I’ve had my Steam account for almost 10 years now and in that time, thanks to Steam sales, Humble Bundles and free giveaways, I’ve accumulated a pretty decent Steam library. Half of the stuff in my library, though, I’ve never played and a pretty large majority of those games I couldn’t even tell you what they are or how I got them in the first place.
This weekend, I had some free time and decided I would try and fix that for as many games as possible. So I went to http://www.howlongtobeatsteam.com and had it look for which games in my library I could finish the quickest. This led me down a strange rabbit hole into some of the weirdest games Steam has to offer. Most of these games would be more accurately called experiences than games and could be finished in a few minutes. Because of this, it’s hard to write a full review, if you can even accurately review these things at all. Still, I wanted to share one of the weirdest gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Please note that this will contain spoilers for some very obscure games, if you can consider a 20-30 minute game as having spoilers.
Mandagon – Free
Mandagon was the first game I looked at and is the only game I could tell you where I discovered it and how I received it. During the Steam Summer Sale, you got stamps for going through your discovery queue a few times per day. Well, going through that 3 times a day for over a week, Steam starts to run out of games to offer you and decides to start pulling up some of the weirder things on offer.
Mandagon was one of those games. It is free and offers a gaming experience based on Tibetan philosophy. I admit, I’m a sucker for thought-provoking games and this one being free, I figured what the hell? I guess the closest thing I could compare Mandagon to is a metroidvania in that there is one large world and you wander around it at your own pace. There are no instructions or guides at all but after wandering around as a little block, you start to realize there are emblems that you must collect and place into the appropriate altar. All the while, statues scattered around the world spout philosophical mumbo jumbo at you like “A daughter’s sleep, a wish to wake, A door of light, her place to take.” So… um… interpret that however you’d like, I suppose.
Once you place all six emblems into their altars, you can walk through the door in the middle of the world which takes you to an elevator. Ride the elevator up and congratulations! You get to talk to God who looks sort of like Shiva but not really! He tells you some stuff about cures and things being shifted or something and then the game ends. A winner truly is you.
Plug & Play – $2.99
This game was both the game I understood the most and thought was the most insane of the bunch. Plug & Play is a bit like being introduced to independent films for the first time. I’m not talking independent films like “Oh, I saw Moonlight. It was great.” No, I’m talking independent like David Lynch’s first films or literally anything by Darren Aronofsky, independent or not because people keep giving money to that guy for some bizarre reason.
The “game” plays a bit like a WarioWare title in that you are constantly presented with screens containing a minimalist drawing like the one shown above. You have to interact with the screen in some way and then it jumps to a different drawing. Each scene only takes about 5-10 seconds depending on how long it takes you to figure out what you should be doing. Oftentimes, it’s just click on whatever appears on the screen. Sometimes, you have to drag a plug into a socket or something.
While I wouldn’t say the game has a plot or anything, after watching enough plug people “plug” themselves into each other, you kind of start to get that this is supposed to be some kind of metaphor for sex. What is it trying to say about sex? I couldn’t even begin to tell you. If the goal was to say sex is confusing then they nailed it on the head. Otherwise, I have no clue. Thankfully, the game only takes about 15 minutes since there’s only so much plug-headed butt sex a person can watch before they need to shower.
Refunct – $2.99
Refunct is the only game on this list that I feel comfortable calling an actual game and is also the one I enjoyed the most. In fact, I had a lot of fun with Refunct and am really glad I played it.
Refunct is essentially an exercise in game design. Like the other games, this provides no instruction to the player at all and everything is expected to be learned as you go. the game plays in first person and starts with you on an island made up of rectangle platforms and surrounded by water as far as the eye can see. Some of the platforms have buttons on them. You quickly learn that you can move and jump around and that you have to step on the buttons in order to make more islands come up out of the water.
Throughout the game, you learn dynamically that you have more abilities than you probably initially realized. You are able to wall jump, climb up ledges, go through pipes and swim and you learn all this purely by the level design that the game offers. It’s a short experience, only about 30-45 minutes to fully complete, but it’s one that I had a lot of fun with and was impressed at the creator’s ability to teach purely through level design. If you are interested in game design and teaching through environments in games, I actually recommend picking this one up and giving it a look.
