What I've been playing recently
Over the past couple weeks I've been trying to find a couple extra candidates for my "Best Of" year-end roundup. Consequently I've played a ton of games from 2013 and 2014 - most of which I probably won't end up including in video reviews. So I thought I'd give you guys a quick rundown with brief thoughts about each one.
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Hero Siege
Type: Hack N Slash/Shmup

I reviewed this one a while ago, and at the time it had some major balance issues - the items were overpowered which made starting on later levels (rather than grinding from the start each time) almost impossible. Apparently they completely changed it, and now even the high-level characters I had from before feel very weak on the starting levels.

I thought maybe it was bugged so I restarted as a couple different classes with similar results - it's just a rather slow and boring experience now, where before it was fine once you leveled up and unlocked some of your special abilities. Maybe I missed something, but it felt a lot less compelling than last time I reviewed it.


Spate
Type: 2D Platformer

Visually this game is really nice, and I'll probably end up using some of the footage for a Let's Talk video at some point. The gameplay really didn't grip me, I think I only played for about 30 minutes - and aside from some light platforming it was mostly just running forward. Perhaps it improves later, but I couldn't spend much more effort on a 2D walking experience.


OMG Zombies!
Type: Puzzle

A very simple game about blowing up as many zombies as possible in a limited number of shots. You can buy upgrades that will enhance your stats to make this easier, as well as increasing the number of certain special types on each map. The special zombies do different patterns of AOE damage, which makes wiping out the zombies an easier task.

I found it a little bit addictive, but it's also sometimes frustrating since there's a limited amount of skill involved. A lot of the chain reaction killing is just down to luck, especially with enemies like the soldier zombies - which fire off their gun wildly when you kill them (taking out other zombies in the process, hopefully).

Basically you shoot a zombie like that, and hope that he shoots a bloated one which blows up another group which may trigger a new special. After a long chain of these events you may have a hard time cleaning up the remaining zombies though - since the population available for chain reactions may be pretty sparse. I think to get really good scores you'd either need to level up your abilities a lot, or spend a lot of time waiting for the perfect positions.


Freedom Fall
Type: Precision Platformer

This one has a rather cute style/story, and solid gameplay. I mostly gave it a pass because platformers aren't my thing, and it's been covered well by people who really enjoy the genre. If you do like this type of thing it's probably worth a look though, since it's quite well done.


Braveland
Type: Party-Based TBS

This may show up in a Low Effort video in the future, but it's a very by-the-numbers turn based combat game. The art style is solid but the gameplay is fairly repetitive, at least in the 3 hours that I played so far. Not bad by any means, but I didn't see anything unique or interesting either.


Crow
Type: Flying (as a crow)

Very rough, I feel like this was something made in the 90's - and most people probably won't enjoy it. You fly around a very small area, clicking on artifacts, and have some on-rails boss fights.


Guns N' Zombies
Type: Horde Shooter

The one thing that bothered me about this game is the tiny level size, and amount of obstacles to get stuck on. Aside from that it's a pretty bland zombie shooter, and probably only enjoyable as co-op. Even then though, you'd probably be better off finding a good co-op game, not trying to make a bland one fun because you're hanging out with friends.


Meltdown
Type: Top-down Shooter

I actually really enjoyed the combat in this game, but the overall concept seems pretty grindy, and the environments are pretty simple. The few times where they actually threw boss type fights at me were pretty fun, but those were few and far between. It does seem to have a strong emphasis on multiplayer though, and I was only trying it in offline mode. Again though, I like games to be fun in singleplayer before I drag friends into it.


Northmark: Hour of the Wolf
Type: Party-Based TBS

Another turn-based combat game, this one is card based and fairly simple - allowing you to have up to three units, against three enemies. Unfortunately it's pretty much all based on your cards, rather than actual skill. So if you go up against enemies a couple levels higher they'll take barely any damage, and slaughter you very quickly. This made it feel pretty pointless to spend time playing, if skill is mostly irrelevant.


Lifeless Planet
Type: Walking Simulator

This will definitely be in a Low Effort video sometime soon, but it's a walking simulator on a cool planet. The platforming is a bit rough, and there isn't a ton of interactivity - but I still thought it was a cool experience. I want to put a bit more time into it before the review goes out though - I've only played about an hour so far.


Jazzpunk
Type: First-person wacky spy adventure

Very short (2 hours), and also may be in a Low Effort video. This is sort of like Gravity Bone on drugs, and that makes it a reasonably interesting experience. It feels a bit more experimental than a full game at times, since there are a ton of different mechanics, but overall it's decent.


Road Not Taken
Type: Puzzle

It's tagged as a Roguelike on the Steam store, but is definitely more of a puzzle game. A bit like Triple Town, if there was a character on the game board that needed to move around the pieces. The gameplay is too simplistic to be fun, and the turn-based movement can be problematic at times. Even as a puzzle game I didn't find this enjoyable.


Nimble Quest
Type: Snake

Snake, with a party of heroes that shoot at opposing "snakes". It's an interesting concept, but ruined for me by the enemy AI. They have a tendency to turn and hit your party, rather than just battling you, which makes it way more frustrating than it should be. They don't lose when they die, but you do, so suicide is a winning strategy for them.


Eldritch
Type: First-person Roguelike

This one will be in a Low Effort video, it's a pretty decent first-person roguelike, although I think they should slowly give you better starting gear. It's a bit frustrating having to play the holloween level every time to gear up for the normal dungeons (gear persists between dungeons unless you die). They also should give you an extra weapon. You can only carry two currently, and that means you can't have a melee, ranged, AND special item. Special items don't do much for combat, but make the levels more interesting (breaking down walls, or giving you grappling hooks).


