October was an absolutely stacked month for gaming. There’s Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Assassin’s Creed Mirage, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, and Alan Wake 2, just to name a few. But amid all that hype, it’s easy for smaller but equally phenomenal games to get lost in all that sauce. So we gathered up a collection of recent games you might have missed but should definitely check out.
Available on: Switch, PC, iOS, Android
The best mobile games are ones you can understand immediately, and that’s definitely true for Subpar Pool. It’s a clever mashup of pool and golf and, despite the self-deprecating name, it’s excellent. The game comes via Martin Jonasson, also known as grapefrukt, the designer behind titles like Holedown and Twofold. His work often involves mashing two things together to create something new; Rymdkapsel, for instance, is part Tetris, part RTS.
In the case of Subpar Pool, it’s really a wonder no one has made this combo before. It works so naturally. It has the scoring system of golf, the physics of pool, and all kinds of weird video game aspects found in neither. In each run, you move through five procedurally generated pool tables, with the goal of sinking all of the balls in a predetermined number of shots. The basics are very satisfying, with a great feel to the physics and a high level of charm on display. Turns out, all you need to do to make me care about a pool ball is put a smiley face on it.
All you need to do to make me care about a pool ball is put a smiley face on it
But Subpar Pool also takes things a step further. You’ll slowly unlock different elements and rules that you can apply to each run, which drastically shake things up. These can range from giant pool balls that move slowly (and have mustaches, obviously), to the option to add a timer so you have to move quickly. Basically, there are a whole bunch of cards that let you customize your runs, either to add challenge, a dose of unpredictability, or just keep things as simple as you want. It’s an incredibly flexible system, and the game does a great job of easing you into things, letting you master the basics before things get really weird.
It’s also not just a mobile game: while I can’t stop playing Subpar Pool on my phone, it’s also available on Steam and the Switch. — AW
Available on: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X / S, and PC
I gasped multiple times while playing Jusant.
Jusant is a climbing game. You start at the base of a giant stone column, and you have to find ways to keep climbing up as you run into various obstacles and challenges. But climbing in Jusant is different from any other game I’ve played: you actually have to manipulate your character’s hands independently of each other. I played on Xbox Series X, so I pulled and released the triggers to “grab” and “release” rocks, ladder rungs, and other handholds to be able to keep climbing.
It took a while to grasp it, but now I wish climbing in every game worked like it did in Jusant. The forced attention to each individual grab turns climbing from what’s a very dull activity in many games into something that replicates the feeling of actually rock climbing. I haven’t gone climbing in years, but in Jusant, I felt myself using the same parts of my brain to strategize paths and keep my hands from crisscrossing.
I wish climbing in every game worked like it did in Jusant
You’ll have to make a lot of perilous jumps and climbing maneuvers — they’re what made me gasp the most — but that courage is constantly rewarded with moments of beauty and jaw-dropping vistas. And it’s all backed by a gorgeous soundtrack that seems to kick in each time you stumble across something amazing.
Although I was often in awe, I had a few issues that brought the experience back down to the ground. Sometimes, Jusant’s controls didn’t work in the ways I expected. Much of the game’s story was told through long text files that eventually started to mash through. And the blobby blue companion you meet early on is annoyingly squeaky. (My wife and I eventually nicknamed it “Squeakums.”)
At its best, Jusant’s thoughtful climbing and occasional beauty make it feel like a spiritual successor to Journey. (The final chapter of Jusant is sublime.) But my few problems with Jusant mean that, while it reaches for the top, it comes up just short. —JP
Available on: PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, and PC
If I try to explain Cocoon with English words and my human mouth, I’m gonna fail. The game is exceedingly simple, yet that simplicity defies any kind of succinct explanation. You’re a little bug person and you have to… go to a place? And to get there, you have to carry little orbs, and the orbs grant special abilities that help you get to The Place, and you can stick them inside each other. And then there are little drones that follow you around and unlock obstacles on the way to The Place and there are four different worlds each with different mechanics that work differently with each orb ability. Oh, and there are boss fights and… ugh, here, just watch this.
Hopefully that does enough to explain what kind of game Cocoon is. If not, let me try again, but this time with feeling.
Cocoon is one of those minimalist games where you’re popped in with the mandate to just go with no tutorial or explanation, which is fine because you don’t really need them. You have one action button that you use to interact with the environment, and you rely on the ability orbs to do the rest. Simple puzzles like opening a timed gate are stacked on top of each other in increasingly complex ways, requiring you to pull together all your knowledge of the orbs, the ways to nest them within each other, and the different worlds to solve them.
An otherworldly and delightful experience
I cannot explain to you what happens in my brain as I play this game. It does things to me, making me feel like I am no longer in control of my faculties. Every time I was faced with a puzzle that I finally thought would defeat me, forcing me to look up a guide, I felt something come up from the depths of my primate brain, assumed control of my form, and solved the dang thing. It was an otherworldly experience. Cocoon was delightful in its simple complexity such that when you solve the problems it sets forth, you feel incredible. It’s also an atmospheric game with beautifully unsettling visuals and sounds, like everyone in the art and sound department spent their formative years playing Spore and Journey. (Cocoon was directed by Jeppe Carlsen who made Inside and Limbo so the comparison fits.)
All that, plus its availability on Game Pass and its perfect runtime (I completed the game in two sittings spanning maybe five–six hours), makes Cocoon one of the best experiences of bespoke appointment gaming I’ve had all year. — AP