The February 2017 game release schedule has given us some great big budget games. Nioh, For Honor, and Horizon Zero Dawn to name a few and March looks to be even better. The day that this post goes up the Nintendo Switch and Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be out. However, if you cannot buy a Switch or a 60+ dollar price tag is too much, then you may find yourself with a lack of games to play.
Today I’ll be doing some quick analysis/recommendations on a few smaller games. These games can be found on steam for 15 bucks or less. These games are not perfect, and in some cases, the games I recommend aren’t finished or are for a niche audience. But if you’re looking for some games that won’t destroy your bank account and aren’t that taxing on a computer, then look no further.
Downwell is a game about falling down a well. It’s great.
Ok, so it’s a little more complicated than that. Players control “a young person” in search for mysterious treasure at the bottom of the well. Armed only with a pair of gun boots, players hop passed obstacles and monsters on a trip to the bottom. You may notice a pattern in the games chosen for this list. The games that I recommend have simple controls and are easy to pick up.
Downwell’s controls consist of jumping and moving from left to right. Your gun boots can be activated like a double jump, however, the purpose isn’t to gain height or distance, but to delay your descent. It will shoot a projectile downward, slightly pushing up against the player and slowing their downward momentum. This can be used to kill enemies or destroy terrain that’s in the way. The gun boots have limited clip size but landing on a surface, or enemy will reload the boots for you.
This game has a procedural level generator that creates a new set of levels each new session you play. The level generator will create a column with indentations, platforms, breakable terrain, traps, and monsters. The type of feature added to the level depends on which zone you are in. There are four zones that consist of three levels, for 12 levels in total. Once you reach the bottom of the last level of the last zone, you win! After you beat a boss of course. Along the way players will obtain gems, a currency used to buy bonuses in randomly scattered shops along the well’s walls.
There are also caves that dot the edges of the walls as well. These caves contain gems and different types of gun boots for the player to swap. You can only have one type of gun boot active at a time, and when you pick up a new one, it replaces the ones you have equipped. The type is entirely up to the player, each has its own tradeoffs and benefits. The shotgun style boot had more of a kick back and covers a wide area, but has a very small ammo capacity. The machine gun fires rapidly for a more controlled descent, but only if you fire in quick succession.
At the end of a level, if the player collected enough gems, then they can choose from three randomly selected power-ups. These power-ups will come into effect on the next level and are lost upon death. These buffs range anywhere from extra health to terrain clearing bullets, to more shops. Each session is different, but doesn’t fall into the traditional roguelike trap of having “lucky runs.” This meaning the player obtained a series of useful items completely by chance. The power-ups are a nice bonus, but the game is centered around tight controls and player skill.
Switchcars is a game about jumping through space and time, possessing random vehicles to outrun a hostile alien race. An odd concept with fast paced gameplay and a wide variety of mechanics. What’s not to love?
Players are put onto a track that they can navigate with the arrow keys. As the player moves to the right, they will eventually encounter a random vehicle. Each vehicle is suited to drive over different terrains. The type of vehicle that spawns depends on the type of terrain the player is on. If they are on a race track the player is most likely going to find a race car. If the player is in a snowy tundra they will find a snowmobile
As the player is running, the track will change to other random locations in space and time. The player can possess up to three different vehicles and swap between them. Players’ vehicles can take damage and have a fuel limit. There are power-ups and repair stations along the way so the player can maintain their stash of vehicles. If a vehicle becomes broken or obsolete the player can ditch their old ride for a new one. The goal of the player is to hop from year to year and reach the far flung future of 2055.
This game, like a lot of games on this recommendation list, is easy to learn and hard to master. Players need to think on the fly and adapt to anything the procedural level generator throws at them. Switchcars is fast, you’ll find that most of the game-over’s early on are more from crashing than aliens. However, once you get over the initial hurdle of learning the controls, the game opens up. Switching between the appropriate cars to keep up momentum while dodging oncoming traffic is simply fun.
One thing to keep in mind is that it is early access. There are sometimes bugs, and not all of the intended features are there. However, in the game’s current state, there is plenty to play. Each run is unique and the randomness of the levels will keep players on their toes. For a game whose early access content supplies such engaging play, it already feels worth the asking price.
