Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

A game by WayForward for PS3, PS4, Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, and PC, not yet released.
The Shantae series got its start on the GameBoy Color in 2002, but it wasn’t until recently that the purple-haired half-genie really made her way into the spotlight. In her original adventure, she used her magical animal transformations and hair whip attack to defend Sequin Land from a nefarious pirate named Risky Boots. But it wouldn't be until 2010 that her story continued with Shantae: Risky's Revenge. In this adventure, Shantae was able to defeat her nemesis once more, but victory came at a price… Shantae lost her magical abilities and was transformed into a human.

In 2014’s Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, Shantae found that a new enemy was on the rise, and she formed an unlikely alliance with Risky Boots in order to save the land once again. Without her ability to transform into animals, Shantae instead uncovered Risky’s pirate gear, with each piece granting her new combat and environmental navigation abilities, allowing her to reach previously inaccessible areas in traditional metroidvania fashion.

As you may have guessed by the title of her latest adventure, Shantae regained her magical abilities (well, in the good ending anyway) and returned to her former half-genie self.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is currently under development by the folks at WayForward, but they have released a 3-level beta to demonstrate what players can expect from Shantae’s next outing… Shantae’s trademark hair whip attack and animal transformations make a return, but the visuals have undergone a significant makeover. Like WayForward’s own DuckTales: Remastered, the latest game features high definition 2D character sprites intermixed with 3D environments. The series' trademark visuals shine in this new format, with vibrant colors, lots of detail, beautiful animations, and loads of personality.


Mystik Belle

A game by Last Dimension for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2015.
Mystik Belle stars a young first-year witch named Belle MacFae who is studying at the Hagmore School of Witchcraft. One night, while practicing a fire spell, surprised by a shadowy figure running past her. Before she can react, one of the headmistresses grabs her by the ear and pulls her into a room to stand before a council of witches, accused of having ruined the Walpurgisnacht (Witches' Night) brew. The witches refuse to listen to her pleas of innocence and demand that she find three ingredients for crafting another, or face expulsion.

Mystik Belle is equal parts metroidvania and point-and-click adventure, which is an uncommon amalgamation inspired largely by games in the Dizzy series, as well as Slightly Magic and Little Puff in Dragonland.

The game features a traditional metroidvania map, and players must explore the environment and gain new abilities in order to reach previously inaccessible areas, per genre standards. The way in which the player goes about this, however, falls firmly in line with the conventions of the point-and-click adventure genre.

Not a Hero

A game by Roll7 for PC, PS4, and Vita, originally released in 2015.
Not a Hero is a game about running a successful political campaign and getting your candidate elected to office… sort of. The game has absolutely no simulation elements; rather, this is a run and gun actioner where all of your goals are accomplished with the liberal application of bullets, heavy munitions, and the occasional exploding kitten. You play an assassin who blasts his way through a bevvy of baddies while BunnyLord waits for you in his BunnyWagon, or his BunnyCopter, to whisk you away to a diner for breakfast as a reward for your dedicated service.


BunnyLord is your political candidate, and he is a giant purple anthropomorphic bunny who is about as grounded in reality as the Katamari Damacy series’ King of All Cosmos. BunnyLord hopes to win undecided voters to his constituency by ridding the streets of the criminal element – and occasionally enacting revenge on his enemies – with his team of oddball assassins. His cockamamie schemes are conveyed in between-level sequences that are filled with zany dialogue. While the assassins each have speaking voices, BunnyLord sounds somewhat like a squeaking balloon.

High Strangeness

A game by Barnyard Intelligence Games and Crystal Labs for PC, Mac, Linux, and Wii U, originally released in 2015.
High Strangeness is an action adventure game starring a young man named Boyd whose normal day-to-day life is turned upside down when he inadvertently stumbles into a dimension-hopping journey to save the world from destruction by an unknown enemy.

As the game begins, Boyd is having a strange dream where he is standing in a glitchy area with a plain white background, and he finds himself transformed from his 16-bit self into an 8-bit version. While he sleeps, a mysterious robed figure wanders into his bedroom and then leaves, and Boyd’s cat – named Abydos – follows the shadowy intruder out of the room.


Boyd wakes up and grabs a flashlight, but he doesn’t use it to light the way; rather he equips it as a weapon. When Boyd leaves his bedroom, he finds Shadow Men all around his house, which he destroys with repeated blows from his trusty flashlight. The flashlight is actually the player’s primary weapon throughout his adventure, although several secondary abilities are also gained along the way.

A Pixel Story

A game by Lamplight Studios for PC, originally released in 2015.
A Pixel Story is a puzzle platformer starring a single pixel that is somehow ejected from his own world and into a more complex one, featuring more colors and higher resolutions. The new world is split into four generations, each more detailed and complex than the last, and the pixel must make use of his magical teleportation hat in order to solve puzzles and save The System from an evil operating system.


The pixel originally inhabits a world where he is the ball in a Pong-like game before glitching out and bouncing through a number of more detailed environments. He is then captured in a beam of light and transformed into a bipedal being more in line with the sprite detail of the new world. Despite the fact that the pixel came from a more primitive pixel world, he finds that the new world is called Generation 1.

Axiom Verge

A game by Thomas Happ Games for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Vita, originally released in 2015.
Axiom Verge is a metroidvania starring a scientist named Trace who is working in New Mexico in 2005. Following an explosion in his lab, Trace finds himself awakening in a strange alien world, with the disembodied voice of a mysterious stranger whispering in his ear. Trace is standing on a large egg-like machine that appears to have restored his life. The voice tells Trace that there is a gun in the next room that he needs to pick up.

