Nefarious

A game by StarBlade for PC, originally released in 2017.
Nefarious is an action game that puts you in the role of the villain rather than the hero. Instead of rescuing the princess, you are capturing princesses so that you can use them as an energy source to power a huge weapon that will allow you to take over the world. Instead of entering arenas and taking on bosses in mechanized contraptions, you are piloting said contraptions to smash the heroes of each land, each of whom is trying to put a stop to your, er… nefarious plans.


The villain of the tale is Crow, who comes from a long line of bird-named villains, and he narrates his own introduction as he blasts onto the scene on the back of a speeding truck with a pink-clad princess slung over his shoulder. Then he begins smashing his way through police cars, police robots, and the police themselves on the way back to his airship.

Salt and Sanctuary

A game by Ska Studios for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Vita, originally released in 2016.
Salt and Sanctuary is an action-RPG very much inspired by the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne, offering a high level of difficulty, a complex interconnected world that the player is free to explore, and a limited number of health-restoring safe areas called sanctuaries. Rather than souls, the player finds himself collecting salt, which is gained by defeating enemies and lost upon the player’s death. If the player is killed, he is returned to the nearest sanctuary – at the cost of 10% of his gold – and he can regain his lost salt by returning and slaying the enemy that killed him… or getting killed again and losing his precious salt forever.


At the start of the game, the player is able to customize the appearance of his character, altering the sex, hair color, eye color, and facial hair, as well as choosing an origin country for the character, which affects his or her skin tone and facial features. More importantly, the player is able to select a class, which greatly affects how the player will engage the game.

Straimium Immortaly

A game by Caiysware for PC, originally released in 2016.
Straimium Immortaly is a roguelike dungeon crawler starring the Straima Ninja (or one of six unlockable characters) who descends into a cube of procedurally generated interconnected rooms to blast enemies and defeat the Queeni Emperess (sic). Along the way, the jetpack-equipped explorer acquires numerous randomized support items, as well as more powerful weapons and special abilities to help him wreak destruction. However, these rewards are hard-fought and easily lost upon death, which results in the player being booted out of the Cubicus to try again from the start.


Before the game begins, the player determines whether he would like to enter a small, medium, or large Cubicus, along with selecting a playable character, hats, modifiers, and/or cheats, all of which must be unlocked before use. The player is able to move freely in any direction but can only fire to the left or right, and his aim locks in the direction he is facing until he lets off the FIRE button.

Owlboy

A game by D-Pad Studio for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2016.
Owlboy is a colorful action-adventure starring Otus, a member of an ancient but dwindling race of owl-people. Like many gaming adventurers, Otus is a mute protagonist, but not simply by merit of not having any dialogue; he is physically unable to speak. This prevents him from being able to fully express his thoughts beyond gestures and facial expressions, which results in no small amount of bullying from his peers.


Otus’ mentor is equally hard on him, criticizing his actions and expressing his disappointment at every turn. In the introductory story sequence, his teacher comments that Otus hasn’t been doing well in his studies and brings him to an area outside the village to train him to fly using his owl cloak… but he fares poorly in this as well. Then, his teacher commands him to carry water back to the village, which is suffering from a drought, and Otus accidentally drops the water jug, smashing it on the ground and earning further ire from his mentor.

Pixel Session Vol. 1

A game by Trasevol_Dog for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2016.
Pixel Session Vol. 1 is a collection of five arcade-style games developed using Pico-8, a tool developed specifically for the creation of chunky low-rez arcade titles. The software offers a hard limit of 16 colors, 8x8 sprites, 4-channel audio, and a resolution of 128x128 pixels, with a total “cartridge” size of 32 kilobytes. The game collection comes as a set of zipped files, with only the first game, Descent, unlocked from the start. Each of the other zipped files is password protected, and progress is made by getting a high rank in one game, which reveals the password to unlock the next (or you can cheat, if you’re naughty).


Each game focuses on a different set of mechanics, although the games are united by a similar visual style and (very short) looped chiptune tracks. Controls for each game are easy to learn, with a set of pictographs on the title screens indicating the directional controls and one or two action buttons. As with classic arcade machines, most games increase in difficulty quite quickly as they ramp up in speed, pump out more enemies, or ask more of the player’s dexterity, while the goal is to achieve the highest score possible. When killed, the player is given a rank and returned to the title screen, and his high score is saved.



Assault Suit Leynos

A game by Dracue Software for PC and PS4, originally released in 2016.
In the year 2101, Earth sends a Space Exploration Team to search for other intelligent life in the universe. However, not long after their departure, war breaks out on Earth, and the resources once allocated to the project are diverted in favor of manufacturing nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the Space Team runs into trouble, but their distress calls to Earth are ignored as a nuclear war is already underway.

After the war ends, the Earth once again returns to a state of peace and prosperity, and humanity expands to colonize the other planets in the solar system… until Ganymede suddenly comes under attack!


The Space Exploration team, taking it as an affront that their cries for help were ignored, has decided to attack the colonies and take Earth for themselves.

