Phantom Trigger

A game by Bread Team for PC and Switch, originally released in 2017.
Phantom Trigger begins with a fellow named Stan speaking to his wife about breakfast before heading off to work, but during the conversation he drops to his knees and slumps over on the kitchen floor. Then, the game cuts to a neon world where a man is sitting on handmade sailboat that is floating across the sea. The boat comes to a stop at a dock, and the man disembarks, wandering into a small village filled with unusual creatures, including an anthropomorphic toad named Toad, a speaking tree, and a redheaded woman with antennae, named Ant.


Throughout the game, the narrative switches back and forth between Stan’s normal life – where he is in a hospital being treated for some serious but unknown issue – and the neon world, where it seems he is an adventurer who calls himself The Outsider. Much of the dialogue in both worlds is purposely vague and mysterious, refusing to delve too deeply into what is real or what is really happening with Stan… although he is clearly having some issues separating these possible realities. For instance, Stan seems to be confusing his wife with Ant from the neon world, but it turns out that his wife is an entomologist, so perhaps Ant is his mind’s construct in a fabricated reality.

Graceful Explosion Machine

A game by Vertex Pop for PC, PS4, and Switch, originally released in 2017.
Graceful Explosion Machine is a colorful score-driven arena shooter featuring a spaceship hopping from planet to planet to eradicate enemy creatures within the confines of angular cave systems. Taking a page from games like Defender and Fantasy Zone, the player’s ship moves to the left and right across environments that loop horizontally, and a button press allows the ship to flip 180 degrees to take on enemies in the opposite direction.


After completing some short tutorial levels, the player gains access to his full arsenal, which consists of a weak rapid shot, an energy sword melee-style attack, a powerful but narrow laser beam, and swarms of heat seeking missiles. All of these weapons are immediately available at a button press, so there is no need to cycle through them. The game’s core strategy revolves around knowing when to use each of these weapon types, and which enemies are susceptible to which attacks.

A Robot Named Fight

A game by Matt Bitner for PC and Mac, originally released in 2017.
A Robot Named Fight reverses the role of humanoid characters fighting off invading hordes of machines, and instead features a planet of machines under attack by organic creatures. The game stars a robot (named Fight) who must contend with an invasion of flesh. One day, a moon-sized tumorous blob of flesh – covered in eyes, and teeth, and meaty reproductive organs – descends from the skies, dropping its slimy progeny onto the robotic city below. You alone are tasked with eliminating this meat invasion and defeating the terrible Megabeast.


The game is a metroidvania, but unlike other genre entries, which feature hand-crafted levels and careful placement of items and puzzles, this is a roguelike. Levels are procedurally generated, leading to a different layout each time, constructed from a limited number of predesigned room configurations. Weapons and items are distributed appropriately in order to keep you from running into doors that cannot be opened with your current equipment, although you may need to venture forth and return later, which is typical of the genre. Getting killed returns you to the start of the game with nothing, although you may encounter a room or two that will grant you a second chance should you fall in battle.

Running VoltGun

A game by Sinclair Strange for PC, originally released in 2017.
Running VoltGun is a short game that was developed in under 72 hours for Ludum Dare 39, with a theme of running out of power. As with many Ludum Dare games, this is more of a proof of concept than a full-blown game. It borrows heavily from Contra in terms of its weapon design, but its overall speed, exuberance, and colorful designs fall more in line with games like Gunstar Heroes and Rocket Knight Adventures, featuring nearly nonstop running and shooting through obstacle-laden environments populated by cute enemies that explode when killed.


There isn’t anything in the way of story. You play as a fellow with a gun – possibly named VoltGun – who is able to jump, shoot, dash, air dash, and alternate between weak and strong attacks. Every time he shoots, some energy is drained from his battery, and taking damage drains it even more quickly. If his battery is drained completely, he dies and returns to the start of the level with his battery fully charged. Killed enemies drop small blue crystals that recharge the battery slightly, and the occasional large blue crystal restores a more significant chunk of health… but these must be shot to be exposed, requiring some energy expenditure in the process.