There are two doors in the room, but the path to the right is blocked by a wall of red bubbles. Heading to the left reveals an open room with no enemies, allowing the player to experiment with the controls. Per the standards of the Metroid series, Trace quickly reaches a point in the room that he cannot escape without picking up the weapon lying in front of him.

Environmental Station Alpha

A game by Arvi "Hempuli" Teikari for PC and Mac, originally released in 2015.
Environmental Station Alpha is traditional metroidvania, heavily influenced by Metroid and Super Metroid, featuring an expansive atmospheric world and chunky lo-fi visuals. The player takes on the role of a robot and is sent on a mission to explore a space station which was mysteriously abandoned many years ago. While there were no reported survivors, signals have been coming from the station recently which require investigation. The station was designed to house a variety of animal species and biomes, resulting in a wide array of creatures to fight and environments to explore.


Story elements are light – involving a few computer terminals with logs from the station’s former inhabitants – offering some insight into past events and occasionally placing a marker on the map to provide direction to the player’s next objective. Otherwise, the player is free to explore within the limits of his abilities, solve environmental puzzles, discover powerups, and fight creatures and bosses in order to push his way further into new territory.

Titan Souls

A game by Acid Nerve for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Vita, originally released in 2015.
Titan Souls is an action game whose design is very much inspired by that of Shadow of the Colossus. The player wanders the land alone, equipped with a bow and arrow, on a quest to seek out a number of giant creatures. Upon defeating these great beasts, their life essence is removed and absorbed into the body of the player character. Throughout his journey, the player faces off against more than a dozen titans, each of which requires a specific strategy in order to defeat.



Where Titan Souls departs from the design of Shadow of the Colossus is in the fundamentals of combat. In Shadow of the Colossus, battling the colossi was a lengthy struggle that involved luring the creature, making a harrowing climb over and across its body, holding on for dear life as the thing moved and turned, and eventually seeking out weak points in order to stab them with your sword and wear the creature down slowly. In Titan Souls, on the other hand, battles are won or lost in a single strike.

Westerado: Double Barreled

A game by Ostrich Banditos for PC and Mac, originally released in 2015.
Westerado: Double Barreled is an expanded follow-up to a Flash-based game, simply entitled Westerado!, which was released in 2013. As in the original release, the game is an open world action-adventure set in the old west.

The game begins when your mother asks you to help your brother with the buffalo herd. In doing so, one of the buffalo manages to escape the pen and run off, and the opening credits sequence sees the young cowboy chasing the animal across the desert.


As lighthearted as this scene is, things quickly turn tragic as the cowboy returns to his farm that evening to find it ablaze. When he gets closer, he finds that his mother has been killed, and his brother is mortally wounded and lies dying in the dirt. The brother manages only to reveal details about the brim of the killer’s hat, and offers up his gun, asking you to end his suffering, at which point you may opt to take aim and shoot your brother.

Bard to the Future

A game by Battlebard Games for PC and Mac, originally released in 2015.
Bard to the Future stars a “battlebard” in the medieval era who really has to pee. When a pair of goofy guards prevent him from letting it go in the woods, he runs off and finds an anachronism in the form of a blue porta-potty with a digital clock inside. When he steps in and closes the door, the blue box transports him to the present day - not unlike another famous blue box - where he learns that he has been summoned by a wizard… or at least a D&D-playing kid who is playing the part of a wizard, along with his friend, the child barbarian.


Antics ensue as the LARPers set out on a quest with their newfound warrior companion, until they get to their friend’s house, and a battle ensues between the battlebard and a bomb-tossing youth. While it’s questionable what a kid would be doing throwing bombs off a roof for the sake of a game, this plays out like a simple boss fight, with the battlebard waiting for the kid to jump down to the ground so that he can knock the bombs back into him. But things go too far when the battlebard beheads the child at the end of the fight.

Finding Teddy 2

A game by Storybird Games for PC and Mac, originally released in 2015.
Finding Teddy 2 is an action-adventure title, whereas the original Finding Teddy was a point and click adventure. In the original game, a little girl has her favorite teddy bear stolen by a giant spider while she sleeps, and the hapless plushie is whisked away to another dimension. The girl springs into action and gives chase, passing through her wardrobe to find herself in a (non-Narnian) land of magic and strange creatures. She must speak to NPC’s, remember their words encoded as musical notes, and help them with quests in order to eventually retrieve her furry companion. Along the way, she befriends a black cat that looks very much like a traditional black kit-cat clock, as well as a fly wearing a top hat.


Finding Teddy 2 starts out similarly to the first game, with a little girl watching television in the comfort of her home, although her teddy is tucked away safely in the basement… except that when she gets close to him, he floats out of an open door and is once again taken away to another world. This time, however, the girl quests along with her teddy in the new world as he floats along in the air behind her, at least until he is stolen once more. While the new game eschews the point-and-click interface in favor of direct character control, many of its former point-and-click encumbrances remain, leading to a slow and meandering adventure where the player is regularly lost.

Keebles

A game by Burnt Fuse for PC and Mac, originally released in 2015.
Keebles mixes physics-based vehicle construction with reflex-based action and puzzle solving. Games like Fantastic Contraption task the player with building different sorts of vehicles that are capable of making it through an obstacle-laden environment. There, the player spends the bulk of his time working in the construction tool, and then watches the physics-based events play out onscreen. If the design fails, it’s back to the drawing board to make some changes, or to wipe the slate and start over.


Keebles, on the other hand, has special items that are triggered by the player, and its challenges alternate between passive viewing, occasional input, and direct control over a moving vehicle. Furthermore, levels have layered challenges, so the player must do more than simply make it to the end of the level; he must do so as quickly as possible, and rescue as many Keebles as he can along the way.

Latest video feature: The Best 2D Video Games of 2014.





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