Calling themselves Chron, their forces include cybernetically-enhanced human clones formed from the surviving crew members. You play the role of Rex, commander of an Assault Suit, a 12-foot tall battle mech that is the Earth Defense League’s primary tool in the defense of its colonies.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

A game by WayForward for PC, PS4, Vita, Xbox One, and Wii U, originally released in 2016.
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.

In Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, Shantae’s trademark hair whip attack and animal transformations make a return, but the visuals have undergone a significant makeover with a mixture of 2D and 3D elements, not unlike WayForward’s own DuckTales: Remastered. The series' trademark visuals are readily apparent in the new format, with vibrant colors, lots of detail, smooth animations, and loads of personality. (Ed note: Some screenshots were taken from the game’s Early Access Backer Build).


Deios II: Deidia

A game by BARCHboi for PC and Mac, originally released in 2016.
Deios II: Deidia is an experimental album/game/visual experience that mixes platforming into a glitched-out world filled with oddly-scaled layered sprites, beams of light, splashes of sound and music, improperly parsed overlapping text, odd popup images (which are editable), and a minimal yet somewhat unnerving narrative. The gameplay is exploration-based, with players navigating the environment and passing through doors to reach new areas, but the overall direction offered to the player is minimal.


Deidia is a sequel to the original Deios, which was also an odd amalgam of game and music and interactive art. The original game was meant as a small project but became more popular than the developer expected (he created the game as a teenager), which resulted in some criticism about the purposely antagonistic nature of the design that made it difficult for newcomers to fully experience. The sequel addresses some of those concerns.

Gunmetal Arcadia Zero

A game by Minor Key Games for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2016.
Gunmetal Arcadia Zero is a standalone precursor to the roguelike Gunmetal Arcadia. The game features a race of beings called Tech Elves in the city of Arcadia, and two factions are at odds with one another: the warriors of the Gunmetal Vanguard and the scholars of the Seekers of Arcadia. Yet Arcadia is threatened by an even greater menace in the form of the Unmade Empire, which has unleashed terrible creatures upon the land.


The two elven factions agree that they must face this enemy, but disagree on how to go about it, with the Gunmetal Vanguard wishing to take them head-on, and the Seekers of Arcadia wishing to learn more about their enemy in order to take advantage of its weaknesses. As a young elf named Vireo, you decide which of these factions to side with, and then set out into the city, fighting monsters, purchasing equipment, and seeking treasure along the way.

Even the Ocean

A game by Analgesic Productions for PC and Mac, originally released in 2016.
Even the Ocean is an action adventure starring Aliph, a power plant technician who Is tasked with saving Whiteforge City – the continent’s technology center and beacon of humankind – from a barely-understood force that threatens to destroy everything. When her colleague is killed on a routine mission to repair a power plant, Aliph finds herself working directly for the mayor who explains that several power plants across the continent are in danger of shutting down, while the resident scientist scrambles to determine the cause.


Everything in the game’s universe is founded upon light energy (green) and dark energy (purple) – which is a not-uncommon theme in gaming – but here it not only comes in the form of a gameplay element; it is also integrated into the narrative structure. Light energy is associated with vertical force, and dark energy is associated with horizontal force, which impacts Aliph’s movement as she interacts with the world around her (more on this in a bit).

Way of the Red

A game by Corey Hardman for PC, originally released in 2016.
Way of the Red is the tale of Blackfeather, a swordsman and one of the last remaining members of a race of birdmen who have been subjugated and hunted to near extinction by their human enemies. Lacking a sense of purpose, Blackfeather leaves home to seek out the girl he loved in his youth, knowing that no birdman has ever returned from a journey into the territory of humans. But his mission is quickly cut short as he is blasted out of the sky by a huge orb of energy, and he crashes down in the forest, surrounded by humans who – despite his sword fighting skills – overwhelm him with their sheer numbers.


When he regains consciousness, Blackfeather finds himself without his sword, and his wings have been clipped. Losing his ability to fight back, he follows the orders of the guards and destroys a number of blue seeds hanging from trees in the area, but he is warned against doing the same with red seeds. He is told that he must report to the warden (who is also the king’s son) if he discovers any red seeds, with the promise that he will be given his freedom if he does so.

In Extremis

A game by LNDFRR for PC, originally released in 2016.
In extremis is a Latin term meaning mortal peril, or alternately meaning the farthest reaches, and both meanings are appropriate here. In Extremis is a vertical shmup that places the player in mortal peril in the farthest reaches of space. As with most genre entries, the game is extremely light on story (though bits of “folklore” appear as hidden pickups throughout the game), featuring a protagonist who merely states “I’m tired of all of this. I need a way out. So, I took my spaceship and set the course for the end of the universe.” Following this, a blue ship blasts into space.


In terms of minute-to-minute gameplay, In Extremis is similar to its genre neighbors, featuring a ship that moves ever upward while waves of enemies enter from the left, right, and top of the screen. The player dodges enemies, weaves between sprays of bullets, and shoots at said enemies until they burst into nothingness, all the while attempting to rack up as large a score as possible. What sets the game apart, however, is its aesthetics.