A Bloody Night

A game by Emanuele Leoncilli for PC and Mac, originally released in 2017.
A Bloody Night begins with… well, a bloody night. In the region of Greyplain, a young woman named Asteria manages the family inn while her brother, Kerykos, recovers from battle wounds in one of the rooms. One night, a group of soldiers arrives at the inn, and Asteria welcomes them inside. One of the soldiers approaches and stabs her in the chest, and then turns to walk away as she gushes blood and slumps to the ground. Kerykos is awakened by her screams and finds his sister’s body outside the inn. Consumed with rage, he pursues her killers, wiping out every soldier he encounters.


The game begins with Kerykos standing in an open area, sword in hand, with a counter on the screen showing how many enemies are in the area. The goal in each of the game’s 20 levels is to move from left to right, killing soldiers along the way. Levels are short but there are plenty of ways to be killed, whether at the hands of enemy soldiers, at the point of an archer’s arrow, or by one of the many spike traps.

Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour

A game by Crackshell for PC and Linux, originally released in 2017.
The Serious Sam series was born of an era where the popularity of first person shooters had crested, and developers began moving away from so-called “Doom clones” and into more story-driven content. Mindless corridor-crawling blastfests like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake were giving way to slower cinematic titles like _Half-Life_. Serious Sam represented a return to form, where blasting monsters – lots and lots of monsters – was the driving force of gameplay. But instead of tight quarters and dark winding hallways, the series offered wide open sunlit landscapes where enemies charged in from every direction.


Following Serious Sam: The First Encounter, Serious Sam: The Second Encounter, Serious Sam II, and a couple of third party console-exclusives, Serious Sam went away for a while… but he came back with a splash in Serious Sam 3: BFE, delivering on his tried and true formula with a seriously upgraded game engine. Concurrent with Sam’s triumphant return, publisher Devolver Digital commissioned a trio of indie games to herald his coming. These games were auto-runner Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack, turn-based RPG Serious Sam: The Random Encounter, and sidescrolling shooter Serious Sam: Double D.

Cryptark

A game by AlienTrap Games for PC, Mac, Linux, and PS4, originally released in 2017.
Cryptark is a roguelike twin stick shooter that centers around a privateering vessel that is commissioned to recover the contents of a massive derelict spacecraft known as the Cryptark, which contains valuable alien technology. Along the way, the crew enters other ships to salvage materials, uncover enhanced weaponry and equipment, and earn more money from their benefactors so they can continue pushing forward. Unfortunately, these spacecraft are not simply floating treasure troves… they’re guarded by defensive machinery built to protect its systems.


The game is built around a strict economic system, and the player’s starting investment is quickly eaten away by suit modifications, weapons, and ammunition. Materials can be recovered from ships, with additional rewards from destroying ship cores quickly, or refraining from the use of certain equipment, but taking additional risks may mean missing out on valuable upgrades. On the other hand, exploring every corner of a ship opens the player to attack, and getting killed means buying a new exosuit… and they don’t come cheap. Lose enough money and there will be no way to continue the mission.

Monolith

A game by Team D-13 for PC and Linux, originally released in 2017.
Monolith mixes the shmup genre with arena-based twin stick shooting and a roguelike structure to create a fast-paced shooting experience mixed with equal parts dungeon crawling. The player pilots a speedy ship through a series of procedurally generated interconnected rooms, making his way through the confines of a dungeon, floor by floor. Some rooms are packed with enemies that require nimble shooting and dodging, while others offer weapon upgrades and passive buffs, and there are shops aplenty, allowing players to purchase weapons, stat boosts, ammo refills, and additional buffs.


Per roguelike conventions, each death returns the player to the lobby to try his hand at another run, with procedural generation changing the landscape, pickups, and weapons available on each run. Like many modern-day roguelikes, the player slowly unlocks the ability for new drops to appear within the dungeon, which may be purchased in the lobby from a charming cat-blob-thing named Kleines.

