tís often said that the mainstream games industry is pushing quirky games to the edge of extinction. This is a lie. There are more weird and wonderful games than ever before, and they become weirder and more wondrous every year.
To prove the point, weíve gathered a list of 28 Strange Games that are due out in 2008. Theyíve all got something different and unique to offer, and all of them are worth checking outÖ
The concept: An action adventure in a richly detailed underwater environment.
Why itís different: Aquaria gives you the impression of being immersed in a vast, internally consistent eco-system. Colourful life-forms roam through the non-linear environments, and the main character, some kind of mermaid/sea devil called Naija, can interact with them by singing.
Why itís worth playing: When they switched from 2D to 3D, the mainstream Ecco The Dolphin style games lost a good deal of their naturalistic charm. Aquaria is taking it back. Aquaria is gorgeous.
2. Beautiful Katamari
The concept: Roll up everyday objects in a magically sticky ball to please your father, the King of All Cosmos.
Why itís different: So far, there has only been one line of games in the roll-up-a-magically-sticky-ball category. This claim to uniqueness is amplified by a freaky art style: the main character appears to have a bon-bon for a head. With the debut of the Katamari Damacy phenomenon on the Xbox 360, its uncanny challenges and unsettling graphics are beholden to a whole new audience.
Why itís worth playing: Rolling up every object you can in a Katamari is a lot of fun. It appeals to oneís sense of order to tidy up the game world, and striving for the biggest possible ball is an addictive challenge. Plus: itís freaky to look at.
The concept: A 2D platform game where you solve puzzles by rewinding the flow of time.
Why itís different: Unlike, say, the recent Prince of Persia games, time reversal doesnít affect all objects equally Ė some stay where they are, unmoved by your time fiddling. Hence, complex puzzles arise from the simplest elements. The art style is refreshing, too, with backgrounds from edgy web cartoonist David Hellman.
Why itís worth playing: Some games look so strange, and have such a genre-busting premise, that you canít not give them a go.
4: Cooking Mama 2
The concept: Complete simple mini-game challenges to prepare delicious-looking virtual meals.
Why itís different: Cooking Mama translates the random, offbeat nature of Japanese-style Ďbishi-bashií games into the kitchen. Each level is a cornucopia of colour, and each success is met with explosions of confetti, sparkles, stars, and dancing gingerbread men in little chefís hats. It doesnít take itself remotely seriously.
Why itís worth playing: Itís deceptively difficult, and surprisingly addictive. There are 80 recipes to master, made up of 150-odd mini-games, plus the madness can be spawned to up to three other DS consoles for multi-player insanity. A substantial challenge.
Further reading: Review.
5: de Blob
The concept: As a bouncing blob, you must splatter paint on every surface in a world robbed of colour.
Why itís different: Originally coded as a student project, de Blob subsequently earned a cult following on the internet. You move by bouncing, and the buildings of the urban environments you play in offer plenty of launching points, and plenty of surfaces to smother with colour. There are also elements of Ďsynthenesia,í as successful movements in succession create melodic patterns. To put it another way, you can Ďsee the music.í
Why itís worth playing: de Blob promises a relaxing, free-forming style of play with an all-ages appeal. It also borrows some ideas from Wizball, one of the best games ever.
6. Eternityís Child
The concept: A side-scrolling platformer with nice painted visuals.
Why itís different: The quality of the artwork in this title canít be stressed enough. Luc Bernardís project looks like a delightful childrenís book come to life. For all the graphical power available today, itís surprising how few games companies actually make games that are nice to look at.
Why itís worth playing: Delectable graphics Ė all the signs point to a gaming experience susceptible to chemical enhancement.
7. Exit DS
The concept: A platform game where you guide civilians out of disaster areas to safety.
Why itís different: Exit is such a curt, demanding challenge Ė itís basically a puzzle game in a platformerís clothing. The visuals are rendered in an atomic-era ultra-stylised fashion, like the end credits of The Incredibles. Funky jet-age presentation and ultra-lounge music complete the snazzy package.
Why itís worth playing: Itís a difficult, lasting challenge with loads of levels. The PSP versions let you download new content; hopefully this feature will make it to the DS.
