In 2018, much like every year, there were numerous amazing games released that many gamers just never got to try out – or even hear about. Sometimes it’s due to low marketing budgets, sometimes poor advertising, or sometimes the game just needs to be tried to understand why it’s fun. Often it’s just plain bad luck.
With the new year underway and all resolutions abandoned, we thought it would be a good time to look back over 2018’s gaming cornucopia, and highlight some of our favourites that flew under the radar. These games have clever mechanics, great ideas, and in some cases are all-round masterpieces. If you’re looking for some lesser-known games to fill these cold and wintery January evenings, this little lot should should keep you busy.
In many ways, Donut County feels a lot like a small hint of what makes Katamari Damacy great. A few hours long, you play a raccoon who runs a doughnut shop – but instead of shipping out donuts sends the hole from the centre of the doughnut. This hole can be moved around, and swallows up anything small enough to fit inside. Every time it consumes an object, the hole grows, allowing you to swallow bigger and bigger items.
It’s a relaxing, cute game about working out how best to consume everything in sight, with a great sense of humour, adorable plot, and funny item descriptions for every item you collect with the hole. It’s short, it’s simple, but it’s well worth a play if you enjoy Katamari-style puzzle games and want an extra hit of that type of experience.
OK, this is the one you’re most likely to have heard of, but it still feels like this arrived with a bang then kinda got forgotten about. During the course of 2018 Kotaku UK was a pretty big champion of Minit, a Zelda-style top-down adventure game with a twist.
The idea of Minit is that, after touching a cursed sword, the player is doomed to die every 60 seconds, respawning back in bed. You have to complete an adventure in these tiny time increments, working out how to use that time to achieve just one bit of permanent progression to help your next run.
The game is incredibly well designed, in a way where shortcuts, progression items, and secrets learned continually help you do more and more with your time, eventually beating the final boss while being within a minute’s run from a comfy bed.
Minit is pretty short, with speedrunners getting playthroughs down to around 25 minutes, but on a first playthrough it’ll likely offer a solid few hours of exploration. It’s a game that makes a lot of smart choices with a relatively small amount of content, and is constantly pushing the player to work out how on earth they’re expected to do things so quickly.
Released unexpectedly at Halloween, and at the price of ‘free’, Deltarune is the first episode of what will hopefully be Undertale creator Toby Fox’s next full-length game. While the full project’s fate is up in the air, with Fox stating he will only complete it if he can find a team to work with and finish it quickly, this first episode works just fine as a standalone product.
Played in isolation, Deltarune tells the story of a pair of children who fall into a different world through some sort of portal in a cupboard at school, and have to try to make their way home. The game uses Undertale’s ‘avoid bullet hell patterns while completing turn-based combat’ idea, but improves upon it with new patterns, a multi party system, and improved over world bullet dodging sections.
The game plays around with some interesting themes of lack of agency, which are in stark contrast to the emphasis on choice given in Undertale. The game takes around two to three hours to complete and, while connected to Undertale, can definitely be enjoyed by people who jump in without experience of the past game.
Released back in October, The Hex managed to fly completely under my radar for a few months, despite loving the developer’s previous game, Pony Island. The Hex starts off with a simple premise, there’s six video game protagonists all sat around at a bar in the lobby of an inn, and the bartender receives a call informing him someone in the building is going to commit a murder.
From here, using only the WASD keys, you explore several mechanically distinct video game worlds, learning about these protagonists, their stories, and the impact that players had on the future of their series.
You’ve got a mascot platformer clearly modelled after Sonic the Hedgehog, a first-person perspective protagonist who only had his arms and legs modelled, a space marine, an RPG spellcaster, and so on.
While trying not to spoil too much, the game uses Steam information in clever ways, a single control scheme is used across multiple game styles, and the overall unfolding mystery is well worth the five or so hours it takes to play through. I left the experience and spent hours longer pondering players, protagonists, and games in the internet age.
File this one under bad luck, bad name, and just all-around bad times for British studio Roll7. It may be its best game to date – but the world wouldn’t listen. It only came out in summer but, for anyone who found something to love here, it probably feels like forever.
