Monthly Column – March 2019 Top 3 Curiosities
Steam put out loads of smart video games in March that put unique twists on familiar favorites, like the samurai revenge tale or the haunted-house-but-in-space horror episode.
Here are a few of my favorites:
by Eteru Studio
A little bit Aliens and a little bit Event Horizon, this is a 2D puzzle set on a mysteriously abandoned – aren’t they all? – space station. Void Mine has some distinct features that set it apart from your typical science fiction horror jaunt, though.
For one, it’s got a realistic take on zero gravity, instead of just letting you walk around like you would on earth for no reason. Lots of puzzles – and hazards – result from being careless and picking up too much velocity.
You can’t rush your way through this one, or you’ll end up crashing into a pile of crates, cracking your helmet, and then slowly suffocating as your oxygen supply leaks out of your suit.
That brings me to the other thing Void Mine does so well: its sense of pacing is perfect.
It might feel artificially slow at first for people more used to hardcore platformers or FPS action, but the deliberate movement constraints and the sense of imminent danger from around every corner from the station’s crumbling equipment – not to mention a soundtrack so minimal I wasn’t sure it was even there half the time – had me so on edge that I was completely sucked into the game’s story before the more overt horror elements even started to make an appearance.
The Path to Die
by Cat Logic Games
Come for the beautifully rendered environments, conjuring the violent mystique of feudal Japan, and stay for the innovative – if initially off-putting – control scheme.
The Path to Die is a top-down slasher, like Hotline Miami by way of chambara films, and while its story of a lone samurai seeking vengeance on the rival clan that slaughtered his family floats deep in the expected atmosphere, it’s the actual sword-swinging action that makes this such a memorable game.
Requiring a control pad – apparently, keyboard support has been added, but I can’t imagine how it would work – the game sees you using one stick to move and the other to control your sword, delivering thrusts, backhand slashes and overhand deathblows with various spins and twists of the stick.
I haven’t gotten very good yet, but Cat Logic Games nail an often unsung mark of genius game design by making dying as much fun as winning. I haven’t laughed this hard at my own failures since blowing up my Kerbal Space Program rockets while they were still on the landing pad.
Successor of the Moon
A nice little side-scrolling action RPG in the vein of the Momodora series (plus a touch of Nintendo classics like Faxanadu and the ever-present Castlevania), this game puts you in the ceremonial robes of a traveling warrior priestess.
Tight controls and beautiful, anime-inspired pixel art – I particularly like the way the main character’s sleeves billow in the wind during jumps – more than make up for the occasional translation error.
Priced at around two dollars, this is a huge bargain; I had more fun with Successor of the Moon than any number of other side-scrollers that cost quintuple what publisher SakuraGame is currently charging.
There were also loads of free games released on Steam last month – ranging from surreal puzzles to high-speed science fiction parkour – and more than a few of them are worth a look:
by Myshkin Entertainment
Song Animals is a weird little puzzler that feels a tiny bit like a more primitive version of an Amanita Design offering. To solve environmental puzzles, you’ll accumulate a little menagerie of…things (mostly animals, starting with a sort of buffalo-looking thing, but there’s a sort of cherub in there, too).
You’ll also collect mushrooms, each of which is also a short musical phrase. Learn the “song” attached to each obstacle, play it back, and move on.
A big part of the appeal is the art: blotchy Eric Carl-influenced environments trod upon by animals that look as though a young child drew them with a felt-tipped pen. It elevates what would otherwise be a simple puzzle game to a far more memorable and surreal experience.
When the Darkness Comes
Some of the most effectively unsettling breaking of the fourth wall since Doki Doki Literature Club, but this time around it’s a deconstruction of the so-called “walking simulator” rather than the visual novel.
The less said about this, the fewer spoilers I’ll accidentally reveal, but I found it to be an effective use of the language of “video game design” to explore depression and anxiety, and the developer’s use of his own voice adds a human element that renders the game’s more hostile bits all the more perturbing.
Hard Light Vector
by Actually a Game Company
Hard Light Vector is a fast-paced, bite-sized 3D action platformer with some definite parkour flavor – expect lots of grappling, swinging and jumping across dizzying heights and even more dizzying abysses.
It’s a free game from a tiny studio, so don’t expect the polish or big budget effects of Mirror’s Edge or Cloudbuilt, but if you enjoyed those and are craving more science fiction free-running, this will make a worthy addition to your collection.