The concept: A pixel art platform game where you can play tricks with perspective to reach inaccessible areas.
Why itís different: Itís a bit like Super Paper Mario, in that you can snap between different 2D perspectives of a 3D game world. Once locked in to a given view, perspective no longer has any meaning, and you can jump on Ďdistantí objects.
Why itís worth playing: Sure, itís another conspicuously arty, independent production, but it touches on a gameplay model seldom seen since the days of Nebulus.
The concept: A pixel art platform game with a moral about the creative process.
Why itís different: Programmer Jason Rohrerís specialty is making superficially simple video games that trick you into thinking about the big, serious issues. Gravitation mirrors his own creative process, with his abilities constantly hemmed in by a black fog of depression.
Why itís worth playing: The pixel art is nice, the looping music is haunting, and the premise is deceptively straightforward. Itís freeware, too, and takes very little of your time; youíll Ďgetí it inside of five minutes.
The concept: A 24-part episodic adventure where you must purge fairy tales of their modern niceties, returning them to their bloody, Brothers Grimm roots.
Why itís different: Blood, blood, and more blood. Free from id, free from EA, notorious game designer American McGee has been able to indulge in his goriest fantasies with Grimm. It was programmed in Red China to keep costs down, but weíll let that slide.
Why itís worth playing: Skewering political correctness is always worthwhile. The big question is whether this is the American McGee that made Doom, or the American McGee that made Bad Day LA.
11. Heavy Rain
The concept: A choose-your-own-adventure game with ultra-realistic graphics.
Why itís different: Heavy Rain is the latest adventure game from Quantic Dream, the iconoclastic French development house that brought us Fahrenheit and Omikron: The Nomad Soul. They specialise in unsettling, mature subject matter, avant-garde visuals, and making games that rate highly and sell poorly. Little is known, but the character graphics are supposedly so advanced that they can act as well as real humans.
Why itís worth playing: Weíll concede that Quantic Dreamís games have been consistently flawed and/or not to everyoneís tastes, but this one will be useful for showing off your PS3ís graphics, and writing highly opinionated forum posts afterwards.
The Concept: A completely algorithmically generated MMO.
Why itís different: Love is a collaborative, co-operative massively multiplayer online game being coded by a single man. Its visuals are not pre-rendered or drawn, but concocted on-the-fly by formulae. Oh, and the whole thing looks like an impressionist painting.
Why itís worth playing: Itís a stupendously ambitious project, and so vaguely described it could actually be a hoax. Oh well Ė even if it crashes and burns, at least it looks gorgeous.
13. Major Minor's Majestic March
The concept: Using your Wii Remote as a baton, you must lead a marching band down the path to musical splendour.
Why itís different: Not only is this the first marching band rhythm action game for the Wii, it is as far as we know the first marching band rhythm action game in history. The character designs will be by New York artist Rodney Greenblat, and the music and gameplay will be by Masaya Matsuura, whoís brought us top music games like Um Jammer Lammy.
Why itís worth playing: This game sees the return of one of the most dynamic duos in gaming, the creators of Parappa the Rapper. MMMM is sure to feature catchy music, off-the-wall humour, and visuals that are unique and pleasing to the eye. Above all else, expect FUN.
14. Metal Gear Solid 4
The Concept: Tactical espionage action, now with porous factional fighting, optical camouflage, and more cyborgs and gay vampires than ever before.
Why itís different:
Why itís worth playing: Do you even have to ask?
The concept: A real-time strategy game where the virtual people of a computer world have gone to war. The multi-player version of Darwinina.
Why itís different: Multiwinia mostly qualifies on the graphics front, evoking a computer world of neon vector graphics. The Darwinians themselves are stylised in the extreme, 2D cut-outs that appear to be made of just ten oversized pixels each. Their world draws from Tron, Wargames, and the gaming aesthetics of a forgotten age.
Why itís worth playing: Introversion donít do bad games. They donít do anything unless it is artistically spectacular, intriguing to play, and unique.
