Top 10 Unexpectedly Good Steam Games
Image source: Scott Webb

Top 10 Unexpectedly Good Steam Games

I would call this a “hidden gems” list, except many of these are probably well known, at least in certain circles. I really just wanted to highlight games I played on Steam that I knew little about before jumping into. In return for my curiosity, these games rewarded me with very enjoyable experiences, several of which I still return to on occasion!

The title I picked for this post is a little unfortunate since it sort of makes it sound like these games have a bad reputation, or that I expected them to be bad, but that wasn’t my intention and it couldn’t be further from the truth! I decided to stubbornly stick with this title despite potential misconceptions it could cause, and I hope you can forgive me for that!

Although I refer to these as Steam games, all of them are available on multiple other platforms, and I’ve noted these platforms for each game as well. On with the list!

10. Contrast

  • Developer: Compulsion Games
  • Release: November 15, 2013

Also available on: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Contrast is a puzzle platformer that interchanges between 3D and 2D gameplay sequences in a wonderfully effective way. The 2D segments take place in the shadows cast by objects in the 3D world. Many puzzles must be solved by manipulating elements of the 3D realm to cast different shadows on surfaces, allowing you to reach new areas in the 2D shadow space. It’s a cool mechanic, and definitely makes this game worth playing in my opinion!

9. Lara Croft GO

  • Developer: Square Enix Montréal
  • Release: December 4, 2016

Also available on: PS4, PS Vita, iOS, Android, Windows Phone

This is a fun and well-designed puzzle game based on the Tomb Raider franchise. It nicely represents the Tomb Raider series, and sees Lara Croft overcoming obstacles such as venomous snakes, crumbling floors, and rolling boulders. It’s turn-based, with elements of the levels only moving when you move. This leads to fun puzzles where you need to plan your movement just right in order to succeed, but you have as much time as you need to figure things out.

8. Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa)

  • Developer: Upper One Games
  • Release: November 18, 2014

Also available on: PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, Switch, iOS

Never Alone is a puzzle platformer in which the player controls a young Iñupiaq girl named Nuna and her Arctic fox companion as they make their way through several harsh and wondrous environments. The story is based on traditional Iñupiaq legends, and both entertains and offers a bit of insight into the indigenous Alaskan people’s culture.

7. Aragami

  • Developer: Lince Works
  • Release: October 4, 2016

Also available on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Aragami is a game I played pretty recently, and therefore it’s still fresh in my mind. There might be a bit of recency bias to this pick, but I thoroughly enjoyed Aragami. I knew it was a stealth-action game with supernatural elements, similar to Dishonored but played in third-person, but that was about it. Unlike Dishonored, direct combat isn’t really a feature here. Enemies take you out in one hit, so you can’t really confront them directly. Instead, you have to stick to the shadows, teleporting between them and assassinated your foes stealthily.

The mechanics aren’t quite as polished as something like Dishonored. There’s a little bit of jank from time to time, particularly when aiming your teleport reticle at a ledge, but that doesn’t stop Aragami from being a very enjoyable experience!

6. The Turing Test

  • Developer: Bulkhead Interactive
  • Release: August 30, 2016

Also available on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia

The Turing Test is a first-person puzzle game. As a software engineer, my interest was piqued by the title itself, which refers to a classic computer science question of the same name. It’s similar to Portal in that you must make your way through several chambers, solving a puzzle to advance through each one. Like Portal, there’s also an A.I. that talks to you as you progress.

I don’t remember much about the puzzles, except that I enjoyed them, and the game was a very positive experience for me overall!

5. It came from space and ate our brains

  • Developer: Triangle Studios
  • Release: March 19, 2015

Also available on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Here’s a really fun wave defense twin-stick shooter. It supports up to 4-player co-op, and this is what really makes the game shine. It was definitely my go-to couch co-op game for a while! I’ll admit I can’t really say if the soundtrack is good or not. Most of the time that I’ve played this I’ve had the music muted and been listening to my own music library while blasting away low-poly, bright pink aliens alongside a friend. It’s an awesome time!

4. Party Hard

  • Developer: Pinokl Games & Kverta
  • Release: August 25, 2015

Also available on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch

I don’t know how I heard about Party Hard, or how it ended up in my Steam library so close to its release date, but I remember marathoning the entire thing with a good friend sometime in early 2016. We were hooked by its goofiness and gore! To this day, we sometimes return to it to play the co-op, which didn’t even exist when we first played it. It’s very easy to mess up and die in this game. We took turns trying the levels, passing the controller whenever we died…we ended up passing the controller back and forth a ton, but we still had a blast!

3. Kathy Rain

  • Developer: Clifftop Games
  • Release: May 5, 2016

Also available on: iOS, Android

Kathy Rain is a point and click adventure game set in the 90’s and inspired by point-and-click games from the same decade and earlier. As such, it’s full of wonderful pixel art in a 320x240 pixel resolution. You play as the titular character, Kathy Rain, a college student majoring in journalism. She’s investigating a mystery in her hometown, and quickly gets wrapped up in the dark and eerie goings-on of Conwell Springs.

I really enjoyed playing Kathy Rain. I played it several years ago, but still find myself reminiscing about the plot and characters from time to time. It’s an excellent point and click game if you’re in the mood for one!

2. Oxenfree

  • Developer: Night School Studio
  • Release: January 15, 2016

Also available on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, iOS, Android

Oxenfree is narrative-driven game about a group of friends on an island who stumble upon something supernatural. Gameplay-wise, you walk around and make choices that influence the direction the story takes. The story and characters definitely make it worth playing if you’re into this sort of game, and you can affect the events in some fun ways. The presentation is really good, and there’s some solid voice acting. I don’t know exactly how I’d describe the visual style, but it definitely works for me. The speech bubbles that your dialogue options appear in are super charming!

While reading about the game for this post, I learned that the developer, Night School Studio, is partially comprised of former Telltale Games developers, which makes a lot of sense given the kind of game Oxenfree is!

1. SteamWorld Heist

  • Developer: Image & Form Games
  • Release: June 7, 2016

Also available on: PS4, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U, Switch, Stadia, iOS

I didn’t know much about SteamWorld Heist when I went into it. I knew it involved robots and turn-based, 2D tactical shooter combat, and that sounded pretty fun to me. I had no idea I’d enjoy it was much as I did! It’s full of delightful characters, really fun gameplay, and some really cool music at the robot bars! Seriously, I think it’s the robot bar music that pushes this game to the top of this list. It’s performed by Steam Powered Giraffe, and it really took me by surprise in the best possible way when I heard it in-game.

After hyping the music up so much, I have to link to one of the songs. Here’s “Star Scrap.”


The self-proclaimed "Guy with the Backlog", as of this writing his Steam backlog is slowly growing to the point of consuming him. Meanwhile, he spends most of his time trying to catch up on the retro classics he missed, as well as replaying the games he grew up with.

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