Hello and welcome to the source of all digital joy. It is, of course, Unknown Pleasures, where you can find some good games you may not have heard about.
Screeching a colourful stream of profanity this week: memory divers, demonic invasions, and solving a murder by killing hundreds of other people. Oh, games.
Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation
£15.49 / $19.99
Judd-g'ment is the sort of game I can see being disparaged, as it wouldn't have been out of place on Newgrounds. That'd be unfair though. It's a decent strategy game about managing apocalypse survivors. They gather resources, build a base, explore and search for other survivors. They don't fight sodding zombies, or mutants. This alone ought to be a tag on every game shop, but Judugument distinguishes itself a bit more by being about demons.
That adds a few possible explanations for the cataclysm. Your survivors work toward better technology, gaining access to an arcane research tree, and earning a few skills on the way. Each survivor has a profession that determines the activities at which they're most efficient, and the skills in which they can specialise.
Exploration leads to combat, as does growth and the passage of time. All this increases the threat of discovery from evil forces. The tension between expansion and caution feels about right, and it's oddly peaceful and relaxing despite the high stakes and gloomy setting. Probably because the combat is a tad workmanlike, so the focus falls more on the building.
£8.00 / $9.99
I reckon it's possible to talk about Hyperspace Dogfights without referencing Luftrausers, and... wait, damn.
You have an experimental jet with a powerful rotate and thrust engine, blasting swarms of lessers as you flip and turn and drift all over the place. Inertia and gravity and tricksy changes of direction must all be exploited to avoid counter-fire, your shields recharge as long as you're not firing, and you can also briefly jump out of corporeality to get out of a tight spot.
Unlike Luftrausers, weapons and such aren't unlocked via mini-achievements, but in the more traditional manner of buying them between levels. Oh yeah, and there are randomised levels with specific objectives instead of a single endless fight. This is a positive change, and adds more structure and variety. Instead of simple survival you get to assassinate specific enemies, protect a cargo ship, or fly through specific areas of the screen.
The downside is that it's far too random.
I've no idea what most items I bought even did, if anything, because you buy them blind, and no explanation is given*. Worse, most weapons I found were crap and/or clearly take lots of practice to use, which you won't get because they're only randomly available, and only by first using weapons that you're already good with, so why change?
Still damn fun though, and these problems would likely go away with enough practice. I strongly recommend switching off the awful shakycam and glitch effects, as it was borderline unplayable with them on. Fair play to the devs for including the option.
*Developers Sleeper Games have since updated the game to add tooltips to an optional level of detail, controller supports, and several dozen new items and weapons. Purse your lips and slowly nod.
£10.99 / $13.99
Being wary of escape rooms and adventure games, I'm surprised by how much I wanted to keep playing this one. You're Some Guy who wakes up in a crusty old prison cell in the nip. After puzzling your way out of the cell, you and a woman in the neighbouring cell meet up with four others, all mysteriously taken for unknown reasons.
Your captor is, of course, a sinister masked figure with Christian Bale Voice Syndrome. He insists you're all terrible people with secret shameful pasts, so there's nothing for it but to challenge you all to escape, or he'll kill one of you every hour.
Stonewall Penitentiary (it's probably not a reference) wisely plays up the mystery and shameful past angle far more than the usual repulsive torture porn one that drags most of these stories down. The uncertainties were just enough to keep me invested and gently roleplaying rather than second guessing outcomes. It's possible, for example, that the others, or most likely the first woman you meet, are in on the villain's plans. But either way I saw no point in lying to her, so I chose not to.
The puzzles were pitched about right, and justified by the setting. And for once the torchlight, constant greyness and murky atmosphere set the scene rather than beating me over the head with how spooooky and scaaaaary it was.
£9.99 / $12.99
An underwater cyberpunk action puzzler about tricking robots. While its plot is pretty dark (you're a young girl on the fringe of society, hunting down the president whose goons murdered your parents) it's light and pretty and pleasant to play, keeping the overall tone from getting caught up on itself. You view the world from above, as a series of square rooms joined by tunnels. A drone follows you everywhere and, depending on which apps you install, allows you to control, repel or generally mess with hostile robots.
Apps are bought or found knocking about the levels, and there are inevitable roguelike elements like paying for apps that won't even appear until your next playthrough, which I have mixed feelings about. But I get the impression that most, if not all the game could be completed even with the basic two apps. Indeed, a fair few rooms can be cleared without using apps at all, by using yourself as bait to draw robots into laser beams or passing trains.
Puzzles aren't my thing, but Subaeria blends them with action and light platforming to great effect. It can be a little tricky to gauge jump height and therefore timing, but it doesn't carry the gratuitous cruelty and punitive attitude that's in vogue these days, so this is a minor complaint.
£10.99 / $14.99
Not the documentary about John McTernan's home planet you might expect, but a free-roaming survival game that's easily the best I've played for this column. A lot of this comes down to its sheer oddness, which is nonetheless couched in systems that are easily recognised.
It doesn't stray all that far from the stock survival sim handbook (punch a tree, turn the tree into a pickaxe, and so on) but it fits that framework into a world full of oddities. Cartoony xenomorphs that drop acid when killed, bizarre frog creatures that flip athletically away from your blows, a faintly disturbing, giant sproingy boingy Zebedee creature who took advantage of my immediate evacuation to steal my workbench. Even before you start exploring in earnest (when you're still at the "eating these raw mushrooms probably won't make things much worse" stage) you might see a beam of light in the distance, hear a distant drumbeat, find an empty boxing ring just sitting there in the desert.
If you don't have a tool, you mine by headbutting rocks. Fishing can net you metallic fish to eat or break down into ingots. In between making shovels and gathering coal I discovered I could plant and cultivate raw meat.
