With game publishers dumping millions into gargantuan releases that often feel like they were stamped with the same pixelated cookie cutter, it can be tough to find daring, controversial, or totally out-there games amidst the juggernaut titles that dominate the industry. Luckily, taking the time to evade the crush of crowds and seemingly endless lines for Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Star Wars Battlefront really paid off at last week’s E3 gaming convention.
There’s Butt Sniffin Pugs, which requires a little more explanation than the title suggests. Or SMS Racing, which is more fun than it sounds. The games below probably won’t sell in the millions—if they even see commercial releases—but they’re welcome oddities in a sea of sameness.
Wattam is the latest from Keita Takahashi, creator of Katamari Damacy, a game about rolling everything in the world up into a giant ball, and Noby Noby Boy, which crowdsourced space travel via worm stretching. So it was assured a spot on this list from the moment of conception.
Sure enough, the PS4 game involves appeasing a bummed-out, bomb-toting mayor who’s trying to bring his town back together by joining hands with creatures ranging from an anthropomorphic coffee cup and a dollop of dookie to a pillow that puts nearby folks to sleep—and then detonating them all into the sky for a cartoonish fireworks display. Wattam grows sillier and more random after each explosion, and it’s all punctuated by lovably bizarre animated cut-scenes. Amidst the gargantuan booths and oppressive crowds, it was a ray of light on the E3 show floor.
Virtual reality can be disorienting, especially at first. Also disorienting? Texting while driving—which, given the grim statistics, isn’t a laughing matter. Yet developer Turbo Button does it fearlessly and hilariously with SMS Racing, a colorful offering designed for Samsung’s Gear VR headset.
With the Gear strapped on, you’ll take part in a street race while simultaneously texting friends. That means looking down at your virtual phone while seeing very little of the road—but if you ignore your pals, they’ll abandon you, which also somehow ends the race. The experience is such an ideal fit for VR, and creator Holden Link says he’d like to build it out and “find the middle ground between Crazy Taxi and Cooking Mama.” Sounds like a recipe for fun.
HATOFUL BOYFRIEND: HOLIDAY STAR
You’d think a sequel to even an especially bizarre game would lose some of its shock value, but not so with Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star. Last year’s original entry in the series (seen above) was a pretty traditional Japanese dating simulator—albeit one in which all of your human lead’s suitors were birds.
Amusingly, Hatoful was praised for its rich characters (again, birds) and wit. Holiday Star maintains the same visual novel design, but apparently has an even more whimsical plot than the first, opting for over-the-top storytelling instead of relying on the birds-for-humans swap for all of its oddball charm.
BUTT SNIFFIN’ PUGS
Many games these days evoke a Super Nintendo-like aesthetic, but Butt Sniffin’ Pugs is the only I know of that finds you exploring a park as a happy-go-lucky pup. And it’s certainly the only one with a custom trackball controller built from a volleyball and the rear end of a plush dog toy that you’ll press to sniff other dogs’ butts and gain superpowers. Yes, really.
Butt Sniffin Pugs stole the show at a Game Developers Conference earlier this year, and it’s brought so much joy to people that developer SpaceBeagles aims to expand the premise and potentially release it for various platforms. Here’s hoping the volleyball and plush butt go into mass production for the collector’s edition.
It seems odd to strap on a VR headset just to sit inside a virtual classroom and play a fake Game Boy game while the teacher isn’t looking, launching spit wads at fellow students. It’s odder still to then see the pixelated boss emerge from the handheld system onto your desk—and use the same 3D goo balls to blast him away.
Pixel Ripped for the Oculus Rift is an offbeat homage to the history of gaming, say its creators. For example, the menu screen positions you as an infant in front of an Atari-era TV, while another level will feature some sort of Nintendo 64 tribute. It uses virtual reality to twist the “real” and gaming worlds into a curious mélange, and in a fine touch, the E3 demo was playable using a controller from the original Nintendo.
PLUG & PLAY
Released first as an animated short and then blessed with interactivity, Plug & Play is a very curious (but luckily endearing) meditation on love starring human-like creatures with electrical plugs for heads. Naturally, they plug into each other, giving the game an almost perverse edge in moments, especially when a couple of scenes recall The Human Centipede.
Elsewhere, the 15-minute game finds you navigating mind-numbing conversations (“I love you;” “I don’t think you love me”), pressing random buttons, or making the plug men shove each other. And at some point, one of them defecates his plugs onto the floor. Miraculously, Plug & Play is funny, surprising, and worth the $3 on iOS, Android, or PC if only for the sheer strangeness of it all.
Think of Gang Beasts like Super Smash Bros, only instead of beloved Nintendo stars duking it out, it’s gelatinous blob-men who sometimes dress up in furry mascot suits. And their locale choices (in a place called “Beef City”) are impressively dangerous: on top of speeding semi trucks, all around a spinning Ferris wheel, or on skyscraper window-washing scaffolds.
Other games on this list are arguably weirder than Gang Beasts, but this four-player brawler has a secret weapon: its unpredictable physics, which make the raucous rumbling even more amazingly insane. Anywhere I saw Gang Beasts at E3—whether at IndieCade or Sony’s booth—it always drew a crowd of very pleased players. It’s weird, sure, but like the other games on this list, undeniably wonderful too.
Andrew Hayward has been writing about games and gadgets for nearly a decade, contributing to more than 55 publications in the process. Follow him on Twitter at @ahaywa.