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!


Protean Escapism

Sean Murray is a liar who’s favorite pastime is basking in the limelight. As a director for Hello Games latest endeavor, he boasted to the press about a multitude of features and astonishing design accomplishments that never materialized in No Man’s Sky’s full release. That being said, the long anticipated title did arrive, and while its price point and marketing were certainly ridiculous and completely unreasonable for the finished product, No Man’s Sky remains something creative, enjoyable, and beautiful despite being more than a bit derivative. Where the gaming public was promised intrigue, excitement, and desolate eeriness, they were delivered peace, contemplation, and exploration.

In its original mode at least, No Man’s Sky is almost painfully easy. Sentinels fire on you after any rapid extraction of resources, but your overheat timer is easily reset without waiting the full duration and sentinel hitboxes seem to have no end, as firing far to either side of the nuisances will still damage them. While managing the tiny inventory supplied to the player is dull and sometimes frustrating at the beginning of the game, it never adds enough challenge to justify its presence, as any and all resources are utterly replaceable and abundant throughout the galaxy. Perhaps the only real challenge in No Man’s Sky is avoiding all the random bugs that could stop you from reaching the end of its Atlas Path. In reality, any qualms about difficulty and worries about narrative completion defeat the central design of the game: No Man’s Sky is about sightseeing and relaxation, but little more.

As I moved through planet sized planets with no distinctive features and infinitely repeating art assets, the game’s aural design captivated me. Intertwining themes, rhythms, and tones painted the picture of each planet with interest, and the distinctive flavor that I found lacking in No Man’s Sky’s visual splendor was heightened through sound to create a feeling of wonder that would be missing otherwise. It’s often a failure of design if musical movement is required to elicit the emotional response intended by artwork but, seeing how bare No Man’s Sky is in terms of narrative, I can’t help but applaud its use of sound. Walking entranced through procedurally generated forests and rock formations seeking some purpose for my journey beyond journeying is something I had already grown quite familiar with. It’s not a far stretch to relate the peaceful traveling of Proteus to No Man’s Sky star surfing.

Each time Proteus begins, a new island is formed. Each object within this procedurally generated island is essential the same, it’s only their placement and occasionally their color that remains dynamic. In terms of visual splendor, the pixelated and blocky shaping and textures of Proteus aren’t anywhere near realistic, but a consistent art style, gorgeous skybox, and dynamic lighting gives Proteus a special aesthetic. No Man’s Sky presents perhaps a more modern (or retro, depending on how you look at it) representation of this sort of graphical fidelity. Where Proteus reminds one of early first person experiments on 1990s era personal computers, No Man’s Sky vividly realizes the stylings of generations of science fiction artists. Beyond the graphical design similarities of the two games lies their most intimately shared feature. Proteus and No Man’s Sky both create something that sounds alive.

When you approach each object within Proteus’ island, they spill single tones and notes into your ears, culminating in a dense, interesting, and relaxing menagerie of sounds. Chiming frogs and singing flowers are the bread and butter of the Proteus experience making your travels across the nearly deserted island even more enjoyable. Using noise cancelling headphones would be highly advised to increase immersion in Proteus and truly let you relax. Immersed experience in which the game is the only stimulus to the player is the reason Proteus and No Man’s Sky are the poster children for virtual reality. Because of their laid-back and stressless demeanor, they’re also incredibly important for introducing children and newer gamers to immersive qualities that could be frightening to the unprepared in more challenging games.

No Man’s Sky’s marketing logo. (Image Credit to Hello Games, taken from the No Man’s Sky press kit)

As an evolution of immersive, pointless exploration games like Proteus, No Man’s Sky is a pinnacle of interesting and varied visual sense and highly effective sound design. The only feature that falls short in both of these video games is the defining feature of a game, gameplay and mechanical depth. Personally, I find solace in the escapism of these experiences, but I can understand the concern of consumers who want what they paid for and at a reasonable price. In the spirit of those people, I would not suggest buying No Man’s Sky for any more than $15, as that’s the worth of the enjoyment I’ve taken from it. In you fell to the hype and own No Man’s Sky today, hop in your cockpit and explore some maths. Maybe one day I’ll actually be able to see you around, space cowboy.