Inside: Semblance, SteamWorld Dig, Islanders, Equilinox
Semblance is a clever puzzle platformer build around the idea that the player character can deform the terrain to solve puzzles and reach objects. Unlike a lot of these games, it does an excellent job of building around its core mechanic and slowly adding to it to create ever-more-complex puzzles built on that basic idea. I will say that the $5 I paid for it was kind of steep, though, and I absolutely would not pay $10. The game is just way too small. I beat it in 4 hours, and a completionist run wouldn’t take more than 5. This game it not worth $2 an hour. I’m not sure any game is, honestly. I would say if it ever hits $3, or if you really really want a new competent puzzle platformer at $5, grab it. I did really enjoy it; it’s a very solid game.
The biggest problems with this game were: it was very, very small and the end was just a big sequel hook. I paid $3 for it and would probably go as high as $5; the sticker of $10 is pretty ballsy. But! If you want a fun, lighthearted, game and don’t mind something short, this is a solid pick.
SWD follows the story of steambot Rusty on what, it’s implied, is a post-human earth. He shows up at an old mining town at the behest of his uncle only to find his uncle has died (permanently deactivated?) and sets off to figure out why his uncle was so obsessed with the mines that did him in. The game sees you excavating downward, creating pathways for yourself through solid rock while collecting as many minerals and gems as you can to make money to buy better equipment and revive the ghost town. It’s not a complex game, but it was the right kind of repetitive for me. The puzzles were good and I liked the level design. From a gameplay perspective I think my biggest complaint was that there weren’t enough town sim elements — I really would have liked to see townbuilding sidequests and more NPCs joining as time went on. On the other hand “more townbuilding plz” is a feeling I have about literally every game so YMMV.
Despite its limited content, I enjoyed it enough to add the sequel my wishlist, so stay tuned! Update: LOVED the sequel, 100% rec!
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Islanders needs to be a mobile game.
Islanders (stylized ISLANDERS) is a relaxing minimalist citybuilder. The basic gameplay is: every building you can place has a radius, and the buildings in that radius either add or subtract points. The idea is to place buildings such that you can keep earning points which grant more buildings, or give you enough points to move on to a new island. That may sound restrictive, but the game design is absolutely brilliant, and the way buildings connect allows you to design cities with more freedom than the traditional puzzle game might offer. The art design is also excellent, with saturated colors and unique buildings. The end result is that as you fill the islands, you do end up creating gorgeous cityscapes. It’s a cathartic game that seeks to provide an experience that doesn’t drain you, which I really appreciated.
I really loved it, but it’s the kind of game you need to be able to take with you — it’s just not the kind of game designed for long PC play sessions (it would also be great on the Switch). I actually enjoyed it a lot, enough that I’d rec buying it at full price, but man I wish I could take it with me. If they port it to mobile I’d buy it again in a heartbeat.
Equilinox is a bit too complex to be a mobile game, but I really hope it gets a Switch port, because it’s another one that demands to be played in bursts as you’re doing other things instead of glueing you to a computer. Equilinox is also exactly what I was hoping Niche would be: a relaxing game about growing and managing a semi-autonomous ecosystem via evolution.
In equilinox, you start with a simple blade of grass and slowly grow and evolve into forests, deserts, marshes, and snowcapped mountains. You’ll also unlock animals that can be similarly evolved in a variety of ways. Everything in the environment meaningfully interacts with each other: foxes eat chickens, boars dig up root vegetables, and some plants can spread too far, affecting nearby biomes and causing habitat shifts that cause problems for resident organisms.
I thought the game struck a very good balance between simulating wild growth and not letting things be so out of the player’s control that you could lose an entire game to an invasive species. Species will spread, but they won’t take over, and you’ll generally get notified that something problematic is happening far enough in advance. This isn’t an idle game where you leave it and come back 6 hours later to see what happens; it very much is meant to have you guiding growth, planting new trees, and introducing new animals. Encouraging this is a quest system that allows you to earn what are basically DNA money you can use to speed up evolution (though mutations happened randomly and can be manually selected for as well), as well as letting you unlock new organisms that can evolve in wild new directions. The whole thing is balanced exceptionally well, enough that I kind of want to give the devs some kind of award for it. The precise balancing a game like this needs is so hard to do right.
I definitely think this game is worth $10, but it does go on sale so if you’re iffy hang on.