Twelve Games of Christmas: Honourable Mentions

Hello and welcome to ‘The Twelve Games of Christmas’, a highlight reel of some of my (Dann Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief) favourite games of 2017. As regular readers will know, we’re extremely eclectic in our tastes here at B3; hopefully these little suggestions, essentially recommendations, will match that. Enjoy!

For the final, twelfth, day of Christmas I’m going to break away from the mould of one post for one game and instead drop in some honourable mentions. Notably — or, curiously, if you like — the majority of these games actually launched before 2017; however as video games are often supported for extended periods after launch, these have all earned their place here.


Caves of Qud

Caves of Qud has been in early access since the middle of 2015. Already lofty and extensive when it first arrived on the platform, it has only gone from strength to strength in the time it has spent there.

Caves of Qud

The roguelike and roguelite genres have absolutely exploded over the last few years, with traits from the game they borrow their name from creeping into unexpected places. Caves of Qud, however, is much more similar to the first breed of titles which took on the roguelike moniker: RPGs, birds-eye and procedural, each with sweeping worlds and plenty to do within them. Games like ADOMMaj’eyal, Hack and Stone Soup. Games where you could plant and grow crops, or roast and consume the corpses of the fallen, or die by slipping over on bloodied floors.

Unlike those contemporaries, Caves of Qud takes place in a world not just magical, but post-apocalyptic and scientific. As with any post-societal setting, technology, mutations and ruins permeate the rubble and new settlements. Indeed, in Caves of Qud you’ll quickly slip from slashing away at giant rats to gunning down lizardmen with your shotgun — and the game’s systems are so well balanced that it never feels anything less than magnificent.

Every part of the game takes exceptionally from the setting. Character creation could see you end up as a six-armed, turtle-shelled beast with hooks for feet or a psionic creature who can mind control your opponents. The game’s history consists of small pockets of fallen emperors and locations that fell before the game started, which are all generated when the world is created before players start their voyage.

The journey through early access, for Caves of Qud, has been all about adding in things like the world history (which saw implementation in 2017) and new abilities. Although, as you’ll see on the Steam page, there’s an extensive list of features planned for the game, all to be closed off upon completion of the primary story thread.

Caves of Qud, if you can respect its visual style, is most definitely a desert-island-disk–style game, with a depth of content which many will never see the full extent of — this is a game where you can literally dig through every tile in the game if you are equipped to.


Dead Cells

When a game starts welding together genre names to carve out its own subgenre, it’s normally a good idea to take a step back. Dead Cells, however, was most definitely an exception to this rule, and, it was also incredibly hard to look away from — glowing neon and reds against moody dungeons and skies makes for a great looking game.

Dead Cells GIF

The self-titled roguevania does a lot of very interesting things, with the ‘vania’ part of the term eluding to the fact that the games levels remain open once player have unlocked them, allowing for skilled players to cut out previous areas when their character once again takes up arms against the dungeon they are trapped within. The rogue, then, refers to roguelites, with its persisting weapon unlocks and randomised drops, layout and boosters.

While the previously mentioned art-style and genre fusion are brilliant features, it’s really the combat which sets the game apart. Combat, is neither fast nor slow — with many strong weapons slow and staggering, while weaker ones are quicker — nor combo driven. In fact, it is timing based, and more comparable to that of fighting games. As you come to face certain enemies more and more, you come to terms with their tells, the frames which give away the attacks they are about to start winding up. Because of this all, bar the most frantic, combat feels like a rhythm or dance — you spot and process the two enemies about to dash, and know exactly where to jump, and ground-pound, launching abilities and attacks as to jab in at them as they pass where you were.

If you’re interested in reading a little bit more about Dead Cells then Jorge’s preview piece from May is a good place to start. That said, there has been some major updates since the time including custom difficulty, mutations, UI overhauls, new enemies, new areas, and a whole lot more.

Dead Cells is rapidly approaching launch now, with the game set to go up to launch price soon, ahead of version 1.0.


Death Road to Canada

Death Road to Canada 1Death Road to Canada launched on PC back in 2016, but launched on mobile devices in ’17. As such, it’s well deserving of its place in here.

