Welcome back to Unknown Pleasures, our weekly round-up of the best overlooked new releases on Steam.
This week: choose your own trousers, Devil Daggers on a motorbike, forgotten rally classics and No Meow's Sky.
Quick housekeeping note: this actually started last week, though John and Adam had the reigns then as I was doing things on trains, but we're going to restrict Unknown Pleasures to 5 games from now on. Some weeks there are many more gems, other weeks it can be a bit of a battle, and I just don't want to fall into the habit of including stuff I don't quite believe in, purely to make up numbers. In other words: we're closer to creme de la creme now.
A latter-day follow-up to a fondly-remembered back-in-the-day Flash game, as was also the case for the recent and joyous West Of Loathing. Fancy Pants Adventure was and is a stick man plaformer with positively delightful animations and physics, and this new standalone version amps up the presentation and especially the scale while retaining that core essence. It's a treat just to make your character move, and to see scratchy enemies cross the sometimes dizzyingly wide land. Stuff like the only graphics option being to change the colour of your trousers is icing on the cake. That aside, I wouldn't argue it had anything like the wit or personality of fellow stickperson odyssey Loathing - but again this is about movement, not jokes or stories. Very lovely.
Bestest name and, it turns out, bestest game (for this week, anyway. Er, spoiler there, sorry.) It's billed as an endless runner crossed with a shmup and sure, it's that, but here's a better one: DEVIL DAGGERS ON A MOTORBIKE.
Except it's much more shmuppy and nothing like as hard, if I'm honest, but the spirit's there. Alice, our resident Daggers
doyenne badass motherfucker, complains that she lasted 150 seconds on her first go, and really it should be more like 15. Well, I got 50, so maybe I should stick to XCOM. But I really do dig this: partly because it's FAST and LOUD with a soundtrack that sounds like ENGINES and partly because it's got a single great twist on the usual survival wave shooter formula: you are being pursued throughout, a horde of cyber-things on your tail as you cruise down an infinite highway, ripped into dark clouds of smoke as you auto-laser 'em to death, your shock of neon hair unruffled throughout.
51p (it's currently on sale) extremely well spent, say I.
This week's Minimalist Puzzle Game Of The Week in this, the third week of September 2017, is this stately, physicsy affair. It's all about using weight to create momentum - specifically, set a ball rolling along one facet of the various abstract shapes each level presents you with in the hope that its force causes the whole construct to spin, thus depositing another ball held within it into a 'goal'.
Or, at least, that's the theory. Solutions exist in the hazy space between intuitive guesswork and absolute precision, and what that means is practice is a real sense of wonder when something you didn't expect to work works. 'How can I possibly do this?", I thought often, swiftly followed by "well, whaddayaknow?" Peaceful, simple and clever and made by someone with the kind of mind I most definitely do not possess myself.
Can I call this No Meow's Sky? It is, after all, an exploration/combat/trading game set in a galaxy made up of primarily procgen worlds (though it has pre-generated storyline ones too), and you're accompanied by a chatty feline AI at all times. It's definitely ploughing a similar furrow to NMS, but it's a whole lot more - in a positive sense - casual. Look around, scan and shoot some things, bit of mild platforming and resource-gathering and ship/character upgrading, but it's never intensive and is, altogether, rather sweet in nature. The acting's a little bit cloying, but tolerable, and the low-poly, almost spectral art style lends its planets a pleasant sense of wonder.
This is exactly the sort of well-done, heartfelt game which clearly involved an awful lot of work but which very sadly gets overlooked in this age of constant new releases.
Forgive me a little self-indulgence here, but seeing this pop up on the Steam news feed was a total...
...moment for me. Screamer 2, the Virgin-published 1996 rally title from still-active Italian studio Milestone, was the first and only racing game I ever truly loved. This was my Forza, my Gran Turismo, my Project Cars, my, for a few weeks in 1997, everything. Not too easy and not too hard, it was and, it transpires, is my absolute sweet spot for racing games: it's plausible that I can do well, but I do need to fight for it. I've remembered the 'England' circuit, all country lanes, hedgerows, castles and millstones, very fondly for decades, and I'm surprised and delighted to discover that its depiction software-rendered Super VGA-res 3D still holds up remarkably well even now. It's like Everybody's Gone To The Rapture: The Racing Game.
What I'm saying is that this is still a cracking wee racer, even twenty years on. I didn't in all honesty expect that to be the case, but by Jove it is. This re-release will never gain any traction, of course (that it's been available on GOG for a while longer doesn't help), but if you want an accessible yet still credible rally game, Screamer 2's still got it where it counts.
This week's pick of the week is... well, I already told you. Weren't you listening? It's SWARMRIDER OMEGA. Though I almost chose Screamer 2 on principle.