Monthly Column – August 2021 Top Hidden Steam Gems
As summer gives way to autumn and the leaves start to fall, enjoy a quick return to the seed-gathering and flower-picking days of spring before the harvest season. Our latest collection of underrated Steam games all feature seeds, flowers, and other gardening themes (green thumb not required):
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a sort of Noah’s Ark for plants, a storage center in the remote arctic – rather like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude – with seed samples for over a million different crops.
People call it the Doomsday Vault, and it’s the inspiration for the game of the same name, set in a future ravaged by climate change and bereft of plant life. You’ll foray out from your vault to explore flooded malls and abandoned wastelands, installing carbon-eating air filters to restore balance to the atmosphere and hunting for rare viable seeds.
Despite a premise that’s equal parts Silent Running – complete with electronic ambient score – and pessimistic near-future prediction, the game itself isn’t nearly as bleak as it sounds. The exploration sections are fun, with solid environmental puzzles and plenty of hidden treasures to dig up.
Also adding lightheartedness: your protagonist’s robotic suit, which has an adorable waddle and loads of cosmetic options to play with, ranging from the standard mute grays-and-blues of ‘70s science fiction to neon camouflage and wild psychedelic patterns. And the more seeds you find, crops you grow, and carbon eaters you install, the wilder the patterns and cosmetic accessories you unlock.
Add to that a variety of additional game modes, like races and survival challenges complete with leaderboards, and you’ve got a game that’s more than the sum of its parts and manages to combine casual fun with topical thoughtfulness.
Seed of Life
Another seed-themed game, Seed of Life is a third-person action adventure with a science-fantasy setting that borrows more than a little from anime, both in its voice-acting and its story of a young girl tasked with recovering a mythical seed and thus restoring the life force (called “lumia” here) to her dying world.
The mechanics are decent enough, and protagonist Cora’s twin stores of constantly depleting health and lumia – used to power special abilities necessary to fully explore the world – helps to ratchet up the tension and forces the player to carefully plot out each excursion from the pedestals that serve as both safe spaces and save points.
But the environmental puzzles and the occasionally awkward jump sequences aren’t really the reason to play this. Instead, it’s the incredible environments, half Studio Ghibli wonderland and half Wayne Barlowe strangeness. From shimmering flower patches to giant, life-sucking coral-like creatures, developers Madlight have given us a world worth getting lost in whether or not we get around to actually saving it.
by Alexey Toropov
Gather flowers on one of the planets orbiting Fomalhaut in this puzzle platformer. Fomalhaut Flowers is yet another side-scroller inspired by Limbo, as is evident by its minimalist, mostly monochromatic presentation, though the pastel backgrounds are more sunset than spooky.
Combined with a floaty jump, said pastel sunsets make this game feel contemplative, though there are definitely some difficulty spikes, both metaphorical and literal, not to mention buzzsaws and several floating, bouncing enemies. Fortunately, levels are short and resets quick, making this one compulsive instead of frustrating.
Bacterial Bonus Round:
PHYSARUM: Slime Mold Simulator
by Ka Hin Yuen
Slime molds aren’t technically plants – they’re actually collective blobs of single-celled organisms akin to bacteria or plankton – but that’s all right because PHYSARUM: Slime Mold Simulator isn’t technically a game. It’s more a visual toy, like the old web-based sand-and-water simulators, but far more complex.
While it actually does model the growth patterns of the physarum polycephalum slime mold – by the hundreds of thousands, in fact – this is really all about playing around with parameters and creating wild visual effects. Very relaxing, especially with the accompanying ambient piano score, this one is recommended for fans of biology and psychedelia alike.