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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
A game by TRU FUN Entertainment for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2016.
Super Rad Raygun is a greatly expanded version of Rad Raygun, a Mega Man-inspired action platformer exclusive to Xbox Live Indie Games. The game is presented in four shades of green to mimic the visuals of the original Game Boy, but offers a crisp widescreen presentation free of the system’s notorious motion blur. The story is equally retro, taking place during the American and Russian Cold War of the 1980’s and starring a zealous caricature of Ronald Regan as the Commander in Chief, who makes some odd requests of the game’s eponymous star, referencing several real-world political events/fiascos of the 80’s.
While the original game featured five lengthy levels, Super Rad Raygun packs in more than 20 – with the original five levels included – most of which are equally lengthy. The overall gameplay has been significantly tweaked as well, with Rad performing floatier jumps and special abilities being driven by a new battery upgrade system that is regulated by a secondary energy meter.
A game by Q-Cumber Factory for 3DS, PC, and iOS, originally released for mobile in 2014, with an updated version released in 2016.
Ninja Smasher is an open world ninja action game with a simple premise: a bad guy has kidnapped the princess, and you must fight to rescue her. The kidnapping takes place during a playable introduction, which also acts as a tutorial, explaining the basic controls and movement abilities. The ninja fights his way toward the princess and eventually comes face-to-face with the red mustachioed goon who has taken her prisoner… but unfortunately, the baddie’s magic is too much for the squat martial artist, who is literally blown out of the castle gates.
With the gates locked and no way to open them, the ninja sets off on an adventure to grow his strength and learn new abilities to help him take the princess back. At the outset, the player is free to move to the left or the right, although the path to the left dead-ends at a cave that appears to require additional abilities to navigate. Moving to the right, the player eventually encounters a cave that leads to a standalone dungeon area, and completing this earns him the ability to double jump, opening up much of the world for exploration.
A game by Carlsen Games for PC and Mac, originally released in 2016.
Thoth (a.k.a. THOTH) is a twin stick shooter with a strategic slant. Rather than placing the player in an arena and pumping in wave after wave of enemies, the player instead faces off against a small number of enemies that each require a specific strategy to defeat. The player’s abilities never change, with movement and shooting being his only tools throughout the experience, but he must learn to alter his strategies as enemy behaviors change and new environmental obstacles are introduced across 64 levels.
The game is presented in a minimalist style – just like the developer’s previous indie work, 140 – with a solid color marking the outside of the arena, another color marking the background, and a pair of stylized level numbers representing the only decoration. Enemies are also comprised of single solid colors, with colors pulling in toward the center each time the enemy is shot, revealing a starry background behind the arena. Enemies appear to be 3D objects tumbling across the background, although their lack of texture gives them the appearance flat polygons that continuously change shape.
A game by Art in Heart for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2016.
Gonner, (a.k.a. GoNNER), is a roguelike actioner starring Ikk, a fellow on a journey to cheer up his friend Sally, who happens to be a whale. Ikk isn’t much more than a blob of, well, ick, but he is able to equip skulls, weapons, and backpacks, which collectively transform him into a veritable death machine. As with other genre entries, levels are procedurally generated, and getting killed returns the player to the start of the game. However as the player makes progress, he discovers new skulls, weapons, and backpacks which carry over into future sessions, allowing him to customize his loadout between runs.
At the start of the game, Ikk can run, jump, double jump, and wall jump, as well as jump up walls to climb any vertical surface. Ikk’s stating equipment includes a small skull that grants him five units of health, a basic pea-shooter, and a backpack that allows him to reload his weapon without the need to collect ammo dropped by enemies. When Ikk takes damage, he loses all three of these items and remains temporarily defenseless until he can retrieve them. Without a skull, Ikk has no health meter, and taking damage in this state is an instant game over. So, regardless of your equipment, it’s possible to lose the game quickly if you find yourself overwhelmed by a swarm of foes.
A game by Transhuman Design for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2016.
Butcher is a sidescrolling shooter inspired by the gritty action games of the early 90’s – Doom in particular – but offering far more blood and guts than those games ever did, all presented in heaps of chunky pixels. You take on the role of a cyborg who is tasked with wiping out the last remnants of humanity (despite being partially human himself), but doing so is no easy task, and players can expect to be butchered quite often along this 20-level festival of carnage.
As the game’s title screen states, “The easiest mode is ‘HARD’”. For players who slept through “Hurt me plenty”, the game also offers Harder and Hardest modes, which reduce the player’s health and the availability of medkits and armor pickups, and there’s an unlockable Impossible mode if you can track down enough of the game’s hidden skulls. Players who don’t derive pleasure frequent deaths and full level replays have no business here; only those steeped in the embers of Ultra-Violence need apply.
UPDATE: About two months after the game's release, the developers created a DLC pack (called W.I.M.P.) that adds a new Casual Mode granting players four times the health and doubling the value of pickups. For those who have found themselves exclaiming "Hey, not so rough!", this pack is for you.