Steam Sale Snatches!

It’s hard to escape the rush of the Steam Summer Sale. Every year thousands of gamers spend their hard earned cash on digital downloads in the hopes that they’ll find some diamonds in Steam’s mountains of rough. With only $8.00 in my hands, I may have found some hidden gems, but these games are only what you make of them. Enjoy!

Best of Show – FTL: Faster Than Light
  • Sale Price: $2.49
  • Current Price: $9.99

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. It’s not just borderline criminal that I’ve slept on this game for five years, it’s an intergalactically recorded hate crime that warrants an entire rebel fleet on my tail in the most faithfully science fiction and brilliantly realized Rogue-ish game on the market. In Faster Than Light, you’re the captain and crew of the Kestrel, or the Torus, or whatever spacecraft you desire as you flee the Rebel fleet with valuable information for the Federation. It’s like playing as the Tantive IV, if Darth Vader was a series of drones, invaders, and hull fires, and Leia Organa was a Starfleet captain. Filled with classic sci-fi set pieces like derelict spaceships brimming with fungus, distress signals from failing space stations, many other lifeforms including mantis and robotic peoples, and more, FTL is a science fiction experience unrivaled even by the likes of No Man’s Sky and Elite: Dangerous. Although minimal on the graphics side of the things, Faster Than Light delivers on great space adventures in a way no other game I’ve played has. If you haven’t heard of this game already, you must be living in the Outer Rim, and at $2.49 it was well worth the purchase price.

Underexposed Nostalgia Trip – Powernaut VANGARDT

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  • Sale Price: $0.49
  • Current Price: $1.99

I managed to find Alex Hall’s little ode to the Gameboy era of punishing platformers while scrolling through the lowest priced games in the Steam Summer Sale. Powernaut VANGARDT takes design, narrative, and visual elements from games as successful as Metroid, Mega Man, and Dark Souls and repackages them into an inconspicuous bundle of raw nostalgia. Spiky enemies, doors to each room, and spaceship bases should immediately remind players of Metroid, but the “lemon” and charged attacks coupled with the difficulty scream Mega Man to me. That’s not to mention the Dark Souls cloned DNA system (with DNA instead of Souls and home ships instead of bonfires) that allows the player to customize their abilities a bit for the road ahead and also helps them make sense of the open world the game is set in. From inputting game save passwords without the help of the keyboard, to nail biting but entirely fair platforming segments that made me die time and again, Powernaut VANGARDT took me many years back to playing Gameboy in my grandmother’s basement. The excited drive that leads to thumbing through cheat booklets for password codes and failing despite their aid rushed back, and I played Powernaut VANGARDT for hours until I beat it’s first boss: a big ol’ spider. P. S. Bring a can of Raid to Skaridurk Woods; you’ll need it.

Arcade Diversion – Handsome Mr. Frog
(Image credit to Cowboy Color, retrieved by Birb Friends via nVidia GeForce Experience capture)


  • Sale Price: $0.49
  • Current Price: $0.99

Handsome Mr. Frog was another bargain bin catch. It’s a Mario Bros. style arcade platformer with a Yoshi/Kirby gulp and spit mechanic that plays quite well with the jumping. To defeat the enemies you can pick up crates or other enemies and spit them towards each other, but the level design is underwhelming and at some points seems downright lazy. Regardless, there’s something undeniably charming about that handsome frog. You can collect hats along the way and there are little items that boost your score (there is a competitive leaderboard) but that’s about all. Handsome Mr. Frog was a cute and enjoyable diversion worth the $0.49 I paid for it, but I don’t think its revolutionary. In fact, most of the games on this list are derivative instead of inventive…

Platforming Meets Lateral Thinking – Tiny and Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers
  • Sale Price: $0.99
  • Current Price: $9.99

Now this is inventive! Tiny and Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers has a ridiculous Adventure Time-esque premise with a post-apocalyptic setting and a young inventor searching for his grandfather’s pants. The fun cartoon style doesn’t help the resemblance to Adventure Time and even the handheld gaming simulations felt a little too Beemo to me. Beyond that, the addition of a laser cutting tool to help you make platforms, a rope to pull them, and a rocket to push them means incredible physics/platforming challenges can await! I haven’t played much of the game just yet, but from what I’ve seen it’s at least worth the money I paid and maybe even the standard price! If you love 3D platformers, Adventure Time humor, and you’re looking for a new IP, this might be your game.

Walking Simulators, Now In 2D! – Beeswing
  • Sale Price: $0.49
  • Current Price: $4.99

Beeswing is a walking simulator set in the game designer’s rural home town in Scotland. The whole game is drawn on paper with what appears to be marker that, set against an often foreboding soundtrack, gives the game an uneasy atmosphere. I’ve played about 30 minutes of Beeswing and I still don’t know what to make of it. The conversations that take place in game are more revealing and psychologically angled than most other games which gives them a sort of depth uncommon, or perhaps more often unnoticed, in everyday talk. Walk around the place, read some flavor text, and solve some of the townspeople’s problems. There doesn’t seem to be much else to do! It’s a coming home story not too unlike Night in the Woods, and there’s definitely something to enjoy here for the right people.

What did you think of my finds? What did you buy this Steam Summer Sale? Let me know in the comments below! See you next time, Birbies!


A Blood Born From Fantasy

Bloodborne is not as brutal a game as it first appears. The “hack and slash” action RPG is truly frenetic in its required reaction time but relatively slow in terms of its pacing. I died a total of 3 times to the first boss before discovering that, at least for my level of video game expertise, grinding was required before I could finish him off. It’s proper to note that I didn’t follow any sort of walkthrough or research before playing the game and instead followed Central Yharnam’s level design choices while playing. My skills of observation, or lack thereof, led me to Father Gascoigne before I ever approached the Cleric Beast.

