Strikey Sisters

A game by DYA Games for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2017.
Less than a year passed between DYA Games’ previous effort, Bot Vice, and Strikey Sisters, both of which share a similar structure and art style. Bot Vice is modeled after the “gallery shooter”, a genre best represented by Wild Guns, and features a female protagonist running along the bottom of the screen and blasting up at colorful baddies with a variety of weapons collected as powerups. Strikey Sisters has more in common with Wizorb (and by extension, Arkanoid), with a female protagonist – or a pair of them in 2P co-op – running along the bottom of the screen and bashing a magical orb upward to smash bricks and damage colorful enemies while grabbing various powerups. The game is inspired by a relatively unknown fantasy brick breaking game called Firestriker on SNES.


As in Bot Vice, Strikey Sisters takes on a 16-bit style, with some visuals and sound effects reminiscent of classic Capcom games, especially the main character’s victory yell and the announcer’s “You win!” exclamation, which closely approximate similar samples from Street Fighter II.

The eponymous sisters are witches named Marie and Elene, and they are on a quest to rescue their pet, Sachiro, from the evil Lord Vanik. Between battling through brick-based arenas, the duo meet up with each of Vanik’s supplicants for some purposely cheesy dialogue exchanges… although there are some questionable line reads amongst the voice actors, and the pacing of the dialogue is quite slow. After each exchange, the player engages the villain in a boss battle.

Dragon Bros

A game by Space Lizard Studio for PC, Mac, Linux, and Xbox One, originally released in 2017.
Dragon Bros is a run and gun shooter that plays out the age-old rivalry between robots and dragons. As the story goes, robots conquer the planet, laying waste to everything and kidnapping a mommy dragon and her four unhatched eggs. While in storage, these eggs hatch, and a set of dragon brothers are born. They break into the armory and pass through a warp door that leads to a windblown forest where they head out and search for their lost mother.


The game features five difficulty levels represented in pictographs from a skull to a split skull to a horned skull. Players take on the role of a blue dragon, and the game features drop-in local 2P co-op, with the second player controlling a red dragon. The dragons are squat, appearing small onscreen. They each have a low 1x nonvariable jump and they can perform downward slam attack to break through certain floors and damage enemies, as well as a very short range flame attack and a dodge roll.

WitchWay

A game by Andrew Gleeson, Henri Rochefort, Niilo Takalainen, and Nathan Antony for PC, originally released in 2017.
WitchWay is a puzzle platformer starring a young witch who has plummeted cartoonishly to the bottom of a deep well. The minimal narrative doesn’t explain how she finds herself there, but she must find a way out. In order to do this, she needs to use her magic to slide and levitate blocks, redirect lasers to activate switches, and work her way ever further up the multi-level well. Along the way, she discovers numerous hidden passageways, mysterious eyes placed in the walls, and a bunch of stranded bunnies in need of rescue.


The witch has a 2x variable jump and is able to shove wooden blocks to the left or right. She doesn’t spend much time manually shoving these boxes, however, as she acquires a wand early into her adventure that allows her to activate purple blocks and move them with magic. Some blocks can only be moved to the left or right, but there are many that can hover in the air and move in any direction, and some that can redirect lasers. Box shifting is the game’s primary mechanic and is used to solve most puzzles.

A Hole New World

A game by Mad Gear Games for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2017.
A Hole New World is inspired by classic NES games and has a familiar premise: A once-peaceful land is overtaken by evil, and a goddess decides that it is best to separate the world into a realm of good and a realm of evil. However, in committing this act, the goddess is weakened, and she splits her powers up into five crystals that are spread across the light and dark worlds. Of course, everyone battles over these crystals until a supreme evil discovers one and uses it to cross over into the world of light, wreaking destruction upon the land.


Demonic creatures pour forth from the ground, and the people in the world of light find that their weapons are useless against them… except for those used by the Potion Master. You take on the role of this Potion Master as you attempt to push back the creatures from the Upside Down World, which is literally an upside-down area that can be entered by dropping through pits in the overworld. The Potion Master must pass through these pits to move back and forth between the realms, tossing potions to defeat his enemies and rescuing trapped citizens.

