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UFO 50 isn’t the Spelunky follow-up you’re expecting. It’s even better

Key art for UFO 50 shows several retro characters.
Summer Gaming Marathon Feature Image
This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

When you create a game as important as Spelunky, players tend to pigeonhole you. Some fans of Derek Yu’s games likely expect his studio, Mossmouth, to put out 2D roguelikes that feature punishing gameplay and a deep well of secrets. But when people expect you to zig, that’s when you zag — and boy is Mossmouth zagging with its next game, UFO 50.

Before I sat down for a hands-on demo of UFO 50 at Summer Game Fest, I didn’t know much about it. I was aware that it was some kind of minigame collection featuring 50 playable titles, but that was about it. It sounded like a surprising turn following Spelunky 2, but after playing it for myself, I completely see the connection. UFO 50 is just as ambitious as Mossmouth’s signature series, even if it’s nothing like it. Even playing just a 10-minute snippet and speaking to Yu about it was enough to send it straight to the top of my Steam wish list.

“Minigame collection” sort of undersells what Mossmouth is doing with the wild project, which was first revealed in 2021. That branding might call to mind something like WarioWare, with its very short and rapid-fire games. That’s not the case here. Mossmouth has crafted 50 full-on retro games, half of which feature a two-player mode. That would be an impressive feat on its own, but it’s the packaging of the whole effort that really stands out.

A character fights monsters in a UFO 50 minigame.

When firing it up, an opening credits scroll invites players to buy into its fiction. Mossmouth presents the package as if it has discovered a cache of old shareware games from the 1980s in a storage unit. Those games were from a prolific developer called UFOsoft, an apparent nod to figures like Jeff Minter and his label Llamasoft. When entering the game select menu, the cartridges initially appear with a layer of gray dust over them. Playing it for the first time wipes that away. Everything here is constructed to make players really believe they’re playing a lost visionary’s work.

From there, players can dive into any game they choose. The few I played were entirely different from one another. One put me in a classic shoot-em-up side-scroller, but I could swap gravity to move between the ceiling and floor like in indie classic VVVVVV. Another is a top-down fusion of mini golf and The Legend of Zelda. The joy here is clicking on a random game and figuring out what the heck you’ve just stumbled into.

My personal favorite is a deckbuilding game where I have to manage a party. I have a “deck” of partygoers and I draw a new one by clicking on the front door. Each person has a different effect, raising the popularity level of the party. However, some people may not like one another, while pulling too many troublemakers will bust the party. I never know who is going to come through the door from my deck when I click it, though one character I got had a special power that let me see through it occasionally. It’s a wacky idea that makes the package feel like a collection of great game jam projects.

A character shoots bad guys in a UFDO 50 minigame.

What I love, though, is how much you can learn about the invented history of UFOsoft by playing games. The company’s crown jewel was a platformer called Campanella, which has two sequels in the collection. You get to feel the differences between the three games, as if you’re following a developers’ iteration over time. Yu tells me that there’s even another popular series with a sequel in the package, which is sort of a similar game that die-hard fans argue over. I get the sense there might be even deeper history here too. In one fighting game (which plays like an 8-bit Smash Bros complete with multiplayer), I notice that one character has the ability to change gravity. I assume that’s the character I played in that run-and-gun shooter and that I’d accidentally stumbled into some sort of UFOsoft crossover game.

As I play, I start to wonder if UFO 50 is a little more than meets the eye. After all, Yu is famous for filling Spelunky with plenty of obtuse secrets that keep fans hunting for years. When I ask him if we can expect some secrets here, he nods and says “secrets are games, and games are secrets.” Moments later, as if he’d scripted it, I accidentally moved into a wall in one game just the right way to activate a surprise warp to a later stage. That’s exactly when I knew that UFO 50 would be special.

Frankly, I don’t want to know anything else about UFO 50 until it releases. I’m already bought in and ready to argue with you about why Campanella 3 is overrated.

UFO 50 launches on September 18 for PC.

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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