There’s a Steam sale full of Japanese doujin (indie) games going on right now in celebration of Japan’s biannual Comiket event, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing about it; it hasn’t been publicised anywhere on the platform’s front page.
Instead, it’s seemingly relying on word-of-mouth to spread — a little disappointing for a platform that has, historically, allowed both big-name and small-scale projects to shine through front-page promotion. The reason for the sale’s lack of promotion isn’t entirely clear; perhaps it’s due to the perception of the titles involved in it as “niche interest” rather than games that will appeal to a broad slice of Steam’s audience. And that might be fair enough in some cases — but it’s also a squandered opportunity to expose these games to a much wider audience.
So let’s take the time to explore what’s in this sale now and do at least a little to address the issue. You can find the sale’s page at this link, and after the break, what you can expect from a selection of the games involved, with more to follow throughout the week.
Gundemonium, Gundeadligne, Hitogata Happa
These three games make up the Gundemonium Collection, a trilogy of “bullet hell” shooters from doujin circle Platine Dispositif and brought to the West by localisation company Rockin’ Android.
For the uninitiated, “bullet hell” games involve the player guiding a small but heavily armed craft (or, in this case, character) through a series of increasingly perilous levels filled with enemies that shoot intricate patterns of bullets. These bullets initially seem unavoidable, but the twist on the usual shoot ’em up formula is that the player character’s hitbox is very small, meaning that only a few pixels in their centre will actually register collisions. By bearing this in mind, you can navigate through seemingly impossible gaps once you’ve learned the bullet patterns in question — and once you’ve mastered that, you can start chasing high scores.
The three Gundemonium games each have a slight twist on the same formula: Gundemonium and Gundeadligne are both horizontally scrolling shooters, with Gundeadligne allowing both two-player co-op play and the ability to shoot behind yourself; Hitogata Happa, meanwhile, is a vertically scrolling shooter in which hurling your character into things in a somewhat “kamikaze” manner is an important strategy to succeed.
All three games have fantastic soundtracks, charming visuals and run at a blistering 60 frames per second even on modest rigs. Hook up an arcade stick to your computer for the best possible experience, and be prepared for a lot of swearing.
Initially appearing to be nothing more than a cutesy platformer, it’s not long before Xtal Sword’s Eryi’s Action reveals itself to be something else altogether: a type of game referred to by some as “masocore” and others as a “trapformer”.
For those unfamiliar with this particularly sadistic type of game, trapformers (as we will refer to them) have a habit of defying player expectations and confronting them with seemingly unfair situations. Early in Eryi’s Action, an interactive cutscene drops a pan on the eponymous heroine’s head, killing her instantly; later, you can even die on the world map, and along the way you’ll find enemies who behave in unpredictable manners, ways to make it impossible to complete levels and numerous other ways to generally make your life a misery.
But contrary to what you might think, the sheer unfairness of all this doesn’t take away the fun factor from the game. On the contrary, you find yourself progressing through several stages of fun as you play — there’s the initial slapstick comedy of Eryi’s many and varied deaths, followed up in short order by the realisation that the game is not a traditional platformer at all, but rather a puzzle game in which you must work out the ways in which to foil the traps set in your way. There’s always a path through, and it’s often a lot simpler and easier than you might think — and it’s hugely satisfying when you successfully work it out.
Grab it here: Eryi’s Action
One Way Heroics
An interesting take on the roguelike, One Way Heroics from Smoking Wolf takes players on a 16-bit RPG journey across a land being slowly consumed by darkness. The twist here is that you have to keep moving — the game “auto-scrolls” with every passing turn, meaning that if you don’t keep moving forwards, eventually you’ll be pushed off the screen and killed — that is, if the various beasties along the way don’t get you first.
One Way Heroics features a randomly generated world with every play session along with some strange online features that allow you to see how other players did. You’ll acquire various items along the way, but like in many modern roguelikes, a lot of these are somewhat “disposable” and provide you with short-term benefits rather than being something you’ll keep with you in the long run. You’ll also encounter various characters along the way, but again, don’t get too attached; a few turns later they’ll be swallowed by the darkness as you continue on your way.
One Way Heroics is an original, exciting and enjoyable take on the conventions of the roguelike genre. While not the most impressive-looking game in the world — the worlds themselves look randomly generated and tend to end up being rather bland — the gameplay is enjoyable and fast-paced, and the whole thing is infused with a wonderfully cheeky sense of humour.
Grab it here: One Way Heroics
A 2D fighting game featuring an all-female cast, Vanguard Princess is just the ticket for those who like a bit of moe in their “punching each other in the face” action.
The game features 2-on-2 combat, with you controlling one character and bringing a second in for support when they’re available. There’s a single-player story mode, in which you can explore the narratives of each of the ten different characters on their quest to defeat Hilda Rize, and a Versus mode in which two players can square off against each other to see who is the best at punching other people in the face with pretty girls.
Of particular note in the game is the quality of the animation: this can be attributed to the fact that the game’s solo developer Tomoaki Sugeno (aka Suge9) previously worked as a sprite designer for Capcom and on SNK’s The King of Fighters EX: Neo Blood for Game Boy Advance, so despite Vanguard Princess’ freeware roots, there’s professional-grade talent at work here.
The Steam version also offers “Director’s Cut” DLC for free, which uncensors some of the content, and a further DLC pack allowing the final boss Hilda Rize to be playable in Versus mode.
Grab it here: Vanguard Princess
Armored Hunter Gunhound EX
Do you like giant robots? Did you find Titanfall to be an underwhelming experience? Do you like your virtual mech piloting to feel like you’re actually wrestling with several tons of metal rather than controlling a very tall man? Then boy, do I have the game for you.
Armored Hunter Gunhound EX (hereafter Gunhound) is a 2D side-scrolling action game in which you pilot a giant robot suit, both on foot and in zero-G environments. Pleasingly, the game doesn’t treat the robot suit the same as a platform game character or an agile spaceship — in both environments, your mech feels like a hulking lump of metal that is difficult to control. And, rather than this detracting from the gameplay as it would in a more traditional 2D action game, it makes it all the more satisfying as you wrench the controls around trying to get a suitable shot on an enemy.
The game follows the adventures of a Hound pilot called Yuri, a somewhat spunky young lady who likes to do things her own way, much to the chagrin of her compatriots at times. Through story sequences that don’t outstay their welcome, the campaign gives you a good feeling of who Yuri and her comrades are, and provides suitable narrative impetus to progress. There’s plenty of replay value for those who manage to beat the short but challenging campaign, however; the ability to select any level and play it for score encourages you to go back and perhaps try missions with different weaponry loadouts — or simply to customise your Hound with a hot pink paint job.
Gunhound is a challenging game — the controls in particular take some time to get used to — but it’s well worth your time to do so, particularly if you’re a fan of stomping around in giant robots and don’t feel there are enough games out there at the moment that cater to your needs.
Grab it here: Armored Hunter Gunhound EX
There’ll be more from Steam’s secret Comiket sale tomorrow; in the meantime, check out the sale page here.