Paper Cut Mansion makes a great first impression, with its original environments and characters. The adventure game mechanics, mostly linked to the NeoCortex, are also well-implemented, although a little more clarity in room layout would have helped. The ideas for the other two dimensions are less interesting but add important variety. The entire experience starts off a little slow but there’s plenty of intrigue to keep players engaged after a few hours.
Crime O'Clock offers a great time-traveling detective experience and shows what skilled developers can achieve while re-inventing a classic mechanic. All its five era locations are attractive, packed with interesting characters, tons of details, and some truly weird ideas. The black and white look and the colorful case touches complement each other well.
20 Minutes Till Dawn is an interesting action combat with a rogue-lite structure. The narrative elements are minimal, the presentation doesn’t impress but makes the combat easy to read, but the core gameplay loop is very satisfying. The variety of heroines also gives players a range of play styles, which get further boosted when mixing and matching level upgrades in new ways.
SOULVARS is a complex video game dedicated to fans of classic Japanese role-playing games and, especially, to those who love their deep combat systems. Newcomers might find combat hard to comprehend but the game does offer the resources to understand the mechanics and use them in cool ways.
Sludge Life 2 takes the best ideas of the first game and improves on them all. There are more interesting characters to have conversations with, more hotel rooms filled with small but effective narrative moments, more spots to tag, and more ciggies to collect. There’s plenty of dark water under the hotel and weird vistas to photograph.
Knight Crawlers had the good idea of mixing ragdoll physics with a set of classic action game mechanics. And it is fun, for the first few hours, to learn how enemies move and then find the best way to use the environment and the knight’s attacks to eliminate them. The entire experience is solid given that it was created by one developer.
Bleak Sword DX is dedicated to anyone who wants a Dark Souls-like experience in 2D, delivered in small chunks, with good mechanics, hard difficulty, and a grimdark setting and presentation. Fights are very quick, which means it’s easy to play a few in a session just to decompress, without the pressure to make progress or explore some complicated narrative thread.
Tour de France 2023 captures the atmosphere of real-world cycling, which is crucial for this kind of sports simulation. It feels good to control some of the best riders of the moment, think about the strategy that best suits them, and then try to use limited energy resources at just the right time to secure a prestigious win. The game allows players to create some impressive narrative around their own created cyclist, taking them from humble beginnings to prestigious victories. But Tour de France 2023 is targeted squarely at fans of the sport and other gamers might struggle to fully engage with its mechanics and presentation.
Considered on its own, Pro Cycling Manager 2023 is a good cycling management simulation. It’s fun to create a custom team, fill it with youngsters, and try to dominate the sport in 3 to 5 years. Playing the official stages of this year’s Tour de France with any team in the peloton creates interesting situations and challenges. But the title fails to offer enough innovation when compared to last year’s installment. Anyone who still plays PCM 2022 should stick with that game until their favorite mod is updated. Pro Cycling Manager 2023 has solid core mechanics but the franchise needs to be more innovative going forward.
Doomblade has a strong hook and an engaging core gameplay loop. The idea of attack-as-movement transforms how players see environments and approach the world. All Metroidvania systems are implemented well, especially the escalating upgrades that allow Gloom Girl to basically break the rules of this universe as she searches for the Dread Lords.
Killer Frequency is a good narrative experience with some decent gameplay ideas. The story of the Whistling Man and his killing spree seems very familiar at first but benefits from nice twists and turns that actually pack emotional power. There’s not much depth to any of the mechanics but they add a lot of interactivity and give players opportunities to learn more about the universe of Gallows Creek.
Decarnation is one of those rare video games that’s more than the sum of its parts. The story it tells is both important and carefully plotted. Gloria is an exceptional character and the game offers full access to her inner life. The gameplay is varied enough to keep players interested, although not all the mechanics are good by themselves.
Do Not Feed the Monkeys 2099 is an excellent blend of ideas and watching the various cage narrative is thrilling. There’s enough of them and they are randomized at the start of a new run, to encourage replayability. The game makes mass surveillance immersive and engaging, which is icky on a conceptual level but makes playing the game very fun.
Blooming Business: Casino is a good tycoon management game and will satisfy gamers who want to create attractive gambling rooms, keep them in tip-top condition, and find the best ways to satisfy customers and VIPs. The title’s mechanics are good and the presentation and narrative offer a laid back atmosphere.
Dead Ink’s core gameplay is built on ideas inspired by the very popular Dark Souls but it is not part of the forgettable recent wave of titles that simply copy them. The vertical layout of the tower is a big twist with major consequences for exploration. Players need to move carefully and pay close attention to ladders and ledges that will lead to new places.
Dungeon Drafters delivers on its core concept of mixing turn-based tactics with card play. It takes a little time to get going and get a clear idea of how to modify the deck and what kind of cards are best suited to a particular strategy. But there’s a wide variety of approaches and the tactical puzzles are fun and challenging.
City of Beats mixes a good set of gameplay mechanics with atmosphere and some great music. Dashing across the rooftops, noticing a sound at the last second that lets you avoid an attack, and striking back at the perfect time, is very fun and engaging. The rogue-lite elements are very familiar and deliver a sense of progression but don’t add much otherwise.
Mail Time is a delightful experience, filled with interesting characters and almost no conflict. All the different quests are fun to engage with and the game offers a nice sense of discovery. I love being helpful and trying to make this small patch of forest a better place for everyone. The party at the end is also a great reward for all the exploration.
Batora: Lost Haven is a competent and mostly enjoyable action game. It has one big idea, the two natures of both Avril and her enemies, but never uses it in any truly unique ways. After a few hours, only the boss battles manage to break up the monotony.
Mr. Sun's Hatbox is a delightful video game that combines ideas from a range of genres and delivers a fun result. Jumping on enemy hats and heads never gets old, especially when the player’s character only has one health left and the kidnapping target is in sight. Big firefights manage to be chaotic and entertaining, even when failure is the end result.