Plasma Puncher

A game by Tomatotrap for PC, originally released in 2017.
In Plasma Puncher, you take on the role of a white blood cell who is attempting to defend his host’s bloodstream from a gigantic invading germ and an onslaught of pesky microorganisms that mean him harm. The white blood cell runs around the outside of the germ, smashing baddies with his fists, grabbing a variety of powerups, and attempting to build up enough strength to take down the big bad germ as well. A shop system allows the player to choose his upgrades to increase his defense and mobility and add new moves to his fighting repertoire.


The game is a single-plane brawler that allows the player to jump and move to the left or right, as well as perform a dash maneuver that lets the player lunge forward a bit, and this move can be used to get behind enemies. Unlike most beat ‘em ups, the game doesn’t take place in the traditional metropolitan locales, which typically include slums, warehouses, subway stations, and the like. Instead, the entire battle is fought on the back of a large multi-eyed germ called the Mother-Microbe – and the eyes look at you as you run around – with enemies hovering down from the skies or popping into existence from pustules that form on the microbe's exterior.

Bye-Bye Boxboy

A game by HAL Laboratory for 3DS, originally released in 2017.
Qbby and pals have returned for one more adventure in the Boxboy universe, this time entitled Bye-Bye Boxboy. This is the third game in the series, following Boxboy and Boxboxboy, each of which features Qbby using his box-extending powers to create shapes that allow him to navigate levels and solve environmental puzzles. As before, the visual design is quite minimal, with simple black and white backgrounds, boxy environments, and Qbby himself appearing as a box with legs. The story is also minimal, tasking Qbby to save a series of planets, but a new element is added in the form of Qbabies that introduce several new block types that significantly impact gameplay.


As in the previous games, Qbby has a low 1x jump and the ability to extend boxes outward from his body to create platforms, shields, and hooks, and these tools allow him to cross gaps, avoid being killed by electrical beams, and pull himself up to higher ledges. The length of these box chains is dictated by a counter that allows for shapes between three and eight blocks in length, but most levels limit this number to four or five blocks. In this regard, the game is more like the original Boxboy, which offered similar puzzle designs and restrictions, rather than Boxboxboy, which allowed players to create two smaller stacks of blocks.

Blaster Master Zero

A game by Inti Creates for Switch and 3DS, originally released in 2017.
The original Blaster Master is something of a cult classic, standing out as a colorful metroidvania with unique mechanics that allow players to traverse the environment on foot or in a powerful tank called SOFIA 3rd. Players can freely enter and exit the tank, but attempting to move around the overworld on foot is dangerous, as enemies tower over the hero, and a single misstep can spell instant death (with limited lives and continues). However, players must leave the safety of the tank to move into underworld areas where they explore dungeons, shooting enemies, fighting bosses, and collecting upgrades for SOFIA. These upgrades allow the tank to fire more powerful projectiles, hover in the air, move underwater, and even climb walls, thus opening up new routes for exploration across a large world in a game that offers no map.


The game features a downright laughable story with a kid named Jason who has a pet frog named Fred. One day, Fred hops out of his terrarium and runs into the back yard, which just so happens to have a large crate containing radioactive material (as most houses do). Fred touches this crate and begins to grow to an enormous size before falling down a hole that leads to a labyrinthine underground tunnel system. Giving chase, Jason drops down the hole as well, and discovers a conveniently placed titanium tank and formfitting environment suit waiting for him at the bottom. He sets off on his adventure to find Fred, eventually killing a couple of giant frog creatures with no explanation as to whether Jason has blasted his pet froggie into a pile of oversize amphibian guts.

Flinthook

A game by Tribute Games for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2017.
In Flinthook, you take on the role of the titular character as he raids and plunders pirate airships, absconding with stacks of treasure. This is an actioner built upon a roguelike structure with procedurally arranged levels, variants that impact the environment and enemies, loads of random elements, and whole lot of gameplay to repeat upon death. Fortunately, currency and XP systems allow players to unlock new abilities and purchase upgrades that carry over from one session to the next.


