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The weirdest games on Steam Greenlight

Steam Greenlight, the platform’s point of entry for games without publishers, has pushed a lot of good games onto the storefront. But it's also a dumping ground for games that have the creative ambitions of a sea cucumber. You’ve got your cynical mobile knockoffs, your low-effort memes, and that classic genre we all know and love, earnest but pointless attempts to clone Arkanoid. 

So when I went looking for ‘weird’ games and concepts on Greenlight, I wasn’t searching for bad or stupid ideas. I can just point you to the front page of Greenlight for plenty of those. I was seeking anything that wasn’t a ‘retro platformer’ or proud haver of ‘survival elements.’ (After three hours of looking, I stumbled on an idea literally titled Survival Elements and my nose started bleeding.)

I looked for games that don't already exist and aren’t easily defined, and should probably be on Steam for that reason. Here’s what I came up with.

Sinking Simulator

“This is not a silly game, it is a serious game,” writes the creator of Sinking Simulator (opens in new tab), sounding exasperated. And I appreciate that. I like simulators, especially esoteric simulators, but I do not like joke simulators, because simulating mundane things is actually good and should be done well. Show me a rock simulator that attempts to accurately simulate the formation and physics of rocks, and I will definitely check it out. This is not something to half-ass as a gag.

And that’s why I like Sinking Simulator. It is not a joke. It is a serious (if not necessarily ultra high-fidelity) simulation of boats sinking. Bravo.

You Must Be 18 Or Older To Enter

You Must Be 18 Or Older To Enter (opens in new tab) is about trying not to get caught looking at porn online in the '90s. I don’t know how much fun it’ll be, but I can relate. For a brief time when internet porn was new, I actually thought that if I lied about being 18 the FBI would somehow find out. And yet I still clicked ‘yes’ when asked, which means that slowly downloading a picture of boobs outweighed my irrational fear that federal agents were going to raid my house. Puberty is wild.

Jelly in the Sky

Jelly in the Sky (opens in new tab) is the sort of 2D artillery game we’ve been playing since the early days of PC gaming, but everything in it is made of jiggly clumps of adhesive particles. You have to see it in motion to understand why I chose it:

Ludus silva

An “ecological strategy” game about designing plants—specifically to reside in south-eastern Australia—which compete for sunlight and water in an ecosystem you're in charge of balancing. Ludus silva (opens in new tab) is like if Spore had reigned it in a little and focused on one good idea, which is that plants are neat. A free demo of the plant editor (opens in new tab) is available if you agree.

Sadly, there’s been no news about the project for several years, so I wonder if it’s been abandoned like an unloved communal garden.

Killbox

Killbox (opens in new tab) is an interactive criticism of drone warfare based on documented attacks in Northern Pakistan. “It is an experience which explores the use of technology to transform and extend political and military power, and the abstraction of killing through virtualisation,” reads the description.

The trailer is all conceptual, but based on what I’ve read—try this Kill Screen article (opens in new tab)—one player strolls around a colorful 3D environment while another is submerged in icy comms chatter and the video feed of an airborne killer. Such a confrontational game seems unlikely to be embraced on Steam, where playful apathy reigns, but the best thing Greenlight can do is expose the platform to new things.

Committed Dose

Imagine STALKER, but rather than facing down death in the surreal radioactive zone, you're supposed to contact FEMA and take other appropriate actions. 

“Radiation makes headlines,” reads the description of Committed Dose (opens in new tab), “but few know how much is too much, and fewer understand the mechanisms behind radioactivity.” It’s an educational response to gaming’s obsession with radiation as a mystical force—a pragmatic half-life game.

Counterpart

You are a colorful ball looking for a ball that is colorful in the exact same way as you, while other balls react to your colors, and sometimes a bigger ball called The Guardian pops in and gets really mad about violent collisions. I think I got all that right. I can’t say I fully understand everything about Counterpart (opens in new tab), but I'm fascinated by its creator's passion for the world he created.

Triggerfish Drill Sergeant

Even if the troops in Triggerfish Drill Sergeant weren’t fish, it would be an unusual concept: “organize and recruit troops to create the proper parade ground drill formations.” The troops are fish, though, to be clear.

I’m cheating a bit, because this game has already been finished (opens in new tab) and made it through Greenlight (opens in new tab), though it isn't on Steam yet.

TechHack

I would never install this game (opens in new tab), which the creator claims “teaches you to fix Windows systems by breaking yours,” never mind buy it. But it is an odd one.

Chimpology

According to Chimpology (opens in new tab), web pages and images loaded slow in the '90s because each bit was actually being routed by chimpanzees pressing buttons. It may be a standard rhythm game in the end, but the creative premise is worth a shout.

Watch Grass Grow

I should hate this one (opens in new tab). It starts with a 'simulating something mundane' joke and caps off its pitch with a meme from the US primaries. But dumb as it is, there’s a strange beauty to the combination of slowly growing grass, haunting piano music, and a roadside ‘Jeb! 2020’ sign. I’d never buy it, but I like the trailer.

Astralforever

This game (opens in new tab) also doesn’t qualify as something weird that I actually want on Steam, but to hell with it—unless you count 'lol unicorns with laser eyes' and fantasies about cartoon ponies, not a lot on Greenlight is really all that weird. And Astralforever made me laugh, because of the poem that acts as its description:

Read carefully the description of the game
This game is about the immortal soul of man
In heaven there is no design and gameplay
Then everything will be beautiful when a man be born on earth

“In heaven there is no design and gameplay” is the best line in any Greenlight description.

There are a lot of games on Greenlight, so if you've seen any odd ones I've missed, do point them out in the comments.

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley alongside Apple and Microsoft, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on the early personal computers his parents brought home. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, Bushido Blade (yeah, he had Bleem!), and all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now. In 2006, Tyler wrote his first professional review of a videogame: Super Dragon Ball Z for the PS2. He thought it was OK. In 2011, he joined PC Gamer, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. After work, he practices boxing and adds to his 1,200 hours in Rocket League.