Transistor from Supergiant Games.
Gamers, it’s official: Summer’s a bummer.
Really, it is. The sunny season is typically a little slow for video games, but this year it’s molasses. A glance at the release lists yields a depressing reality: For the next few months, there are pretty much zero triple-A games coming to your fancy new console, capable old console, or well-worn handheld.
Of course, that doesn’t count the wealth of mobile games that will likely pop up out of the blue, nor the sudden emergence of a few indie gems. But if you’ve already played Titanfall, Watch Dogs, Hearthstone, and Mario Kart 8 to death, don’t expect July and August to deliver the goods.
The great thing about gaming, however, is that there is so darn much of it. With its dearth of must-have blockbusters, summer is the perfect season to catch up on recent games you might have missed. Try these under-the-radar greats, all priced at $20 or less.
FTL ($7 | iPad)
When it comes to sheer bang for the buck, good luck finding a better deal than FTL. You’re the captain of a starship racing through space to warn your home world of an impending invasion, though what happens along the way is different every time thanks to the game’s randomized missions. That gives it plenty of replay value, but what gives it gas is its incredibly addictive gameplay. You’ll have to buy and equip weapons, hire crew members, and make countless life-or-death decisions as you inch toward a showdown with a hulking mother ship. The 2014 iPad version is a knockout, adding extra content and delivering touch controls that would make Data jealous.
Transistor ($20 | PS4, PC)
Supergiant Games, the tiny team responsible for the wonderful 2011 hit Bastion, deftly sidestepped the sophomore slump with this stylish strategy game. Set in a weird future that recalls the likes of Akira and Blade Runner, it gives gamers a talking sword and all sorts of ways to do damage with it. Better still, if turn-based strategy isn’t your thing, you can bash your way through the game’s bizarre, robotic enemies in real time.
Super Time Force ($15 | Xbox One, Xbox 360)
The stars of Super Time Force know a bit about time, too. Their task? Rewrite our apocalyptic future by changing the past, one 8-bit bullet at a time. When things get hairy — and they will — you can turn back the clock and warp in more team members for extra firepower, turning a typical old-school side-scroller into a brain-bending time warp. It’s clever, it’s chaotic, and it’s a perfect summer thrill.
Luftrausers ($10 | PC, PS3, PlayStation Vita)
The skies are unfriendly in this challenging arcade shooter, but don’t let that dissuade you from giving the underrated Luftrausers a fly. It’s got a simple premise — shoot down enemy planes and ships while trying to avoid getting shot down yourself — but a fantastic upgrade system lets you tinker with more than 125 ship combinations. Hover ability? Nuclear detonation upon death? Lasers? You’ll have as much fun building your devilish hunk of junk as you will piloting it.
Steamworld Dig ($10 | PS4, Vita, PC, 3DS)
The woefully underplayed Steamworld Dig technically launched last year. It’s since made it way to the PS4, however, bringing its unique blend of Minecraft, Dig Dug, and Castlevania to even more gamers. Sound compelling? It is. You’re a robot tasked with digging through the rubble of your uncle’s mysterious mine, and while it’s a bit on the short side, it’s long on fun. Dig in.
Towerfall: Ascension ($15 | PS4, PC)
Got a few friends and a PS4? You’re going to need a bigger couch, and you’re going to need Towerfall: Ascension, too. Its elevator pitch — shoot arrows at your friends — isn’t exactly riveting, but it gets plenty of mileage out of its core conceit thanks to spot-on controls and hilarious power-ups. Spend just a few minutes scrambling around its deviously designed platform levels, and you’ll be hooked. While it sadly doesn’t include online play, it’s a must for any indoor summer shindigs.
Broken Age: Act 1 ($10 | PC, iOS)
Give them half a chance, and gamers of a certain age will yammer on endlessly about the glory days of adventure games. And for good reason: Classic point-and-click adventures like King’s Quest and Monkey Island were mother’s milk to a generation. If that’s you — or if you’re just really curious about this neglected genre — head over to Broken Age, pronto. A Kickstarter success from genre legend Tim Schafer, it tells the intertwining, episodic tale of Shay and Vella, two teenagers trying to break tradition and forge their own destinies. It was a hit on the PC and has since moved over to the iPad, a natural fit for adventure games. Act 2 is due out later this year, so now’s a good time to get caught up.
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