Obscure platformers, RPGs and adventures offer nostalgia for a simpler era of games.
It’s hard to find games on Steam. I mean, it’s easy to find a game, any game, because there are hundreds of new ones every week. But what about a particular style of game—say, something that evokes the nostalgic look and feel of the 3D adventure games and platformers of the early 2000s, but was made much more recently? That’s harder to find. If you browse by tag, you might find a few under “Hack and Slash” or “Action RPG” or “Retro,” but you’ll also be wading through Diablo knock-offs and thousands of pixel art platformers.
They’re out there, though. I’ve noticed recently that Steam hides plenty of games that look and feel like they would’ve been at home on the PlayStation 2 in 2003, many of them too obscure to climb the sales charts. They tend to look a little budget (because they are), a little dated (because they are), but honestly, sometimes that hits the spot.
By digging through Steam’s recommended “similar items,” I put together a collection of obscure games that evoke those simpler days, and have revisited it with some new recommendations. Check ’em out when you’re feeling nostalgic.
Tanzia (opens in new tab)
The second I saw Tanzia, I thought: Now that is a PS2 game. It’s an open world RPG in which you play as a spellcaster and use an alchemy system to beef yourself up. The art is actually nice and colorful, and obviously intentionally low-poly. Look closely and the detail is there, though, particularly in the faces. Though Tanzia just hit Steam in March 2019, it was actually released on the Switch earlier. User reviews are remarkably positive.
Garden Paws (opens in new tab)
(Image credit: Bitten Toast Games) (opens in new tab)
A Harvest Moon-esque farming and life sim, except you play as a small animal and every cuteness dial is cranked to 11. One Steam reviewer says: “Garden Paws is Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, Recettear, and Harvest Moon boiled down to their purest, most wholesome form, combined, and garnished with indie cuteness and charm.”
Eternity: The Last Unicorn
A new, 2019 Norse-themed RPG that boasts about fixed cameras, reminiscent of older games. Everything else here is reminiscent of the early 2000s to me: the way the characters animate, the relatively simple hack-and-slash combat, the scale of the environments you traverse. Nice and simple.
Anima: Gate of Memories
Like a hand-me-down Japanese action game, with anime characters, big boss fights and some RPG skill trees. Reviews says it’s a bit rough around the edges but does a good impression of Devil May Cry, with more exploration and story. There’s also a standalone expansion.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom
A bigger and more ambitious game than most on this list, and one I actually wrote about on PC Gamer after playing at E3 in 2016. The indie dev team made the classic first game mistake of trying to do everything, but it’s honestly a pretty cool amalgamation of Zelda-esque adventure, RPG, and combo-driven fighting game. It also has a nice cel shaded art style that isn’t going to blow you away, but stand a cut above most on this list. And there are a lot of anthropomorphic animals, if that’s your thing.
Skylar & Plux: Adventure On Clover Island
Throwback 3D platformers Yooka-Laylee and A Hat in Time got most of the attention, but this 2017 game is right up the same alley. Its name reminds me of Blinx the Time Sweeper, but seeing it in action conjures Jak & Daxter. Reviews says it’s short and on the easier side, but are overall very positive.
By all accounts an old-school-to-a-fault JRPG that aimed to feel like a PS2 game and delivered, dated feel and all. I have to say I really dig the painterly 2D backgrounds, even if the rest of the art feels pretty lacking. If you’re hungry for new takes on old turn-based battle systems reminiscent of Shadow Hearts, here you go.
Another turn-based JRPG with a crafting system and a home base where you can grow magical plants. It’s not going to be your favorite RPG, but it’ll probably remind you of your favorite RPG from 15 years ago.
Magical Battle Festa
A Japanese arena fighting game starring anime girls (of course) with some seriously frenetic action. The graphics are straight 2003. Supports four-player multiplayer if you want to beat up your friends anime-style.
Another Norse-themed RPG where you dungeon crawl as one of five Valkyries and beat up the enemies of Midgard. Looks like a decent hack-and-slash.
An “MMO action RPG with a fast weapon changing battle system” in which you party up with others or play with a group of NPCs if you prefer that solitary life. Out on March 19, this honestly gives me serious modern-day Phantasy Star Online vibes, except all anime girls. Apparently anime girls and the budget PS2 aesthetic really go hand-in-hand.
Anodyne 2 looks less like a budget throwback and more like a clever reinterpretation of old games, mixing PS1-styled polygons with 16-bit 2D spritework in different parts of the game. We thought very highly of the first Anodyne, and the second one looks to be calling back to early 3D games just as effectively.
A JRPG ickstarted by a developer named Visualnoveler, starring anime girls. The 3D world looks about as barren as I’d expect from a budget RPG, but the 2D art is nice and colorful, if a bit generic.
Some actual PS2 games on Steam
There are quite a few early-2000s console games on Steam these days, largely from developers like Capcom and Sega. But there are a few lesser-known ones you might’ve missed, too.
Kao the Kangaroo: Round 2 (opens in new tab)
The sequel to a Windows/Dreamcast platformer from 2000, 2003’s Kao the Kangaroo is like the off-off-brand Jak & Daxter! (The off-brand J&D is Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, below). It’s a Polish-developed 3D platformer and honestly it looks pretty damn good as far as the jumping and collecting goes.
Disgaea series (opens in new tab)
(Image credit: NIS America) (opens in new tab)
Disgaea 1, 2, and 5 are all available on PC, and the first two were released on the PS2 back in 2003 and 2006. Think of Disgaea like Final Fantasy Tactics for insane people: they’re ridiculously deep tactics games with massive damage numbers and no end to how far you can customize your army. You could lose a thousand hours to one of these games. You’re probably best off playing Disgaea 5, but if you want the true PS2 experience, you can try out one of the first two games.
Ty the Tasmanian Tiger
There are actually three of these 3D platformers on Steam, which will surely be a powerful nostalgia injection for a few people. I remember renting Ty for the GameCube so I could write a review of it on my first website, hosted on freehomepages.com. As I recall, I thought it was just okay.
Legend of Kay
A late-era PS2 adventure game starring a cat with an angry face. Chinese kung fu, but with cats! Was Kung Fu Panda a rip-off of Legend of Kay? I’ll let you decide.
You probably knew the Devil May Cry Collection was on Steam, but you may have missed Capcom’s less-remembered Onimusha got a remaster in early 2019. We wrote that its hack-and-slash stylings feel dated these days, but that’s really what we’re going for here, huh?
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy
This was definitely of those “Really? That game?” revivals for me, but hey, that’s cool. Sphinx was one of those 2003 3D platformers that hit the GameCube, PS2, and Xbox, alongside Ty and Tak and Vexx and many others I’ve forgotten. But hey, it was supposed to be good! Ahh, 3D platformers were fun.