While some of the biggest games that are released annually stick to tried-and-true gameplay styles – Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and Pokemon rarely change things up from sequel to sequel, after all – there’s also something exciting about games that completely break the mold by introducing unique gameplay styles rarely seen.
Some games boldly combine two or more existing game styles in order to create a brand-new experience, while others try things never before seen at all. On occasion, these risks paid off so well that they snagged game awards and went on to inspire other games. Here are some unique award-winning titles and their unique game design elements that set them apart from others.
With the indie scene really taking off over the past decade or so, tons of awesome new games have been released. One genre of games that has really exploded in popularity has been rogue-likes, or games with randomized level-generation, RPG-like elements, and permadeath. Additionally, we’ve seen a whole lot of deck builders and horror games pop up; however, it’s rare to see all three of these game types in a single game. But Inscryption is just this.
In Inscryption, you step into the role of somebody whose been kidnapped by a madman, and forced to play a card game; and the stakes couldn’t be higher, as the madman – known as Leshy – will kill you if you lose at his game. Upon losing, the player will die and then restart from the beginning, with all of your cards taken away and starting from scratch. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg: Inscryption allows the player to get out of their chair, and explore Leshy’s room. This is where the horror and escape room elements come into play. While up and about, there are many secrets that you’ll find, many of which may aid you in your card game.
Inscryption manages to work as a deck builder, horror game, and rogue-like all at the same time, with the card game itself being incredibly addicting; while grueling in difficulty at first, the card game is imbalanced and begs for the player to use its flaws to their advantage. The card game features a steep learning curve, but over time, the player learns how to master it; like any good rogue-like, the game forces the player to understand and master it; failing to do so results in starting back at square one.
When it was released in 2021, Inscryption was nominated for various awards and even took home IGF Awards’ grand prize of Game of the Year. It’s easy to see why, as the title combined several gameplay types that have never really been mixed together before, and to a very successful degree.
A launch title for the PlayStation 5, Bugsnax appears innocent and straightforward on the surface level; featuring a cast of puppet people and food with googly eyes, the game looks like a Saturday morning cartoon brought to life. But anybody who has played this game before knows that the game is anything but that.
With dark hidden themes and grotesque body horror, Bugsnax feels like a horror game posing as a kid’s game. Beyond its adult themes, the title features great writing, an excellent soundtrack, and an absolutely hilarious cast of characters. This is even without mentioning the actual gameplay.
Bugsnax takes the basic concept of Pokemon – exploring a fantastical world, while capturing the many unique creatures that inhabit it – and combines it with mystery adventure games. Actually, perhaps an even closer comparison would be Pokemon Snap, as the game emphasizes the importance of photographing the creatures while they perform specific actions, in addition to catching them.
What makes the gameplay loop especially interesting is that each Bugsnax species requires the player to use a different strategy to be caught. With tons of different devices at your disposal, from a standard net to a launchpad (dubbed the ‘lunchpad’), you have to think outside of the box in order to capture many of the creatures.
Bugsnax’s gameplay loop feels like a weird amalgamation of various games, making for a unique experience that is addictingly fun, hilarious, bizarre, and even disturbing at times. It was nominated for many game awards in 2021, including Best Indie Game of the Year by SXSW and Outstanding Performance in a Comedy (Lead and Supporting) by NAVGTR. If you’ve been holding back playing this one due to its childish aesthetic, consider giving Bugsnax a chance – it’s far deeper than what it appears.
Shadow of the Colossus
For this next game, we’re going all the way back to the sixth generation of game consoles. As a title released late into the PlayStation 2’s life cycle, Shadow of the Colossus doesn’t look too unique from the outside – set within a fantastical land not dissimilar to something like The Legend of Zelda, the game features an open-world, beautiful lush environments, and third-person over-the-shoulder gameplay.
But unlike games like Zelda, which feature a series of challenges, puzzles, dungeons, and many different characters along the way– and eventually bosses, Shadow is different: the game is a nonstop boss rush, with only empty nothingness in between fights. The 16 Colossi, serving as the sixteen bosses of the game, each feature their own unique traits and all require different strategies to be defeated. With the world largely empty between each encounter, Shadow creates a great feeling of loneliness and isolation while playing.
With nothing in between the boss battles, Shadow really plays with these themes of loneliness, giving the player adequate time to dwell on their actions and offering an ending that goes as far as to make the player question their own actions.
Since being released, Shadow of the Colossus has gone on to inspire similar games, such as Titan Souls, but it largely remains a one-of-a-kind experience. The game broke ground when it was released, being praised for its unique game structure and storytelling. Thankfully, the game was remade for the PlayStation 4, which can also be played on the PS5 via backwards compatibility. The title and its remake both garnered tons of critical acclaim, with both Game Developers Choice Awards and NAVGTR awarding it Game of the Year in 2005.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Releasing for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 fairly late into the seventh console generation, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is one of the most unique and thought-provoking indie games on the consoles and is a shining example of superb storytelling in games.
The game tells a rather straightforward story about two brothers searching for a cure for their sick father, where the player controls each brother with one half of the controller: the older brother with the left joystick and trigger, and the younger brother with the right joystick and right trigger. This unique control scheme takes a moment to accommodate, but quickly catches on.
This gameplay is perfectly mirrored by its story and themes, those being the themes of teamwork, support, and brotherhood. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a powerful piece of art, as it combines excellent storytelling with unique gameplay in order to craft an experience that could only be possible within an interactive medium.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons also features fun and engaging platforming puzzles that take great advantage of the unique gameplay mechanics, beautiful graphics, and some very dark themes that fit the game’s narrative and message perfectly. With the game only taking roughly 3 hours to complete, Brothers is an excellent bite-sized game that should be experienced by all. Its innovative gameplay illustrates the endless possibilities of video game storytelling, and how gameplay and story can enhance one another when done well.
Brothers was nominated for several awards, winning the BAFTA Game Innovation award and Best Xbox Game at the Spike Video Game Awards.
Submit Your Game
Overall, there have been countless innovative games over the years that have stolen the spotlight. Innovation has been the driving force behind the industry, influencing games of the future and causing the emergence of new gameplay styles that continue growing the entertainment industry.
If you’re a game developer and believe that your game breaks new ground, then consider submitting your game. NAVGTR is taking submissions for games to be considered for this year’s game awards. Visit our submission page here for more information.