It’s okay, I won’t tell nobody
This has become one of my favorite write-ups each year. You know that game that you love, but others don’t even seem to know what it is? You rant and rave about how intricate the design is, or how beautiful the game looks, but no one seems to be listening? This post is about those games. Games that we loved, yet didn’t see much conversation about.
Hopefully you got around to playing the games we’ve mentioned in the past, like those from 2015 and 2016. If not, we’re here to add even more to your backlog.
Behold the Kickmen
Available on: Steam
This is what you’d get if you took someone with a vague notion of what soccer is and told them to make a soccer videogame. While some may look at a single-player off-brand soccer game as a confusing waste of time, consider that this is the same developer behind The Swindle and Ben There, Dan That! so there is some seriously great pedigree here.
It also answers the age-old question of “what, exactly, is offside?” Turns out, the offside penalty is on a seemingly random timer and will red card players caught in the no-go zone when the timer reaches zero. Oh, now it makes more sense. It’s best to approach this with no expectations because they’ll likely be dashed rather quickly. This is a sports game for the people who refer to every game as “sports-ball” and not-so-cleverly refer to a touchdown as a “home run” and vice versa.
Zodiac Mall Ball
Available on: itch.io
This one is sort-of-cheating, since it was released on December 30, 2017. A couch multiplayer (only) game with some great talent behind it, Zodiac Mall Ball brings together much of what I enjoy. It’s got rollerblade movement, pin collecting, and style.
Players compete to collect a token that spawns around the map and deposit it to the mall gods. However, it’s also possible to deposit that token for a badass pin, and who doesn’t like pins? I have a handful of meaningful pins on my backpack and am excited when I find another one that deserves “backpack status.” My recent pins are from my first marathon, my first time snowboarding, and a very thoughtful gift from a student of mine. I love looking at my backpack and reliving all these moments.
Oh, right, Mall Ball. Anyway, the pins don’t get you points towards winning, but they do act as upgrades to things like speed or jump height. It’s an interesting risk/reward system at play — Do you invest in your future with pins, or go for the point, a tangible progression point towards victory? It’s a great addition to any couch multiplayer night.
Available on: Steam, Humble
Don’t want to wait for Spelunky 2? Get Caveblazers. It scratches that same itch yet differentiates itself from Spelunky enough to avoid feeling too same-y. The premise is the same: descend through the enemy-laden levels, surviving by being careful and not making silly mistakes. Caveblazers, however, has more RPG-esque equipment you can find with damage numbers and modifiers, making every run dramatically different.
You’ve got melee, ranged, and magic attacks at your disposal, all of which can be changed and modified with equipment drops. You may find a weapon that inflicts bleeding, or a bow that fires three arrows at once. Spells are (generally) on a cooldown and can vary wildly in function. It controls like a dream and gets excitingly difficult rather quickly. Be careful though, this game will suck you in and completely dominate your free time once you get started.
Oh, and did I mention it has local co-op? Because it does! The quickest way to my heart, for sure.
Fidel: Dungeon Rescue
Available on: Steam
Fidel: Dungeon Rescue is a very particular type of puzzle game. It’s a tile-based dungeon crawler that reminds me of Desktop Dungeons but on a much smaller scale. When I first saw the game, I immediately thought it was Ernesto, a game that I put on my 2015 indies list. Turns out, it is the same developer and really, the same idea! It looks like maybe Ernesto might have turned into this?
Here, you play as a dog. There’s no more to that talking point — you play as a dog! Levels are small but require a lot of planning in order to effectively complete. As you travel among the tiles, your path is drawn behind you and there’s no going over a tile you’ve already been on. Luckily, you can undo and redo things quickly, which allows you to fix your mistakes — even upon death.
If I have any gripe, it’s with the ghost that shows up after you take too long. Similar to Spelunky, this is put in place to keep players on an invisible time limit. I do wish I had infinite time to think of the best solution, but I guess that’s the game; it might be too easy without a time limit. Regardless, Fidel is just the type of game that I love to hop into whenever I’m feeling the need to solve some beautifully crafted puzzles.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
Available on: PlayStation 4, Steam, Xbox One
Price: $39.99 (Steam), $49.99 (consoles)
When I was in high school, my friends were always playing a game where if you could sneak up on someone from behind and get them in a headlock before they realized you were there, you win. This game is basically that, except you do it with three people at a time, coordinated across a battlefield. And you also usually stab the guy when you’re done.
It’s real-time stealth tactics, and it’s so satisfying when everything is executed perfectly. Each of the five different characters has different abilities. When they all come together simultaneously, it’s like a symphony orchestra of death.
Mages of Mystralia
Available on: PlayStation 4, Steam, Xbox One
Most games treat magic like a black box. You read a scroll, or you learn an ability, and then all you need to do is press a button and poof, magic. Mages of Mystralia gives players component behaviors for spells and allows those behaviors to be combined and permuted in order to produce a unique spell. It’s the most hands-on spellcrafting in video games.
The adventure in which that magic is used is a fairly standard (good) Zelda-like, but the real star is in the puzzle solving through creative spell production. Occasionally, one can bypass an area in ways that weren’t originally intended, because it’s possible to imagine a spell, set the right runes, and have it do what you wanted it to do.
Available on: Steam, Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, iOS, Android
Price: $9.99 (Android) $19.99 (everything else)
For years, fans of Nintendo’s stranger side have pined away for a funny, sad, heartfelt little game that is full of surprises. It takes place in a little town that exists in its own little world, far removed from the niceties of conventional society.
That may seem like a disadvantage at first, but that separation from the culture at large is what keeps the village so pure. Eventually, that purity is spoiled by the wild ambition of an egomaniac who’s passion for technology leads to the corruption of everything. By the time all is said and done, sibling will turn on sibling, a beloved parent will meet their end, and the very fabric of reality will be frayed beyond recognition.
