September's Mac games
Traditionally, the last few months of the year are when all the big game publishers launch their most notable games—but the Mac market is a little bit different. In fact, our look at September’s top Mac games barely has any major publishers in sight, and only one game that sells for more than $15.
Yet this is still one of the strongest selections of new games we’ve had all year, with a nicely diverse array of indie experiences and even a couple of ports of fantastic iOS games. And where else are you going to find a list that includes a tense, terrifying undersea adventure like SOMA and then a point-and-click hugging game about a clown named Dropsy? Nowhere, probably. So check out the list ahead, and be sure to loop back on August’s picks if you need even more recent Mac options.
A thrilling first-person adventure set in an underwater base? Sounds a lot like BioShock, right? Well, the similarities end with the general premise, as SOMA ($30)—from Frictional Games, the developer behind the utterly terrifying Amnesia: The Dark Descent—opts to focus on telling a compelling story and building an eerie world rather than fill the quest with tense combat and gunplay.
As our sister site PCWorld put it in a glowing five-star review, SOMA is “an excellent work of science-fiction” and it “does BioShock better than BioShock ever did BioShock.” What exactly does that mean? Expect a gripping storyline, creepy robots who sound and act human, and some startling moments amidst the exploration. Critics and players alike are really captivated by this one.
Inkle’s 80 Days ($10) was one of the best iOS games we played last year, delivering an interactive fiction adventure based on Around the World in 80 Days. And now it’s on Mac, with an expanded version that adds dozens of new locations and options for your infinitely replayable journey.
As on iPhone and iPad, your task is to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days or less, and you’ll do so by making lots and lots of decisions: Which cities to travel through, which means of transportation to take, how to handle conversations, when to rest, and when to pay to speed up a leg of the trip. And that’s just the start of it. Rich storytelling and great, minimal artwork make this one especially memorable.
One of the year’s most acclaimed games on any platform is… a role-playing game that looks like it fell out of 1994? That’s not a slam at all: We’re just happily surprised to see the love surrounding this game. Undertale ($10) appears to be inspired by 16-bit greats like Earthbound and Shin Megami Tensei, putting a humorous spin on the classic Japanese role-playing game design and adding the unique ability to avoid conflict rather than fight every enemy in sight.
Steam users have given it “Overwhelmingly Positive” reviews, with 99 percent of appraisals in favor of the game, and critics are just as impressed: Undertale has a 97 on Metacritic as of this writing, making it one of the highest-rated games in history (albeit with only nine reviews so far). Not ready to buy into the hype? Grab the free demo at the official site and give it a try.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
The rise of online multiplayer has made the once-prevalent “couch co-op” less and less common, but Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime ($15) remembers the sheer fun that can be had when playing with a local pal. Draped in neon colors and peppered with space bunnies and evil “Anti-Love” forces, this eye-catching indie game forces you and a pal to work together to navigate dangerous space terrain.
You’ll both take various roles in your big, round spaceship, moving your characters between engine, weapon, and shield stations as you deal with the various threats around you. And because the level layouts are newly generated each time, there’s an endless array of content to enjoy. You can play Spacetime solo with an A.I. pet filling the partner role, but recruit a buddy (or significant other) if you can.
Panoramical ($10) is surely one of the most stunning games I’ve ever played. It’s a freeform visual and audio experience in which you can manipulate numerous worlds to your liking. Holding a key and moving the mouse alters some small component of what you’re seeing and hearing, and you can tweak and twist each setting to deliver captivating sights.
And that’s all there is to it: There are no objectives or enemies here, just serene and beautiful interactive dreamscapes. To some, it’ll seem like a glorified visualizer, but with an open mind, Panoramical might make you feel like the composer of an abstract, trippy universe—and that’s plenty rewarding on its own.
BioShock 2: Minerva's Den
SOMA, as noted before, takes a BioShock-like setting to interesting new places—but BioShock remains a classic first-person shooter series, and one of its absolute best parts just finally hit Mac a few years late. Minerva’s Den ($10) is an expansion for BioShock 2, and you’ll need the full game to play it, but it’s actually a standalone story that has its own characters and locations.
Playing as one of the armored Big Daddy enemies from the series, you’ll explore a brief campaign revolving around “The Thinker,” the computer that controls the underwater city of Rapture. It only lasts a few hours, but they’re impactful ones, all capped off by a total gut-punch of a conclusion. Minerva’s Den is an unexpectedly powerful bit of storytelling, and it’s well worth buying or reinstalling BioShock 2 just to enjoy it.
Traditional point-and-click adventure games tend to do well with the absurd, so Dropsy ($10) is a natural fit—yet it twists the genre’s typical dialogue-centric design. As a clown in a cartoonish world, you’ll go around hugging people, animals, and things, all of which helps drive forward puzzles and the storyline. However, people aren’t super keen on the hugs, partly because he’s a sweaty clown, but also because he’s accused of recently burning down his circus.
Yeah. It’s a strange one, complete with horrific nightmare sequences, plus narrative bits that you can find and string together to discover the real story behind everything. PCWorld had solid praise for Dropsy, saying that while not an especially amazing genre example, “It’s clever and it’s weird and it stands out—both artistically and thematically.”
Continuing this month’s trend of interesting, yet very atypical game premises, Laserlife ($15) is a rhythmic game with a deeply philosophical edge. Technologically advanced aliens in the future come across the corpse of a human astronaut in space, but have no concept of what mankind was. So they attempt to reconstruct the memories found within his bones to figure out who (and what) he was.
You’ll assist the process by using the dual analog sticks of a controller—which is required for play—to guide a laser through nodes in a surreal light show of sorts, which seems to unlock the various memories from the unlucky space explorer’s life. If you dig music games that aren’t simply about matching beats with popular songs, this looks like a seriously intriguing one.
Leo's Fortune — HD Edition
Leo’s Fortune ($7) was one of our favorite iOS games from last year, delivering a unique twist on the platform genre that worked perfectly on touch devices—and now it’s on Mac. You’ll control a furry, mustachioed creature out in search of his stolen gold, which he’ll reclaim by navigating an array of gorgeously-rendered side-scrolling stages.
Given its original home on touch devices, Leo’s adventure is focused more on sliding through hilly terrain and floating through the air, rather than trying to nail ultra-precise jumps or fight enemies. Still, there’s solid challenge found within, particularly when trying to float through caverns filled with spikes. And if you beat the main game, there’s a hardcore mode available—if you dare.
Brought over from iOS—and thankfully with the same small price tag, to boot—Piloteer ($3) is a game about failing spectacularly. And then doing it again. And again. And so on and so forth. It’s a jetpack simulator, but instead of gracefully soaring through the sky and soaking in the sights, you’ll struggle to stay upright and most likely crash within seconds. Like you’d probably do with a real jetpack.
Why is that fun? Well, Piloteer follows in the footsteps of games like QWOP and Surgeon Simulator, in which the slow road to mastering the fundamentals proves rewarding—and all the failure along the way is pretty funny. You’ll spin around in circles, crash into a mailbox, have a chuckle, and repeat, and the little missions that pop up along the way add incentive to keep at it.