Potatoman Seeks the Troof – $3.99
Potatoman Seeks the Troof is a platformer based entirely around trial-and-error. You play as a sentient potato who is searching for the “troof” and you do this by slowly discovering that almost everything out there is trying to kill you. But not quite everything. Some things talk to you about how the troof is somewhere else.
There are distinct levels and this is the only game in this list where you can actually die and get a game over. You start off in a desert with evil cacti, go through a forest with birds that poop-bomb you with eggs, play dodgeball with traffic as you make your way through a city filled with constantly moving clones of yourself made to confuse you, climb a mountain with boulders falling on you and finally, make your way through a computer simulation thing collecting parts of a “meaningless triangle” in the game’s own words. Try thinking of Super Meat Boy but far less fun and making far less sense.
In the end, if you had to use a continue to beat the game, you get a bad ending and the game turns you back into a potato. I’m not sure what the good ending is because I just didn’t care enough to try and get it.
Thirty Flights of Loving – $4.99
This was the only game that I played that day having a slight idea about what it was. I had read something about how this game was actually a sequel to what the developer called his Citizen Abel games. Turns out this developer actually went on to make the pretty well received Quadrilateral Cowboy which came out last year.
Anyway, for Thirty Flights of Loving, the best way I can describe this is if anyone played the game The Beginner’s Guide, from the dude who made The Stanley Parable. TFoL plays like one of those games referenced in The Beginner’s Guide. Through a series of extremely jarring smash cuts, the game tells you a broken and confusing story about how you are trying to rob something with some friends (?) of yours but things don’t go well.
You start off going into a prohibition-era speakeasy and then getting onto a plane with two comrades. The game doesn’t use any words to tell its story, opting instead for context and blocking tricks. One cool thing the game does is introduce you to each of your comrades by showing a quick series of individual shots demonstrating their skills and role in your heist.
After flying off in your plane, the game smash cuts you into a scene where your comrades are bloodied and messed up with one of them pointing a gun at your face. Why is this happening? I’m not sure and the game never clarified this point.
You have to pick up one of your friends and carry them through a crowded airport. After a series of more smash cuts which seem to happen regardless of the direction you go, you get to put them on a luggage cart and wheel them the rest of the way. Smash cut back in time, presumably, and you and your buddies get to go to a wedding. You and the girl drink a ton, people fly up in the air and you get to do the dirty with one of your companions. Smash cut back to airport when you fall down a big vent and into the room where your friends were all bloodied up and now you’re injured. Smash cut again and you’re back to wheeling your buddy around. You get a fun scene where a gate is closing ahead of you so you toss your buddy under it to keep the gate held up while you crawl underneath it
After smash cutting into a big amphitheater or something, a bunch of birds break through the ceiling and poop police cameras at you while your buddy on the luggage cart shoots down the birds. Finally, you make it outside into a police barricade. You smash cut onto a motorcycle driven by your previously gun-toting friend and she looks at you lovingly before driving head-on into a truck. That’s the game! You are then taken to museum styled area that shows you the credits and teaches you about Bernoulli’s Principle of Lift because sure, why not.
One thing that piqued my interest about this game was that after you finish it, you can play it again with Director’s Commentary. Trying to make sense of this, I jumped on the opportunity and while he had some interesting things to say about the game design, it didn’t shed any light on what the freaking hell I had just played. Ah, well.
And that’s my list! All five of these games can be finished in well under an hour and all together, it took me about 3.5 hours total to 100% all of them except for Potatoman which I just played through once with continues.
As video games, I can’t say I recommend any of them really. While it was hilarious and bizarre playing through these unique little acid trips, I’m not sure I could even call them games as only two of them actually felt like they had gameplay and only one of those even had a way to lose. Still, this is what makes PC gaming so interesting sometimes, right? Anyone can make anything and throw it online and sometimes, that really means ANYTHING.