Gamers see them everywhere.
Ads for big-budget titles plaster billboards, magazines and TV commercials as publishers try to keep games such as "Call of Duty" and "Red Dead Redemption 2" at the public's top of mind.
With major video game companies sucking up all the oxygen, projects from smaller studios and publishers may go overlooked. Often, these titles are better or more original than their more well-known counterparts. Here's a look at lesser-known titles that have come out.
– "Guacamelee! 2" – DrinkBox Studio's surprising Metroidvania title returns for a sequel that's just as witty and creative as the original. The follow-up takes place seven years after Juan Aguacate defeated Carlos Calaca and saves El Presidente's daughter. The hero is retired, pudgy and middle-aged with two kids in tow.
Everything is going well until voids start turning up in his village. It's all due to Salvador, an antagonist who is trying to gather the ancient relics tied to the god of time. If he succeeds, he may inadvertently converge all eras of time and destroy the Mexiverse.
It's up to Juan to stop him as several versions of the wiseman Uay Chivos summon the hero of "Guacamelee!" This Juan is the only surviving version of himself after his counterparts in other timelines have perished. Because he's been out of the game for so long, players have to relearn and power up his skills. In addition, he gains new abilities courtesy of the Chicken Pope and Uay Chivos.
From the premise, "Guacamelee! 2" sounds outlandish but that's the charm of the game. It mixes Mexican lore with modern video game references to create a quirky narrative that melds nicely with the art style and gameplay.
What separates "Guacamalee! 2" from other titles in the Metroidvania genre is that there's a developed combat system. It includes a cooperative mode that makes the game a blast for up to four people. The only issue with "Guacamelee! 2" is the difficulty. The platforming requires exquisite timing and platforming especially when players combine special moves with the ability to go between the reality and the world of the dead.
– "Little Dragons Cafe" – The creator of the "Harvest Moon" series Yasuhiro Wada returns with an unusual concept that combines restaurant management, cooking and the care of a magical creature. "Little Dragons Cafe" follows the exploits of two siblings who have to run their mother's restaurant after she falls ill.
The game has some technical issues with frame rate, constant loading screens and unremarkable visuals, but the title is somewhat saved by its creative gameplay. After picking one of the siblings to play as, gamers will have to cook dishes and put them on menu. From there, they have to harvest ingredients from surrounding area to keep the cafe stocked with food.
The dragon acts as a sidekick that helps players gather food and unlocks new parts of the world. In turn, players have to feed it cooked food and care for it. Ultimately, the dragon will grow, and as it gets bigger, it gains new abilities including the power of flight. This opens up the world to players and they can gather more exotic vegetables, spices and meat.
The flaw with "Little Dragons Cafe" is its repetitiveness. Players must figure out a routine for their day and balance restaurant management with harvesting ingredients. Once they do this, it can be monotonous as they progress through the game's story and help visitors who become patrons at the cafe. It's a title best played in spurts.
– "Strange Brigade" – Better known for its "Sniper Elite" series, Rebellion Developments breaks new ground with a new project. "Strange Brigade" is third-person shooter built with co-operative play in mind. Players pick one of four characters from the eponymous squad and choose their loadout.
From there, they have to work together to defeat the forces of Seteki, the Egyptian witch queen, who was awakened by a careless archaelogist. They have to battle her undead minions through several levels as the team searches for ways to stop her.
Despite nice detail, most of the stages have similar formulas, in which players have to fend off hordes of enemies while staying alive. The combat is all about efficiently using ammunition by shooting traps to kill foes and using grenades to blow up enemies in crowds. Although it gets redundant and predictable at times, the pulpy vibe of the game keeps the action fast and fun.
"Strange Brigade" feels like it's a game built around the wait lines of "Indiana Jones" ride in Disneyland. It's heavy-handed and hokey as a narrator chimes in as players traverse through each level. It complements them when they solve puzzles scattered throughout the stage and praises them for surviving the undead onslaught.
Although it won't impress players, "Strange Brigade's" co-op gameplay does enough to keep players invested through this enjoyable romp.