Hope your Christmas shopping is already done, because Steam's Winter Sale is liable to drain what remains of your holiday funds. No awful minigames like in summer - this sale's twist is a virtual advent calendar here, where you can click a door each day for a handful of Steam wallpapers, chat emoticons and holiday-themed fluff. Beyond that, users can cast their vote on the The Steam Awards nominees and get a fistful of trading cards for your effort. The sale ends on January 3rd, and I've got some personal stocking stuffers picked out below.
The Talos Principle by Croteam - 85% off, £4.49/€5.99/$5.99 or a little more for the Gold Edition, which includes an excellent expansion. Easily one of the best first-person puzzlers, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Portal. It tells an (admittedly rather serious) story about the nature of AI and consciousness and the philosophy tied to those concepts. It's also packed to the gills with brain-tickling spatial puzzles involving gadgets carefully placed to bypass or disable threats. Hard to believe something so smart is from the same studio as the gloriously dumb Serious Sam.
Puyo Puyo Tetris by Sonic Team - 33% off, £10.04/€13.39/$13.39. While those PlayStation folks are settling into a comfortable block-based trance with The Tetris Effect, don't forget this year's other puzzle gem. It's a mash-up of two genre favourites in a huge variety of modes and with a lengthy single player mode. Lots of competitive options too, and decent bots to play against. Even if you're not aiming to be a block-clearing genius, there's a huge amount of colourful, cheery meat on its bones to offset the small discount. Check out my review here, and Amr Al-Aaser's piece here.
Spark The Electric Jester by Feperd Games - 60% off, £2.31/€2.63/$3.19. Another featured by Amr Al-Aaser - it's one of the best things to come from the Sonic fan-game community outside of Sonic Mania. Familiar Sonic-like speed, but with more technical movement options and a shape-changing powerup system similar to Kirby. There's a huge number of environments, bosses and an absolutely stunning soundtrack. It also got a massive update this summer, fixing some major bugs, completely rewriting its story and adding a few new surprises. The developer is currently working on a full 3D sequel that I reckon looks better than most 3D Sonic games.
Copy Kitty by Nuclear Strawberry - 40% off, £6.83/€7.49/$8.99. One of the most consistently underrated and overlooked action games of the past few years, in my opinion. Under a slightly odd pre-rendered art style lies a huge, technical and wildly creative platform shooter with a little bit of Gunstar Heroes in its soul. In early access for ages and released earlier this year, it now has a level editor and a ton more levels in the Steam Workshop. It also has one of the best Hard modes I've ever seen - full remixed campaigns for both playable characters, continuing their story with new dialogue, art, music, bosses and more. If you trust my taste in action games, get this now.
CrossCode by Radical Fish Games - 25% off, £11.24/€14.99/$15. Khee Hoon Chan had a lot of nice things to say about this sprawling action-RPG in their review, but I still think that sells it short a bit. Channeling bits of Phantasy Star Online and the .Hack series, it's a Terranigma/Secret Of Mana-inspired game set within a Westworld-esque pseudo-virtual MMO. It is massive, it has great art and music, it has hyper-responsive controls, and charming dialogue. It also recently updated with some Celeste-styled accessibility options, allowing players to tune the intensity of its combat and puzzle parts (this has puzzles too - lots of them) separately. Not a big discount, but the game is quite new, and very long if you want to do all the side-quests.
For the record, the only correct option in the 'Most Fun With A Machine' award vote is Nier: Automata. Pick it, or 2B's going to clown on ya. Don't forget to shop around, either - the GOG, Humble and Itch winter sales are in full swing too. The Steam sale ends January 3rd.