Okay, this category might be a bit of a stretch, but I like to end the yearly lists on a positive note. So this is a list of smaller games that deserve more recognition. But I’m not sure there’s a good metric for sufficient recognition, so consider this me just going, ‘Hey, have you heard of these games? If not, check them out because they’re really good!’
Plus, I didn’t get around to writing up full reviews for most of them, so this will have to do instead.
After the jump, ten games you probably overlooked in 2014.
A quick shooter with simple controls, bright cheery graphics, and a streamlined progression system, built to be played like a rogue-like through it’s randomly generated dungeons. Did you get a high score? No? Well, you’re that much closer to unlocking one of the new classes. Now get in there and give it another shot! The speed and overall vibe remind me of Heretic and Hexen, Raven’s fantasy shooters from the 90s.
Who can say what’s going on in this weird arthouse game? That’s the beauty of it. Try describing to your friend what happened in any given “level” of Hohokum. It’s like trying to describe a dream; no one is going to know what the hell you’re talking about. But the real joy of Hohokum is stumbling across something like gameplay or an ecology or a puzzle. So that’s how this area works! Hohokum mostly glides along languidly, but it’s most gratifying when it clicks.
8) Dungeon of the Endless
A party-based turn-based rogue-like with a steep learning curve and a punishing difficulty level. Spelunk a derelict spacecraft and make the best use of your limited power to light the rooms and set up defenses that protect you from monsters. Every level ends with a mad dash for the exit, a bit like the original Descent married to a tower defense game. I can’t decide if I like this part or hate this part, because that’s what gets me every time. Every. Single. Damn. Time!
7) Velocity 2X
This is platforming combined with space shootering combined with a reflex based teleportation gimmick. But rather than being a full-blown platformer, it’s divided into short chunks, liked a diced Metroid that you play and replay for better speed or more thoroughness. That’s how Velocity 2X tricks you into getting good. Eventually, you’re doing short speed runs using really fluid platformer mechanics. Digestible and smooth, even a little seductive if you’re the type of person who can appreciate learning curves in videogames.
6) Race the Sun
A dream-like endless runner with a sleek and simple geometric aesthetic and new procedurally generated levels posted every day. It even has the courage to be in black-and-white. Race the Sun started as a PC release, but by the time the year was out, I was also playing it on my Playstation 4 and Vita. Perfect for the Vita!
5) Mercenary Kings
4) Lichdom: Battlemage
Imagine a fantasy-themed take on Borderlands, but with an intricate and meticulously documented spellcrafting system instead of gun collecting. Lovely graphics courtesy of the Crysis engine as you burn, freeze, zap, and variously dispatch bad guys with the magic you made yourself. Too bad it’s set in a long linear world.
You’re a student at a magic college (albeit a community college), setting out into various worlds to do quests, gather resources, or just explore. Beneath Magicmaker’s cutesy construction paper cut-out aesthetic, you’ll find a DIY spellcrafting system that encourages experimentation and is nearly as intricate as Lichdom: Battlemage, but much more friendly to casually faffing about. The gameplay has kick, character, and variety. By the way, here’s you chatting with one of the denizens of the college:
How cute is that?
2) Super Time Force
This game of iterating and overlapping came out for the Xbox 360 and I quickly fell in love with it. But there’s an upgraded version currently available on Steam and on its way to the Playstation 4 and Vita early this year. So I’m holding off really digging in until then. But the less Playstation-oriented among you can currently enjoy this clever take on time travel, bullet hell, and retro graphics.
1) One Finger Death Punch
What a masterpiece of mad glee and over-the-top minimalism! I am so happy I spent the twenty seconds it took to try this game, and that I then spent the ensuing hours ducking into it for brief diversions, unlocking some of its new features, sussing out its scoring challenges, and grinning wildly. One Finger Death Punch is proof that more of less can definitely be more.
Of course, for one dude, it’s impossible to keep up with all the releases every year. I’m sure there are plenty of really good smaller games I missed. That’s where you come in. I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. What are some of the gems most of us overlooked in 2014?