By turning away from the Scourge Beasts who had crushed me on every other attempt to follow the bridge, I discovered a looping path to a gate I was able to open leading me back to the primary lantern of Central Yharnam. Fighting through the whole path created a clear gameplay loop for this section of the game. Complete the whole path, take the lantern back to Hunter’s Dream, level up using my blood echoes, repeat until I’m strong enough to defeat either Father Gascoigne or the Scourge Beasts.


Father Gascoigne in his preliminary boss battle cutscene. (Image credit to Boss Fight Database on YouTube)

Interestingly enough, I was able to defeat Father Gascoigne first, then return to the Scourge Beasts and then take down a significantly underpowered Cleric Beast. I think this sort of free flowing decision in level design undermines a truly central narrative but encourages player agency and heightens the impact of decision-making for the player. Investment in the game increases as impact of player agency does, at least in theory. This makes Bloodborne, as a whole, less brutal than older more restrictive titles like 2000’s Phantasy Star Online in terms of player morale.

While revolutionary, Phantasy Star Online, a launch title for the Dreamcast and one of the first console games to utilize online gameplay, had a host of design frustrations and was ultimately easy to disengage from. It’s level structure, while almost always beautifully recurrent like the loop created by my choices in Bloodborne, is fixed and entirely designed to stifle agency. I would suggest this is required by the limitations of the hardware, but only vertical expansion is out of the question for Phantasy Star Online’s map system as the character cannot jump or fall.

Another tax on Phantasy Star Online’s sense of agency and, by association, player morale is its veiled stat assignment system. Feeding support items to your Mag, a floating virtual pet that assists you after it is charged from a certain amount of damage, is the primary way the player exerts their agency on the strengths of their character. This is briefly explained to the player, but no effort is made to detail the way feeding the Mag different items effect its statistics. That sort of system can be viewed as both a hinderance to clarity of design and as an opportunity for discovery and individual achievement within the system. The fact that Phantasy Star Online gifts you with multiple Mags throughout your quest lends itself to the second interpretation but only at the risk of player frustration as they are forced to use a subpar Mag before discovering a new one. Alternatively, this means that stat assignments in Phantasy Star Online are never permanent and can be interchanged based on the situation, a brilliant design whose purpose is underused in the normal difficulty of the game.


Dreamcast official cover art of Phantasy Star Online. (Image credit to Sonic Team of Sega, retrieved from Wikimedia)

Despite its failings and occasional drudgery, Phantasy Star Online bears a striking resemblance to the “Souls” styled games from From Software and is, in my personal opinion, one of their largest inspirations in terms of design. While Phantasy Star Online lacks a dodge move, both discourage the player from encountering more than just a few monsters at once, create a dedication to an initial attack pattern in which the only way to cancel one of your attacks is to attack again, and contain stereotypical boss battles, in which cooperation with a teammate is of immense value, to book end their areas. I would strongly encourage any lover of the From Software series of games to at least give this older game a chance. It can easily be played on modern computers, but is also on the original Microsoft Xbox, the Nintendo Gamecube, and the Sega Dreamcast.

Ooo! Shovel Knight!

Fascination with Shovel Knight comes from a seemingly bygone age. Nostalgia for the first two generations of consoles’ restrictive innovations spurred the funding and creation of this modern mashup game. A charming pixel art aesthetic, precise controls, and classic platforming sentiments make Shovel Knight a joy to play. From DuckTales-esque hopping on the titular shovel, to activating your phase locket at just the right moment in a boss battle, even the chip tune soundtrack of Shovel Knight seems inspired by previous video games such as Mega Man. Regardless, it’s a fresh experience for fans of older video games and new ones alike.

In structure, Shovel Knight takes influence from more modern, non-linear experiences than the games of old. Despite this, Shovel Knight’s overworld design is nearly analogous to that of Super Mario Bros. 3. Moving from board to board in straight lines, Shovel Knight can enter any number of other Knight’s villainous domains to challenge and defeat them, not unlike the Robot Masters of Mega Man. One of the interesting things about Shovel Knight is that it discards the lives system for a more modern Dark Souls-esque approach. The player is bound to die while navigating the dangerous domains of the Order of No Quarter and often does while experimenting with the novel concepts at play within each screen. When Shovel Knight does take his last breath, a small portion of the gold you’ve acquired in your travels, scaling ever higher as your stash increases, is left behind for you to recover and you are sent back to the closest checkpoint.

Shovel Knight prods the miniboss of the first level. (Image credit to IGN from their walkthrough and Yacht Club Games)

When I first played Shovel Knight, I felt the nagging sensation that I had played the game before. This didn’t seem too uncommon a response to the transformative use of elements from a variety of older video games, but it still stuck in my mind. Eventually, I discovered the connection I made was strongly related to its music. Jake “virt” Kaufman is the prolific composer behind both games’ stunning soundtracks. Even beyond that though, Adventure Time: Hey Ice King Why’d You Steal Our Garbage (HIKWYSOG) fits the spirit and style of Shovel Knight.

For those of you unfamiliar with the title, HIKWYSOG plays a lot like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. There is a top down overworld with mild random encounters, a series of dungeons to play through with interesting bosses, (all of which are personalities from Pendleton Ward’s breakout cartoon) and a linear progression with the development of special traversal and combat abilities. I’d strongly suggest fans of both Shovel Knight and Adventure Time try out HIKWYSOG for a well crafted experience of quirky characters and fun retro play. Just like the Bard that collects the music tracks of Shovel Knight’s journey, Finn and Jake’s BMO can recall all the songs you’ve heard in your quest to recover that stolen garbage. My personal favorite track is Party in the Clouds, but the whole OST can be found for free on SoundCloud.