In Extremis

A game by LNDFRR for PC, originally released in 2016.
In extremis is a Latin term meaning mortal peril, or alternately meaning the farthest reaches, and both meanings are appropriate here. In Extremis is a vertical shmup that places the player in mortal peril in the farthest reaches of space. As with most genre entries, the game is extremely light on story (though bits of “folklore” appear as hidden pickups throughout the game), featuring a protagonist who merely states “I’m tired of all of this. I need a way out. So, I took my spaceship and set the course for the end of the universe.” Following this, a blue ship blasts into space.


In terms of minute-to-minute gameplay, In Extremis is similar to its genre neighbors, featuring a ship that moves ever upward while waves of enemies enter from the left, right, and top of the screen. The player dodges enemies, weaves between sprays of bullets, and shoots at said enemies until they burst into nothingness, all the while attempting to rack up as large a score as possible. What sets the game apart, however, is its aesthetics.

Super Rad Raygun

A game by TRU FUN Entertainment for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2016.
Super Rad Raygun is a greatly expanded version of Rad Raygun, a Mega Man-inspired action platformer exclusive to Xbox Live Indie Games. The game is presented in four shades of green to mimic the visuals of the original Game Boy, but offers a crisp widescreen presentation free of the system’s notorious motion blur. The story is equally retro, taking place during the American and Russian Cold War of the 1980’s and starring a zealous caricature of Ronald Regan as the Commander in Chief, who makes some odd requests of the game’s eponymous star, referencing several real-world political events/fiascos of the 80’s.


While the original game featured five lengthy levels, Super Rad Raygun packs in more than 20 – with the original five levels included – most of which are equally lengthy. The overall gameplay has been significantly tweaked as well, with Rad performing floatier jumps and special abilities being driven by a new battery upgrade system that is regulated by a secondary energy meter.

Ninja Smasher

A game by Q-Cumber Factory for 3DS, PC, and iOS, originally released for mobile in 2014, with an updated version released in 2016.
Ninja Smasher is an open world ninja action game with a simple premise: a bad guy has kidnapped the princess, and you must fight to rescue her. The kidnapping takes place during a playable introduction, which also acts as a tutorial, explaining the basic controls and movement abilities. The ninja fights his way toward the princess and eventually comes face-to-face with the red mustachioed goon who has taken her prisoner… but unfortunately, the baddie’s magic is too much for the squat martial artist, who is literally blown out of the castle gates.


With the gates locked and no way to open them, the ninja sets off on an adventure to grow his strength and learn new abilities to help him take the princess back. At the outset, the player is free to move to the left or the right, although the path to the left dead-ends at a cave that appears to require additional abilities to navigate. Moving to the right, the player eventually encounters a cave that leads to a standalone dungeon area, and completing this earns him the ability to double jump, opening up much of the world for exploration.

Thoth

A game by Carlsen Games for PC and Mac, originally released in 2016.
Thoth (a.k.a. THOTH) is a twin stick shooter with a strategic slant. Rather than placing the player in an arena and pumping in wave after wave of enemies, the player instead faces off against a small number of enemies that each require a specific strategy to defeat. The player’s abilities never change, with movement and shooting being his only tools throughout the experience, but he must learn to alter his strategies as enemy behaviors change and new environmental obstacles are introduced across 64 levels.


The game is presented in a minimalist style – just like the developer’s previous indie work, 140 – with a solid color marking the outside of the arena, another color marking the background, and a pair of stylized level numbers representing the only decoration. Enemies are also comprised of single solid colors, with colors pulling in toward the center each time the enemy is shot, revealing a starry background behind the arena. Enemies appear to be 3D objects tumbling across the background, although their lack of texture gives them the appearance flat polygons that continuously change shape.

Gonner

A game by Art in Heart for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2016.
Gonner, (a.k.a. GoNNER), is a roguelike actioner starring Ikk, a fellow on a journey to cheer up his friend Sally, who happens to be a whale. Ikk isn’t much more than a blob of, well, ick, but he is able to equip skulls, weapons, and backpacks, which collectively transform him into a veritable death machine. As with other genre entries, levels are procedurally generated, and getting killed returns the player to the start of the game. However as the player makes progress, he discovers new skulls, weapons, and backpacks which carry over into future sessions, allowing him to customize his loadout between runs.


At the start of the game, Ikk can run, jump, double jump, and wall jump, as well as jump up walls to climb any vertical surface. Ikk’s stating equipment includes a small skull that grants him five units of health, a basic pea-shooter, and a backpack that allows him to reload his weapon without the need to collect ammo dropped by enemies. When Ikk takes damage, he loses all three of these items and remains temporarily defenseless until he can retrieve them. Without a skull, Ikk has no health meter, and taking damage in this state is an instant game over. So, regardless of your equipment, it’s possible to lose the game quickly if you find yourself overwhelmed by a swarm of foes.

Butcher

A game by Transhuman Design for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2016.
Butcher is a sidescrolling shooter inspired by the gritty action games of the early 90’s – Doom in particular – but offering far more blood and guts than those games ever did, all presented in heaps of chunky pixels. You take on the role of a cyborg who is tasked with wiping out the last remnants of humanity (despite being partially human himself), but doing so is no easy task, and players can expect to be butchered quite often along this 20-level festival of carnage.


As the game’s title screen states, “The easiest mode is ‘HARD’”. For players who slept through “Hurt me plenty”, the game also offers Harder and Hardest modes, which reduce the player’s health and the availability of medkits and armor pickups, and there’s an unlockable Impossible mode if you can track down enough of the game’s hidden skulls. Players who don’t derive pleasure frequent deaths and full level replays have no business here; only those steeped in the embers of Ultra-Violence need apply.

