5 Games: Budget Titles You Should Buy Right Now
As a collector and a lover of all things retro gaming, my favorite thing going in games today isn’t the new Skyrim remake, or 4K-capable console redesigns, or even the long-awaited release of The Last Guardian. My favorite trend with the new console generation is the rise of good, quality budget titles that launch at far below the $60 retail price of “A” titles. Games that would easily be passed over by both mainstream gamers and big name developers, either due to their lack of flashy graphics or big budgets. Companies like Soedesco, 505 Games, and Maximum Games are becoming almost like a new brand of pioneer for an industry that was trending slowly into the digital realm only a few short years and one console generation ago. Giving the next step for the indie game revolution to grow and reach more Luddites like myself, who swear by the benefits of physical media. It’s these developers, in fact, that were the most exciting to see on Nintendo’s “Partners’ List” for the Switch.
If you’ve been in a GameStop store lately, though, you might recognize a few titles that fit this description, such as Assault Suit Leynos or Lumo, though most in-store patrons might think it savvy to avoid an unheard of title at a budget price. And yet, while those are perfectly good games for the price, some truly magical gaming moments can't even be found in stores, but are available on Amazon or a similar website brand new, on the cheap, and waiting to be discovered. Here are five of the best that fit this trend that even if they don’t suit your style, come with the inherent benefit of not being a particularly risky venture.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (PS4, Xbox One)
Brothers leads off this article for not only being an excellent experience but also for providing a prime example of several of the most common traits found in the most successful budget-priced titles. Its gameplay is defined by its clever puzzle-oriented design, while graphically, it does an excellent job at building the world around its player-characters that are easy sit back and admire. The idea of the game is that two young children, an elder brother and a younger one, embark on a Tolkien-esque journey across their quaint homeland to gather medicine for their dying father. Players control both brothers individually, using each thumbstick and set of triggers for their respective character. Using their anticipated differences in abilities (the older sibling is stronger, while the younger is nimble and can access tight spaces) to solve puzzles that allow them to venture onward.
The only things that can take away from Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons are its length, at only a few hours without much replayability, and its age, having been released digitally around 2013, only getting its physical release two years later in 2015. However, with an MSRP of only around $15 even today, it's hard to keep from recommending this exceptionally charming little adventure that may still be unnoticed by the average gamer.
Earth’s Dawn (PS4)
Another trope of the indie market is to try and inject new life into a genre that has seen less popularity than in decades past, though isn’t without the potential for improvement. The 2D brawler had seen some good entries in recent years, such as Double Dragon: Neon, Castle Crashers, and Dragon’s Crown, but only the last of those three was lucky enough to receive a physical release at the time. Recently, however, both Earth’s Dawn and Zombie Vikings have arrived to keep the genre going, with the former earning its spot here for two relatively simple reasons -- having just been released this past November, and for its stronger resemblance to the aforementioned Vanillaware classic, Dragon’s Crown.
Despite a cover boasting yet another smattering of browns and grays that would make many mistake it at first glance for another Halo knock-off, Earth’s Dawn finally does something better with the grimy, rust-covered aesthetic that defines the majority of AAA titles, by turning it into a fast-paced run, gun, hack, and slash title with classic boss fights and 2D set-pieces, and a zoom-heavy camera straight out of a classic SNK fighter. The only reason Earth’s Dawn is lacking is that it, unfortunately, is only a single player experience, intent on selling you on its story and progression rather than mindlessly racing through hordes of generic baddies.
Runbow (Wii U, New Nintendo 3DS)
Despite its new physical release on the Wii U this fall, and another port coming to the New 3DS in the next few months, I first heard of Runbow when it was included in perhaps one of the best Humble Bundles of all time. Runbow’s cardboard cutout aesthetic is yet another example of how many indie titles strive to present their own eye-catching visual style, but the way in which the rainbow motif and changing colors also factors into its clever and deceptively simple platform/racing hybrid levels.
Although its single-player is charming enough on its own, the real reason to seek out a copy of Runbow is for its frantic local multiplayer, which allows up to nine players to compete in frantic action racing towards the end of the level to earn bragging rights for their own color. The fact that I’ve probably explained the majority of the game in a paragraph and a half might make Runbow come off as rather simplistic. Others will agree that that’s also the beauty of it and would be well off to grab a copy of this game, which has done as good a job as any in making new advancements in the long lost art of couch multiplayer and pick-up-and-play frenzy.
Ziggurat (PS4, Xbox One)
I’m trying my best to assign a simple summary to Ziggurat’s and its central concepts, and I’ve come up with a few that are all accurate, yet incomplete. You could say it’s like a first person Gauntlet, where players smash and whale their way through nearly endless hordes of various fantasy enemies on a succession of equally endless dungeon floors. You could also say it’s like Borderlands in actual dungeons, the way the original big-name gun-toting RPG that took its most definitive mechanics straight from grindfests like Diablo but left behind the original fantasy aesthetic. And of course, you can also see it as an updated version of the classic Doom clones, Heretic and Hexen, only replete with full rogue-like mechanics.
Ziggurat is a little bit of all of these things, and its appeal is naturally limited by the inherent repetitiveness of most rogue-likes, as well as the lack of plot or sense of progression. It’s a grindfest through and through, but its frantic action and beautiful tongue-in-cheek portrayal of many fantasy tropes (one type of kobold-esque enemy is walking, sentient carrots) make it well worth a try, which can easily prove addicting due to its heavy replayability.
While I’ll admit that Aragami actually isn’t really my type of game, that’s also exactly the reason why I feel the need to mention it. It’s another example of a game that has done a damn fine job of shaking the bells and whistles off of a style of gameplay that has become rather watered-down in recent years, in this case, the stealth-adventure genre. While the Splinter Cell games continue to become more action-oriented and the Thief reboot fell somewhat flat. Aragami fills a cozy little niche previously occupied by the Tenchu franchise, but also adds its own gorgeous cel-shaded graphical style reminiscent of a cutting Japanese manga, and some interesting fantasy-inspired mechanics that help spice up the action (or lack thereof).
Plenty of games such as Assassin’s Creed and the Arkham series have provided an excellent mix of action and stealth in recent years. Aragami, however, knows where its center is, which is why despite a limited appeal in today’s market, those who maintain an interest in classic stealth titles like Thief will see Aragami as a quality alternative due to its old-school balance. While those who enjoy stealth titles as a whole should also give it a shot for its sweet ninja-fantasy aesthetic and cool fresh mechanics based on light and shadow.
Other budget-priced titles worth a look:
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (PS4, Wii U, Xbox One)
Among The Sleep (PS4)
Overcooked: Gourmet Edition (PS4, Xbox One)
Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition (Xbox One)