2020 may be over, but December was still a month full of cool games, many of which I still want to play. Of those I did play though, I’ve compiled a short list of seven hidden gems that you may have missed. As usual, thanks to the publishers who sent these games to me in order to make this list possible and with that said, let’s get started.
Monster Sanctuary is a very cool blend of genres, taking the monster taming element of Pokémon and somehow turning that into a metroidvania game. The result is some really good stuff though. You’ve got the turn-based combat that has both depth and impact, the metroidvania exploration aided by all of the different monster abilities you can use, and a neat little story added on top. There’s even an RPG mechanic to the battle system, including skill trees for each monster, equipment loadouts, and even party-wide buffs dependent on its composition.
And all of this is done with some very nice execution. Crisp pixel graphics, smooth animations, and a variety of great backing music too. It’s a solid game all things considered and given that it can take upwards of thirty or so hours to clear, it’s quite the package. An easy recommendation if any of what I described sounds like fun.
Monster Sanctuary is currently available on Steam, Xbox One, Switch, and PS4
Project Wingman is basically as close to Ace Combat as you can get without being an Ace Combat game. It’s got the flight sim elements, the arcade shooter elements, and even the same style of graphics. Honestly, if you were to show this to me and pass it off as an Ace Combat spin-off, I’d 100% believe you. And that’s not even a bad thing. The game has some solid controls, decent customization options, a cheesy story, and some straightforward arcadey gameplay tying it all together. Within just a minute, I was zipping around, launching off missiles and gunning down enemy craft with ease, it’s a very easy to pick up game.
Sure, it shares some of the same issues I have with the Ace Combat games (namely, the missions that can drag on too long), but it is definitely worth a look for fans of that series and really just fans of arcade flight games in general.
Project Wingman is a PC exclusive available on both Steam and GOG.
Haven is a bit of a unique one. It’s a story-focused RPG adventure game where you play as two lovers living alone on a mysterious planet, one full of strange creatures, vibrant wildlife, and an interesting story to unpack. The gameplay is pretty limited in that most of it is just exploration, picking up ingredients, and engaging in some light combat. The bulk of the game is the story and the interaction between our two main characters, who are so in love with each other that it’s almost an overload of wholesomeness.
The story itself is a mix of character building, slice of life, and mystery, as you’re dropped into the game with pretty much no knowledge of what’s going on and only uncover it through bits and pieces through the two protagonists. Despite this, I had a good time uncovering this story and getting to know the two main characters. Their dynamic is something we don’t get a lot of in the medium and I wish more games would be open to exploring such relationships. It’s definitely not a game for everyone, but if you like your games with a heavy story backing them up, then give Haven a look.
Haven is currently available on Steam, GOG, Xbox Game Pass, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PS5 with a PS4 and Switch version planned for release in early 2021.
Sometimes you just need a nice, laidback comfy visual novel to read through and Amairo Chocolate is exactly that kinda VN. It borrows heavily from Nekopara – including the kemonomimi characters, the café setting, and the abundance of slice of life comedy scenes. I mean, even the plot setup is kinda similar. You play as this dude that arrives in a remote town and somehow ends up with a job at a café where all of the workers have animal characteristics, characteristics that are invisible to regular humans.
Now that’s pretty close if you ask me, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. You get some nice, comfy slice of life scenes, funny character interactions, and the designs aren’t that bad either. And its also quick to get going, throwing you into things in just minutes without any overly long buildup. Sure, it’s not a VN that’s gonna blow your mind or anything, but it’s a decent enough slice of life read and worth a look if you like games like Nekopara and Love’s Sweet Garnish.
Amairo Chocolate is currently available directly through its publisher Denpasoft and also has a Steam version with a free 18+ patch.
El Hijo is a neat little spaghetti-western stealth game, a combination of words I don’t think I ever thought I would say. You play as a little 6-year-old boy on a journey to find his mother, who has been taken by bandits. To do this, you will have to sneak your way through a bunch of different levels, from the inside of a saloon to the tunnels of an old mine. The gameplay is entirely stealth-focused, requiring you to make use of lighting, sound, and field of view in order to get to the objective. There’re a few tools unlocked along the way to help you along this process, such as pebbles to distract guards, a slingshot to destroy certain objects, and even fireworks that can be used to temporarily stun enemies.
It’s not that difficult a game (and I did run into a few bugs), but I had a good time during the three hours it took me to beat it. The art looks good, the level variety is nice, and I liked how creative some of the puzzles were. An all-around fun time and one I would recommend.
El Hijo is out now on Steam, GOG, and Stadia with a later release planned for Switch, Xbox One, and PS4.
Call of the Sea
Right off the bat, I gotta give credit to Call of the Sea for its graphics. This is a very good-looking game, with bright vivid colors that really sell the island theme. It’s like they took Sea of Thieves and upped the color palette a bit, and that is definitely an art style I can get behind. Aside from those graphics though, Call of the Sea is a pretty competent puzzle adventure game. You play as Norah, who has crossed the ocean on a journey to find her missing husband and finds herself drawn into this mysterious island with the remnants of a lost civilization.
The gameplay has you exploring this island, solving some pretty creative puzzles, and uncovering just what happened there. The puzzles in particular are solid, not being so difficulty as to necessitate a walkthrough, but not being braindead easy either. There’s a good balance there and the addition of a journal that logs stuff as you find it takes out a lot of tedium of having to memorize patterns and such. It’s a shorter game at around four or so hours, but it’s a fun one for sure.
Call of the Sea is currently available on GOG, Steam, Xbox One and Xbox Series X.
Roguelite, tower defense, city-building, and deckbuilding. Combine all of them and slap a rat theme on it and you get Ratropolis. That combination of genres may sound like a mess, but it actually works pretty well. The core gameplay is that of tower defense and you basically have to defend both sides of your city while also expanding and upgrading it at the same time. The buildings and units are all cards that you can draw in real-time, even while a wave is coming in and the economy system is structured similarly to Plants vs. Zombies.
As you build up your city, stronger and stronger enemies will arrive and you will eventually die. The game is a roguelite after all and there is a pretty steep difficulty curve that will take some getting used to. However, if you are one for a challenge and like tower defense games, it’s a fun enough experience for the genre and well worth a look.
Ratropolis is currently a PC exclusive that can be found on Steam.
That’s the end of this month’s list. A good batch of games to close out the year with and from all sorts of genres too. We had the Pokémon metroidvania that is Monster Sanctuary, a comfy visual novel by way of Amairo Chocolate, and a really cool puzzle adventure game in the form of Call of the Sea. Thanks for reading, I’ll see you guys again in February.