Monthly Column – May 2020 Top 3 Curiosities
What’s your speed? From frantic action to contemplative post-apocalyptic journeys, there’s an underrated Steam game for you!
Extra difficult, fast-paced side-scrolling games in the Ninja Gaiden vein aren’t necessarily my thing – no matter how graceful the jumping action, it’s hard to nail that balance between fun and frustrating – but Karma Knight nails it.
It helps that it’s a clear homage to my personal favorite classic of the genre – 1989’s Strider – but this one does everything right. The combat feels smooth and looks graceful. Even before you master the variety of combo attacks and spells, just mashing the attack button and jumping around makes you feel like a ninja.
And although the jumping sequences, laden with spikes and disappearing platforms, are brutal, judiciously placed save points and quick post-death recoveries give you the chance to keep trying without a lot of misery between attempts. When you do manage that series of wall-jumps without crashing into a single spike, it’s glorious!
The action alone sells this, but a setting combining space opera with Korean folklore is compelling as well. Unusual beings, like floating multi-headed spirits and blade-footed dancers, give Karma Knight a distinctive character that’s a far cry from the usual dragons, wizards and elves.
by Wings of Steel
Moving at the opposite pace, Hexterminate is an action game that’s so slow and cumbersome, it almost feels like an RTS. I mean that in a good way, though! This is a game about giant spaceships blowing each other up and crashing into each other in slow motion, so it’s natural that they maneuver more like cruise ships and less like sports cars.
Developer Wings of Steel has boiled down all of the cool stuff about grand space wars – from fleets of giant ships lobbing missiles and torpedoes at one another to the strategy of choosing which solar systems to invade – into a simple format that’s easy to grasp.
Even the between-battle ship upgrades are simplified, relying on a modular hex-based construction scheme that still offers plenty of creative freedom to customize your flagship.
Fun stuff, and it captures the sort of slow-motion chaos that I imagine a real-life fight between giant spaceships might look like.
by Zak Amana
Set in a post-apocalypse that emphasizes melancholy over violence, Moonfall pits its lonely band of travelers not against mutants or cannibals but against the very landscape itself: fiery windstorms, bone-chilling blizzards and ankle-twisting crevasses.
Though its turn-based isometric playing field is reminiscent of the battles in The Banner Saga, Moonfall strips everything down to a game of positioning. Each turn moves the group forward, so success becomes a matter of putting the right people in the right place at the right time in order to avoid hazards and gather supplies for the crafting system.
It’s a simple but compelling design approach that works well with the game’s themes of hopeful travelers in a dying world. Think Pyre but stripped down (and without the weird rugby game).
Gaming on a budget? Check out these free games that came out last month. Come to think of it, these are more than worth your attention even if you’re not on a budget!
Eira: Echoes of Adventure
by No Scope Studios
Eira: Echoes of Adventure takes the suck-and-blow mechanic of Slime Rancher and applies it to first-person puzzle-solving. As a steampunk treasure-hunter searching for your grandfather on a frozen alien planet, you’ll use your GalactiVac to build ice ramps and bridges, repair ladders and knock stalagmites out of your path.
The piano-driven score and a whimsical approach to environments that focuses more on snow’s shimmer than its ability to cause hypothermia keeps things on the fairly relaxing side, even if building giant ice bridges can occasionally be a bit of a chore.
Red Planet Farming
by Nina Demirjian, Sean Park, Sean Porio
Created by a team of recent graduates from the NYU Game Center, Red Planet Farming is a casual turn-based terraforming sim.
Between the pleasant sound effects, electronic ambient score and disarmingly simple approach to the complex task of keeping Martian colonists in arugula and potatoes, this one definitely falls on the mellower side, despite having to deal with dangers like dust storms and cold snaps wiping out your lettuce crops.
An engaging yet relaxing simulation. I just wish this one was available on Android so that I could play it in bed.