It’s the middle of September, so it’s time to look at the last month of Xbox Game Pass titles with the September 2021 review.
On-screen are images that Microsoft has released of their top games which we’ll be covering, but that’s not good enough for me. I’ve played everything released on the service for PC over the last month, and it’s time to talk about the good and the bad.
I’ve spent at least two to four hours with most of these games, so I should be able to give you a good overview of what is worth checking out and why. I hope you’re ready because we’re going to cover 19 games this month, and yeah, that’s a lot. Let’s get started with…
Art of Rally. This is the second title from Funselektor. After Absolute Zen, it seems the studio wanted to tackle another drift game and added in the idea of rally driving. They have continued with that interesting aesthetic of Absolute Zen. This has a visual style that looks almost like the player is driving a toy car.
Art of Rally focuses on drifting around randomized courses, and that works well. It reminds me quite a bit of Drift Rally due to never knowing what’s coming next, but the camera angle and the controls make it a joy to explore rather than a terrifying ride. The car handles reasonably well, and the various difficulties mean anyone can find a challenge or a win depending on which mood they are in.
Art of Rally also offers a free roam mode for those who want to explore the world at their own pace and track down various collectibles. A variety of cars and classes of races are included so there is a sliding scale of difficulty as well, though the game also does allow players to proceed even if they don’t come in ‘first place’. Art of Rally still tracks which place players come in so completionists will have something to chase.
Pick this up if you like driving games. Absolute Zen and Art of Rally are strange titles in the racing genre. They aren’t exactly hardcore racing games, but still, demand a lot of the player who is trying to master their unique style of driving. Of course, this is pretty far from a serious racer so it’ll mostly appeal to those who want a casual racing game.
Hades. In 2020, Hades won my Game of the Year. It was tight, well designed, had excellent gameplay and a story, which was something I hadn’t seen before in the rogue-lite genre. And in 2021, Hades is still as good as it was when it first came out, and it comes from Supergiant Games who was best known for Bastion, but Hades just blows that out of the water.
If you haven’t given this game a shot, you should change that. Everything in this game is polished. Greek mythology is well known and everyone knows parts of this story. Of course, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades are here. But Supergiant finds ways to make every character interesting and the story is something players will enjoy discovering. There are almost no extended cutscenes and most interactions are less than a minute long, but players will want to learn more about all the characters and gods and those interactions feel substantial in the middle of a dungeon dive.
The gameplay is excellent, the controls are tight, the core of the power growth is gaining different boons or upgrades from the gods. Each run only lasts at most 40 minutes, so even if something goes wrong, players will be able to pick themselves up and try again. There are six different weapons to choose from, each weapon controls differently, and there’s a massive amount of upgrades that will both make the game easier, and prepare the player for harder difficulties later in the game.
Pick this up, period, I gave this game a game of the year because it was an incredible game, it’s a fantastic indie title, and you probably already heard enough about it, that’s because almost everyone seems to enjoy it. Some people dislike it, but if you haven’t made up your mind yet, you owe it to yourself to try this.
Boyfriend Dungeon. With a name like that, I think it’s clear where Boyfriend Dungeon will go, it’s like Dream Daddy. So yes, you’re going to be dating guys. Guys who turn into weapons, and join you on trips into rogue-lite dungeon crawling, so probably not like Dream Daddy. It’s a weird game, but it’s also a unique idea.
However, Boyfriend Dungeon has a couple of big issues. It starts by hinting platonic relationships are acceptable, but then consistently forces you to date every one of its characters, even when you politely say “I’m not interested”. Your family or friends will force you into romantic encounters. Ugh. Worse, that’s also the only way to power up your weapons so you can skip the dating and be weak, or force yourself through rather weak set-ups.
I want to be clear, I don’t have a problem with a homosexual setup, but when the game just disregards the player saying he’s uninterested in a potential love interest or sets it up that it’s the only way to progress or get more powerful it’s an awkward situation. Not to mention a lot of these characters set off red flags all over the place. Maybe the game should accept it when people say they’re not interested, but every character seems to be pushy about dating you rather than just offering some form of friendship.
The gameplay itself is rather good, and I wish I could enjoy the rogue-lite or dungeoneering experience more. You spend half your time on these dates, and there’s also a lack of variety in the enemy choices and only two dungeons currently.
