January 18, 2021: Welp, it looks like Strongholds: Warlords is delayed until early March 2021. Still, there’s a whole bunch of other games to look forward to and we’ve added Phoenotopia: Awakening to the list.
Typically, January is a bit of a quiet month for gamers looking for new games, and for good reason. Budgets are likely on the thin side after Christmas, and if you’ve been good in 2020, Santa may have brought you a few new toys. If not, well, it’s a good time to address that backlog you’ve been neglecting for years while your wallet recovers. We’ve all got one and, to be frank, we’ve barely made a dent in ours!
But to say that January is ‘dry’ for releases, as we often do, is a bit of a myth. With the frenzy of triple-A release season behind us, there are still plenty of good-looking games due in this coming month which you should really know about. Aside from a sequel to Hitman, the next wave of re-releases for the Yakuza series, the return of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, and the spooky psychological horror The Medium, there are also quite a few indie games that are worth a look at too.
So if you really don’t have anything in your backlog (lies!) or have just accepted that you’ll never finish everything you’ve ever bought and want to play something new instead, then we’ve got a list of eight games that you should check out in January 2021.
Our selection of games this month covers a wide range of genres, so there should be something here for everyone. There’s an old-school RPG with a unique take on exploration, a puzzle game about teleportation, a calming narrative experience, and a notable Early Access release. Let’s dive in!
Hero’s Spirit – January 1
Every other game here is coming a bit later on in the month, but perhaps you have some spare change in your pocket and are looking for something new, not all that expensive, and a little lighter. Appearing on Steam on January 1, Hero’s Spirit is a pixelated 2D RPG that closely resembles the classic YS series. You are an adventurer who must stop a witch from destroying the world by exploring the land and killing monsters.
There are two main mechanics at play in Hero’s Spirit. First is that your attack must match an opponent’s level to defeat them, otherwise you’ll lose a heart. You can find more attack power by collecting swords, but until it’s up to scratch you must slip past mightier enemies. This is easier said than done thanks to the second big feature: everything has line of sight that’s affected by terrain, and you can be slowed down or hurt by walking through certain tiles.
Woodsalt – January 9
We think that Woodsalt is more interactive fiction than adventure game from what we’ve seen of it so far, but it’s definitely got some disturbing undertones that have piqued our interest. This cute-looking game is set on a space colony a thousand years after the evacuation of Earth (apparently it got overrun with giant monsters and a wave of natural disasters). Having spent all that time in stasis, we follow Emcy as he wakes up in a new world, and discovers that not everyone is eager to return to our former home planet.
Boasting several endings, side plots that affect said endings in significant ways, and even some other endings which are hidden, this could be one to replay a few times in order to piece together the bigger picture. Even the trailers raise more questions than answers.
Yaga – January 12
Yaga is a roguelike action-RPG that is inspired by Slavic mythology that’s coming to Steam for the first time. You play as Ivan, a one-handed blacksmith with the worst luck in the world, who must seek out the witch Baba Yaga’s advice in order to complete some seemingly impossible tasks given to him by the tsar.
While having only one fully functioning arm may seem like a disadvantage, Ivan has the skill to craft attachments that can be fixed onto his bandaged stump, such as a grappling hook, gauntlets, and even a big wheel.
Related: Here are the best roguelike games on PC
The Steam page also shows Ivan flying across the sky on top of a furnace, which is pretty cool in any context. You also get to meet and tussle with many monsters of Slavic mythology along the way, including a giant chicken. What’s not to love here?
Sunlight – January 14
Last year was a year full of anxiety about all of our futures, so it’s important to take some time to just kick back and escape from it all for a while. Sunlight is a meditative experience in which you are free to wander and lose yourself in the calming voices of the trees.
Each tree has a different voice. Some calm and soothing like a therapist, others with regional accents, but importantly they’re all telling the same philosophical story. The 3D audio is particularly effective when using headphones, and is perfectly accompanied by the expressionist visuals, and the powerful use of Tchaikovsky Hymn of the Cherubim. It won’t take you long to finish, but it was a calming experience that’s worth checking out.
Phoenotopia: Awakening – January 21
Phoenotopia: Awakening is a Metroidvania that is full of puzzles to solve and enemies to kill. You take on the role of Gail as all of the adults of her home village are kidnapped by a star ship that appears in the night sky. As the defacto leader of the fragmented community, she sets forth on a journey to save the adults, and thwart the plans of the evil that lurks in the shadows.
This game has some neat ideas too. We particularly like how spears are used as makeshift platforms, how fishing is integrated into the game, and the overworld design that borrows from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It’s also quite a big game according to the Steam page, with an estimated length of 30 hours, or 50 if you want to get everything, so you won’t be short of stuff to do.
Revisitor – January 23
First-person platforming puzzle games tend to be hit and miss, but Revisitor shows every sign of being a hit. In its colourful digital world, teleportation is key to success, and there are two kinds of teleportation on offer: one that bursts you forward a few squares, and another which sets a point in the map that you can warp to at a press of a button.
It’s unclear how fiendishly complicated the puzzles will get in Revisitor. They could be approachable yet deceptively taxing, as in Portal, or perhaps they’ll turn out similarly to the brain-melting conundrums presented in Antichamber. Either way, it certainly looks the part, and we’re absolutely ready for another game in this lineage.
Cyber Shadow – January 26
If castle-building RTS is not your bag, but retro-inspired platformers are, then consider Cyber Shadow for your bag-shopping needs. Cyber Shadow is no doubt taking many cues from the classic Ninja Gaiden series on the NES, but gives its ninja an expanded move set that has him flying through the air and slashing enemies all over the place on his quest to get his clan back. It’s not completely clear if this is a Metroidvania or if Cyber Shadow will have a standard level structure, but it looks fun either way.
What’s notable here is that the game is being published by Yacht Club Games, the developer behind Shovel Knight and its myriad expansions. It’s the first time that Yacht Club has published another developer’s game, but if Shovel Knight is anything to go by (and it is), the studio knows what makes a good game. And from the highly detailed sprites on-screen, it’s a bit of a looker, too, for anyone who appreciates retro art styles.
Everspace 2 – January 2021
Everspace 2 hits Steam Early Access towards the end of the month. Much like its predecessor, this is a space simulator with loot shooter and roguelike elements. It also has the potential to become one of the best space games on PC.
If you’ve always been tempted by the likes of Elite Dangerous but been put off by the scale of the commitment, this could be your game – it puts a premium on getting into the action quickly, is single-player, and claims to offer a “thoughtful story”. The premise is similar, though: you’ll begin with a basic ship, and mine, trade, or salvage materials to upgrade it until you’re criss-crossing the universe, completing quests, and blowing everyone else up.
It looks mesmerising, particularly as the light from the sun flickers through the asteroids that whizz by as you travel at hyper speed. Even dashing through enemy bases or clustered planets looks as invigorating as any dogfight in the Star Wars films. You can download a demo right now to get a taste of what’s to come.