level in the campaign, or the next wave of the arcade mode.

It’s fast, energetic, and challenging without ever feeling overwhelming, with endlessly satisfying sounds and a simple but fun arsenal of weapons. A controller is noticeably better, but not necessary.

Golden Hornet even has a retro financial model, as it’s available for free, but also listed as donationware, should you wish to help developer Hijong Park along. Lovely stuff, and solid proof of something argumentative about old games that I’ve forgotten midway through a sentence because I too am old.

£11.39/$14.99, early access

Billing itself as an FPS from a parallel dimension where the genre took a different course to ours, this one is selling itself a tad short. Bear with me for a sentence or two, because I promise it gets better. Revulsion is a retro-ish roguelike/lite/lykke FPS with blocky Minecraft-style zombies, and crafting. Frankly, I was quite willing to dislike it on principle, but while on paper it’s just a collection of fads, in fact it’s well on its way to being something special.

A rough start sees you facing down a few clutches of zombies (each of which can do you in quite quickly) with a terrible gun, bizarrely slow bullets, and a knife approximately 3mm long. With one foot in survival horror, another in levelled crafting RPGs, and a troubling mutant third in Doom/Quake style retro shooting, it’s difficult to know quite how you should behave in a fight. But this soon passes, leaving behind a skillfully balanced game in tune with both the crafty-collecty zeitgeist and the naked monster-blasting fun of the early 90s.

Where it needs a bit of work is in its Dark Souls-ish treatment of death. The massive “YOU DIED” screen is unskippable (it’s only a few seconds, but at the exact moment when you’re most likely to be furious, seconds become hours), and forces you to retrieve inventory from your last corpse. Combined with occasional jumping puzzles, instant-kill drops, and a measly single save slot that’s inaccessible outside rare safety zones, this could render irritating an otherwise excellent time. It just doesn’t match the tone.

Purrfect Date

There’s probably a way to segue into this, but to hell with it: Purrfect Date is a visual novel / dating sim about romancing cats. Naturally, Hatoful Boyfriend comes to mind, but this is no cheap knock-off; it’s one of the most charmingly silly games I can think of.

The newest of a crew of researchers based on Cat Island, you stumble into mysterious happenings and develop the ability to communicate with the local cats. They ask for your help in figuring out what’s going on, and they go on dates with you, because videogames. It’s flirty and charming and sweet rather than erotic. It’s sincere enough to be substantial, but self-aware enough to keep up the levity and walk the line between po-faced and smugly “ironic”.

The artwork is bright and colourful too, and a sorely needed change from the acres of godawful anime tity trash that litters the genre’s shores. What could have been generic dating sim garbage with a gimmick is instead one where a cackling Cat Devil materialises to yell at you for being stubborn, causing the player character to awkwardly confess that they’ve only ever loved David Bowie. Personality, see? You see, 99% of dating sims? YOU SEE?


It's not as demanding as it appears, nor as cold.

Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit’s Minimalist Puzzle Game of the Week!

Honestly, I wasn’t even planning this, it’s not my genre. Minimalist Puzzle Games are possibly a core function of the universe. This time it’s Hex-Up, a gentle affair about Ichabod Q Circleton, sworn avenger of the Roundlings and enemy of the Perpendiculon Emp… oh, fine. You’re a circle inside a shape made of hexagons. Clicking on an adjacent hex moves you there, and turns your previous hex grey, barring re-entry. Turning all the hexes grey solves the level, so the idea is to find a path that takes you across each hex precisely once.

Every few levels present a fresh hex with a new type of symbol which, when entered, causes another hex to move, or flip its colours, or become inaccessible, and so on. Later levels can look a tad daunting as a result, but Hex-Up does a solid job of introducing each without labouring the point, and its soothing soundtrack and animations keep frustration to a minimum. Restarts are instantaneous, there’s no mocking or judging you for messing up, and you can brute force it through trial and error or random clicking if you’re feeling lost. Competent, that’s the word.

Train Frontier Classic
£6.99/$9.99, early access

If you’re into the old model trains, there’s a fair chance you already know that Train Frontier Classic is a port of 2011’s Train Frontier Express on the XBOX 360. It’s a sandbox model train building game, and despite having precisely no interest in trains or models I couldn’t help but get caught up in it.

