Indie Excavation No. 1: Dark Christmas
Featuring Castle of no Escape 2, Haimrik, Mastema: Out of Hell
Steam is a bottomless cave in which games at the bottom receive little light, but if you’re willing to dig, there are gems down there.
I like indie games, which is why it’s a shame that finding new ones — beyond the mega-sellers that everyone already knows about — is so difficult. The interesting ones are quickly lost beneath multitudinous strata of cheap titles that algorithms don’t know how to navigate. It takes a human to find anything worthwhile.
So I’m trying my hand at it. Three interesting indie titles per article, all unknown or underappreciated games that aren’t getting enough attention.
Going forward, I’ll be looking for unnoticed games released in the last few years, but for the inaugural article I’m picking three titles that were already in my library. Being December, I obviously picked three really dark ones that are more appropriate for Halloween, because I can be as ironic as the next person.
If you know of any titles I should feature, please send me a message and I’ll take a look.
Castle of no Escape 2
D.E.X. Team — 2016 — $4.99
I’ll say this right up front: I have never seen a game that put more effort into looking like an obscure late ‘80s home console game, complete with an NES-style digital manual that really does look the part. They even went so far as to include simulated sprite flicker and a “bootleg” language mode that mangles the text, though these are mercifully optional.
Castle of no Escape 2 is a top-down action-adventure game in the vein of Zelda or Crystalis, though with a roguelike twist. The player chooses one of a selection of heroes (three available initially, three unlockable through the game) and dives into a dungeon on a quest to kill a legendary demon.
To this end, the player must track down ten artifacts — five fragments of a magical sword and five gems — that are hidden within the dungeon’s 216 procedurally generated rooms (That’s six cubed, GET IT?). Finding these artifacts empowers the hero but also slowly “awakens” the dungeon, resulting in more powerful enemy spawns and grisly fates for some of the friendly NPCs.
As you might imagine, Castle of no Escape 2 is a pretty merciless game — less brutal than some other roguelike titles I could mention, but expect to encounter your share of cheap deaths. For those with a taste for that sort of thing, it offers a fair amount of replay value to go along with the nostalgia trip.
Below the Game — 2018 — $9.99
A long time ago in one of those eternally medieval fantasy worlds, a tyrannical king kept the peace with the aid of his “Word Warriors,” magical knights who carry arcane books that can bend reality when powered by the blood of their owners. Through a strange bit of serendipity, one of those books has ended up in the possession of a young, meek scribe. As you might imagine, this doesn’t go so well for him, as the other Word Warriors are suddenly out for his head.
Let’s get this out of the way: Haimrik is a bloody game. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen an adventure / puzzle game that’s quite this gory, and I’ll doubt that I’ll see another any time soon. The squeamish among you should stay away, but those of you with an appreciation for over-the-top Mortal Kombat-style violence might find it charming.
The titular protagonist has a special gift: The story of the game is written beneath his feet, and he can reach down and pull useful objects out of the words themselves. Need to defend yourself? Just look for a word like “sword” or “crossbow” and you’re set. But words like “fire” or “ogre” might spawn something far less pleasant that you’ll have to deal with. The game doesn’t wait around, and there are battles and bosses aplenty.
Haimrik is recommended for adventure game aficionados who don’t mind getting a little red on their shoes.
Mastema: Out of Hell
Oscar Celestini — 2017 — $4.99
There are a lot of games out there competing for the title of “Most Metal Platformer,” but Mastema has to be in the top five. Just about every level could be used as album art, and discovering what comes next is half the enjoyment.
Mastema puts the player in charge of a lost soul, traveling across a dismal hellscape in search of answers. The story is minimal, there to give you that initial push into the game’s 90s PC-inspired world. There are 19 levels in all, each one split into three brief but brutal stages.
This is definitely a game for the hardcore platformer enthusiast only, as it is extremely unforgiving. The protagonist has a strange jump that is a far cry from what you’d expect from a more Mario-like game. Many levels require pixel perfect jumps, and if you can’t compensate, you will die a lot. You’ll probably die a lot anyway, so I hope you have a tolerance for frustration.
Weird mechanics aside, Mastema provides a solid challenge for anyone who appreciates old-school hard.
Watch the games in action:
Sign in or become a SUPERJUMP member to join the conversation.