The 10 Mac games you need to play from January 2016

A whole new year, and a whole lot of early gaming goodness on Mac.

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January's Mac games

Did you check out our picks for the can’t-miss Mac games of 2015? We hope so, because 2016 didn’t wait to start unleashing a killer selection of new games to fall in love with. The first few weeks of the year have already delivered several games that players are obsessing over and gleefully dissecting, and we have them all profiled here for your perusal. 

Highlights include the brutal role-playing action of Darkest Dungeon, the intensely personal gut-punch that is That Dragon, Cancer, and the gleeful exploration of Slime Rancher—and if that’s not enough variety already, the rest of the list has an even wider array of options. Be sure to check out December’s picks, too, in case you missed any late-year gems.

darkest dungeon

Darkest Dungeon

We covered the Steam Early Access release of Darkest Dungeon ($20) almost a year ago, where it earned raves from players even in its unfinished state—and now that it’s properly released, critics are joining in on the praise. Darkest Dungeon is a challenging, turn-based role-player about battling through crypts and forests, and its biggest twist is the spotlight it throws on just how stressful such adventures are.

Your heroes will be afraid, irrational, paranoid, and just plain frazzled along the way, which affects how they act and fight. Numerous player classes offer a lot of replayability, plus there’s a load of narrative content to dig into and the Lovecraft-inspired, hand-drawn aesthetic gives this gritty game a distinctive touch.

that dragon cancer

That Dragon, Cancer

Video games don’t always have to be just for fun, and That Dragon, Cancer ($15) is a prime example of that. The story is even more heartbreaking than the title suggests: The game was developed by Ryan and Amy Green as a reaction and remembrance of their son Josh, who died at the age of five following a long battle with a cancerous tumor that stunted his mental growth. 

That Dragon, Cancer plays out as a series of vignettes spanning Josh’s life and struggle: The father laying with his son in the hospital, but also the young boy throwing bread at ducks or having fun at the playground. It has surreal turns and deals very frankly with the Greens’ religious beliefs in the wake of everything. It’s a beautiful, touching, and painful tribute: Again, not something you’ll necessarily enjoy, but a game that shows the powerful resonance of interactive experiences.

slime rancher

Slime Rancher

Continuing the earlier note on Steam Early Access standouts—Slime Rancher ($20) has quickly become one of the most popular games on the service and has almost unbelievably positive user reviews. It’s a game about wrangling and harvesting adorable, smiling slime creatures using your vacuum gun contraption, not to mention snagging their poop (also adorable, of course) to cross-breed the different types of slimes. 

Slime Rancher is weird and colorful and seems on the verge of becoming a full-fledged indie sensation, as players love the sense of exploration, the thrill of finding or creating new slimes, and the ultra-cute 3D worlds. And the Early Access version is apparently just a hint of a much fuller experience that should build up throughout the year.

oxenfree

Oxenfree

If you’re looking for something with a bit more narrative depth, meanwhile, Oxenfree ($20) has drawn a lot of attention for a relatively under-the-radar indie game. It’s a conversation-driven adventure game in which you play a teen taking her new stepbrother out with her friends—only they’re exploring an abandoned military island, and they end up summoning spooky things by tuning into a certain radio frequency.

Oxenfree is eerie and unsettling in spots, but has been most praised for its natural dialogue and integral conversation system, which affects your relationships with every little line you make your heroine speak. It’s not really a puzzle-filled or complex experience, but players say it really nails the storyline and characters.

pony island

Pony Island

Pony Island ($5) is definitely not the game you’re expecting based on the title, although it does star a pixel pony—at least for a while. What seems like a rather drab platform-action game quickly turns into a twisted, very meta critique of game design, with point-and-click elements tasking you to work through broken menus as weird messages appear. That’s because a demon is apparently trying to steal your soul. 

Heartwarming stuff, right? It’s best not to know much more than that: Pony Island is meant to mess with your mind, and based on the absolutely glowing reviews, we say: Mission accomplished. The fact that Steam users categorize it as “psychological horror” should tell you all you need to know. (Just to be absolutely sure: Don’t buy it for a little kid.)

a boy and his blob

A Boy and His Blob

If you grew up with an NES in your home, chances are you remember the original A Boy and His Blob ($10), a perplexing little game about a kid and his shape-shifting creature friend overcoming obstacles. While that game is much tougher to appreciate now, this modern reboot is very friendly, much more enjoyable, and overwhelmingly charming too—it even has a hug button! 

Surprisingly, this side-scrolling adventure first released on Wii in 2009, and more than six years later, it’s finally on Mac and other platforms. As before, you’ll feed special jelly beans to your adorable blob to change his form and utilize his abilities to work through obstacles and get past enemies, and the result is a really delightful romp.

punch club

Punch Club

Despite what the title and screenshot above might suggest, Punch Club ($10) isn’t a typical fighting game. In fact, it’s not even much of a fighting game: It’s a management and tycoon-style experience built around being a fighter, with a very ‘80s action movie-esque storyline about working your way through the ranks while uncovering your father’s murderer. 

Punch Club promises branching storylines, along with the ability to stay legit or run afoul of the rules en route to success, plus the convincing 16-bit aesthetic is a big perk. The game was an instant hit early in the month, although some Steam reviewers say it turns into a real grind over time. Still, if you want a management game with a twist, it seems like a potential knockout.

crashlands

Crashlands

What do you do when your spaceship detonates and sends you hurtling onto an unfamiliar planet? Well, in Crashlands ($15), you make do by using the natural resources to start crafting a new existence. You’ll create tools and armor, build up a base, and deal with the strange alien creatures that wander about. Oh, and then there’s something about foiling a world domination plot, as well.

Crashlands has more of a progression arc and narrative framing than something like Minecraft, but it might appeal to those same fans who like the idea of concocting your own survival plan in an open world of possibilities. And you can swap progress between the Mac and iOS versions, too, letting you play wherever you are.

tharsis

Tharsis

Humanity sends its best and brightest to Mars after a mysterious signal emanates from the red planet, but things start to go very wrong on the way there. And you’re the one overseeing the chaos, quite literally rolling digital dice to help determine the fate of the crew and the mission. 

Tharsis ($15) is a brutally tough turn-based simulation that might appeal to FTL: Faster Than Light fans, forcing you to overcome disasters, intense stress, and cannibalistic urges en route to humanity’s potential salvation. You’ll probably fail—very often, too. But at least the game keeps each new attempt relatively compact. Reviews are hugely mixed amongst critics and players alike, however, with the cruel and randomized design rubbing some the wrong way.

westport independent

The Westport Independent

Here’s a grim scenario: You’re the editor of an independent newspaper covering a country that’s becoming increasingly fascist, and now the government is applying pressure. So what do you do? Do you continue publishing critical stories about the people in charge and ensure your readers stay informed? Or do you bow to threats and prioritize your own career and safety?

It’s the pressing struggle behind The Westport Independent ($10), a Papers, Please-esque game in which you’ll selectively edit stories and deal with the consequences—all while managing a staff and the readership. While certainly intriguing, our sister site PCWorld wasn’t too thrilled with the experience, noting the lack of grey area between polarizing choices, not to mention repetition and bugs.