Some of the best games find success by focusing down on one really solid mechanic or concept and building the whole experience around it. Concept games can be made or broken on the strength of their core ideas, but when they work, they can be really outstanding experiences. Here are a few of my picks for the best concept games out there.
The concept of this game couldn’t be simpler – every 60 seconds your character dies and you have to start again. This central time limit makes Minit the perfect game for developing speed runs and leads to a really unique unfolding narrative driven entirely by learning through failure. Slap a cute, retro-esque art style on top and you have the makings of a classic.
Shadow of the Colossus
Creating one of gaming’s most emotive and conceptually cohesive games with the central gameplay revolving around a series of boss battles doesn’t necessarily sound like a sure thing, but Shadow of the Colossus manages to do that and more, and oh boy does it succeed. By weaving a narrative with themes of love, loss, selfishness and ignorance, around 12 boss battles with huge Colossi, Shadow of the Colossus remains a serenely haunting game experience. Now is a great time to check it out for the first time with the recent PS4 remaster updating it visually and adding a few quality of life improvements to its gameplay.
After years of stylish trailers, Cuphead finally launched from its long development to critical acclaim in 2017. Visually based on the wild world of cartoons from the 30s, Cuphead is a frantic, and occasionally frustrating, shmup/platformer. Cuphead’s striking visuals and hard as nails gameplay found it a strong audience on streaming platforms, and it remains a deeply satisfying and enjoyable experience.
Taking inspiration from games like Anitchamber, Manifold Garden, is a new puzzle game that uses MC Escher like architecture and mind-bending physics to test the player’s mind and stretch their imagination. By focusing on Escher-esque architecture, Manifold Garden has produced some stunning visuals and unique gameplay. Set to release later in 2018, Manifold Garden is well worth keeping an eye on.
This list is by no means exhaustive and if you’re interested in finding even more concept games to check out, then I recommend digging into the indie scene (especially on sites like itch.io) or trying out some art games like The Marriage, Passage and Loneliness.