Monthly Column – September 2021 Top Hidden Steam Gems
Chunky, old-school pixel art has become an aesthetic, but the sky’s not even the limit in our latest collection of hidden Steam gems, which depict multiple worlds, galaxies…even universes!
These games might feature decades-old graphical inspirations, but that belies their scope. With big pixels come even bigger worlds to explore:
Nykra is exactly the kind of game I created the Column of Curiosities to celebrate: a flawed but fascinating project from a solo developer that’s clearly a labor of love – and sometimes frustration, as creator ENDESGA has openly discussed on Twitter and the game’s Steam page – and singular vision.
It’s also got more bugs than an anthill full of cockroaches, but it’s worth playing anyway for its lush low-fi pixel art and space opera world-building.
Calling to mind the more lighthearted sci-fi approach of films like The Fifth Element thanks to its amnesiac savior-of-the-universe protagonist and princess-turned-space-captain friend, ENDESGA himself has described the plot as “a 14-year-old’s sci-fi obsessive day dream,” and it definitely feels like that early on, as our hero’s disappearing mystical mentor flings rapid-fire jargon at us, but that self-effacing description sells this game short.
As the plot evolves, moving from spaceship to cyberpunk club to mysteriously abandoned science facilities overrun by other-dimensional virus monsters, it becomes compelling and even poignant, lightly touching on themes of trauma and self-image along with more epic parts about ancient alien technology and a danger threatening multiple universes.
It’s also beautiful; complaints about bugs are valid, but they’re more than worth putting up with to explore the universes ENDESGA has created.
Residual offers even smaller sprites and even bigger worlds, thanks to its procedurally generated planets. Created by one-man Dutch dev project OrangePixel and published by the venerable Apogee Entertainment – originally of Duke Nukem fame and now resurrected as an indie publisher – this survival and crafting game tasks players with exploring an alien world after a crash landing.
While comparisons to Terraria-inspired science fiction games like Starbound and Edge of Space are inevitable, the major difference is that there is no combat here, the emphasis instead being on exploration, discovery, and crafting.
This would make for a more contemplative experience, but for the presence of PDB, a talkative and wise-cracking drone that provides both crucial in-game details and comedic color commentary. (Whether you enjoy PDB’s presence will likely depend on whether or not you found Claptrap charming in the Borderlands series.)
Still, you can turn PDB’s volume off in the settings menu if you’re looking for a more meditative experience, and the lack of boss fights combined with the extensive world-building – literally – makes this one a must-play if you’re looking for a mellower survival game.
by debugChicken, daniserranu
In a dark future where the digital and physical worlds have become even more inextricably intertwined, viruses pose a far greater threat than merely wiping out your game collection or even your bank account; it’s up to only the bravest programmers to stop the threat.
It’s not the sort of world you’d expect to be depicted in Gameboy-style minimalism, nor for that matter via a neon pink color palette, but once you’re introduced to Rada, our bar-crawling, baseball bat-wielding hacker hero, it becomes instantly clear that Wirewalk()↳ is not your stereotypical cyberpunk game.
It is, on the other hand, almost irresistibly charming, with system-hacking represented as themed puzzle dungeons in the vein of the original top-down version of The Legend of Zelda. Another cue to this game’s whimsical take on things: the first system/dungeon to clear is a video game console…for a dog.