Pick this up if you want a really weird concept tied to a good rogue-lite, but you’re going to be forced into dating a lot of men, and one woman and that’s… if only the writing was better, or more interesting. I wouldn’t mind befriending the people but forcibly dating people you should flee from was just not enjoyable. I’m sure there’s an audience for this, but I also think a lot of people won’t be able to meet this game on its level.
Library of Ruina. This is a card battler, but not a rogue-lite, which shocked me. However, this is more of a puzzle game deck-builder. Players can take their librarians into battle, enemies will have attacks and much of the game is figuring out which card to play against which attack. There’s an interesting battle system here involving dice rolls as well.
After about 90 minutes I just stopped playing. The story wasn’t exactly pulling me in, it’s an interesting world with touches of transhumanism and a bit of horror, but nothing that got me hooked. The spoken dialogue is in Korean with English subtitles. The gameplay felt a little easy to me, I found once I started matching the right dice versus other dice, the combat was easier, and gathering new cards didn’t have a huge appeal.
But none of this is that bad, it might be the reviewer’s curse, I’ve seen entirely too many card games recently. While this is a different take on card-based games, it’s still too easy and when you aren’t challenged, it’s hard to keep playing. It gets even worse when you can start bringing multiple teams but if you lose one team, you just drop the next one in and get a fresh group.
Pick this up if you like card games or dice games and want a puzzle version of that. Also if you know Korean this could be for you. The voices are great, but I can’t understand what they’re saying. There’s a bit of a Korean horror motif going on which I’m sure has many fans, I just tend not to like horror styling or such, and found this one more annoying. I like the combination of the card games and puzzle games, I just am a little too burnt out on card games personally
Recompile. This sounded like an interesting concept of a 3D Metroidvania set inside of the computer. You gain abilities, unlock pieces of the UI, and even get the ability to modify logic gates. This should be easy to love.
And yet Recompile struggles. The level design is quite bland and has numerous holes for players to fall in, but poor platforming controls due to a lack of a shadow underneath the player make that experience very rough. The art mostly revolves around uninteresting blocks, rather than the feeling you’re inside a computer or exploring software. The button puzzles are good, but the gameplay is weak, and it plays more like an open-world exploration game than a Metroidvania.
That might sound good, but the biggest problem is I got to the end of an area where a boss was but couldn’t reach it because I didn’t have a specific traversal ability, so I was forced to backtrack for ten to twenty minutes with an understanding I would later have to cross that same path at least once if not twice, because, I’d have to fight that boss eventually. It wasn’t that fun.
Pick this up if you need to see a 3D Metroidvania and are willing to forgive a lot of issues. This just doesn’t feel like a complete game, it feels like a rough art version that is waiting for the art team to do a pass on it.
Humankind. This is from Amplitude Studios who is known for 4X games like Endless Space, and now they’ve made a direct competitor to Civilization. It’s really obvious how similar this is to Civilization and that’s perfectly fine because there’s a lot more here that makes it worth checking out.
The biggest change is you don’t start as a civilization. Everything in Humankind is a race. There’s a race to advance in the ages, and each time you change ages, you get to choose a new civilization. You can define your religion, define your people, chase multiple goals, and it appears the winner of the game can succeed by progress across those multiple goals as well as specific victory conditions.
There’s also a great fresh tactical battle system, as well as a solid feeling of advancement. There’s a new style of war, which focuses more on wearing out the opponent’s side through victories in battles, instead of only decimating their forces.
Still, it also has all the same issues as Civ does, it’s slow, methodical, and while the games will speed up when you don’t have to read every tooltip, it takes a long time to get that comfortable with a brand new take on the formula.
Pick this up if you like Civ, or at least like the 4x genre. There’s a lot that Humankind does that’s fresh and because of that, even people who aren’t huge Civ fans can check this out, but this still is very firmly in that wheelhouse.
Psychonauts 2. 15 years after the original game was released, we finally get a sequel to Psychonauts from one of Microsoft’s newest acquisitions, Double Fine. Simply put, it lives up to the original title.