Unlike your average sim or even traditional builders, there’s practically no learning curve or difficulty. It’s a pure sandbox where you plonk down tracks, stations, buildings and scenery. That’s it. If you’re looking for a challenging campaign or some management, this has none. It’s just quiet, merry arranging of mountain tunnels, roads, and tiny people (though sadly no burned out car with a determined John Candy and Steve Martin). At any moment you can customise a train and have it pootle about on your tracks. You can also drive about in a car or on foot, or perch in the train-piloting cube yourself and admire your work as it rolls by.

It does exactly what it sets out to do, and as an early access title I’m hoping there’s still time to change the menus – items are laid out in one fiddly, long scrollbar, and roads aren’t half as co-operative as tracks, leading to noticeable clipping issues. Ideally, it’d be great to see this reach the kind of detail and extremely modular decoration seen in Planet Coaster, or the cosmetic modding scene of the Sims, but how many sticks does it take to reach the moon?

Pick of the week is glorious revolution, and Purrfect Date.

Admit it, you already knew it deep down.

I was in two minds as I suspect Revulsion will take off with a bigger and broader audience, but even if it winds up just a critical darling, Purrfect Date made me smile non-stop. All other games are hereby banned. And we’re changing the anthem to one about agricultural exports. And apples are now the property of the Regime. FOR FREEDOM.


  1. Ghostwise says:

    Revulsion looks kinda interesting, but lost me at the “NO HAND HOLDING” rah-rah he-man bit.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Aye, it’s odd because in game it actually does a good job of telling you how things work, and non-intrusively, too. Big screened monitors of concise tutorial text here and there that you can read or ignore as you like. The rough beginning isn’t sadistic or TRU GAMAR; it just takes a bit of getting used to (in particular, the very slow bullets plus the tendency for starter zombies to jig around). If anything it’s one of the better examples I’ve seen, especially for an early access game.

      • Ghostwise says:

        So it’s holding your hand but is in complete denial about it and really wants you to know that he’s not holding your hand *in that way* ?

        Games be weird, moço.

        • Sin Vega says:

          Not exactly, but it depends on your definition of hand holding. I’m guessing the dev interprets it negatively, as heavy tutorialising, scripted sequences, unskippable “do these exact things in this precise order or else” sections and the like. I don’t think it necessarily means just dumping players without any explanation – personally I think both approaches are equally irritating, and much prefer the middle ground, where the information is clear and present, but doesn’t get in the way.

          • MikoSquiz says:

            “Handholding” generally means keeping the player on a short leash and yanking them back whenever they look the wrong way for the first four or five hours of the game. Like with Navi yelling HEY LISTEN in your ear every time you should press a button.

            That commenter’s just permanently furious at anything they can think of, even if they have to make it up out of their imagination.

          • Ghostwise says:

            /scratches head. Yeah, if everybody’s got a different definition of “hand-holding” I can see how that would make for confusing communication. :-) Thanks for the further explanation.

            I also wish to thank MikoSquiz for making up angry nonsense in order to accuse me of making angry nonsense. We all need a little chuckle to get through the day, eh ?

  2. skeletortoise says:

    Top notch tags.

    • sharpmath says:

      Love when the alt-text is interesting. I think this makes 3 RPS’ers using it well and regularly.

      • mike69 says:

        As somebody that uses and works with assistive technologies I find it kind of irksome how they misuse alt text.

        It’s an accessibility feature so that people using screen readers and that might otherwise struggle with on screen imagery can understand the content. Not for jokes or captions. You can caption imagery if you want to, well, add captions to it. That’s not what alt text is for.

        So it’s un-semantic use of HTML and kind of obnoxious.

        It’s been pointed out to them before by other users so im guessing they don’t care, which is a shame, and given that most readers won’t even see the alt text it seems like an odd thing to abuse to me.

        • Sin Vega says:

          There are several fields for adding text to images, in order to do both. I made a point of filling in each when writing this post – each of the images above has a clear description for people using a screen reader. e.g. the description text for the Golden Hornet image reads “Screenshot of Golden Horde. The player’s chopper shoots at enemies while a little hostage shouts thanks.”.

