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5 smaller games worth checking out during the Steam sale of summer 2014

This is a crosspost of an entry on my blog Floating Platform, a blog where I occasionally write stuff about games and interview people in the Seattle indie scene.

As you’re probably already aware, we’re once again in the middle of a Steam sale. Here are a handful of games I think are worth checking out, especially since their prices will be exceptionally low for the next week or so. They might not show up on the front page as a featured daily deal or flash sale, but give them a look anyway.

List items

  • Eversion is a short, cutesy retro-style platformer that centers around collecting gems and “everting,” the act of switching from one parallel reality to another.

    I can’t say much more about it without giving it away, but suffice it to say that it’s a fun little diversion that’s worth the $2 or so you’d be spending on it during the sale.

  • Visual novels definitely aren’t for everyone. Gameplay (or lack thereof) aside, they can be pretty damn corny. Analogue: A Hate Story doesn’t entirely stray from this, but it transcends any doubts you might have with its well realized mythology and three-dimensional characters. Set thousands of years after Digital: A Love Story, you encounter *Hyun-ae, a playful AI on a mysterious ship you’ve been assigned to investigate. You learn more about her, the ship, and its missing inhabitants through reading logs and interacting with Hyun-ae herself.

    For someone not used to visual novels, this can be a tough one to stick with. The logs are pretty expansive and keeping track of all the different characters and families to which they belong can be confusing, but if you’re willing to invest yourself in the lore, Analogue is a wonderful experience. Love is a great writer, weaving together themes like gender equality and transhumanism with a story that’s genuinely a blast to follow. For a lot of the logs towards the end, I found myself on the edge of my seat the same way I was with something like The Walking Dead. If you’re like me and generally don’t give visual novels the time of day aside from games like Phoenix Wright, give this one a chance.

  • I was too young to experience Myst when it was first released, but the idea of being a stranger in a strange, isolated land and solving puzzles always intrigued me. FRACT OSC seems like it’s trying to recreate that feeling, but with synthesizers and a neon color palette.

    As soon as you start, you’re dropped into a surreal digital landscape. It almost looks like uncharted territory from the world of Tron: Legacy. Simple, ambient sequences of notes hum from some cosmic synthesizer. You’re free to explore wherever you like. Eventually you’ll encounter one of three of FRACT’s distinct regions, where you’ll solve a series of puzzles-cum-step sequencers that will grant you access to more of the world. As you solve these puzzles, the ambient synths are accompanied by the sounds of the solutions to the puzzles you found. As the game progresses, you’re effectively composing your own music, making for a user-created soundtrack unlike any other. And adding layer by layer of sound is, hands down, the most satisfying feeling I’ve come across in a while.

    As you activate more parts of this world, you’re also unlocking features in an in-game music sequencer, which stands in for a main menu. It isn’t incredibly in-depth, but you can definitely create some pretty cool things with it.

    The surreal atmosphere and the DIY feel of FRACT’s slick soundtrack make it the game in this list I’d be most likely to recommend to anyone. It’s a bit early, but I wouldn’t be reluctant to consider it one of my favorite games this year.

  • Even if I’m not a big fan of every Grasshopper Manufacture release, I’m at least a big fan of their existence as a company. Along with Platinum Games, they’re well known for developing titles that are distinctively Japanese while flying in the face of exactly what that means. Sine Mora is no exception.

    At its core, Sine Mora is a horizontally scrolling shoot-em-up, dipping into bullet hell territory pretty frequently. To aid you with that, the game features a slow motion mechanic, which is useful when you need to pull off some tricky maneuvers or assess your surroundings. The visuals are gorgeous and vibrant, and with the frenetic “kill them all” gameplay serve as a contrast to the sparse soundtrack and dismal story.

    It’s the story of a father who seeks revenge on an empire for executing his son, unknowingly aided by a ragtag group of rebels bent on avenging the rest of their race. The storytelling can be pretty esoteric at times but it’s not impossible to follow. It’s a supremely dark tale, dealing with genocide, rape, nuclear war, and everything in between. Oh, and everyone is some kind of animal, like this was Star Fox or something. Also everything is in Hungarian. What?

    I’m not entirely sure the juxtaposition between frantic, high-scoring shoot-em-up action and dark, envelope-pushing storyline works. Or maybe it’s perfect and the gameplay is a representation of the characters’ nihilism and we should all look to it as an example of game mechanics as art. I don’t know! Either way, this is a damn cool game and you should check it out.

  • After the plastic instrument boom I expect a bit more out of my rhythm games than pretending I’m playing a real instrument. Sequence takes the rhythm game concept and puts it smack dab in the middle of an RPG. Played with a keyboard, controller or dance pad, you use the power of dance (or well-timed key presses) to cast spells, defend against attackers, and regenerate mana.

    While its core gameplay is a novel take on the tired dance game concept, everything surrounding the gameplay is less compelling. The story is a bit corny in some spots, often breaking the fourth wall and falling flat, and definitely isn’t what you’d go to this game for. And though I appreciate some Ronald Jenkees from time to time, his music makes up the entire soundtrack. A game like this needs far more diversity in its selection to keep from getting boring. Either way, it’s a novel experiment in the music game formula that’s worth a shot.