Sometimes the best games fly under the radar.
Tons of awesome games come out every month, but in the shadow of high-profile AAA titles, even the best ones can slip under our radars. Whether you’re a fan of weird, ultraviolent battle simulators, cute word puzzles, brutal survival games, or weird cyberpunk horror, there’s plenty to love in this month’s roundup.
For more, check out our list on the most-anticipated 2017 indie games, a love letter to the glory of weird, free web games, or dive into last month’s must-play games roundup.
Fidel Dungeon Rescue (PC)
Fidel Dungeon Rescue is a self-described “puzzle-crawler” about navigating a cute pup named Fidel through dangerous, tile-based dungeons. If you enjoyed the line-based puzzlers from The Witness, but prefer something with a bubblier personality, Fidel is probably for you. As you carve a path through each dungeon, Fidel leaves a trail that can’t be intersected, so every step you take must be thoroughly calculated as you chart the most efficient route to the exit.
But in a move that’s both a huge quality of life booster and a clever way to put a new spin on old mechanics, you can seamlessly backtrack along the same path you took to undo certain moves one at a time. If you squashing too many spiders in a row lead you to a dead end with no accessible health tiles around, just hop back a few squares and try a new path. To make things a little more challenging, certain enemies can only be dealt with from certain directions and some boss fights’ special attacks operate on a turn-based timer, forcing you to calculate each step wisely. Forgiving backtracking aside, you can die in Fidel, which — in another cool twist — deploys a ghost version of yourself that will race down your charted path until it reaches you… which actually gives you a second chance to scramble to the exit, if you can make it in time! Fidel Dungeon Rescue is a fun puzzler that’s easy to jump into, but with enough clever twists and complexity to keep you exploring its procedurally generated depths for a while.
Bonus points for the dedicated “bark” button.
Play if you like: The Witness, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Desktop Dungeons
Available: Steam ($8.99)
The Long Dark (PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, XBO)
It’s hard to find a survival game that’s really, truly about survival, and nothing else — no dinosaurs, no zombies, no clumsy, overbearing sandbox-driven crafting system and PvP and leveling up. Just you, what little food you’ve been able to scavenge, and some temporary shelter before you plan your next trek through the brutal outdoors. That’s what makes The Long Dark’s sleek, bare bones approach to the genre so exciting.
The Long Dark has stood out to me as one of the best of its kind since it launched on Steam Early Access in September 2014, and now that it’s finally, officially out, complete with its long-awaited Story Mode, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a harsh and terrifying survival simulator set in the frosty Canadian wilderness, where 20 hours of battling hunger, thirst, and cold can be wiped away in an instant with a single, poorly-laid pla.
One of my most terrifying gaming moments belongs to The Long Dark when, in a spur-of-the-moment decision, I thought it would be smart to stray from the isolated farmhouse I’d setup as my current base to investigate the rest of the property, rather than rest up for the long trip to the next town. I got stuck in a blizzard, which completely whited out my screen and obscured everything that wasn’t a few inches in front of me. My character was freezing to death and growing dangerously fatigued as I wandered farther and farther from where I thought shelter would be. I ended up finding a cave that provided enough warmth to sleep through the storm and when I woke the next morning, on the verge of starvation and dehydration, I could see I was only a few yards away from the farmhouse. The Long Dark is full of moments like this. While it might not sound fun for everyone, its icy open world has provided some of my most thrilling and desperate survival game experiences as well as some of the most tranquil and introspective.
Play if you like: Don’t Starve, The Forest, Firewatch
Available: Steam ($34.99), PlayStation Store ($34.99), Microsoft Store ($34.99)
The Shrouded Isle (PC, Mac)
The Shrouded Isle has a similar tone and style as Darkest Dungeon, with its sketchy, hand drawn characters and major Lovecraftian roots — only instead of a dungeon-crawling RPG, it’s a point-and-click management sim. It’s an odd combination that actually makes for a pretty unique game. Your main responsibility in The Shrouded Isle is managing an evil cult whose god is only three years away from bringing the apocalypse. It’s no Sim City, but if maintaining the strategic everyday goings on of murderous death cult families sounds like a fun night in, give The Shrouded Isle a shot.
Play if you like: Darkest Dungeon, Reigns
Available: Steam ($9.99)
Miracle Merchant (iOS, Android)
Miracle Merchant puts a new spin on mobile solitaire that’s all about mixing potions and elixirs for weary travelers. It’s not super deep, but there’s still some calculation that goes into each move: you lay down four cards at a time to formulate new concoctions, swapping the order depending on certain booster icons at the bottom of the card, while balancing the number value of the mixture and making sure it contains the element required by each customer. It’s the perfect mix of simple, but still enough going on to keep you occupied for a few brief, minutes-long sessions.
Play if you like: Card Thief, Card Crawl
Available: App Store (FREE, $1.99 Premium), Google Play Store (FREE, $1.99 Premium)
All Walls Must Fall – Early Access (PC, Mac, Linux)
All Walls Must Fall is an “isometric action-tactics” game that pulls not only from sci-fi classics like XCOM and Syndicate, but the rhythmic style of games like Rez and Superhot. Set in a cyberpunk Berlin where the Cold War never ended, you play a band of time-traveling agents on a mission to find the rogue actor behind an impending nuclear strike. Music is a key element, featuring artists like Jukio Kallio (Nuclear Throne) and Ben Prunty (FTL), whose tracks fuel the beat to which your hybrid real-time and turn-based actions are executed.
