La-Mulana 2

A game by Nigoro for PC, Mac and Xbox One, originally released in 2018.
La-Mulana 2 is the follow-up to the original La-Mulana, a tough action-adventure inspired by classic MSX games. The original game got its start in 2005 as a freeware release and was later ported over to modern systems with a major graphical overhaul, rebalanced difficulty, and the addition of new hints to push the player in the right direction. The original game was extremely difficult, and its modern re-release reduced the difficulty somewhat but still required the player to pay close attention to the environment and the available hints in order to make progress.


La-Mulana 2 follows suit with its difficulty level. Players with reasonable platforming and combat experience can manage their way through most areas, but there are still some traps to trip them up when they least expect it, and boss encounters can be quite difficult. Players’ progress is most likely to be impeded by the riddles and puzzle solving required to move forward, and players will find themselves stuck if they aren’t mindful of their surroundings.

Flat Heroes

A game by Parallel Circles for PC, Mac, Linux, and Switch, originally released in 2018.
Flat Heroes is a single-screen platformer that pits the player against ever-changing obstacles of increasing difficulty. The game focuses solely on gameplay and offeres only geometric shapes set in abstract environments. While there are countless games that offer visually simple presentations such as this, most such games are shallow and play poorly. Flat Heroes, on the other hand, is a highly technical experience that introduces simple concepts that are expanded upon and combined in clever ways to offer an escalating challenge, not unlike Jeppe Carlsen’s similarly abstract 140 and THOTH.


The game offers an incredibly simple control scheme that allows movement to the left or right, a high variable jump, the ability to jump up walls or stick to them, a multi-directional air dash, and a short-range melee attack. This limited skillset is tested to its limits across seven worlds and more than 100 levels in the main campaign, which may be played alone or with friends in up to 4P drop-in drop-out local co-op. The game also features several survival modes, most of which can also be played alone or with up to four players, as well as a few versus modes.

The Vagrant

A game by O.T.K Games for PC, originally released in 2018.
The Vagrant is a sidescrolling hack-and-slash action-RPG set in a large and detailed fantasy world known as Mythrilia. The game stars a sellsword named Vivian in the role of the eponymous vagrant. This mercenary is in search of her missing father and sister, but she soon gets embroiled in larger conflicts that see her bound to a witch named Holborn. Accompanied by the witch’s apprentice, Vivian sets out across the land to bring an end to the dark forces that have infested it.


The game’s vivid visuals are heavily influenced by the works of Vanillaware (Oboro Muramasa, Dragon’s Crown, offering beautiful backdrops, lovely character designs with unrealistically-endowed female characters, and smooth animations; and the level of detail is all the more surprising given that the game was created by a 3-person studio. Furthermore, the game offers a deep combat system, upgradeable weapons and equipment, a cooking system, healing and buff items, a deep narrative, a substantial character upgrade tree, and other niceties usually reserved for larger studio productions, such as a journal and bestiary.

Rifter

A game by IMakeGames for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2018.
Rifter is a fast-paced aerobatic grappler set in a neon-lit world. Players race through dozens of stages, grappling and swinging into the air, dashing around obstacles, slashing through enemies, and toppling giant obelisks while a synthwave soundtrack pulses in the background. The game centers around a Rifter, who is accompanied by a hovering triangular entity called Tiny who explains the Rifter’s abilities, comments on various goings-on as the plot unfolds, and speaks on his behalf of the silent protagonist.


Rifters are tasked with dashing through environments and finding cracks – or rifts – in giant stone monoliths. Rifts appear at the end of each level, with the player repeatedly bashing into them until the cracks expand. Each area consists of a set of levels and a stone tower, and once enough rifts have been opened, the player visits the tower to destroy it. Along the way, the player learns more about the world around him, which actively calls into question his mission of destruction, as well as the missions of the Rifters who came before him.