Flinthook flies around the cosmos, selects pirate ships to attack, and then fires a huge anchor into them. Each mission allows the player to select from one of three ships, with the difficulty of each displayed, along with any variant conditions, such as extra tough enemies, lots of branching paths, a broken map, the presence of shops, low gravity, fog, enemy swarms, etc. These variations can have a major impact on how the player interacts with the environment; for instance, low gravity means that the player needs to pay extra attention to hazards on the ceiling and needs to react quickly upon being flung into a new room.

Slime-san

A game by Fabraz for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch, originally released in 2017.
In Slime-san, you take on the role of a simple green slime who is swallowed up by a giant worm while he is wandering through the forest. Once within the worm’s gullet, Slime-san jumps, dashes, and slimes his way through hundreds of 5-color pixelated platforming environments that are set in different parts of the worm’s long body. Starting at the worm’s hind end and working his way forward, Slime-san must outrun walls of constantly-rising stomach acid as he fights to find a way out.


The game’s premise is a bit odd – although it is certainly in line with some of the strange stories of the 8- and 16-bit days – which lends itself to some absurd situations. For instance, the slime encounters numerous other characters within the worm who have been similarly swallowed up, as well as an entire town located within the worm’s intestines. And, while many classic games feature boss fights against oversized body parts, few see the player attempting to take down a giant fully-engorged worm penis.

Rain World

A game by Videocult for PC and PS4, originally released in 2017.
Rain World is an open world action adventure starring a little creature known as a slugcat. One day, a family of slugcats is wandering through the forest, and they stop occasionally to grab some bat-like creatures out of the sky and munch on them to fill their tummies. But when the rain comes, the family scrambles to seek shelter, and one young slugcat falls and becomes separated from the rest. Alone in a hostile and unforgiving world, the slugcat must traverse the landscape, hunting for food and avoiding being eaten himself, as he tries to find his family once more.


The game’s design focuses strongly on its atmosphere and ecosystem. The world is dark and filled with mysterious architecture and ancient machinery, and danger lurks around every corner. The soft (and possibly tasty) little slugcat occupies the lower end of the food chain, and must therefore be constantly wary of predators, most of which can kill him in a matter of seconds. As such, players must take advantage of the slugcat’s small size to slink around and hide, and remain watchful of predators’ behaviors to determine when it is best to sneak past.

Alwa’s Awakening

A game by Elden Pixels for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2017.
Alwa’s Awakening is a grand metroidvania adventure inspired by the classics of the NES era. The game stars Zoe, a girl summoned from another world to help the people of Alwa wrest themselves from the grip of an evil being known as Vicar. Vicar and his agents have enslaved the people and plunged the land into an age of despair that has lasted for hundreds of years. Only Zoe, equipped with a magical staff, can brave the dungeons, fight back this evil, and restore peace.


Alwa’s Awakening fully embraces its NES inspirations with a chiptune soundtrack, limited color palette, low sprite count, a small number of game mechanics that are slowly permuted upon, a steady growth in difficulty, and a general lack of handholding throughout the experience. The player has access to a map that outlines the basic structure of the game world - along with the locations of Vicar’s four agents - and there are a handful of NPC’s that offer general guidance, but overall, the player is left on his own to push to the edges of the known world, plunge into uncharted depths to overcome challenges and acquire powerups, and ultimately bring an end to Vicar’s reign.

River City Ransom: Underground

A game by Conatus Creative for PC, Mac, and Linux, originally released in 2017.
Technos brawlers have seen a resurgence lately, with the release of River City: Tokyo Rumble and Double Dragon IV in 2016, both presented in the graphical style of the NES games upon which they were based. River City Ransom: Underground, on the other hand, takes a step forward in the technology department with a game that retains a chunky retro style but also offers more detailed artwork, brighter colors, increased onscreen enemy counts, and a dazzling variety of character sprite animations.


It’s worth noting that this game arrived on the market shortly after Natsume released River City: Tokyo Rumble in the US (originally released in Japan in 2013). Both games are proper entries in the Kunio-kun series, which dates back more than 30 years. While the game and its spinoffs were quite popular in Japan, few of these games ever arrived in the US, with Renegade, River City Ransom, and Super Dodge Ball standing as the notable exceptions.