This game comes with two large caveats, which might (understandably) scare people away. This is on the higher end of the price spectrum for this list, being 15 smackeroos. NEO Scavenger has roguelike elements, one of which is permadeath. You will die a whole lot in this game and when you die, nothing gets saved or carried over. Sometimes, you will die within the first day because you couldn’t find the right items. You may lose several hours of progress because of a bad call or an honest mistake. If you are ok with these prospects, then you may find a game that’s endlessly fascinating.
The player wakes up in a cryo facility, with no memory of how they got there. You must survive the wasteland, and try to look for clues as to who they are. The computer and the player take turns moving and choosing actions. During the player’s turn they can choose to do any number of actions, from scavenging around in an area to dressing a wound. Every action takes up a move. Players get moves depending on their health, weather, and terrain at the start of a turn.
The gameplay consists of inventory management and text-based interactions. This may sound unappealing at first, but fans of Resident Evil 4 and Diablo vouch for how lovely an organized inventory can be. Players move around a procedurally generated world, consisting hexagons which represent different terrains. If the player moves to a terrain with a building on it, they can choose to scavenge it if they have enough moves left in their turn. Players must seek out shelter, warm clothes, food, and protection if they hope to survive.
When you aren’t picking through abandoned office buildings or storage units, you are defending yourself against assailants. At first, the only enemies you’ll encounter are dogs, but as time goes on, you’ll find more and more armed thugs. Combat consists of the player and the computer picking an action and then comparing the choices. Certain actions, like sneaking for example, require certain skills and are dependent on the conditions around the player. The actions chosen will determine what happens in combat. For example, the player may choose to dodge, while the computer controlled dog may choose to charge. Charging has a period of vulnerability after it is done, and will lock certain actions. This would allow the player to exploit that weakness with an attack action if they were able to dodge out of the way.
Winning a fight does not give the player experience, but it grants access to whatever the loser is carrying. This provides the character with a meaningful choice every combat. Do you risk injuring yourself to get whatever is on the NPC? If you don’t have the proper means to disinfect a wound then you may end up dying of infection. Every encounter must be thought over because every injury has the potential to be deadly.
Players are urged to take their time and think out their moves. NEO Scavenger starts the player off with the challenge of surviving in the wilds. This alone will cause a lot of early deaths. If you’re willing to put up with multiple permadeaths than NEO Scavenger will provide hours of compelling gameplay.
Devil Daggers takes place in a darkened arena. at firs,t you see only your hand and the ground under you. You begin to hear an eerie moan as skulls hover at you from the darkness. You send out a flurry of daggers to intercept the heads, but more and more keep coming. The droning gets louder, turning into the howls of the damned. A wave of skulls crashes into you and you sink to the floor with a reddened screen. Then you get back up, and try again.
Devil Daggers is a simple game, with a massive skill cap. The game consists of strafing around an arena, with the power to send daggers flying from your fingertips. There are two modes for firing, a shotgun style blast and a machine gun style stream. Enemies will spawn at certain time intervals and will increase in intensity until the player goes down.
Devil Daggers is an arcade style game, meaning it’s not designed to be beaten. The player tries to rack up the best score that they possibly can and compare to other people’s scores. The fun of this game is replaying it and seeking out better times with every run. The atmosphere, fast paced gameplay, and single hit deaths make for an adrenalin pumping experience. If Devil Daggers had an arcade machine, it’d be a quarter eater (That’s a compliment, I swear).
That’s essentially it in terms of mechanics. This game is very short and is best played in short bursts. One point of contention is if the content is worth the price. 5 dollars is already pretty cheap and it goes on sale often, I got mine for $2.50. But is this worth the asking price? After all, you may play this only handful of times here or there. I would say yes, I’ve put three times that amount of money in a donkey kong arcade cabinet.
These games are small, cheap, and can have you playing them for hours. I recommend each of these as a fan. Each may have its own set of problems or are unfinished. but for their asking price and content, these games are worth the few bucks.