I am, of course, talking about Mother 3, but everything I just said applies in equal measure to Thimbleweed Park. The latest point-and-click adventure from genre co-creator Ron Gilbert is a no-brainer purchase for fans of LucasArts classics like Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, and Zak McKraken, but it also has a lot to offer for fans of Nintendo’s most pined after RPG. It’s no surprise then that FanGamer, a group made up of Earthbound fans, would go on to create the official Thimbleweed Park box art and related merchandise. This one ended up flying under the radar for a lot of people, but it’s a safe recommendation for fans of imaginative comedy games.
Available on: Steam, Switch
GoNNER technically came out in 2016 but I didn’t play it until it was released on the Switch in 2017, and it’s become one of my favorite procedurally generated 2D action platformers ever. It’s less stressful than Spelunky, while offering just as much replayable joy and opportunity for high skill play. It’s also got the wall jump of Mega Man X, the satisfying shotgun of Metal Slug, the organic exploration of the original Metroid, and the Squigglevision of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.
If the game looked like a 1920’s cartoon, I have no doubt that it would have become a Cuphead-style hit, and I’m sure that there are still millions of people out there who would love GoNNER, were they to just give it a shot.
Available on: 3DS eShop, Mobile
You might argue choosing a game that originally released in 2014 for mobile for this list isn’t exactly fair and that I should instead be writing about the wonderful River City: Rival Showdown that quickly found its way into the bargain bin after it launched this past fall. Well, I would be but I only just received Rival Showdown so I’m not quite ready to gush about it as a whole. But Drancia Saga, which released to mobile more than three years ago and in Europe in 2016 on the 3DS, is one I’ve been meaning to gush about since last Spring.
Developed by Skipmore, Drancia Saga is a single screen action RPG that has me guiding a character back-and-forth, automatically attacking enemies as they go. The gameplay is stupid simple as I only have to worry about pointing my character in the right direction and jumping when necessary.
But in that simplicity is something engrossing. Drancia Saga plays like an arcade game I would have sunk rolls of quarters into growing up. Chaining attacks – that is, killing enemies without taking a hit – while dodging obstacles and projectiles requires skill and solid hand-eye coordination. I don’t need a lot of time, however, as the game only has eight levels. But with multiple playable characters – including Gunman Clive – and a high-score to chase, I always find a reason to come back to it whenever I had five or ten minutes of free time.
It’s not going to be anybody’s GOTY, but if they made a much more extensive sequel I’d be all over it in a heartbeat.
Old Man’s Journey
Available on: Steam, Mobile
Price: $7.99 (PC), $4.99 (Mobile)
Being on Destructoid, I have the unique opportunity to give smaller games a chance to shine with my reviews. When I saw the press release for Old Man’s Journey, I was compelled to give it a shot. It looked beautiful and the description sounded like something right up my alley. Some cursory research revealed only one other website had reviewed the title, so I knew what my mission was!
What I didn’t expect was for the game to blow me away. It certainly isn’t the greatest puzzle game ever conceived, but its effective use of imagery to convey a story without any dialogue really impressed me. I also just plain like low key puzzle adventures that test my mental fortitude more than my trigger finger.
Checking out SteamSpy, it looks like only around 15,000 people played the game, so chances are you didn’t try this. I would implore you to give it a look on either PC or mobile as the game is something I still think about from time to time.
Robo Panda Z
Available on Steam
Rakuen is a story about a young boy that lives in a hospital, who one day becomes capable of visiting the magical lands of his favorite book – and the journey he sets out on to have his wish granted.
What follows isn’t your standard RPG-Maker title. Developed by Laura Shigihara (the composer of To the Moon‘s soundtrack), Rakuen isn’t just a trip through mysterious lands. it’s a warming comedy, a lesson in empathy, and an allusion to certain major, real-world events. All tied together by a wonderful soundtrack. Given Shigihara’s work on To the Moon, you can expect the “feels” to flow freely, and without remorse.
Am I recommending it because one of the storylines involves bears? No, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Bears are wonderful.
(And while you’re at it, go play Finding Paradise – the follow-up title to To The Moon. I’m technically not allowed to recommend it because I haven’t played it, but screw it, go buy it, you’ll enjoy it, and cry your goddamn eyes out)
Tooth and Tail
Available on: Steam, PS4
I knew Tooth and Tail would do it for me from its first trailer. Pocketwatch Games’ real-time strategy title — in the vein of games such as Starcraft and Command & Conquer — is a scaled-down war sim telling the story of an ugly revolution set among countryside critters.
Taking class warfare elements ala Les Miserables, four cut-throat factions — all of whom are convinced their cause is “just” — battle it out for control of the ritualistic “Feast”, a lottery to decide who sits atop the food chain. Each faction, whether wealthy aristocracy or gutter-dwelling pauper, show elements of hypocrisy, jealousy and betrayal as they fight it out on the countryside battlefields.
Unlike some RTS titles, players do not control units. They instead control the faction leader, taking to the field themselves and guiding the grenade-tossing skunks, sharpshooting vixens and air-bombing owls. Though the gameplay is easy to pick up, the Story Mode is dang tough, but tells an intriguing tale of political upheaval, featuring a cast of dark-but-amusing characters. When you’re done having your furry little ass kicked by the CPU, you can go online and fight it out with other players. The Tooth & Tail mechanics generally keep online games fast-paced, so you don’t have to worry about settling in for a wrist-snapping two-hour war.
Tooth and Tail is a great time-killer, with nice artwork, a fantastic score and gameplay that’ll have you tearing down walls and overthrowing your oppressors in no time. Just try to remember where you came from when you do…