Psychonauts 2 picks up from where the VR title left the game, but also has a recap of both previous titles for those fresh to the series. It then dives deep into a character’s subconscious and will continue to show players interesting looks at different character’s psyches, while still providing a well-told story, an excellent platformer, and colorful worlds.
I’m gonna confess something, I didn’t expect to like this game, I think Double Fine gets a lot of passes on games that aren’t as great as people say, and I worried that this would be more like the modern Double Fine titles than the classic LucasArts and Psychonauts. I’m very happy to say I’m completely wrong. This game is hilarious, and I had a blast playing it. I did have a major issue where the game wasn’t saving correctly, but that’s been resolved by removing the Xbox Console Companion from my PC and rebooting every time I want to play. That was excessive but it works.
Pick this up if you like platformers or humor. One of my watchers on stream, Royal, mentioned this is almost like a classic Ratchet and Clank title, and I think that’s a great comparison so I’m going to repeat it here. This isn’t a heavy combat game, it’s much more focused on the writing and level design, but both of those shine here.
Train Sim World 2. It’s trains. I want to be clever or interesting here, but dear god, it’s just driving freaking trains. While the game feels pretty realistic, that’s also a huge downside, I don’t think there’s any time skip or such, you just sit in a train, follow a schedule on pretty much the only track you can and that’s it.
Even Bus Simulator has you steering, like I can’t stress this enough, you just sit in a seat, drive the train forward and then stop at the stations that are well marked, and then have people get off and on. You can drive different types of trains but it’s all the same stuff. There’s a good list of objectives and goals, medals for keeping to the schedule, and more, but at the end of the day… you’re freaking driving trains.
Yes, they have a free roam where you can collect minor collectibles, you can design your livery or scenario, but after 20 minutes in a thirty-minute route, I realized I was about ten minutes behind and I would have to play for another 20 minutes and I felt my life slip away.
Pick this up if you like trains, I wish I could go deeper but literally, it’s in the name. This is a train sim. You drive trains. You have different trains. You go places… Basically, if you own Train Simulator whatever year they put on it now, probably Train Simulator 2021 with 2022 coming soon, then yeah, you’ll love this, otherwise no, god no.
12 Minutes. I remember how curious I was about this game when it was shown at E3 2019. The game showed a cop busting in, arresting a wife and a husband and it ended in a grisly death…. Except the husband was stuck in a Groundhog Day-style time loop and sure enough that is 12 Minutes, at least mostly.
12 Minutes revolves around trying to play 10 minutes, yes ten minutes, it’s two minutes short, and survive, or see what can happen. Since your character has full memory, much of the game is replaying and trying to figure out what exactly is going on. The cop is claiming your wife killed someone eight years ago, and this expands quite a bit.
12 Minutes though has some issues. First, it’s a very dark game. Everything is in the top-down view, but there’s a lot of adult situations, languages, and concepts. I honestly was shocked a few times. The bigger problem is repetition while there’s a dialogue speed up button, you’re going to be replaying this time loop many times, and if you get stuck on any section it’s going to drag on. Trying to change one or two different actions, requires replaying at least a couple of minutes doing the same thing multiple times.
Trust me when I say the final hour drags. And I say that because I beat this game in just over four hours, only needing a couple of hints at the end, which is another small issue here.
Pick this up if you want a novel concept. I like the idea of time loops, though it has been done better elsewhere, like on Outer Wilds also published by Annapurna, which was on Game Pass previously. Though I really would recommend only Game Pass subscribers checking this out. It’s four hours and 25 bucks which seems entirely too much, especially for how many repetitions you’ll go through in that time frame.
Surgeon Simulator 2. The original Surgeon Simulator was a streamer game, I don’t think there’s a better label for it. It was a lol-random game that content creators played, overreacted to, and built a rather large fanbase of people who probably played the game and realized it’s not as good without the personalities playing it. So the sequel had to step up the game.
Well, this time there’s quite a lot added. The controls are a lot better than the original game. There is a full story mode with a focus on narrative elements while still just doing surgery. There’s a little more variety in the surgery by removing or ripping off limbs. There are also creative tools that allow people to create interesting new levels like a temple exploration, or a dining experience, and more. It’s still lol-random but there’s more to it.
