Last Updated on August 28, 2019
Going forward with “Diamonds in the Rough”, I will attempt to stick to just 10 recommended games per article. Without further ado here are my 15 lesser-known diamonds in the rough indie games on steam for the week of July 7, 2019.
Click the titles of the games to go to their Steam page.
All photos included are from Steam.
Genre: Point and Click Adventure
I really want to recommend this game, but unfortunately, the presentation and trailer do not give us much information to go on without actually playing the game. What I do know is that the game is made by a small French indie team of four people; that the art is very pretty, minimalist, and unique; and that this is their first game.
The story is about a person who wakes up on a beach on what looks like an island. The developers say that their goal was to discuss the subject of domestic violence. My favorite thing about this game, however, is probably the art style. I love the minimalist aesthetic that only uses shades of blue and green with white outlines and details.
The game is just beautiful, and for $5 is a reasonable price for anyone who is a fan of Point and Click Adventures.
Genre: Point and Click Adventure
I hope you have played Mini Metro, because that game is certainly all I could think about when I saw the Traffix trailer. Traffix is a minimalistic traffic management game. Unlike in Mini Metro, where players control and build an urban mass transit system, Traffix has the players taking the role of a traffic operator in the middle of a city. The player must manually change traffic lights at intersections and other potential points of collision, keeping in mind other vehicles on the road.
If the player isn’t careful and lets too many cars through a light at once or mistimes changing the lights, they will cause a crash.
However, if the player waits too long to send cars through a light, then the drivers will get upset. Juggling these two priorities should provide enough to be engaging for a minimalist puzzler like this. Hell, Mini Metro maintains the player’s engagement with only a handful of mechanics as well.
Any fans of Mini Metro wanting a fresh game with different mechanics, but the same kind of relaxing and minimalist art and gameplay, should take a closer look at this game.
Genre: Mystery/Detective Adventure
Considering this is the first game in what I assume will hopefully be a long-running indie mystery series, I will just refer to this game as Isabelle Fine at the moment, because oh boy is that full name a doozie. Isabelle Fine is a story-focused adventure detective game where the players are the eponymous Isabelle Fine, a time-traveling, dimension-hopping detective.
The art and graphics aren’t particularly stunning. However, the premise is just so intriguing to me, and the potential for where this series could go is just outstanding.
On one hand, considering that the player character is an interdimensional detective, the Victorian railroad murder mystery seems a little bland and well-worn when Isabelle Fine could theoretically be solving mysteries basically anywhere.
This familiar setting for a murder mystery, however, could be a great place for a series like this to start, somewhere not too jarring for fans of the mystery adventure genre.
I hope that in the future we’ll be able to see more Isabelle Fine games made with more resources. For now though, the only way we’ll be able to have that is to support this first game.
Genre: Tessellating Puzzle Game
Planaris 2+ takes a classic game and puts a spin on its mechanics. Interestingly enough, Planaris 2 was originally a free flash game and you can play that version right now if you want to try it out. I don’t know exactly how much Planaris 2+ changes from the flash version, and I hope that Planaris 2+ at least has more content, levels, and challenges than the original.
From the screenshots, it looks like that is the case, but either way, if you are nostalgic for the old heyday of internet flash gaming and want to support one of the creators, this is one of the best ways to do that.
Now, what exactly is Planaris 2+ and why should you play it? Planaris 2+ is Tetris but with a twist; the blocks do not fall down, instead, the player can place them anywhere on the grid. The goal is still the same, to complete lines, however, lines can be completed both vertically and horizontally. Also unlike Tetris, Planaris 2+ has additional power-ups that randomly get placed on the board.
By completing a line with a power-up, an ability is activated, anything from clearing other lines to being a bomb that destroys nearby blocks and opens up room for new blocks to be placed. A wonderful and fresh take on a classic game, Planaris 2+ definitely deserves to get more attention.
Genre: Twin Stick Space Explorer
Captain Starshot is a retro-futuristic space exploration twin-stick shooter game. The best part is that the game is completely free to play. It was created by a group of 23 students at the Breda University Of Applied Sciences in the International Game Architecture & Design Program. The game legitimately looks amazing: fantastic art, great sound design, and tons of polish.
Combat is done both in space between ships, as well as on enemy ships with your individual crew after boarding. Levels are procedurally generated, as well allowing a new and fresh experience every time you play. There are also plenty of options for weapons and abilities.
For a game that looks so good and so polished, it is honestly criminal for it to be free. However, that does mean that so long as you think the aesthetic or gameplay looks intriguing, there is no downside to trying it out.
I really wish the students behind this game the best, and I hope that we’ll be able to see more games come from them that are as high quality as Captain Starshot.