Sundered

A game by Thunder Lotus Games for PC, Mac, Linux, and PS4, originally released in 2017.
Thunder Lotus Games made its mark with Jotun, a game based on Norse mythology featuring a powerful female warrior facing off against giant elemental beasts called jotun. The game set itself apart with its gorgeous hand-drawn environmental and creature artwork, giving the game the appearance of an interactive cartoon. Sundered offers similarly detailed hand-drawn artwork and animations, with vivid environmental art, fluid creature animations, and gigantic bosses. The game offers a somewhat darker tone than that of Jotun, with the player often facing off against tentacled monstrosities and disturbing boss creatures.


The game is an action-adventure starring Eshe who encounters a strange structure in the desert and finds herself pulled into another world where she is greeted by an entity known as the Shining Trapezohedron. Clearly not one to be trusted, the Shining Trapezohedron offers to lend Eshe its powers to enable her to fight enemies and defeat bosses… risking corruption in the bargain.

Remnants of Naezith

A game by Tolga Ay for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2018.
Remnants of Naezith is a high-speed precision grappler starring an adventurer named Kayra. Thousands of years ago, a powerful thunder dragon named Naezith ruled the skies, and after his death, the dragon’s body parts – his remnants – continued to hold his power. However, Naezith’s soul also remained behind and he has no intention of letting his power fall into other hands, and so he devises a plan to purge the land of these remnants.


While Kayra is exploring an ancient cave with his trusty rope and grappling hook, his equipment gives out and he falls into the darkness below, only to awaken with newfound powers. Gone are his rope and grapping hook, replaced by glowing claws magically bound to his hands (we hate it when that happens). With these hooks, Karya can now shoot magical beams from his hands, which serendipitously work in the same way as his old equipment.

CometStriker

A game by Iced Lizard Games for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2018.
In CometStriker, you take on the role of Lieutenant Striker (first name Comet?) who must hop from planet to planet retrieving four power cores in order to fuel a planetary defense cannon and take down a world-destroying biomechanical space station. The game is a fast-paced arcade-style actioner that tasks players with eliminating rooms full of enemies as quickly as possible, avoiding damage in return, and racking up big scores.


The mechanics are simple: The jetpack-equipped Lt. Striker is able to fly freely in eight directions and shoot to the left or right. Gunfire is continuous, so players can send out a steady stream of bullets in one direction as long as they hold the button, but movement slows slightly while firing. The weapon’s range extends about halfway across the screen, but the small single-screen environments mean that most enemies remain well within range. Players may also perform a dash maneuver to pass through enemies and projectiles without taking damage, as well as break destructible blocks, but it takes a few seconds for the dash to recharge.

Hakoniwa Explorer Plus

A game by Suxamethonium for PC, originally released in 2018.
Hakoniwa Explorer Plus is an isometric open world action-adventure, and it’s as quirky as they come. You take on the role of an unnamed adventurer who sets out across the world to fight monsters, uncover secrets, and fight buxom female boss creatures who do their very best to suck the life out of you. The game plays on numerous RPG tropes and is often silly for the sake of being silly, while offering a huge world to explore with few restrictions as to how your quest plays out.


At the start of the game, you are asked to choose your gender, and you are offered choices of male, female, or neither. However, what first appears to be a progressive gender-friendly option turns out to be a joke, as selecting “neither” results in a text box stating that the developers didn’t create graphics for a gender of “neither”, and then forces you back to a binary selection. While this attempt at humor may have elicited some laughs in the 80’s – the era after which the game is modeled – it’s completely unacceptable by modern standards (it was also unacceptable in the 80’s, but hey, we’ve grown since then).


The game goes out of its way to offer crass humor at every turn, but starting things out by taking a dig at nonbinary genders sets entirely the wrong tone. It’s hard to laugh this off as silly or infantile when it pokes fun at a group of people who are already marginalized by a largely gender-normative society. It begs the question: What prevented the developers from creating multiple sprites and allowing the player to choose one and then select between male, female, and neither… especially given that there are already mechanics built around whether the selected avatar is male or female. Also, the male character is referred to as a slacker, whereas the female character is referred to as a harlot. If you’re looking for a modern retro-style action-adventure that gets things right when it comes to gender, give this game a miss and check out Even the Ocean or Pyre.

