Monthly Column – July 2019 Top 3 Curiosities
It’s the middle of summer, and it’s too hot to move – or at least, it’s too hot to move very quickly.
Thus, this month’s top underrated indie game offerings are all turn-based, giving you plenty of time to think and fan yourself between moves:
To Battle!: Hell’s Crusade
by Filthy Peasant Games
To Battle!: Hell’s Crusade is a gloriously silly turn-based tactics game. Thematically, think of it as Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Army of Darkness done as a board game, and you’ll get the level of humor on display.
That said, it’s a solid tactics game, and the undoubtedly clean gentlemen at Filthy Peasant Games have nailed the board game feel right down to the individual units, complete with flimsy plastic bases that wobble a little after each move.
It’s got solid camera control, too, letting you view the hex-based boards from a bird’s eye view or zooming in on the grotesque enemy designs, which are heavily inspired by Hieronymous Bosch.
It’s also more difficult than you’d expect. This is a game loaded – or perhaps even overloaded – with jokes, but there’s nothing funny about the number of variables you’ll need to keep an eye on, from hex type to each unit’s perks and abilities, to keep your motley crusaders alive.
The humor is the potential deal-breaker here, and will heavily depend on your patience for stupid jokes and bad accents, but if the idea of Bosch and Brueghel paintings come to life as slapstick appeals to you, then you should definitely check this out.
The developers plan to make the demons playable in an upcoming update, which presumably will be even more hilarious and/or cringe-inducing.
Please the Gods
by Surma Games
Odin only knows how many games are out there about Viking mythology, so it’s exciting to see a game based on the folklore of Scandinavian’s similarly Northern neighbors, the Finnish people.
Ostensibly an RPG, Please the Gods features turn-based combat utilizing a board game-inspired dice pool, but apart from a comparatively small skill tree, there aren’t a ton of RPG elements like party or equipment management on display here.
Instead, Surma Games have put together a simple but flavorful survival adventure game. Think Oregon Trail by way of the Kalevala, complete with food management and the occasional stop to fish, hunt rabbits or gather berries (be careful if you go mushroom-picking, though).
The vintage feel extends to the simply animated art, though the monster designs are something else. The Finnish freshwater mermaid alone is frightening enough that I can’t believe Finns don’t avoid all bodies of water entirely. Better safe than sorry.
by Big AB Games
Another in a long list of programming games that simultaneously fascinate and frustrate me, Robo Instructus is a seemingly simple puzzle game about maneuvering a robot through various arrangements of tiles.
Unlike while True: learn(), for example, it ramps up the seriousness of the programming fast, introducing fairly complex concepts and numerical abstractions within the first couple of levels.
Adding to the complexity, levels often include multiple puzzles with different arrangements of tiles for your little programmable robot to navigate, and the program you write for that level needs to solve all of them.
Make no mistake: just because it’s a cute little robot instead of the simulated assembly language of TIS-100 doesn’t mean this isn’t a very serious programming game.
Free Eye Candy
There were also quite a few cool free offerings out on Steam in July. A couple of them stand out, not just for solid game mechanics but also for their distinct visual approaches:
by Team Atma
Created by students at French video game school Supinfo, this game is simply beautiful. It’s got a sort of mystical fairy tale story thing about a mystical guardian helping her dead lover pass into the next world and an interesting mixture of action and puzzles built around a “mantra” system that involves chaining different objects together, but it’s the Eastern-inspired environments that make this memorable.
When Europeans first visited India and Tibet, they brought back tales of Shambhala, a mythical kingdom that appears on both Hindu and Buddhist tradition. Imagine the flowery descriptions of that kingdom as animated by the team responsible for Hyper Light Drifter, and you’ll get an idea of the pixel art paradise of Atma.
It’s free, though, so much better to just play it for yourself.
Red Hot Vengeance
by Bros before Giraffes
Drawing on the top-down, stylized violence of the Hotline Miami games and SuperHot‘s color palette, Red Hot Vengeance is a simple but addictive action game about a hired killer. Smartly-designed levels – the first mission involves shooting your way through a subway train – and simple controls for targeting, switching weapons and reloading make this easy to pick up, while relentless, quick-on-the-draw enemies keep things challenging.
Again, though, it’s the visuals that make this sing. Instead of the neon-splashed madness of Hotline Miami, it’s all monochromatic except for the scarlet brilliance of spilled blood – like a whole game done in the style of the Max Payne promotional art. (It also reminded me of the brilliant, understated Walking Heavy.)