Ballpoint Universe: Infinite
Type: Shmup/Platformer

I was confused by this one - it's mainly a scrolling shooter, but to get to the levels you have to do a decent amount of platforming. And the odd world you platform through doesn't make this combination any more coherent. It's not particularly good or bad, just very strange.


Hammerwatch
Type: Dungeon Crawler

The art style is solid pixel sprites, but the gameplay is grindy as hell, and the aiming is twitchy enough to be frustrating (both with controller and keyboard). If the aiming had been easier it might have felt like a better experience, and it really needed multiple useful spells and attacks from the start. The mage for instance only has a long range fireball, and a short cone of fire - but the fireball doesn't use mana and can be spammed extremely quickly. This makes the cone of fire pretty much obsolete, and you don't unlock your other skills for quite a while. I never even got to see what they did, since an hour was about all I could take of spamming one key.


Bad Bots
Type: Platformer

You can duck behind boxes in this platforming shooter, but it really felt useless since the enemy bots are extremely fast and precise with their shots. It's really more a question of how fast you can kill the hundreds or thousands that they send at you, and whether you run out of health before they run out of bots. I wish there was more skill to it, since the environment and story seemed decently engaging. The only other thing that was frustrating was the limited ammo on the "special" guns, since they were so much more satisfying to use than the normal pistol or submachine gun.


Beatbuddy
Type: Underwater Music Platformer?

This one was actually very well done - I just couldn't get into the rhythm of the music. Actually, I was doing it correctly (since you can't progress in certain areas unless you use the rhythm), but it didn't FEEL like I was with the beat. I won't condemn the game for that though, it may just be me.


Not the Robots
Type: Stealth furniture eating robot

I thought the trailer for this one looked cute, but after playing a few levels it just didn't feel satisfying to me. It felt a bit cold, compared to something like Spy Chameleon (which although I had issues with it, had a certain charm).


Tiny Barbarian DX
Type: Precision Platformer

A good skill-based platformer, with some annoying control issues. I like the precision required for this, it isn't just a mario-like walk in the park. Unfortunately when you turn on "auto-grab" in the settings menu (without which you need to press UP to grab vines) this still doesn't make your characters auto-grab ledges. Without auto-grab this game seemed way too unpolished, but with it on it was good for the first few levels. After that you start having to do a lot of long jumps to ledges.

This is frustrating because pressing UP too early stops your sideways momentum - so you never reach the ledge. Too late and you've already slid slightly down the cliff and your character won't grab properly. Certain particularly long jumps took me a LOT of tries since I'm not a pro-precision-platformer.

That simple oversight ruined what could have been an enjoyable game for me. Replaying sections repeatedly because my character didn't grab when he should have was frustrating - when I should have been enjoying dodging enemies instead.


Sword of the Stars: The Pit
Type: Roguelike

This roguelike is incredibly random, yet fair at the same time. I'll be including this in a review or Low Effort in January, but if you enjoy roguelikes definitely check this out. I actually ended up killing myself, and laughed when it happened. Totally my fault, and I enjoyed every second of it (I took a calculated risk with low health, and lost the dice roll).


Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages
Type: Space Shmup

I didn't play this one long because I couldn't get past the controls. Tried it with both mouse and keyboard, and game controller. The ship is very floaty and they start you out in a very tight corridor, which I don't think is even representative of the main game. This was a poor design decision on their part, but I guess if you can get past the weird physics it may be a decent game.


Knock-Knock
Type: Horror side-scrolling

This was a weird and somewhat repetitive experience. It did have a decent horror vibe, but it failed to explain the gameplay mechanics well - and left me feeling a bit lost. Obviously I was supposed to stay away from the creepy thing in the house, but it didn't explain any of the rules or strategies for doing that. Creepy thing destroys lights, but is it better to leave the lights on? Why is my character telling me to turn them off and hide, when creepy thing still finds me hidden in the dark? Trying to be too artsy and enigmatic for its own good.


The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing
Type: Hack n Slash

The combat is much like Torchlight or Diablo, except all three classes in this game seem poor in one way or another. It seems like they were trying to be different than those games, and ended up just being bad to play.

The two ranged classes really require you to use your companion as a tank, which can be frustrating since it's super easy to pull aggro. So you pretty much have to single-target kill each enemy in the pack (and there are endless packs of enemies in this game, it's ludicrous). This means that while ranged combat works okay, it doesn't feel satisfying.

The default melee class was the opposite - it had a bit more of a meaty feel, but even on the second level I ran into groups of enemies that were slaughtering both myself and my pet in under 10 seconds. With ranged I could at least kite these groups of elites around and eventually kill them in a few minutes. This wasn't an option as melee, unless I wanted to wait 10 times as long, or go through an insane amount of health potions.

I even tried to go back to town to get the enemies to reset (since they don't ever stop chasing you unless you leave the level). Unfortunately when I returned they were just standing right outside the town portal, with full health again - putting me in an even worse position than before.

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That's about it for the games I've looked at over the past week or two.

There were a few other games like Year Walk, Shadow Puppeteer, Moon Sliver, and Intake that I didn't get far enough into to feel like I could give a reasonable review, beyond saying that the gameplay at the beginning was very lackluster. Perhaps some of them improve later game, but they didn't keep me engaged long enough to stick around and see - definitely not a good fit for my yearly picks.