          • FrumiousBandersnatch says:

            If you did that, then it got eaten by The System apparently. Looking at the source, every image on this page has an “alt” text, but none has a “title” text, which is precisely the wrong way of doing things. Alt is not and has never been intended for hovertext, just for the accessility/slow-internet replacement text that mike69 mentioned. “title” is for hovering witty remarks etc.

          • Einsammler says:

            That’s odd, when I inspect the image it has an alt and a title but they are both the witty statement.

          • FrumiousBandersnatch says:

            Odd indeed. Apparently the title tags get added via javascript while the alt tags are always there, whyever in the world one would do that. I can’t see the literal descriptions Sin mentioned in either of the two versions, maybe they too get added by js if the site recognises a screen reader? Javascript on screen readers, now that sounds unlikely. What a world to live in!

      • mike69 says:

        Although for what it’s worth I think the person you are replying to is refering to the article tags.

  3. Person of Interest says:

    My thoughts, in order:
    1. (sees author) Oh wow, a Sin Vega article on RPS, it’s my lucky day!
    2. (notices title) Oh no, I always end up buying whatever game she praises–and this article covers FIVE games?!
    3. (reads above-fold) Woohoo, Sin gets a regular column!
    4. … five more games I’ll covet EVERY WEEK :( :( :(

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      Pretty much my thought process. Love this column and Sin is delightful, so I’m quite happy and quite worried about my bank account.

    • April March says:

      Mine was a lot more concise:

      1) Hey, Sin is doing this column now, and they’ve got a brilliant taste in games! Hooray!
      2) Hey, Sin hates roguelikes. We’re never going to see them in this column again :C

  4. R. Totale says:

    Sin is short for Sinead?

    • NetharSpinos says:

      Consider me equally gobsmacked.

    • Crafter says:

      oh wow
      it is ?
      I thought it was some cringe-worthy made up name, color me embarrassed.

      • Sin Vega says:

        All names are made up, Crafter.

        • Crafter says:

          fair point :D

          To be more precise, ‘sin’ sounded like somebody chosing it because ‘I am so bad I am sin itself’. I can’t prevent my eyes from rolling while typing that, pretty painful.

          short for sinead makes way more sense :)

  5. NetharSpinos says:

    “Purrfect Date is a visual novel / dating sim about romancing cats. Naturally, Hatoful Boyfriend comes to mind”

    You didn’t think of Nekopara first? With the cats and everything? And the, er, romance?

    Honestly, now.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      I haven’t played Nekopara, but at a glance it looks like the standard vaguely creepy Japanese dating sim, except the girls have cat ears. Superficially similar, but I don’t see the open weirdness of either Hatoful Boyfriend or Purrfect Date.

  6. Snids says:

    Great to see you with a regular slot.
    Golden Hornet looks ace. Twin Stick Air Taxi + Defender. Also, tiny little men.

  7. malkav11 says:

    Purrfect Date looked so gloriously mad that I bought it sight unseen. Still haven’t played it but, well, one of the potential dates is named Floofybutt. So it WILL happen, dammit!

  8. Kollega says:

    A game where cats aren’t portrayed as monstrous megalomaniacal villains or otherwise total douchebags? What heresy is this?! The Martin Luther kind?

    Mock-surprise aside, I’ve never played a dating sim visual novel… buuuuut I might want to make an exception here. “Cats who aren’t douches/villains” is an altogether rare trope.

  9. cpt_freakout says:

    Like Kollega up here, I’ve never played a dating sim and the closest I’ve got to playing a visual novel is the Phoenix Wright series, but people’s enthusiasm over this, including yours, strikes me up as an opportunity to try flirting with some cats. Anyway, it’s great you got a regular column now, Sin!

  10. Tomo says:

    Revulsion looks a bit like what Strafe should’ve been, perhaps? Except less polished visuals.

  11. Tomo says:

    Also, as a Hexcells obsessive, thanks for pointing out Hex-Up! Sounds great.

    Love this column!