The biggest addition is the idea of co-op multiplayer, though that’s done without matchmaking, sadly. I think a lot of levels would be interesting when working in teams.
Pick this up if you’re someone who liked the original game, but also check it out if you have a group of people all using Game Pass and want something wacky to play. I got wrapped into the story for three hours but I beat 7 out of 11 levels in that time. It didn’t change my mind about the series, but I still enjoyed myself for the time I played here.
Signs of the Sojourner. Here we have a match-type card game to simulate conversation. Players have to combine cards with their opponent to keep a combo alive. It seems like card games are becoming more popular in the video games space, but this is also a narrative-driven game, not a rogue-lite which is not that common.
The story here is very strong, and the idea players are going around making connections with people creates a very interesting and unique feeling for the game, as this game is fully built on the narrative. The game also handles failure well, if you fail to make a match, the game accepts it and builds the story with the assumption you won’t always win, and that creates an interesting dynamic story.
One of the best parts of Signs of the Sojourner is the ability to explore the world yourself. While the game focuses on your character joining a caravan, you easily can leave that caravan and the game teases you with possibilities and reasons to do so. In addition, I like the feeling that as you explore the world, you meet new people but when learning how to talk with those new people, you are using new ideas or symbols. Then later when you return home, you start to have a hard time connecting with people you’ve known your whole life due to the new cards in your small deck. It’s a very interesting and poignant thought for what feels like a simplistic system.
Pick this up if you like card games and strong narratives. I like the story here and probably would need to replay this at least a couple of times to try different things. . The gameplay is strong with how it deals with the cards but a little limited beyond that. Still I like the unique ideas presented here.
Final Fantasy XIII. Final Fantasy VII left the service and we got another title in that franchise. This one has the most complicated story in the Final Fantasy universe but it’s also a modern title.
Final Fantasy XIII’s story involves a lot, so much that they had to include an in-game encyclopedia and a lot of the story feels like it’s brushed past because you can read the encyclopedia entries. It’s not great storytelling but if you understand the entire game it’s an interesting concept. At the same time, the characters here are very strong, especially Lightning and Snow.
The combat is weaker than average. The focus is on a faster battle system. The auto system is so ridiculously overpowered, players can just hit auto-battle every chance unless they need to change between the six classes. It’s not a great system and made worse by you just sitting there like a zombie and tapping the auto-battle button.
Pick this up… Honestly, If you like Final Fantasy, this is probably for you. If you like RPGs, you’ll probably enjoy this. The story is a bit rough without that extra research, and the gameplay is lacking, but it’s an RPG and this can be what players of that genre enjoy.
Crown Trick. This is a turn-based rogue-lite with a great grid system, multiple different weapons, interesting enemies, and more. I struggle to think of any popular game that is as close to this title as Crypt of The Necrodancer, though without the music, and thus the fast-paced combat.
In a lot of ways with twitch gameplay, I feel like rogue-lites, just aren’t related to the tactical and strategic style of Rogue anymore, but Crown Trick nails that feeling. Every move matters and you can take minutes for a single move if you prefer, and at times you will. There’s a great feeling when a major strategy you’ve planned all comes together and you get either a win or a large amount of damage over a flurry of attacks.
There are multiple different weapons and relics that you’ll collect and pick up and have to combine. Levels are slightly long, which brings me to the one problem I had. I had a run that took at least an hour maybe 90 minutes, and I died after a really stupid move at the end of the run. The problem is I really dislike losing so much progress, so I put the game aside. At the same time, I came back the next day, beat a couple of runs, and had a great time.
Pick this up if you want a turn-based rogue-lite. The rogue-lite genre is very crowded, but Crown Trick stands out because there are just not many great turn-based rogue-lites. If more tactical rogue-lite appeals to you, check this out. If you want more action in your rogue-lite you won’t get it here, but I still think this is very well done.
Nuclear Throne. Another rogue-lite, though this is quite an old one. Nuclear Throne was released in 2015, and the fact is a lot has changed in the genre since then, but this is still one of the major titles in the genre.
This is a fast-action shooter, with multiple different characters and a focus on low HP, and high action. This is a bit of a bullet hell shooter, with players cycling through several guns, through randomly generated maps. The boss and level structure remain the same, but the experience is intense.
