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Don’t sleep on these one-of-a-kind games that launched in February

A giant plant grows in Ultros.
Kepler Interactive

We’re only two months into 2024, but it’s already a surprisingly front-loaded year for new games. We kicked the year off with great Like a Dragon, Tekken, and Prince of Persia games in January, but February turned the heat up even more. Persona 3 Reload and Final Fantasy VII Rebirth gave us two excellent RPGs, while Helldivers 2 has been a surprise hit for Sony. Even just trying to keep up with the major releases has been a daunting task.

Those aren’t the only great games that have dropped this year, though. February, in particular, was a haven for genre-bending indie projects that are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. From a poker roguelike to an open-world puzzle game, we’ve had our hands full between long RPGs. If you’re looking to build up a backlog as we move into what’s likely to be a quieter stretch of the year, these are the February releases that you should consider revisiting.

Balatro

A player plays a straight in Balatro.
LocalThunk

If you’ve yet to check out Balatro, trust me:, you likely will soon. The indie has become something of a word-of-mouth sensation since its release this February, and its momentum only seems to be growing. Developed by LocalThunk, this deckbuilding roguelike simply asks players to lay down poker hands. What starts as a simple concept soon gets engrossing, as mounting passive bonuses make hands more and more valuable. A measly two pair can quickly balloon into a million-chip hand with some synergistic deck upgrades and Joker cards that entirely change the game. While its still new, Balatro already feels like a foundational genre game in the vein of Slay the Spire. Expect to hear its name a lot in the coming years.

Pacific Drive

A car drives along an overgrown road, an abandoned gas stations illuminates the background.
Ironwood Studios

While Balatro is an easy crowd-pleaser, February brought a lot of niche titles that are resonating with more specific audiences. Case in point: Pacific Drive. The roguelike-inspired adventure game has players driving a beat-up station wagon through the Pacific Northwest — or at least a very supernatural version of it. Its gameplay has proven to be a bit divisive, as its survival-influenced runs have players picking up a lot of materials to craft new car parts. While that’s not for everyone (myself included), Pacific Drive offers a haunting, atmospheric adventure that’s unlike anything you’ve ever played before. If you’re a fan of games that aren’t afraid to go off the beaten path, make sure to jump in the driver’s seat.

Ultros

A character stands in front of a purple orb in Ultros.
Kepler Interactive

In a similar vein to Pacific Drive, Ultros is another oddball indie that’s sure to garner mixed reactions. The psychedelic sci-fi Metroidvania isn’t afraid to reinvent the 2D action-adventure formula by bringing in some roguelike inspiration. Those its light run-based exploration can be a pain, Ultros contains a lot of innovative gameplay ideas that are worth checking out. Chief among them is its gardening system, which has players creating alien plants and linking a ship together with colorful flora. It’s a bold genre game that sports some of the best music and visuals you’re likely to get in a game this year. That alone makes it worth checking out even if the premise doesn’t immediately click with you.

Islands of Insight

A character flies through the air in Islands of Insight.
Behaviour Interactive

For fans of the puzzle genre, Islands of Insight is a game you need to try. The open-world game plays like a combination of The Witness and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Players are dropped into a set of sky islands that are loaded with puzzles. Some ask players to solve black-and-white grids, while others are more environmental in their design. The world is dotted with thousands of little challenges, which make it feel like gaming’s most high-end puzzle book. It’s the perfect game for anyone looking for an innovative puzzler that’ll keep their brains sharp for a very long time.

Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior

A bridge full of enemies appears in Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior.
Quantic Dream

If action games are more your speed, you can’t miss out on Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior. Published by Quantic Dream, the hack-and-slash title contains an ingenious gameplay twist that you need to try. Players only have a short window of time to clear out a room full of enemies. When that time runs out, they get another go at it, working in tandem with ghost data from their previous attempts. That turns action encounters into strategic puzzles where players need to figure out how to clear out every enemy in a room with as few clones as possible. It’s a brilliant idea, and one that’s worth checking out in between this year’s bigger releases.

Penny’s Big Breakaway

Penny faces a boss in Penny's Big Breakaway.
Private Division

For fans of retro games, February offered a bounty of great throwbacks. You have to look no further than Penny’s Big Breakaway for an example of that. Developed by the team behind Sonic Mania, the 3D platformer looks and feels like something from the Nintendo GameCube era. Players zip around colorful levels using a yo-yo, making for some neat momentum-based gameplay. The learning curve can be high, which might turn off some casual players, but there’s a lot to enjoy here if you can get the hang of it.

Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore

Arzette slides down a zipline in Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore.
Limited Run Games

If you want a retro game with an entirely different vibe, Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore is a bizarre release that begs to be tried. The project pays tribute to the Zelda series’ infamously bad Phillips CD-i games, replicating their over-the-top voice acting and distinct art style. While it has the energy of a “bad game,” Arzette does a lot of work to modernize the idea while still paying respectful homage to it. The result is a quirky platformer that revels in the unintentional comedy of those old Zelda games. It ends up being a hilarious adventure that’s unlikely to be replicated again anytime soon.

Please, Touch the Artwork 2

A skeleton touches a still life in Please, Touch the Artwork 2.
Thomas Waterzooi

If you’re looking for a new mobile game to pass the time, February brought a few releases that are worth checking out. I’m most fond of Please, Touch the Artwork 2, a sequel to an inventive 2022 puzzler. In this freebie, players interact with surreal art inspired by the works of Belgian painter James Ensor. It’s a point-and-click game where players navigate still life paintings in search of hidden objects. While its not as creative as its excellent predecessor, its still a worthy sequel that offers a tactile art history lesson.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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