As eloquently put by Maggie in her review for the game last year, Death Road to Canada is exceptional. It’s also the latest in the long line of Oregon-Trail–style games which send players on a prolonged, randomly structured journey against increasing odds. Unlike most of these, however, Death Road to Canada includes a lot more combat than is traditional, and players directly control a character in real-time combat.

While the combat is great fun — and follows zombie game rule #1: the zombies are obstacles, if you are smart, you rarely even need to kill them — it’s the humour-led events and the exceptional punky-surfer soundtrack which will remain with me long after I eventually put the game to rest. A hitchhiker modelled on Jason Voorhees joining your party leads to your party being killed off at strange moments one by one, then you leave said hitchhiker behind as you’re now aware of what they are, only for them to reappear days later and continue their massacre. The devil possesses one of your characters on its quest for pizza, or strangers from the heavens are sent to join you. Even actual choice and character-stat–led events trigger — filler moments wherein characters talk and argue on the journey are all excellent and fun.

DRTC

It’s very much a live project, too; since its initial launch a lot of new modes and unlocks have been added in. Recently a progression system came in alongside ZOMBO points, a persistent currency earned through accomplishments and milestones.

Death Road to Canada isn’t just funny and filled with catchy music, it’s also co-operative throughout and features enough events, moments and characters that it’s nigh impossible that any ten minutes spent with the game are the same.


Kingdom: New Lands

Okay, okay, so Kingdom originally released (on PC) in 2015 and I completely missed it. The original game was a survival game, basically tower defence but featuring only three buttons — go left, go right, give coin. Despite the controls’ simplicity, Kingdom was a balance of economy management and tower defence. Your use of coins was not just tactical in repelling enemies but also investments. The payout? Survival, or more coins to spend. The game was also beautiful, thanks to the developer’s use of lights and torches to stave off the darkness of night — which often signified danger — and also due the the water.

Kingdom New Lands 1

Kingdom’s water, a river which ran along the length of the entire screen, was a genius idea. Without the river the game would have had to be framed differently, either closer zoomed, and as such missing the chance for the sky to betray the time of day, or with the camera lifted to hide what would be simply ground. If the camera lifted then there’d be too much sky on screen — an oddity present in a fair few platformers. Instead the river, with its ripples and reflections, centralises the plains which make up the active component of the game. It also easily contests the beauty of the dancing skies as they play ballroom to the sun and moon, which serve as a countdown.

New Lands launched a bit more recently, and was my introduction to the title. It sews together multiple islands for your protagonist to escape to and defend, each more deadly than the last. While there was an absolute mass of new features added with the updated version, escaping to New Lands (*cough*) on the river-turned-ocean via a boat funded and crewed by the equivalent of your first week’s hard labour in gold is undeniably core to the content, and a smart reversal of the stockpiling that survival in the core game demanded.

Kingdom: New Lands is still well supported by its developer and publisher combo, with a recent mini-DLC issued for free late last year which added a new island to the game. It was also ported to the Switch last year and is set to receive a co-operative standalone expansion at some point in the future.


Recursed

Recursed launched back in 2016, however has received multiple updates this year including The Last Tapestry, a twenty-mission pack with new mechanics. That said, those updates aren’t the reason why I eventually stumbled across it, no. Truth be told, it’s because I accidentally met up with the developer of the game whilst sat in an American-Irish styled pub in Skövde, during the Sweden Games Festival.

Recursed 1

Based off the principles of recursion, Recursed is a challenging puzzle-platformer which features a bevy of clever mechanics, but most importantly the ability to enter instances of items within the bounds of those items themselves, in a seemingly infinite loop. Or, as the store page puts it, it’s ‘A puzzle game where the rooms are items and the items are rooms’.

Its greatest accomplishment isn’t in the technical challenge of having a game where some challenges have you enter the same object thrice to drag a key, or brick out to alter a previous instance — nope. Its accomplishment is in the clever staggering of new mechanics and the fact that the player doesn’t need its brief narrations to learn new challenges as they appear. There are certainly moments when the game rushes a little bit ahead, but players are free to head to previous levels to retread steps if they didn’t quite understand the lesson.