Pick this up if you’ve played EVERY other Roguelite. Listen, this was a fine game for the time, but on Xbox Game Pass we have Enter the Gungeon that does everything this does and more. We have Atomicrops. There’s Neon Abyss, which is a platformer rogue-lite with guns, and if you ignore the guns, we have Hades and Dead Cells. The fact is, I don’t think Nuclear Throne is as competitive in 2021 with the half-decade of evolution that the genre has gone through.
The Artful Escape. This is wonderful. I’ve played a lot of games where it tries to be psychedelic or tries to utilize music or the artistic process to tie into the game or gameplay, and most of the time, it’s a bit hard to watch.
The Artful Escape though is glorious. Just absolutely amazing. The first thirty minutes feels like a very run-of-the-mill visual novel where the player just walks to the right and talks to people but suddenly events happen and oh my god, this game just kicks into overdrive. While the gameplay is still mostly a visual novel, with very little interactivity, the experience here is the locations you’ll go to. Just look at this video.
I played through this entire game in one sitting because every chapter, every location, every creature was inventive, new, and fresh, and I had to see what was coming next. The story is excellent, the characters are interesting and I’ve not seen anything like what I’ve seen in this game.
Pick this up if you crave a good story and can accept very minimal gameplay. Sadly, there’s not much challenge beyond making decisions that matter for yourself but don’t affect the gameplay. But the experience here is fantastic. It’s a real feast for your eyes, and I recommend it because of that. Just so consistently gorgeous.
Breathedge. This is a survival crafting game but in space. And honestly, from this video, it’s beautiful, lovely. and serene. There’s almost a zen-like experience here of just floating and experiencing the game…
But then your air runs out and you have to run back to the space station, or the story decides it has to say something that’s forced humor, or you can’t find the items you need and suddenly you remember you’re still playing a crafting survival game. It’s a shame. This is patterned after Subnautica but tries to be lol-random instead of elegant. Rather than long treks into the unknown, you’re forced to hunt for items you may or may not ever find without a guide, and that struggle tarnishes the game.
Still floating in the void, exploring, trying to find items and exist among the cosmos is so beautiful, I just wish they doubled or tripled the oxygen tank from the beginning so players could truly enjoy the experience rather than having to rush back to the base the minute they start to enjoy the moment.
Pick this up if you love the survival genre. The humor here is rough and doesn’t work. It’s forced into everything which makes it, even more, groan-worthy and, if you’re not using a guide, the limitation on air makes hunting and searching so much worse than it needs to be. Oh, and the game constantly shoves text messages from a pair of breasts and sexualization in your face in a way that’s so obnoxious.
I’ve covered most of the games that came out this month, but there are three that I don’t know if they need full reviews, let’s take a couple of quick looks.
Microsoft Solitaire Collection… Since we’ve been speaking of card games. This is quite good, well designed, and can be enjoyed for free with ads. With Microsoft Game Pass you now get the premium edition. No Ads, additional Daily Challenges, and probably more. Solitaire didn’t need a premium version but here we are. Honestly, it’s solitaire.
Quake Remake. It is the 25th anniversary of Quake, The remake of Quake 1 is now on Game Pass. It’s Quake, it has a bonus campaign. This is one of the best FPSes of all time but does show its age, especially how easy this game is now. Still, it’s a classic. Quake 2 and Quake 3 are available on PC but in their original forms. Enjoy.
Myst. This is an interesting and unique puzzle game that has players exploring an island and solving puzzles. The movement and controls are far better than the original game, but it’s still Myst. There’s a great randomizer mode for hard-core fans of the game, but I feel like most people who will want this game have already played what’s here before, which is fine but you don’t need my review. If you like obtuse puzzle games check this one out. Though this version doesn’t have VR support, so if you’re looking for that, it’s not available here.
And I talked about it last month, but I want to look and review older games on the service that deserve another look, I’ll try to do one a month depending on how many titles there are, but for this month we have…
Dragon Quest Builders 2. Minecraft and Dragon Quest effortlessly merge in this game. Where oftentimes only fans of both franchises will love a crossover, I think either franchise’s fans will find a lot of value here. Dragon Quest fans will love the adherence to the Dragon Quest mythos, and designs and Minecraft fans will enjoy the story mode wrapped around their favorite activity of just building stuff.
