Songbringer

A game by Wizard Fu Games for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2017.
Songbringer is an action adventure heavily inspired by the original Legend of Zelda, featuring a sword-wielding adventurer journeying through an isometrically-presented overworld, exploring mysterious locales, and descending into dungeons to fight enemies, solve minor puzzles, and take on tough bosses. Even the opening scene features the protagonist standing in a clearing that has passages leading to the left, right, and up, with a dark cave entrance nearby, and venturing into the cave (with a Zelda-style descent animation) reveals a sword. However, this isn’t a “dangerous to go alone” situation, as pulling out the sword seems to awaken some sort of evil multi-eyed demonic creature.


The game is not set in a world of fantasy, but rather one of science fiction, and the weapon is no simple wooden sword, but rather a nanosword that hums like a light saber. The main character, Roq (and his trusty robot companion, Jib), is not a legendary hero, but rather a member of a group of spacefaring miscreants – on a ship called Songbringer – who have searched the stars for a place to have some fun. When Roq discovers a presumably abandoned planet called Ekzera, he descends to scout it out, but he is blasted out of the sky by a bolt of lightning.

Nidhogg II

A game by Messhof for PC, Mac, and PS4, originally released in 2017.
In 2014, a quirky indie game entitled Nidhogg was released. Originally conceived as a prototype called Raging Hadron in 2010 (a play on words given the game’s aggressive sword-based combat), the game was further expanded upon with new features, arenas, and online play. The game features a pair of simple-looking single-color swordsmen – barely more than stick figures – fighting one another in a confined environment, and the fighters are able to use their swords to slash and parry, with a successful strike resulting in an instant kill and a spray of pixelated blood.


In addition, players are able to jump, slide along the ground, or risk it all by throwing their swords across the screen in hopes of taking down their opponents, possibly resulting in fisticuffs when both players are disarmed… or an easy kill for the player who is still holding a weapon. The defeated opponent respawns after a few seconds, and the player’s goal is to reach the opposite side of the screen as quickly as possible between sparring sessions.

Silver Grapple

A game by Jamie Rollo Games for PC, originally released in 2017.
The grapple-based action genre is sparsely populated but offers a surprising amount of variety in terms of swinging mechanics. Bionic Commando is known for its rigid grapple arm but a complete freedom to grapple any point in the environment, whereas most other games with grapple mechanics only allow the ability to be used at specified points. Ninja Five-O allows for more momentum and control over swing speed and grapple length, but requires players to fling themselves around obstacles instead of pulling themselves through them. UmiharaKawase, on the other hand, offers a more slow-paced and technical experience with a fishing line instead of a taught rope, allowing players to hang down from ledges and be dragged along conveyor belts, while making it more difficult to build up momentum.


Silver Grapple offers a rope that can be fired in eight directions, but no ability to reel it in or out. Walking along a flat surface and aiming the grapple upward at a 45 degree angle does not initiate a swing, as walking forward causes the rope to become slack. The game’s protagonist (which may be male or male at the player’s option) does not have superhuman abilities. The player begins the game with a waist-high hop before encountering high jump boots that allow for a 1x variable jump.

Wave Run

A game by Jamie Rollo Games for PC and Mac, originally released in 2017.
Wave Run is a game centered around speedrunning, and is meant to be completed in a single sitting. You control some sort of odd critter in a scuba suit who has a water tank strapped to his back, not unlike a certain vacationing plumber. This water tank can be used as a jetpack to boost up to high platforms, or as a speed booster when used horizontally. The goal is to make it from one checkpoint to the next as quickly as possible, and the entire game can be completed in under 10 minutes.


When the game begins, you are dropped into a cave system and given some space to test out the controls. At the start, you have a high floaty jump and the ability to wall slide and wall jump. The starting room also has a water pipe near the ceiling, but its use is not apparent on your first playthrough. On the right side of the room is a checkpoint, and running past it begins the game’s timer.

The Royal Cosmonautical Society

A game by Chromosphere Games for PC and Mac, originally released in 2017.
Lunar Lander came to arcades in 1979, and Gravitar arrived in 1982, but in the decades that have passed since that time, there have been few entries in the gravity-based spaceship genre. In 1987, Thrust and Oids each offered their own takes on the formula, with Thrust focused on diving into planets and using precision flight to haul pods back to the surface using a rigid tow cable, while Oids had less of a focus on precision flight and resource management and instead centered around rescuing prisoners. Only a handful of developers have tried their hand at the formula in the modern era, with releases including Gravity Force, Gravity Clash, and the Gravitron series.


The Royal Cosmonautical Society incorporates elements from many of its ancestors and offers a familiar but unique take on the genre. Like many genre antecedents, the game is presented with vector graphics (although the game has some pretty high-spec system requirements given that the graphics are barely more complex than those from 30 years prior) and features a spaceship that must use precision movement to navigate environments while experiencing the ever-present tug of gravity.

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.