Genre: Interactive/Visual Novel
Monsters of Little Haven could be described as a “Visual Novel”, though I feel that descriptor tends to refer to a genre of games that you wouldn’t initially stick this one into. Monsters of Little Haven is, in fact, a novel, and does include visuals, as well as voice acting. However, it seems like there is less focus on dialogue with other characters or a first-person perspective where the player is a character in the story.
Instead, based on all the screenshots, the game uses a third-person narrative, and it seems that while the player has control over the narrative, they don’t really have much agency over characters. Apart from this, the art is well done and very atmospheric.
In general, this game gives off a wonderful atmosphere of dread and depression. From what little we do know of the story, the game follows a small family in rural Wales who, thanks to the rural location, has been relatively unaffected by and isolated from the chaos and destruction of the outside world.
According to the trailer, the children eventually find a “mysterious monster”. Unfortunately, the store page doesn’t seem to offer much more information apart from that.
Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure Puzzler
The pixel art in Atma is just absolutely gorgeous. The colors are great, the backgrounds are amazing, and the animation is just top tier. Whoever is doing the art for Team Atma needs more praise and recognition for their work, because damn, is this game just beautiful. Unfortunately, the store page and trailer don’t give us too much information.
From the looks of the description, however, the game includes a number of dungeons to explore, as well as various magical powers called “mantras” that the player can use to affect battle or solve puzzles in the environment.
The story focus doesn’t seem to be quite as involved here as in a few of the other games on this list, but the basic idea is that you’re playing the religious leader of your society where humans and spirits coexist, and your goal is to save your recently deceased lover.
A couple of reviews say that this game is pretty short, which could be a good or a bad thing depending on the personal preference of the players. In general though, this game should get more attention due to its beautiful pixel art, and of course its price, or lack thereof.
Genre: Retro Dungeon Crawler/RPG
Dungeon of Dragon Knight certainly wears its inspiration on its sleeve. Whether it is inspired by the Legend of Grimrock or Eye of the Beholder or both, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Dungeon of Dragon Knight is clearly a labor of love and loves the genre that inspired it. Like both Grimrock and Beholder, Dragon Knight is a tile-based blobber (meaning you control an entire party at once in a “blob”) dungeon-crawling retro RPG.
The player must explore a dungeon, fighting enemies and detecting and dealing with traps along the way. Unfortunately, the art is not the best. Most of the animations feel a little janky, the particle effects are not great, and while the textures look fine from a distance, I wouldn’t suggest looking too closely at them.
However, for this type of game, I’m not sure that the lackluster art is necessarily something that would kill the experience or prevent someone from wanting to play it.
The old school dungeon crawler genre does not see many new releases. The most recent that I can think of is from 5 years ago with the release of Legend of Grimrock II. With all that being said, it is fantastic to see another take on the genre, and fans should keep an eye on this one.
Genre: Retro Western Platformer
Does anyone remember Pitfall!? To be fair, that game is older than me, so I really really don’t blame modern gamers if they don’t know about it. Anyways, if you do remember Pitfall!, Too Loud reminds me of that game, primarily the art style and pixel art, which is actually gorgeous.
The pixel art in this game is very reminiscent of the old 8-bit pixel games, but it has some extra modern touches that just make the art feel special and more than just an old school Atari game.
Apart from the art, Too Loud looks like a simple action platformer with a dark Western theme. The developers said that they initially set out to make a much larger game but ran out of free time to develop, so they decided to release what they had in this free “Chapter 1”.
There have been multiple free games this week, I know, but based on visuals alone I really hope this game gets more attention so that the developers will be able to use that attention to get the resources needed to finish this game.
The Metroidvania is one of my favorite genres; it has basically everything I could want: exploring the world and mechanics, non-linear design with the ability to explore the world at your own pace, obtaining new abilities that not only make the player more powerful but also grant them access to new areas of the map, etc. In the past few years, the Metroidvania has been having a bit of a renaissance. Hollow Knight and Bloodstained, in particular, come to mind.
Eagle Island continues that trend, but unlike other indie Metroidvanias, Eagle Island has not received as much attention, which is a shame. Eagle Island looks absolutely stunning. The pixel art is beautifully detailed and wonderfully animated.
There are numerous abilities to get and ways to modify them with in-game mechanics, and plenty of content and ways to play the game. There are three different ways to play: a standard story mode, a permadeath “rogue” mode, and a speed run mode.
The game is also available on the Switch if you would rather play it on the go. Probably the best part is that it includes a demo as well, so you can try it out before buying.