Salmon Ninja

A game by Krax Games for PC, originally released in 2016.
Salmon Ninja is a grapple-based precision platformer starring a moderately incompetent ninja with a poor sense of direction who has recently entered the afterlife. Upon entering this relatively featureless landscape, a glowing light appears nearby. However, the ninja remains confused as to which direction he should go, and instead of walking into it, he wanders off in the opposite direction, putting him on the path to Hell itself.


The ninja’s companion on his journey, whom he visits on several occasions, is a salmon. The ninja speaks to the salmon, which is only capable of responding with various “blub” noises, but the ninja seems to understand her. Dialogue exchanges are light and humorous, often with the ninja explaining his confusion as he descends further into the underworld. The ninja also speaks with each of the game’s four bosses before fighting them, and these exchanges are similarly absurd.

River City: Tokyo Rumble

A game by Natsume for 3DS, originally released in Japan in 2013, and released in the US in 2016.
River City: Tokyo Rumble is a proper entry in the Kunio-kun series, which dates back more than 30 years. The first entry in the series was an arcade game entitled Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun (Hot Blooded Tough Guy Kunio), which came to Western arcades as Renegade, with some changes to the setting and storyline. The game was also ported to a number of home computers and consoles, notably an NES port which was Technōs Japan’s first home console release.


The next entry in the series was a spinoff, which arrived the form of Nekketsu Kōkō Dodgeball Bu, otherwise known as the cult classic Super Dodge Ball, which sees Kunio and pals facing off against a number of dodgeball champions from around the world. This game also got its start in the arcade before being ported to consoles and computers. Next up was Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, the first Kunio-kun game developed specifically for a home console release, which was known in the US as River City Ransom.

Pankapu

A game by Too Kind Studio for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch, originally released episodically in 2016.
Pankapu tells the tale of the eponymous Dreamkeeper of Omnia. In the opening cinematic, a girl named Djaha ‘rell has a nightmare and is awakened by her father who offers to read her a story that will help to rid her of her nightmares, setting the tone of the game as a fairytale adventure. In the story, the peaceful dream world of Omnia is invaded by nightmare creatures that corrupt the land. Iketomi, the Hymn of Dreams, uses concentrated “dream matter” to create a guardian to defeat the invaders. This guardian is Pankapu.


The fairytale setting carries over into the game itself with vibrant and colorful locales, mystical oddities, overblown villains, strange creatures, magical combat enhancements, and a fantasy score composed in part by Hiroki Kikuta, composer of such titles as Secret of Mana and its sequel, Seiken Densetsu 3, giving the entire experience a feel of something pulled from the pages of a storybook.

RIVE

A game by Two Tribes for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U, originally released in 2016.
Despite its capitalization, RIVE is not an acronym, but rather a term meaning to tear something apart violently… which is a fairly accurate description of the game’s action sequences, although sometimes it’s the player who’s doing the riving, and sometimes he’s the one getting rived.

RIVE is a sidescrolling twin-stick shooter starring the gruff and bearded Roughshot who uses his spider bot to run roughshod (see it) over heaps of robotic baddies spread across an otherwise abandoned starship. Roughshot sets down on the starship to scavenge for parts and quickly runs afoul of the ship’s sentient AI drone who makes it his personal mission to encumber the scavenger’s progress by any means, stacking the odds against him with turrets, kamikaze drones, flying energy blades, and loads of heavily armored assault bots.


Fortunately, the spider bot is well-equipped to deal with these challenges, as it can move and fire independently, spewing a steady stream of projectiles in any direction. A small array of special weapons is available as well, which may be purchased from a shop located in the Transporter Room – where the player returns after each mission – and these include a spray of heat-seeking missiles, a short-range shotgun blast, bouncing bombs, and an electroshocking orb. Players can also purchase armor upgrades and the ability to draw in currency from greater distances, which is represented by leftover nuts and bolts from destroyed enemies.

RunGunJumpGun

A game by ThirtyThree Games for PC, Mac iOS, and Android, originally released in 2016.
Few game titles are as accurately descriptive as RunGunJumpGun, a game that is comprised solely of running and gunning and jumping (and gunning). You play the role of a scavenger who has come to the Extax solar system to hunt for precious resources known as Atomiks. The Extax System’s sun is expanding and swallowing up the planets, and the remaining citizens have gone into a full-on apoca-panic, with numerous conspiracy theories being floated that the sun’s expansion is not natural… maybe it has something to do with the planet’s warlords, or the scavenger himself, or maybe the scavenger is their only hope for survival.


RunGunJumpGun is an auto-scrolling game with only two buttons for control, but it is a far cry from the glut of uninspired auto-runners that hit the market following the success of Canabalt. RunGunJumpGun manages to do a lot with its basic configuration, continuously opening up new obstacles and new types of challenges across 120 short levels, most of which last around 10 or 20 seconds.

Mother Russia Bleeds

A game by Le Cartel Studio for PC, Mac, Linux, and PS4, originally released in 2016.
Mother Russia Bleeds is an extremely violent beat ‘em up set in an alternate 1986 USSR. The balance of power is shifting, and the lower levels of society are taking the first hit, with people being kidnapped by an unknown organization, and a highly addictive drug spreading through the streets. You take on the role of a street fighter – or a group of them in 4P local co-op – who is kidnapped and given forced injections of this new mind-altering drug, called nekro.


When you finally wake up, you find yourself on the floor of a grimy laboratory -slash- dungeon. Weeks have passed, and you are now hopelessly addicted to the sweet embrace of the glowing green narcotic. You fight your way out of the lab, murdering everyone in sight as you pass by glassed cells filled with failed experiments and horribly disfigured people.