16. Mystery Detective II
The Concept: A point-and-click mystery-solving adventure, where you have to touch just about everything. Known as ĎTouch Detective 2 1⁄2í in the US.
Why itís different: The characters seem to have stepped out of a dark and freakish parody of a childrenís book, the kind the Addamís Family kids might have in their library. The simple settings and conversation trees belie puzzles that are obtuse in the extreme. Extensive use is made of the touch screen, and the overall atmosphere is really something else.
Why itís worth playing: Itís funny, challenging, and conjures up itís own strange little world. A caveat, here Ė all reports indicate that itís just as frustrating as the first Mystery Detective. If you were put off before, itíll happen again.
The concept: A physics-based platform action game. You control a death-prone ninja with a strict time limit.
Why itís different: Todayís game designers all too often sacrifice game design on an altar of graphics. N+ is the exact opposite. The tiny size of the ninja himself means the static-screen levels are effectively huge. The high-speed play and killer robots make it an odd cross between Sonic the Hedgehog and Impossible Mission.
Why itís worth playing: N+ will kick your arse. Itís really, really difficult. But as you learn to work the physics of the game world to your advantage, youíll get drawn in to its infinite possibilities.
18. No More Heroes
The concept: A free-roaming mission-based action game with ten epic boss battles to conquer.
Why itís different: Itís from the mind of Goichi Suda, one of the strangest game designers alive. The visuals and structure are a high-contrast parody of video games, and the hero is a parody of the men who play them. Violent and depraved, Travis Touchdown is the most morally dubious game hero since Duke Nukem Ė and just about the funniest, too.
Why itís worth playing: The hack-and-slash action is quite good, the Wii Remote controls are innovative, and the story is hilarious Ė youíll feel compelled to smash every challenge so you can move on to the next.
Further Reading: Hands-On Preview.
19. Odin Sphere
The concept: A 2D, side-scrolling RPG action game.
Why itís different: Reports of the death of 2D gaming are greatly exaggerated. Odin Sphere leverages absolutely gorgeous jumbo character bitmaps to illustrate a deep and varied combat RPG. Each level is flat, but loops (like in Defender) adding the need for a degree of planning and tactical awareness. A principal form of attack is planting fruit that eat the souls of your enemies. Oh, and your hit points earn experience, too.
Why itís worth playing: Odin Sphere has rated highly everywhere it has been reviewed, and even featured in a strip at Penny Arcade. Sure, weíre getting it a year after the Americans. So what else is new?
The concept: A god game where you send an army of primitives to war against rival tribes and monsters.
Why itís different: Your little men, designed by the French graphic artist Rolito, are giant eyeballs with little arms and legs. The monochrome graphical style uses a unique technique that makes everything look like shadow puppets. Oddest of all is the control method Ė rhythm action. You tap the face buttons to create a Congo-Bongo beat, changing your tune to give specific orders.
Why itís worth playing: You actually feel like a god! Your Patapon followers chant like loyal children to your beat, fighting at your command and praising your victories. They love you, and itís easy to love them back!
Further reading: Review.
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28 Strange Games for 2008
Think originality in gaming is dead? Think againÖ
by: James Cottee 06/03/2008
21. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Ė Trials And Tribulations
The concept: A role-playing adventure where you become a lawyer.
Why itís different: The Ace Attorney games have a distinct gameplay model, alternating between exploring crime scenes for clues and cross-examining witnesses in court. While many peculiarities of Japanese culture donít translate perfectly, the slapstick comedy comes through loud and clear. The characters are great, the music is catchy, and the puzzles are devious.
Why itís worth playing: Trials and Tribulations is the third in the Phoenix Wright trilogy, and wraps up the story with an epic, cathartic conclusion. The whole series is hilarious, addictive, and sick.
22. PixelJunk Eden
The concept: A cross between Spore and Bionic Commando.
Why itís different: Those genres are seldom imitated, and weíre pretty sure theyíve never been combined. Towering, wafting microscopic plants are viewed side-on, as the player controls a speck that can shoot out a tendril to grab objects and swing about. Life evolves and forms all around, constantly creating new opportunities for exploration.