Genre: Sci-Fi Puzzle-Adventure
Professor Lupo is a really interesting-looking 2D puzzle game. Honestly, at this point, I find it surprising that we keep finding new and unique ways to make puzzle games interesting. The premise of Professor Lupo is that you are playing as an intern to the eponymous professor on his research vessel looking after his “pets”. These pets are normally very cute and harmless, but the minute they see a human, they become enraged and turn monstrous and deadly.
When Lupo’s space station is attacked on his way back to Earth, you need to find a way to escape, solving puzzles and keeping Lupo’s pets off your back, or at the least on the back of the attackers.
The art and voice-acting looks pretty great. I always love the hand-drawn cartoon sprite aesthetic that games like this and Hollow Knight use. The game also advertises over 100 levels to solve.
With a demo available and the full game for a little more than a movie ticket, Professor Lupo is not a game to skip.
Genre: Turn-based strategy wargame
Frankly, I’m surprised that Tiny Metal has not received much hype or even recognition so far. I could swear I remember seeing it on the “popular new releases” for a couple of days after its release, but now it is no longer there. Regardless, Tiny Metal bills itself as a spiritual successor to Nintendo’s Advance Wars series. Earlier this year saw the release of Wargroove, another fantastic turn-based strategy wargame that was billed as a spiritual successor to Advance Wars.
However, while Wargroove was great, for some people it didn’t capture that same kind of experience that Advance Wars gave them. There were a number of major mechanical changes between Wargroove and Advance Wars, and I can’t blame people for feeling a little disappointed. With that being said, Tiny Metal looks quite similar to Advance Wars if only in its aesthetic.
For example, Tiny Metal has armies that are based on roughly modern technology (tanks, helicopters, and the like) and adds some more fantastical elements with a heavily stylized art style. There are multiple commanders to choose from: online multiplayer, skirmish mode, a campaign. There are tons of ways to play Tiny Metal.
Technically this game is a sequel, but their first game never got much attention, and this one clearly has made of improvements, so it should be a fine place to start.
I still can’t believe this game hasn’t gotten more attention. Go give it that attention! The game is available on both Steam and the Switch as well if you want to play it on the go.
Genre: Interactive Fantasy Novel
Exile of the Gods is an epic interactive fantasy novel. A sort of fusion between a traditional novel, choose-your-own-adventure, and text adventure, Exile of the Gods places the player in control of the protagonist of a fantasy novel based on ancient Greek myth. It is a pretty impressive feat to be honest, with over 460,000 words in the novel, and multiple different ways the story could unfold based on how you control the protagonist.
It doesn’t look like the story is solely linear as well, as Exile of the Gods has stats and “side quests” of sorts. Exile of the Gods is also a sequel to an earlier work, Champion of the Gods, and people who played that previously can import the character’s information over to Exile of the Gods for additional content and outcomes. Neither game is extremely expensive, and most physical books cost more than these two games.
Both games are also on Android as well as PC, if you would rather play/read on the go. It’s an intriguing concept to be sure, and one that deserves more recognition so that more developers will be more willing to take interesting and weird risks like this in the future.
Genre: Fantasy Visual Novel
Like many other visual novels, Jack-in-a-Castle is focused on romance and ending up in a relationship with another character in the game. Unlike other visual novels, Jack-in-a-Castle has a number of things that make it stand out. The aesthetic gives me Alice in Wonderland vibes, and in general, the art is fantastic and I love the style, character designs, and expressions. The little toybox world is also a very cute setting.
Additionally, the main character Marion the Marionette bucks traditional gender roles and looks extremely feminine for a male character. In fact, most of the other characters and love interests buck traditional gender roles as well.
The game is relatively short, and cheap as well. The demo is more than just a demo; it contains the full, if a little condensed, story but has fewer endings and love interests.
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy/Puzzle game
Spy Tactics is a “GO” style puzzle game like Lara Croft GO and Hitman GO, though the inspiration for Spy Tactics most clearly comes from the latter. In Spy Tactics, the player takes the control of a secret agent who is given various assignments to carry out. The game is played from a top-down perspective with the playing field looking much like that of a board game, similar to Hitman GO.
Like other GO games, Spy Tactics gives the player a limited amount of control over their character, only being able to move along lines to adjacent spaces with other characters and enemies moving after your character does. The graphics look fine; they’re not anything amazing, but they do the job for the type of game that Spy Tactics is.
If you were a fan of Lara Croft GO and Hitman GO, check out this one for a fresh experience. It is cheap and has a demo, so there isn’t much risk if you decide to pick it up.
As usual, all these games have a link to their steam page in their title, if you thought any of them sounded interested I would suggest checking them out, purchasing if you have the spare income and if not at least sticking it on your Steam wishlist for the future. As always, support new indie devs!