Another year, another Steam Summer Sale. Here are my recs for this year. If you want to see my previous years’ pics you can check them out here.
You’ve likely heard of and possibly played this one, but I would encourage you to revisit it. This year I finally succumbed to the wonder of Spelunky. Created by Derek Yu, the game has the appearance of a simple platformer, but is a roguelike in disguise. This game is HARD. You’ll likely die during your first few seconds of play, but each death is a learning experience. Over time you learn the rules of each enemy and object and that you are not traveling a linear path. You have a lot of agency in how you play and win in Spelunky. As of this writing, there is only a handful of hours left on the Boss Fight Storybundle, a collection of books about popular games. Derek Yu’s book on Spelunky is a part of this, and I am currently reading it. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand a particular designer’s philosophy.
Battle Chef Brigade
Combining elements of Iron Chef with elves and orcs, and gameplay that is a mix of RPGs and simple matching puzzles, Battle Chef Brigade is a strange and ultimately fun creature. You play a young human chef who wants to compete in a prestigious cooking arena. This involves you traveling the capital city of your fantasy homeworld and taking on a variety of opponents. To beat them you’ll need to gather unique ingredients and tools that affect the layout of your pieces in each puzzle. On top of that, you’ll have to rush out of the arena to hunt for additional ingredients in the hopes of making a stellar dish that will beat your rival. If you enjoy the whimsical magic of Studio Ghibli, then I think you’ll love this game.
A Hat in Time
For a lot of fans, Yooka Laylee was a colossal disappointment. It didn’t live up to the fun of Banjo Kazooie and other early N64 3d platformers. A Hat in Time is the sleeper platformer you’ve been looking for. You play Hat Girl, a small child traveling through outer space in a hat spaceship. She runs out of her vessel’s fuel and must make stops of nearby planets to gather more. Along the way, she collects new hats that give her special new abilities. Like Banjo, there are tons of secrets and replayability of levels to be had. A Hat in Time has an incredibly weird sense of humor which is its chief charm. There is a nemesis that pops up early on named Mustache Girl who adds to the strangeness. The game will only take you about 11 hours to complete and will keep you entertained.
If you are a fan of Netflix’s Stranger Things, then this is a game to satisfying your need for those vaporwave 80s sensibilities. Crossing Souls looks like classics of the early video gaming era like Legends of Zelda or Zombies Ate My Neighbors! and feels like you’re getting to play The Goonies or Stand By Me. You’re in control of a group of friends investigating the strangeness surrounding your small town and can switch in between friends, each of whom has unique abilities that will be needed to solve puzzles and defeat enemies. This is a very challenging game though and mastering each character’s powers and knowing when to use them can be frustrating at times. The look and feel of the game are enough of encouragement though to keep you playing.
The world of Hob, like so many in video games, has become infected by a purplish glowing blight. The nameless hero is guided by a kindly robot to defeat this evil, but that isn’t until after our protagonist has their arm infected, amputated, and replaced with a powerful weapon/tool. This all plays out wordlessly, and everything must be inferred by the player, in the same vein as Journey. Hob engages your intuition in understanding puzzles and enemies. In the era of Dark Souls, Hob feels like a less punishing version of that idea placed on top of a Legend of Zelda clone. The world is so engaging that you’ll want to keep playing and exploring to uncover every corner.
Adult Swim Games are killing it right now! Kingsway is one of theirs and presents a classic fantasy RPG in a wholly original and familiar context. The entirety of Kingsway is played via a fictional Windows ‘95-esque operating system. The map is a window; the inventory is a window, your character’s stats are a window. Journeying from one point to another plays like a file transfer. Messages pop up from your Guild and others like IMs. During combat, enemy windows pop up and move across the screen, causing you to trail after so you can press the appropriate action button. This is unlike any RPG you have ever played before and brilliantly done.
The Swords of Ditto
Yes, it’s another Legend of Zelda clone this one from Devolver Studios. However, Ditto brings a clever twist to the genre. You start out with a randomly generated hero who has five days to stop the big bad evil. If you fail in this task, however, a hundred years will pass, and a new randomly generated hero is introduced with inherits some legacy items from your first character. This addition of roguelike legacy play to the Legend of Zelda formula changes things up. Also, Ditto looks precisely like a show you might come across on the Cartoon Network. That vibrant, colorful art style makes this a game you don’t want to miss out on.
I can’t say I was ever a fan of classic text-based PC games. While I love to read, playing those always felt very unengaging for me. Stories Untold takes those types of experiences and adds some new, brilliant layers. In each of Stories Untold’s chapters, you are a person sitting in front of a computer, and there are levels of narrative happening. The opening game, The House Abandon presents you as a teenager playing the title game. As your character in the text game explores the haunted house weird things starting happening in the room around you. Inspired by Stranger Things, Stories Untold is an incredibly unique title that feels like a great collection of short stories.
What Remains of Edith Finch
The “walking simulator” genre of PC game has gotten a lot of negative criticism as it has proliferated. Some of those criticisms are well deserved, but I have always had a fondness for this zero combat first-person experience since I first played Home Again. Edith Finch is a masterpiece of the genre, telling a brutally emotionally story of a family struck by a series of tragedies. You play a teenage girl returned to the Finch family’s estate where she relives the terrible events through written accounts. The designers of Edith Finch presents one of the most affecting digital interactive stories I’ve ever seen. This is a game that will linger with you for a long time.
You might look at Ylands and think “Just another Minecraft knock-off”. I would encourage you to think of YLands as an interest game toolkit, presenting you as a shipwreck survivor tasked with collecting resources and surviving. Ylands comes to us from the creators of DayZ and Arma and is a much broader game than Minecraft. There are tools present in the game that allows the player to permanently program games within the game. You can play other player’s experience, and designs and they are deep and rich. I played through one game that was a variation on the opening temple of Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you are a creative type, who wants to make as much as play Ylands has everything you want.
Slay the Spire
Roguelikes come up a lot in my recommendations. Slay the Spire takes the roguelike formula and adds the gameplay of Hearthstone with the flavor of Bloodborne or Dark Souls. The player chooses their route up the spire through a series of monsters, rest stops, merchants, and encounters. As you play you get chances to augment your deck and by the time you get to the end, if you reach the end, you’ll likely have a very customized and powerful deck. There are daily challenges as well to see how you match up against your fellow players.
I have spent many hours playing this game, which only reinforces what a strange gamer I am. House Flipper puts you in the shoes an interior decorator at the start. Clients hire you to install new appliances, repaint, and clean rooms and even knock out walls. Eventually, you will earn enough money to start buying homes, remodel them, and flip them. This first-person game is unlike most you will play. Things start out pretty mundane but then as more clients contact you the stories behind the messes in the homes get weirder. At one point you will be renovating a doomsday prepper’s backyard bunker, and in another, you’ll be cleaning up a crime scene. House Flipper is a very meditative game you can get lost in.