This one is still in Early Access, but worth checking out if you’re a big fan of tactics games.
Play if you like: XCOM, Syndicate, The Banner Saga
Available: Steam Early Access ($15.99)
Observer (PC, PS4, XBO)
Observer is a new cyberpunk horror game from Bloober Team, the folks who brought us Layers of Fear. While I wasn’t as huge a fan of Layers of Fear as some people were, its visual effects were definitely impressive. Now there’s Observer. The latest from Bloober Team doesn’t stray far from Layers of Fear’s formula: it’s a perception-warping first-person horror game with minimal environmental interaction and some basic puzzles, but with a sleek Blade Runner-inspired, techno-noir coat of paint. If you’re not averse to jump scare-heavy horror with an emphasis on exploration, Observer is a suitably atmospheric experience with some shallow dabbling in dystopian themes and cool, glitchy visual effects.
Play if you like: Layers of Fear, Soma, Outlast
Available: Steam ($29.99), Microsoft Store ($29.99)
Pet the Pup at the Party (PC, Mac)
We’ve all been there — a party you don’t want to be at, surrounded by people you don’t really know, too tired or nervous to talk to anyone, so you just stand there awkwardly in a corner trying to decide an opportune time to slip out undetected. But what if the party had a dog?
Pet the Pup at the Party is a free (pay what you want) dog-petting sim about leaning into your social anxiety and foregoing all human interaction in favor of tracking down the party’s resident pup. That means weaving in and out of unfamiliar rooms, dodging mingling partiers, and inspecting every possible corner for the goodest boy in the house. It’s silly, cute, and not very long, but if you feel the need to sink a few hours into it, each house is randomly generated and there are a total of 52 puppies to unlock. Go be anti-social. Pet a dog.
Play if you like: Petting pups at parties
Available: itch.io (FREE)
Subsurface Circular (PC, Mac)
The creators of Thomas Was Alone and Volume have crafted a new kind of text-based adventure game with Subsurface Circular. You play a detective investigating a series of missing robots. As you converse with the working class robots along a web-like subway route, certain themes will arise that become “focus points,” which allow you to take the branching dialogue into new directions. If you like text-based adventures but want something a little more modern, Subsurface Circular is a clever and well-paced take on the genre.
Play if you like: Choice of Robots, science fiction, and visual novels
Available: Steam ($5.99)
White Day: A Labyrinth Named School (PC, PS4)
White Day: A Labyrinth Named School is a 2001 Korean survival horror game that never launched outside its home territory. It was remade in 2009 and then again in 2015, both times for mobile, but this month it was finally released on PlayStation 4 and PC. It’s pretty jump scare-y and plenty awkward in that silly way a lot of scary games are, but if you love clunky old-school survival horror as much as I do — obscure puzzles and campiness galore — White Day still has its charms.
Play if you like: Clock Tower, Fatal Frame, Silent Hill
Available: Steam ($29.99), PlayStation Store ($29.99)
Alphabear: Hardcover Edition (PC, Mac)
Alphabear is probably one of the best word games out there. It launched first on iOS and Android last year, but now it’s on Steam with Alphabear: Hardcover Edition. The goal of Alphabear is to form words using blocks of letters surrounding little square bear characters. The bears get bigger the more words you form around them, but unlike most letter-stringing word games, you can select words in any order to spell out new combinations. The catch is that each letter is on a turn-based timer, so you can’t let old letters hang around too long, or else they’ll expire and become rocks that prevent your bear(s) from growing any bigger. It might sound weird, but once you jump in, it’s super easy to pick up and start playing. It also has a silly sentence generator at the end of each match that uses words you spelled out during a game to craft sentences, Madlib style.
Play if you like: Spelltower, Triple Town
Available: Steam ($9.99) | Standard Edition: App Store (FREE), Google Play Store (FREE)
Beast Battle Simulator – Early Access (PC)
The funny physics sim has grown a lot in the last few years. Free web games like QWOP and gems like Octodad and Goat Simulator may have helped popularize them during their initial boom, but with the help of Steam Early Access and Let’s Players, the genre has absolutely exploded. That’s because a lot of these games are as fun to watch as they are to play, and since they basically rely on the innate comedy of broken, unrealistic ragdoll physics, it’s almost hard to distinguish between the good games designed to be bad and the bad games that are just bad. Enter: Beast Battle Simulator.
I’m not sure which category Beast Battle Simulator falls into, or if it even needs to fall into one at all. It’s a silly, sandbox-style physics sim that lets you unleash armies of minigun-wielding raptors against stampedes of dynamite-strapped kangaroos and T-Rexes with head-mounted laser beams. Like other silly physics-based battle sims, you can basically setup whatever combination of “soldiers” you want, watch them destroy each other, and get in on the action yourself by controlling any unit you want. If you get bored of the open-ended absurdity, you can also organize a deadly soccer match or take on obstacles in its Challenge Mode, which asks you to complete objectives like defeating giant enemies or knocking things down. This one’s still in Early Access, which means there might be bugs and other kinks to work out, but when it comes to games like this, isn’t that the point?
Play if you like: Goat Simulator, Totally Accurate Battle Simulator
Available: Steam Early Access ($9.99)
Chloi Rad is an Associate Editor for IGN. Follow her on Twitter at @_chloi.