Armed with Wings: Rearmed

A game by Sun-Studios for PC, originally released in 2017.
In Armed with Wings: Rearmed, you take on the role of a swordsman who was involved in a rebellion against King Vandheer, the tyrannical ruler of Blackmist. When the rebel army is destroyed, a lone warrior stands before the king, and rushes in for one final attack… but he is cut down, sliced from head to navel. He passes into the afterlife where he overcomes some basic trials that act as the game’s tutorial, before meeting a bright white haloed being who returns him to the world of Blackmist to complete his mission and slay the king.


Beyond the introduction, there is little in the way of story. The lone warrior continues his quest toward the king’s castle, fighting numerous enemies along the way to his final confrontation. Joining him is his companion, an eagle who follows his movements and can be commanded to retrieve objects and activate switches to open the path forward.

Splinter Zone

A game by Mokkograd for PC, originally released in 2017.
In Splinter Zone, there’s no plot to get between you and the action. You play as a woman who runs through a series of levels blasting enemies into meaty explosions, jumping over pits, avoiding obstacles, facing off against some tough bosses, and occasionally stopping to shake the water out of your hair. Armed with only a blaster and your reflexes, you destroy enemies to build up your score, avoid taking damage to build your combo, and collect experience points to increase your firepower.


The game is heavily influenced by the Mega Man series, from the movement of the player character, to many of the level designs, and even the series’ trademark scrolling screen transitions. But, where Mega Man allows players to select between a number of levels, slowly making progress toward some end goal, Splinter Zone sees players faced with a random selection of themed levels, and getting killed earns a quick trip back to the title screen.

Strikey Sisters

A game by DYA Games for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2017.
Less than a year passed between DYA Games’ previous effort, Bot Vice, and Strikey Sisters, both of which share a similar structure and art style. Bot Vice is modeled after the “gallery shooter”, a genre best represented by Wild Guns, and features a female protagonist running along the bottom of the screen and blasting up at colorful baddies with a variety of weapons collected as powerups. Strikey Sisters has more in common with Wizorb (and by extension, Arkanoid), with a female protagonist – or a pair of them in 2P co-op – running along the bottom of the screen and bashing a magical orb upward to smash bricks and damage colorful enemies while grabbing various powerups. The game is inspired by a relatively unknown fantasy brick breaking game called Firestriker on SNES.


As in Bot Vice, Strikey Sisters takes on a 16-bit style, with some visuals and sound effects reminiscent of classic Capcom games, especially the main character’s victory yell and the announcer’s “You win!” exclamation, which closely approximate similar samples from Street Fighter II.

The eponymous sisters are witches named Marie and Elene, and they are on a quest to rescue their pet, Sachiro, from the evil Lord Vanik. Between battling through brick-based arenas, the duo meet up with each of Vanik’s supplicants for some purposely cheesy dialogue exchanges… although there are some questionable line reads amongst the voice actors, and the pacing of the dialogue is quite slow. After each exchange, the player engages the villain in a boss battle.

Dragon Bros

A game by Space Lizard Studio for PC, Mac, Linux, and Xbox One, originally released in 2017.
Dragon Bros is a run and gun shooter that plays out the age-old rivalry between robots and dragons. As the story goes, robots conquer the planet, laying waste to everything and kidnapping a mommy dragon and her four unhatched eggs. While in storage, these eggs hatch, and a set of dragon brothers are born. They break into the armory and pass through a warp door that leads to a windblown forest where they head out and search for their lost mother.


The game features five difficulty levels represented in pictographs from a skull to a split skull to a horned skull. Players take on the role of a blue dragon, and the game features drop-in local 2P co-op, with the second player controlling a red dragon. The dragons are squat, appearing small onscreen. They each have a low 1x nonvariable jump and they can perform downward slam attack to break through certain floors and damage enemies, as well as a very short range flame attack and a dodge roll.