In 2018’s landscape Laser League is original, the basics being two teams using nodes on a single-screen map to activate lasers and eliminate the other team. With just the analogue stick and trigger used to to control, it hits that sweet spot of being easy to pick up and play (even one-handed) but difficult to master.
Capturing nodes and trying to outwit a similarly capable opposing team has all the excitement and spectacle of any live or digital sport.
Pocket Rumble‘s diminutive name is perfect for this game’s concept, which is an accessible fighter with a small-but-varied roster, and the precision to make fights genuinely worthwhile. It’s a 2D fighter where everything is controlled by directional inputs and a mere two attack buttons. Pressing down diagonally on either side and one of the buttons produces a special move, there’s a super meter building up, and characters have little kinks tied to a double button press.
Essentially Pocket Rumble squeezes an extensive moveset onto two buttons and simple directional inputs. Hadoken? Sho’ can Ken, it’s a breeze.
The goal here was to make something quite different, a small and self-contained fighting game that distils some of the best aspects of the genre, but abandons completely the sprawling form its modern greats take. If you want the Street Fighter experience, then go play Street Fighter. If you just want a little hit of that fighting feeling, a pure shot of everything great about the genre, then Pocket Rumble is small, perfectly formed and, yes, a knockout.
Released earlier this year, Dusk is a retro inspired first person shooter that takes a lot of inspirations from games like Doom, and late 90’s first person shooters. It doesn’t stick too closely to the technical limitations of the era, but captures the feel of that style of game well.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced low-poly game about shooting cultists and demons, Dusk is worth checking out.
Created by the writer and developer of Her Story, Sam Barlow, #WarGames is a live action video interactive choice based story game, loosely themed around the ideas of the movie War Games. The story sees a group of hackers and their interactions with the world.
You witness the story from webcams, phone cameras, and multiple other tech inspired perspectives, with your choices shaping how the story plays out. This is more of a ‘sit back and watch’ experience where you occasionally make choices, but the acting’s great and, if you’ve any nostalgia for the original film, there’s a lot here to love.
Bad North is a beautifully minimalist roguelike with deathly challenging real time tactics. It’s about trying to escape a horde of approaching vikings: each run you start on your home island, then island-hop as the eponymous ‘bad North’ swallows up everything in its path.
Each island you land on has to be defended from vikings, after which you gain loot to help with the journey (money, or helpful items, or new commanders), and move on.
Look: it’s basically FTL‘s structure, but with cool isometric realtime combat, and it wrings a great deal out of simple elements. Each island you play on is differently shaped, providing different tactical opportunities, and each runthrough’s good or bad luck comes to shape new approaches. This is enormous fun.
They Are Billions
They Are Billions is a post-apocalyptic RTS where you play an army trying to survive waves of approaching undead who want nothing more than to feast upon you. Featuring steampunk visuals and incredibly large-scale battles, the joy of this game is watching literally hundreds of zombies on screen at once, swarming towards your tiny band of survivors and hoping you come out in one piece.
It also does an amazing job of escalating things: you’ll be sat secure in your mighty fortress, when one hole in the fence sees a zombie get into the residential zones… and everything collapses in seconds. The zombie apocalypse is obviously one of the most overdone genres in video games but this take on it, after you get past a slightly ornery interface, is an absolute gem.
The godfather of British indies has got to be Jeff Minter, and the brilliant designer is still going strong. Based on the classic arcade game, Tempest 4000 is a fast and frantic tube shooter, with incredibly eye-catching visuals and a fantastic soundtrack. Slide around a cylindrical path avoiding harm, shooting enemies, and trying to rack up the highest score possible.
Tempest is very much Minter’s thing. The original game was made by Dave Theurer but, ever since, Minter has pretty much made the idea his own and adapted the ‘tube shooter’ concept into amazing new forms (Space Giraffe or Polybius). If you have any interest at all in classic arcade blasters, and still get a thrill just from chasing a high score, then this is one of the best out there.
And there you have it, the games we felt you might have missed, and were worth checking out, from 2018. Were there any of these that you missed, but seem like your jam? If there’s a small game we might have missed last year, let us know in the comments so we can check it out.
This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour from the British isles.