Thumper (Steam, PS4, PSVR)
Described by developers Drool as “rhythm violence,” Thumper is the long lost mutant offspring of the Harmonix PlayStation 2 classics Frequency and Amplitude. But while those games reveled in the joy of creating music, Thumper revels in being aggressive, oppressive and just plain bonkers. You hurtle through psychedelic neon tubes at breakneck speed, listening to music that sounds like you’re trapped in a trash can that someone’s bashing in with a baseball bat.
Ten minutes in and your brain is leaking out your ears. Half an hour and you’re experiencing Timothy Leary-esque enlightenment. Once I played it for an hour and woke up naked in Hyde Park, covered in someone (something?) else’s blood. Terrifyingly, this nightmare is also available on PSVR – may God have mercy on the souls that load it up.
Virginia (Steam, PS4, Xbox One)
I’m a sucker for a bizarre and satisfying mini-narrative; something Virginia doles out in spades. Taking obvious inspiration from Twin Peaks, Virginia follows rookie FBI Agent Anne Tarver as she investigates the disappearance of a young boy. Developers Variable State set out to explore using cinematic editing during gameplay, making for an experience and atmosphere that’s like little else out there.
Dreamy, disconnected and gently surreal, its unique style led to a lot of (in my view) unfair criticism for removing player control. Similarly, though it wears the clothes of the adventure genre, there’s precious few puzzles to solve – your interactions limited to actions like opening doors, picking up and examining objects or pulling loose boards away.
But Virginia has such a tight focus on its narrative and cool aesthetic that picking holes in the gameplay feels like missing the point. After all, if you can’t experiment with form and style in a budget indie game, when can you?