Monthly Column – Top Hidden Steam Gems
After last month’s collection of monochromatic mysteries, I just couldn’t get enough of these games with their deliberately simplified color schemes, so here are some more!
This time around, though, there’s a little less mystery and a lot more action; if your year is off to a stressful start, these hidden Steam gems won’t add to it. They’re easy to jump into, and whether it’s action or calm you’re looking for, you’ll find a little of each here:
by Squishy Games
Return of the Obra Dinn, which also happened to be one of our top 10 indie games of 2018, is a brilliant nautical mystery with a striking pixel-art graphical style. It really only has one flaw, which is that it isn’t Starship Troopers.
Washington devs Squishy Games have solved this glaring issue with Rogue Invader, a similarly striking 1-bit action piece about a lone soldier invading a planet of hostile aliens, fighting through them all, and taking out their king himself.
Essentially, this is a straight side-scrolling run-and-gun, done PC style, with the keyboard for motion and special actions and the mouse for shooting. As implied by the title, there are also some very light Rogue-light bits, like perma-death, random character traits, and the chance to carry over some progress between runs, in this case by beaming up newly discovered technology and loot to your home spaceship (on your first run, you literally start with a single pistol).
The action is solid, and there’s enough attention to tactical considerations like destructible cover to keep this from being a pure twitch-fest. Grenades are particularly satisfying.
The real joy of this one, though, comes from the fully-voiced cut-scenes, which combine the sort of over-the-top satire of Verhoeven’s film adaptation of Starship Troopers with more overt humor. The alien king, who provides occasional commentary, reminds me a lot of Handsome Jack’s taunts in Borderlands 2, in fact.
Hilarious enough that I laughed at several of my own characters’ deaths, a rare enough thing to be worth mentioning in any game, much less a Rogue-light.
Monochrome doesn’t have to be black and white; Adventure Rush goes for an all-green color scheme reminiscent of the original Gameboy, albeit in richer and more verdant tones.
The game itself is simple to the point of casual in its mechanics. While it looks like an old-school JRPG, complete with lots of rats and skeletons for grinding, it plays more like a side-scrolling shooter. Come to think of it, it’s even simpler than that, as the “shooting” – which also includes sword-swinging and the like, which works pretty much the same as shooting and just has a much shorter range – happens automatically, so all you have to do is guide your little wizard, knight, or adventure-hungry village boy.
Boss fights, additional side quests like killing a specific number of creatures or gathering a specific number of items, add complexity, as do randomly-appearing merchants. There are also tons of characters to unlock, each with slightly different play styles.
Easy to pick up, this one belies its seeming casualness and ends up being pretty compulsive and is definitely a nice addition if you’re a shooter fan that doesn’t always have the time, reflexes, or concentration to master modern bullet hell games.
A Visit to Friends
by Joel D.
If tons of gruesome slaughter – be it of homicidal aliens or fantasy monsters – still sounds like a bit too much stress, A Visit to Friends is a mellow simulation of pretty much exactly what the title says. Solo developer Joel D. has put together four mini-games that basically amount to visiting some friendly people and doing some favors for them.
Tasks range from prosaic – watering plants or helping a farmer collect her escaped chickens – to surreal, as in one mini-game that involves interpreting dreams and communicating with a ghost, but a laid-back chiptune score, simple black-and-white pixel art, and relaxed pace make this one soothing rather than stressful, for the most part, but there’s just enough implied weirdness to keep things interesting.