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Buried Treasure 2: 4 More Obscure Steam Games You Should Play
Not so long ago, we introduced you to the wonderful world of oddities and obscurities you don’t see on the front page of Steam. A single list could never hope to introduce you to all the neglected games the platform has to offer though. In fact, we barely scratched the surface. So here we are again, with another edition of Buried Treasure and four more games you should definitely try out.
1 Pony island
What could be simpler and more wholesome than a game called Pony Island? A lot of things, as it turns out, because Pony Island is actually an extremely creepy horror game. With no memory of your past and no knowledge of your circumstances, you are confronted with a buggy, glitching computer which appears to be capable of playing only a single, very primitive, game about a pony jumping over fences. There’s a problem though: The game is so badly programmed that it barely works, and your efforts to play it are constantly interrupted by a steady stream of commentary from the game’s mysterious creator. If you want to survive this nightmare, you’ll have to beat the game, hack the system, and destroy the core program files that hold it all together. Good luck with that though… any game made by “Satantech” is going to have a few tricks up its sleeve.
The gameplay is fairly basic, and is mainly composed of two types of challenges. The first are the “Pony Island” sections themselves, which are simple platforming tests in which you control an endlessly running pony and must jump, fly, and use your PONY LASERS to avoid or destroy enemies and obstacles. The second type of challenge is a little more unusual: A series of “Hacking” puzzles in which you must place a series of commands into slots to guide a key into a lock. Neither gameplay type is particularly challenging, and the platforming sections can get old after a while, but the puzzles are clever enough to stay interesting throughout the game.
What you’re really playing for though, is the atmosphere. The stark visuals, harsh sound effects, and ominous music combine to create a distinctly unsettling feeling, and while there are few real scares in the game, you’ll feel subtly uncomfortable the whole time you’re playing. The air of mystery helps with that: Pony Island never explains anything, leaving you groping in the dark with cryptic clues and unhelpful hints that you’ll have to puzzle out on your own. If confusion and discomfort are your thing, you could do much, much worse than this game about ponies.
2: Jets ‘n’ Guns Gold
Not all games are as deceptively named as Pony Island. Some tell you everything you need to know right there in the title. Jets’n’guns, then, is a game about flying around in a jet and shooting things with guns. A fairly typical scrolling shooter, Jets’n’Guns distinguishes itself from the pack through its impressive length (the campaign contains over 40 levels) and its substantial level of ship customization. Guns, Bombs, missiles, lasers, upgrades, and more can all be added to your ship, but you’ll need to watch out: pile on with to many heavy weapons and you’ll find yourself overheating, resulting in long periods in which you’re unable to fire and helpless before the game’s many enemies. No worries though: just upgrade your coolant or maybe buy a whole new ship and you’ll be good to go in no time.
You might wonder if a game about flying from left to right shooting things could possibly sustain the excitement over dozens of missions, but Jets’n’Guns actually has a surprising amount of variety. Different environments, levels with their own unique hazards, and a ludicrous number of different enemies all serve to keep things fresh. Something new is introduced every couple of levels, and learning the attack patterns of each new foe should keep you on your toes. The games goofy, sci-fi pastiche story helps as well. It’s hard to feel bored when you’re battling the flying beer bottles of the Einhoff Beer Empire while listening to a giant cube inform that “You will be intoxicated. Resistance is futile”.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the game’s excellent soundtrack. Jets’n’guns features an epic heavy metal score by Swedish band Machinae Supremacy, and every second of it is awesome. Guitars, drums, and electronic synthesizer wails punctuate the action, making everything even more intense than it already was. The visual design is good to, with lots of weird enemy designs (Like the aforementioned beer bottles), intimidating bosses, and dramatic backgrounds. If you’re on the hunt for a space shooter, they don’t come much cooler than this.
3: Dead Man’s Draw
Dead Mans Draw looks simple. So simple, in fact, that there’s only one decision to make: To draw a card, or not to draw a card. Don’t be fooled though, this game is fiendishly clever. The rules are straightforward enough: Each turn, you draw a card. You can then choose to bank that card, adding it to your score pile and ending your turn, or draw another card. You can keep drawing cards for as long as you like, but beware: Draw two cards from the same one of the games ten suits, and you’ll go bust, sending all your cards straight to the discard pile. Once every card has been drawn, both players add up the total value of their highest cards in each suit, and whoever has the highest score is the winner. Simple.
Complicating matters somewhat is the fact that each suit of cards grants a special ability when drawn. Draw a cannon, for example, and you can blast one card from your opponent’s score pile to the discards. Draw a sword, and you can steal a card from your opponent, gaining both its score value and it’s special ability. The mermaid lets you reuse an ability, the hook lets you play a card from your score pile back to the field, and players unlucky enough to draw a kraken are immediately forced to draw two new cards. The basic push-your-luck mechanics are thus enhanced by the need to intelligently use and combine your special abilities. A clever player, for example, might use his hook to play a sword, letting him steal an opponent’s mermaid, which in turn allows him to reuse the sword, letting him steal a cannon with which to destroy a high value card. Plays like that can completely transform a game, so you’re never completely out of the running so long as there’s one card left in the deck.
If all that sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. The game introduces it’s mechanics at a steady pace, always giving you time to get used to one before adding another into the mix. As you progress, you’ll gradually accumulate special “traits” which enhance your card powers in new ways, and encounter variant rules that help keep the game feeling fresh. At heart though, it’s always a simple game of testing your luck, and trusting the cards. If you’re looking for a good way to while away a few minutes with a tactical but exciting card game, Dead Man’s Draw might be just what you’re looking for.
4:One Way Heroics
Most roguelikes have you exploring a dungeon, a castle, or some other confined space. That’s not nearly grand enough for One Way Heroics, which sees you travelling across the entire world. There’s a catch though: you can only travel in one direction, as the world is being consumed behind you by an impenetrable black shadow. If you want to stop the destruction before it’s too late, you’ll have to pursue and defeat the evil Demon Lord in a running battle across the land. Naturally, your quest will include everything you would expect in a roguelike: A variety of classes to choose from to tailor the game to your play-style, deadly enemies that can kill you in a matter of moments, wandering merchants who know that the end of the world is a great opportunity to sell weapons and items, and of course useful treasures that might just mean the difference between victory and defeat.
You won’t be able to explore everything the world has to offer though, because the darkness advances relentlessly, and to let it catch up with you means death. This element of time pressure forces you to prioritize, and to plan your route carefully. Fighting enemies, for example, provides much needed experience for the fight with the Demon Lord, but spend too long at it and you might find death nipping at your heels. Choosing to visit one village might mean missing your chance to reach another, robbing you of it’s valuable resources. These kinds of choices add an interesting twist to the roguelike formula, and the randomly generated worlds ensure yours constantly faced with new choices and challenges. Of course, in true roguelike tradition, this randomness can sometimes put you in a distinctly unfair situation, but losing is all part of the fun in a game like this.
It’s a shame that your frequent defeats will inevitably result in the destruction of the world, because the world is really a rather pleasant place to look at. The game has a 90’s JRPG aesthetic that should be familiar to fans of games like Secret of Mana, with lots of soothing colors and distinctive looking sprites. Attractive anime style character portraits are also used in the game’s few dialogue scenes with your companions, who often have tragic backstories that are surprisingly affecting given how rarely they actually speak. Part of the effectiveness comes from the game’s strong soundtrack, which features an array of relaxing travel themes and JRPG Sad Piano Tunes. All in all, this is a good pick for fans of roguelikes and retro pixel aesthetics.