Monthly Column – July 2020 Top Four Curiosities
July’s underrated Steam releases offer puzzles upon puzzles. Regardless of your reflexes and your logical abilities, if you live for the search for solutions, you’ll find something to scratch your itch in our list of the FOUR – count ‘em, FOUR – best underrated puzzle games released last month:
by God as a Cucumber
We’ve got environmental puzzles! Liquid Sunshine – among many, many other things – is an homage to one of my favorite puzzle games of all time: The Lost Vikings, originally released in the ‘90s and developed by the company that would go on to become Blizzard Entertainment.
The mechanics here are quite similar: work your way through environmental puzzles by switching between three characters with different abilities. One is agile and can jump and climb better than the rest, as well as squeezing into small spaces. Another is strong enough to push giant boulders, while the third can boost the other two, helping them climb and jump higher, as well as donkey-kicking the smallest across gaps.
The similarities end there, however, because the fascinatingly-named developers at God as a Cucumber are telling an entirely different story: The Jungle Book by way of Sin City, complete with comic-book cut-scenes, with three unlikely animal friends carrying off a honey heist and escaping from angry bears.
Except – excuse the spoiler – they’re actually three unemployed circus workers who’ve ripped off a criminal kingpin while high on LSD, hallucinating scenes from The Jungle Book.
It’s as bizarre as it sounds, and brilliant and stylish, skipping the expected “acid trip” Technicolor in favor of minimalist black-and-white illustrations. I’ll admit to being unsettled by some of the art – in particular the way that the “animal” characters still have human hands, but occasionally being unsettled is part of the point here, I think.
by Paper Atom
We’ve got logic puzzles! Dooria is a sort of two-sided logical tile puzzle: entering a door on one side affects the arrangement of doors on the other.
Offering very little hand-holding – developers Paper Atom won’t even tell you which key to press on the menu screen to start the game – Dooria is a set of puzzles where just figuring out the mechanics is a puzzle in and of itself.
I’ll confess that I still haven’t quite mastered the logic of this one, but Dooria doesn’t seem meant to be played at a rush, so I feel like I can keep coming back to it here and there between other things, letting my subconscious mind work on unraveling the knots of its puzzles – or rather picking the locks of its doors – in the meantime.
If I didn’t immediately grasp the game’s logic, I was instantly entranced by its atmosphere, the gentle ambient score and a graphic approach inspired by early 20th century Paris (plus character designs that seem inspired by Rene Magritte).
I may not have figured out all the paths its doorways lead through, but I don’t mind lingering for as long as it takes to map them.
by One More Dream Studios
We’ve got platforming puzzles! Like all good puzzle platformers, Ageless brings a unique central mechanic.
In this case, it’s a magical bow and arrow that can age or reverse-age its targets, and the developers at One More Dream Studios put this to great use throughout, from obvious solutions – reverse-aging a plant so you can pass by it or increasing its growth in order to climb up it – to more complicated ones.
And that’s just to start: your character quickly unlocks other powers, as well, like the ability to shift into an alternate “Ageless” dimension to borrow life force from plants and animals to activate super-powered dashes.
Ageless puts multiple mechanics to the test in a variety of environmental puzzles that require both skillful timing and thoughtful planning, and the pacing is near-perfect: difficult enough that you’ll constantly feel challenged, but gradual enough that you feel as though the game is encouraging you rather than torturing you.
Radical Rabbit Stew
We’ve got arcade puzzles! Radical Rabbit Stew is a series of single-screen, top-down action puzzles that manages to feel fresh despite relying on tried-and-true mechanics like whacking enemies and avoiding being whacked by enemies.
The basic goal is to knock all the rabbits into stew pots, which sounds simple enough, but pinball bumpers, gaps to fall through and some really clever level designs – plus power-ups like a longer spoon for whacking rabbits across gaps in the floor – result in a game that’s far more than the sum of its parts.
It’s also got loads of cartoon sound effects, and in the mocking rabbit butt-wiggle that you face upon failing a level, Pugstorm has also gifted us with perhaps the most frustrating video game fail-screen since the laughing dog in Duck Hunt.