It's familiar, so you never feel lost or alienated, just intrigued and mildly amused by the mysteries. The cartoony but still dangerous weirdness is certainly preferable to the crushing mundanity of most survival games.
Asemblance: Oversight [sic]
£7.19 / $9.99
Trippy but not too abstract memory mystery game. It has pretty much no set up at all and is all the better for it, as the premise is there in front of you. Which is all the more impressive given that it's a sequel and I didn't even realise until just now. Erk.
You're a researcher using a holodeck-style chamber to recreate and look into someone's memories. A catastrophic error occurs and almost all the data is lost, so you have to piece together what's going on based on a handful of memories. Rather than heavily scripted Sim Cameraman glorified cutscenes, these are tiny areas you walk around (absurdly slowly), with a few bits you can zoom in on to activate trippy, faintly disturbing fragments of other memories.
As you do this some sort of colleague keeps you posted on the work they're doing to keep "management" from finding out what's happening, and exhorting you to hurry before they shut you down.
It's not a horror story, but is spooky and sinister. A sort of offspring of Inception and Her Story, though very scaled down. It's small and there are very few environments, but the storytelling is impressively economical, to the point where its brevity becomes a strength.
The supervisor's voice reminds me of the armory guy from Enterprise, which I've recently discovered is Actually Good.
Far: Lone Sails
£11.39 / $14.99
I'm wavering about how exactly to recommend this one. It's not precisely an exploration game, as you can only ever go in one direction, but the only incentive is to see more of what lies ahead, so it sort of... is? It's not really a walking simulator for similar reasons, and it doesn't really have puzzles so much as bits where you're stopped dead and have to find a button or lever to proceed.
It is two main things: very interesting to look at, and satisfyingly mechanical. You are a tiny person operating a huge wheeled tank/home/landboat by pressing a few chunky buttons, which are often conspicuously red in the monochrome world. Drop combustible rubbish on a platform and press the nearby button to feed it into the engine. Slowly strain with your whole body to switch the engine on. Leap up in a mild panic to vent excess pressure. The chugging, clanking, hissing and rumbling all feel convincingly mechanical and tactile, and the sound of the rain thumping on the hull bring a lovely mix of melancholy and peace.
It's well-paced. An oddly calming experience for one in which you're very often spinning plates.
£15.90 / $19.90
Hell to the HELL yeah. A rhythm game all about creativity and play, that lets you enjoy and ride the beat instead of obsessing over pressing the exact correct buttons in the only acceptable order. Why are they ever not like this?
Floor Kids is about classic breaking to mostly old school funk beats (c/o some of Kid Koala's most accessible work), in which perfect accuracy is quite easy and of tertiary importance next to the flow and the fire and the fresh... look, I'm excited there's a great game about the hip hop spirit, alright?
Put it this way: it doesn't matter which exact buttons you press. What matters is that each button, flick, rotation of the stick (a controller is mandatory), or combination initiates a different move. All the moves are simple, and you don't even have to keep to a specific time, as long as you keep a time. It's mixing them up and finding your own style and mutilating a couple crowds along the way that counts. Like those impenetrable skateboarding games, but more accessible, and without the constant threat of brat rock or breadlocks.
£15.49 / $19.99
Stabby fantasy brawler with a Arkham-style, dodge-from-target-to-target type of fighting. Strong presentation, vivid and stylish visuals, and a decent plot that freshens up the end of the world and "evil tyrant vs rebels" standard by coming at them from a different angle. There are supposedly detective elements in there too, the difficulty of which can be emphasised in place of the combat, if you choose. The detective bits didn't reveal themselves in the short time I had, but if they turn out to be rubbish, the fighting is enough to carry it anyway.
You have to prevent the end of the world, which in an unexpected touch happens in the tutorial mission before you're sent back to the start of that day to find out what went wrong. To do this you must pick one of the two named characters you met earlier, who are on opposing sides.
Some of the furry-people's names are a bit on the nose. And I'm uncomfortably aware that as I chose to join the evil emperor's general, this is technically another game that had me killing rats. But at least they're armed, I suppose.
£5.79 / $7.99
Depending on your interpretation, this might constitute a return of the long-absent Minimalist Puzzle Game of the Week. Mirror Drop is a game that is usually simpler than it appears, as all you need to do is get a ball to sit inside each of the bubbles on each level. You achieve this by clicking on things, which lights them up and causes the ball to be attracted to them, a strategy which field testing suggests does not transfer well to attracting humans.
You can't move the ball directly, and the constituent parts (spheres, cubes, and huge featureless walls) are all exceedingly simple. But it's a tricky little puzzler that takes full advantage of its brain-tugging first person perspective. It's a little shameful how unaccustomed I am at thinking in three dimensions after half a lifetime of spaceship and FPS games, but there it is.
Its difficulty is about right - you'll stare at a level and poke about cluelessly from time to time, then suddenly the placing of that cube will make sense and you'll be done in no time. The gap between "aha, I know how to do this" and "I did it!" is a small, vital and often underlooked element of a good puzzle game.
It might also lead you a humiliating kinship with the best Crystal Maze contestant ever.
Pick of the Week: Floor Kids Floor Kids Floor Kids FLOOR KIDS
Aside from the tunes and the controls and the freedom, it regards the beat with the equal parts reverence and humour that it deserves, with good advice mixed with references to 70s martial arts flicks. The cheesy ones with their quests and destiny and philosophical waxing right up alongside that carefree, near childlike art.
It is, in a word, hip hop. It may only present one of the four elements, but the joy of expression and performance at the heart of it is what unites them. And I have been very well behaved and not even posted 30 pages of lyrics at you so I'm doing it you can't stop me theyl shoot me in the back of the head i dont care