Why itís worth playing: Weíve only seen a few seconds of footage Ė this game could turn out to be anything, really. But itís from the same team that made PixelJunk Monsters, which is as good a pedigree as you can hope for in DLC innovation.
23. Professor Layton and the Mysterious Village
The concept: Plot progress results from interacting with eccentric villagers and solving their brain-teasing puzzles.
Why itís different: You know those puzzles where there are a few matchsticks laid out to make a certain number of boxes, and you have to move, say, two matchsticks to make a different number of boxes? Everyone in the Mysterious Village loves the things, hence an extensive workout for the touch screen of your DS Ė and your brain.
Why itís worth playing: The soothing visual presentation and the twisting story, but mostly for the puzzles.
24. Rez HD
The Concept: Soar through cyberspace, blasting enemy entities in time to the music.
Why itís different: The basic game elements are stock-standard: itís an on-rails shooter with multiple target lock-on firing, boss battles, and an adaptive difficulty level. Yet the game events donít intrude on the trance soundtrack, only enhance it. The graphics are nothing short of stunning, too, echoing the high-impact sequences of TRON and The Matrix.
Why itís worth playing: A game where aural and graphical fidelity are core to the experience is now playable in high-def with 5.1 sound. Not a groat of the 360ís power is wasted.
25. Riff: Everyday Shooter
The concept: A static screen shoot-em-up where you move your ship with the left stick and fire with the right.
Why itís different: Everyday Shooter is structured like an album. Each level is set to a different (exquisite) guitar tune, and each level plays exactly as long as the track, regardless of how well youíre doing. Each level not only has different enemies, but a completely different chaining system. There are no explosions or lasers to distract from the music, and all the FX are guitar sounds, too. Oh, and the whole game was programmed by one man.
Why itís worth playing: Because itís awesome Ė weíve been playing it in the office more than any other game this year. Itís cheap, too.
Further Reading: Review.
26. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3
The concept: A Japanese RPG where you go to school by day and slay monsters by night.
Why itís different: This Atlus title uses a novel character development system Ė you boost your monster-fighting stats by performing normal school activities. Also, said super powers are activated by shooting yourself in the head. No kidding. This oft-repeated, intentionally disturbing imagery naturally eclipses the gameís other noteworthy features (daring graphic design, stark lighting, pretty girls, dating game elements, etc).
Why itís worth playing: Shin Megami Tensei RPGs have earned a loyal following for their involving combat. Persona 3 combines aspects of JRPGs and dating sims Ė two obsessive hobbies for the price of one!
27. Triggerheart Exelica
The concept: A vertically-scrolling shoot-em-up where you can swing out a grapple to grab enemies units. Once caught, enemies can be used to block incoming fire, or hurled back into the fray as projectiles themselves.
Why itís different: Most vertically-scrolling shooters donít let you do that. Also, the two ships you can choose from are ĎMecha Musumeí, a concoction and a fetish peculiar to Japan. They donít look like space fighters; they look like pretty girls wearing bad Halloween costumes of space fighters.
Why itís worth playing: Granted, itís not actually that great, but Japanese weirdness brooks no compromises, and requires no explanation. Even if you donít get it, thereís the perverse spectacle of it all.
28. Zack & Wiki
The concept: A point-and-click adventure with lots of problem solving.
Why itís different: Zack & Wiki requires a lot of Ďlateral thinking,í which is a nice way of saying that itís Ďmaddeningly difficultí and it will have you Ďtearing your hair out.í Places and characters are so chirpy and colourful itís disturbing, and the motion mini-games contrast starkly with the merciless brain-bending. Like a cross between Monkey Island and Wario Ware.
Why itís worth playing: Itís bloody strange, bloody challenging, and bloody hilarious. They may never make another Monkey Island, but 40-odd hours of this madness is a good substitute.
Honourable mention: Portal 2
Valve has confirmed the existence of Portal 2, but no other details are forthcoming. It could come out in 2009, or 2010. The guys at Valve make a fortune from digital distribution on Steam, so they never need to rush their games Ė Team Fortress 2 took eight years. We donít know when, but we do know we can expect it. We can also expect excellence.