Moonlighter

A game by Digital Sun for PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch, originally released in 2018.
In Moonlighter, a strange set dungeons is discovered, eventually prompting the construction of a small town called Rynoka, which becomes home to adventurers and merchants. But the four dungeons soon claim many lives and they are sealed off to prevent further calamity. You take on the role of Will, a merchant working in a shop called the Moonlighter, which has been hit hard by the sudden lack of trade. Will takes it upon himself to venture into the ever-changing dungeons in search of fortune and glory… and the chance at unlocking a sealed fifth door that has yet to be opened.


The game is an action-adventure that mixes in equal parts shopkeeping and inventory management. By day, Will runs the Moonlighter, and by night, he moonlights (see what they did there?) as an adventurer, diving into dungeons and recovering mysterious artifacts that he can sell in his store. What’s more, these artifacts are the key to upgrading his weapons and equipment, allowing him to dive into more dangerous areas of the dungeons, take on more powerful enemies, and recover better materials.

Lament

A game by RadCroc for PC, originally released in 2017.
Lament is a retro-style action platformer inspired by the NES renditions of Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden. The game stars a wolfman with a gigantic cursed sword, venturing through five themed areas, completing platforming challenges, slashing enemies, and earning powerups to increase his combat skills. The world is made up of chunky low-rez visuals like the 8-bit games that inspired it, along with a minimal color palette, 4-color sprites, and a chiptune soundtrack.


The wolf man’s sprite is at a low enough resolution that it’s not readily apparent that he is indeed a wolf, but if you look closely, you can see that he has an elongated snout, a pair of ears poking up on top of his head, and a tail. The wolf man has a limited moveset, with a 2x variable jump and the ability to slash his huge sword to the left or right while standing or jumping. He can also wall jump and wall slide, and he is capable of jumping up along vertical surfaces, although some tight quarters occasionally make vertical navigation difficult.

Skelly Selest

A game by Caiysware for PC, originally released in 2018.
Skelly Selest stars a skeletal fellow known as a Heavenly Keeper who has been sent by the Selestial Order to destroy the hell-beasts that are spilling out onto the Earth on account of Hell being full up. It is up to him to purify the land of this plague lest Earth be overrun. The game is a top-down hack-and-slasher with a dose of projectile combat. There are numerous game modes, including arena combat against waves of enemies, roguelike dungeon crawling, special hardcore challenges with unusual restrictions, and even a demonic card game inspired by Final Fantasy VIII’s Triple Triad.


Most of the game modes are locked at the outset, offering only the option to try the tutorial or dive into the first combat arena. Like many roguelikes, the game is not friendly to newcomers, so players can expect to die repeatedly until they master the basic combat, understand enemy behaviors, and figure out what all of the powerups do. As such, despite the simple controls, a run through the tutorial is highly recommended.

Fox n Forests

A game by Bonus Level Entertainment for PC, Mac, Linux, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2018.
Fox n Forests is a platformer starring a Rick, a fox who is granted the power to change the seasons. While this premise may sound suspiciously similar to that of Seasons After Fall – which also starred a season-changing fox – the games are quite different. Where Seasons After Fall was a metroidvania focusing on puzzle-platforming, Fox n Forests is a more straightforward level-based platformer with light puzzle elements and short branching paths. Here, players must face off against a variety of enemies using a crossbow and bayonet, with new attacks purchased along the way.


The opening cutscene reveals Rick sneaking up on a singing partridge in hopes of making the bird his dinner. The text states that Rick is going to “commit a little crime”, although given the anthropomorphized characters, it seems like his intended crime is murder. The partridge – named Patty – manages to convince Rick that she tastes terrible, and then proceeds to inform her would-be killer that she would like his help to fight off a bunch of bad guys in exchange for copious amounts of treasure. The plan works, and Rick agrees to take on the quest while still hoping to kill and eat Patty later.