There’s a solid Dragon Quest-tier story. Evil has come once again to destroy, but players will have to build and create to help other people. There’s also quite a bit of adventuring, leveling, monster fighting, and more. Meeting different people and assisting them is quite fun and there are tons of inventive designs to build.
But it’s also a bit of a negative. There’s a rough adherence to building exactly what the story wants. While players can experiment and build what they want, progression will only happen when you do exactly what has been asked of you. There’s no sandbox mode, and while players will likely get that freedom by the end, it’s going to be a long journey before that point.
Pick this up if you like Minecraft or Dragon Quest. It’s a great blending of both of those fandoms, but still, if you’re not really into the building craze or Dragon Quest, I don’t know what would get you interested here.
And those are the games I wanted to cover this month. So what about this month? Well, to be honest, the first month of Xbox Game Pass was fresh and new, and I was pretty surprised at the quality and quantity for the value. This month was a bit rougher. We had some higher highs. A fresh AAA title like Psychonauts 2 is definitely worth the price of admission alone. But quite a few other games didn’t live up to the expectation like 12 Minutes.
Still, there’s a great variety and tons of value here. If you’re a rogue-lite fan, this is a great month for you, if you’re not there’s still a lot of unique and interesting concepts and games, and that’s really what this service is made for. I’m glad I got a chance to try so many different titles.
I am also well aware we’re about to start getting into the release window for many titles, so while this was a weaker month, there’s a bright future ahead.
Let’s talk about the strongest games of the month. Now, this is my list of the five games I want to highlight and think you should check out. Try pausing the video, put your favorite game out of the list down in the comments or try to guess mine. Are you done? Well, let’s get on with it.
The fifth strongest game this month is Signs of the Sojourner. There’s something unique and fresh with this title. The use of cards to simulate a conversation is clever, but there’s also a lot of different pieces going on, and the game gets decently challenging in the second year, about an hour or so into the game.
The fourth strongest game this month is The Artful Escape. I just adored this game, visually it’s a feast, the story is excellent, and while it’s mostly a walking sim with a little Simon added on, there’s so much else here that I just love this game. Check it out or put it on your wishlist.
The third strongest game this month is Humankind. This could probably have netted a game of the month in another month. Civilization is great, Humankind feels like it could be just as good. Even if this game turns out to be a dud, you’re going to probably have to play so many hours to make that decision, it’s worth the time investment.
The second strongest of this month is Psychonauts 2. I had a long computer problem with this game that took a week to resolve, but on any other game, I would have given up and played something else. Psychonauts 2 was so good I wanted to experience this and I’m glad I did. This is a fantastic sequel and Double Fine delivered for their fans. You should play the first tile, and then play this, but it’s worthy of the name.
The strongest this month… Come on… It’s Hades. Best game of last year, and still the king. Hades is just an incredible rogue-lite that even people who don’t like rogue-lites enjoy it. It’s just another amazing game from Supergiant, and still worthy of all the praise. The story elements are probably my favorite part of the game, but the combat, and choices you’ll make on each run keep me engaged.
I do mean it, if you haven’t played Hades, this is a perfect time, especially if you already have Game Pass. And If you have played Hades already… You probably know why it’s my game of the month.
With that said, we can take a quick look at what’s coming up. I’m going to try to cover two of these release announcements in each video. So we’ll cover these and the games mentioned at the beginning of October and anything else that comes to the service.
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably enjoyed this video. Now, this is a new series on my channel and I’d like to make a request. If you aren’t already subscribed consider it, and of course you probably already know to ring the bell. However, consider sharing this with fellow gamers. Help me get the word out, that’s all I ask. I never run ads on my content and I just want to share my opinions.
If you want to get fresher takes, I stream on Twitch under Kinglink_Reviews, and mostly play Xbox Game Pass games, and talk about others. If you want to play along or discuss the games, that’s perfect, it’s more of a game club than anything.
I’ll be popping up last month’s Xbox Game Pass coverage, the beautiful thing is it’s still useful this month, as well as this month’s Humble Choice video.
Until then, I’m Kinglink, and thanks for watching.