Welcome back to Unknown Pleasures, our weekly sift for lost gold amidst the fast-flowing waters of new Steam releases.
This week: typography shmups, comically exaggerated inventories, abstract jigsaws and CGA grindhouse shooters.
A visually striking, typography-based bullet hell shmup. The stark minimalism of a swarm of letters against a pure white or black background gives it an ambience usually lacking from the noise of your average shmup, the downside being that the shifting clouds of characters are so mesmerising that you'll get yourself killed watching 'em.
However, this is not simply a shmup with letters instead of bullets: you can't fire, but instead have to deliberately ram yourself into whatever letter currently matches your own character. I.e. you start as an A so have to find an A, at which point you transform into a B and need to find a B... Far, far easier said than done: even spotting the right letter amidst the swarm is a feat of observation, while actually reaching it without colliding with anything else and thus losing all your alpha-progress can be a true battle.
It's pretty great, actually. Beautiful and dangerous, like a Burmese cat with its paw stuck in the door.
This could have been majestic if it didn't suffer from quite such a chronic case of invisible wall syndrome. As it is, this walking simulator with the most walking simulator name ever is merely Exceedingly Pleasant. A parade of short vignettes in amazing places, each with their own broadly great soundtrack to set the mood. You walk onwards and, outside of a few fairly straightforward foresty sections, soon encounter some magnificent and surprising sight, then it's on to the next stage. That's it: that is all it needs. It is very pretty and sounds very lovely, and I feel better about everything when I play it. Until I hit another invisible wall and have to grind my way along its indiscernible barrier until I find the right path, anyway.
This is, if you'll pardon my Esperanto, so fucking cool. A gorgeous FPS that blurs a Hotline Miami palette with a grindhouse art style, a Quake-in-CGA aesthetic and a general vibe of lucid divebar nightmare, this was one that made me sit up and pay attention from the very first frame. Looks great, sounds great and, after feeling initially disappointed by the gunfeel, it also cruises into a slippy-slidy, double-jumpy form of combat that feels simultaneously surreal and brutal. The enemies are nasty in all the right ways, the weapons are straight out of some forgotten b-movie and the music sounds like that nightmare sex room out the back of the Roadhouse bar in Twin Peaks.
Cod-retro aesthetics are in severe danger of overuse right now, but jeez, this totally owns it, mutates it, then throws it out at you with an infinitely cocksure sneer. Yeah, the combat might be a bit sloppy, but I sure as shit don't give a shit about that. Genuinely, this feels both like a lost early 90s treasure and a real 2017 original. MIDNIGHT ULTRA.
It's the end of the week, which means it's the part of the week in which we run our weekly Unknown Pleasures weekly feature, in which every week we choose our Minimalist Puzzle Game Of The Week, and this week is no exception to all those other weeks. This week, our weekly Minimalist Puzzle Game Of The Week in this week, the 44th week of 2017 (during which there are 52 weeks in total - only eight weeks remain!) is this coloruful but ambient jigsaw affair - or, at least, that's what I've picked this week.
What perhaps sounds overly simple on paper - place and rotate puzzle pieces to complete a pretty, abstract picture - is both appropriately mesmeric and more brain-intensive than it appears in practice. I guess you'll understand from the video above whether it's for you or not, but I can attest to the fact that it's both engaging and calming. I particularly like the gentle gimmick that, whenever you complete a set of levels, you then have to rotate and combine the images that resulted from each into one larger image before you can progress to the next tier.
And yes, it has plinky-plonky music. Pretty much mandatory for MPOTW. It is, however, far too expensive (in terms of what the competition are doing, rather than 'value' per say), and I hope the devs see sense and slash it to under two bucks very soon.
Perfectly pleasant roguelike; I'm aware I'm damning with faint praise somewhat there, but sometimes a low-maintenance game like this is all you really want. Mostly mindless dungeoneering but with just enough requirement to actually pay attention that you don't feel like you're simply burning time, this is a tongue-in-cheek take on loot acquisition-based permadeath RPGs. Your character boasts a frankly silly number of inventory slots, plus a raft of attributes that verge on the meaningless, and as such the fun is collecting new gear as you roam around fighting things, and marvelling/puzzling over the wide array of buffs and debuffs each applies to you.
The only skill element really revolves around learning enemy types and devising a safer route to the exit if you're running low on health. You can almost but not quite play it on autopilot - and again, sometimes that's exactly what I want. It does it charmingly and slickly enough that this itch is perfectly well-scratched.
Pick of the week this week is... well, lest it weren't entirely obvious, I'm pretty damned starry-eyed about neon nightmare shooter Midnight Ultra. It's discounted to under two quid until Nov 7: that'll barely buy you half a pint of large these days, so you have NO EXCUSE.