While the puzzles’ essential stacking of worlds might not seen very accessible on first viewing, there is a palpable logic to them where solutions translate especially well to a notepad of lined paper.


RimWorld

By simply mentioning RimWorld on the site I’ve already bitten off more than I can chew. It’s an amazing game, one which the majority of the team really treasure; from Katherine with her mighty mod manifesto to those of us who are happy bumbling around in vanilla.

Rimworld 1

It’s a game that has deeply permeated the site. Its combination of deadly sci-fi Western future with colony management game leads to an accessible, digestible take on Dwarf Fortress’ formula. Add then, that each colonist has a decent depth in their easily-affected mood, habits and attachments, and that the game features an AI storyteller who exists to keep the game from stagnating. It’s a match made in heaven for a specific subset of gamers: those who get easily attached to characters, and enjoy base-building and RTS games.

For me, whilst the building is relatively diverse it does become a little rinse and repeat until you become confident enough to venture into more awkward climates and altitudes. Combat, however, is always fantastic.

Combat in RimWorld is, like the game, realtime pauseable. You can draft any of your colonists and move them around with clear, simple right-clicks. Your pawns will use cover dynamically, including jumping out from behind a wall to take a potshot, and the nature of the game means that cover will take damage and peel away when under sustained fire.

While I’ve gathered dozens of stories of my colonists and colonies surviving against the odds, or going out in flames, each of those stories boil down to those moments I took direct control, ripping the pawns from their routine. Sure, it’s great when you weather a toxic storm narrowly, or when you best a crop plague. But having to directly control colonists you’ve seen grow and come to rely on, as you send them into a smouldering, boiling chamber to try to save their friends from a raging crop fire after an electrical surge — that’s memorable.

That’s before we even get to moments when the base becomes a battleground, and you’ve got to carefully move your colonists to rescue those who are downed — having them push through gunshot wounds and starvation to try to keep the colony in one piece. All of this while knowing that those raiders, with their molotovs and grenades, are simply after your storage room — and that they’ll break everything between them and that to take it.

When the storm clears and the ruins of the bandits fall back after, maybe, a misthrown grenade saved you some efforts, it’s back to repairing, healing and rebuilding. Colonies, if you play on an appropriate AI, wind up as battle-hardened storybooks, rubble, scars and graves instead of chapters.

RimWorld is, well, it’s really good.


Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap

In what is most definitely a case of saving the best for last, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap needed to be mentioned in this list. Lizard Cube’s efforts have, for me, completely redefined the term ‘remaster’.

Wonderboy The Dragons Trap 1

Dragon’s Trap, for those unaware, was an adventure game originally released in 1989 for the Sega Master System. It was an adventure game back when Zelda, Metroid and Castlevania games were classified as adventure games, but for me it’s very much the first metroidvania. It — and Wonder Boy in Monster World — delivered on the most important tickbox for the genre: world space locked behind abilities and equipment.

Indeed, Dragon’s Trap’s main gimmick was a character who would change form as they defeated bosses. Each form had different traversal (attack) abilities, which, combined with a few ability-gifting items along the way, would allow you to push on for the next boss.

Lizard Cube’s passion for the original seems unmatched, with a member of the team already notorious for peeling apart the code before they even began work on this tribute/modernisation. This level of care and respect would have been enough to make the 2017 title a success, however the team instead went the whole hog: each audio track remade with real instruments, each sound effect re-recorded in foley, and the artwork swapped out for an amazing, hand-drawn effort.

Not only was every element of the visuals and sound remade, but it was all done to exactly the same scale and marker as the originals, meaning that as you switch between old and new the game is seamless. The only exceptions? Hidden challenge maps tucked around the game world, and some UI/Control tweaks which improve on the original.

Wonderboy III: The Dragon’s Trap was a cult classic due to it being an excellently implemented idea. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap (2017) deserves celebration because it not only improved on that, but also opened up that game to a new audience.

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