Update 1/26/2016: We felt like there were so many other games worth mentioning in this surrealist games list. Some we simply could not leave out, so here’s an updated series of games you might want to try out in the near future.
- Back to Bed
Back to Bed is a great example of Salvador Dalí’s surrealist painting applied directly into a video game. Adopting the very abstract graphic elements of surrealism, the PlayStation 4 adaptation of what was once a mobile title brings even more mind-blowing and impossible physics as you follow Bob’s trip through his own subconscious.
Bob suffers from narcolepsy. Bob sleepwalks. Bob dangerously treads onto suspended platforms, stairways leading into nothing and upside down floors. The game plays on the idea that waking up a sleepwalker is dangerous for their health and that the only way to truly help them is to guide them safely back to bed in order to prevent them from hurting themselves.
You take control of the only other character in the game – a dog donning a human face that doesn’t seem to respect the usual laws of physics either and brings the sense of companionship to the protagonist of the game. But he is not, really; the dog is Bob’s mere embodiment in the subconscious realm, fittingly named Subob.
Bob must help himself from falling into the pits of the dream world abyss as his sleep walking body slowly moves through bizarre levels that contain the even more bizarre presences and obstacles of the game.
In essence, Back to Bed is a surreal 3D puzzle game that will progress you through several dreams, each divided into 15 levels. And it’s one of the titles that take the concept of surrealist games literally – as the artwork is almost taken out of surrealist painters’ works.
The game is available on Steam, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PS Vita for $5.99.
Rememoried is an explorative first-person adventure game that takes you through an entire series of dream-like places where nothing is the truly ever clear. Memories mix and blend into one another, morphing the scenery as you gradually move through it and start solving puzzles.
Memories turn into dreams and the only way to move forwards is to forget them. A flooded forest-like place with hanging picture frames and eerie gigantic eyeballs in the sky greets you as you enter this world for the first time.
The very unclear goals of the game can only be uncovered by closely observing your surroundings and through hints that the various unnamed narrators give you. The dreamscape locations and unexplainable layout of world elements depict the confusing nature of dreams: impossible by the laws of physics, sometimes repetitive and yet forever changing.
Each level is another puzzle to solve. And with each puzzle you may find yourself discovering new game mechanics, wildly different places to explore and eerie – yet beautiful – graphics to behold.
Along with an amazingly good soundtrack, Rememoried is one of those beautifully designed exploration surrealist games that do not even need a complicated story behind it to make a beautiful gaming experience. There is no mention of who is speaking or how you got here; very much like the way things are in dreams.
The game is available on Steam for $4.99 until January 29th and $9.99 after that date.
- Killer Is Dead
A very different kind of game – at least in comparison to the titles listed so far – Killer Is Dead comes from no other than Goichi Suda himself, the name behind other big titles such as No More Heroes or Killer7; also commonly known as Suda51.
Killer Is Dead is not a quiet, ethereal place to be, but wildly confusing and certainly one of its kind. An action game in the real sense, employing hack and slash elements, Killer Is Dead puts you in the shoes of a hired assassin known as Mondo Zappa that uses a katana and a robotic arm implant to execute his enemies.
But every single time you feel like you got the story figured out, a flashback happens or you’re surprised to find yourself in a very unlikely place. A seemingly innocent looking candy house suddenly turns upside down as you find its very-similar-to-Alice (the Alice in Wonderlands Alice) inhabitant to be cursed to transform into a gruesome crustacean-like monster.
Mondo himself goes on his own eerie track of remembering his unexplainable past as the story is a long chain of confusing memories. Physically impossible traits and locations, visits to the dark side of the moon and repetitive dream-like sequences slowly uncover the dark past of the protagonist.
And all throughout the game, you’re constantly be on a personal quest to figure out whether you’re supposed to be laughing with the game, whether any of it is to be taken seriously or why the sheer awesomeness of some moments quickly drips into a hilarious, yet downright creepy depiction of twisted characters and places.
Three personal playthroughs of Killer Is Dead, and I still can’t settle on one particular constant feeling of the game. It’s a confusing mesh of all of the above and only you can be the righteous judge of whether it’s for you or not. Comic book-like visuals along with a soundtrack that sounds like it’s mostly played backwards along with a few, select CGI or stop-motion cutscenes only add to the emotion explosion that will rattle inside of your thoroughly confused and undecided heart.
And as a side note, I had to completely delete the nature of optional missions found in Killer Is Dead from my head in order to not tarnish the good opinion I’ve been left with regarding the game. It’s only fair that I let you know. Even if the game’s good features managed to delete the impact of awful ones such as the side missions for me, it may not do the same with you.
The game is available on Steam, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
As a 2012 release that even to this day remains a PlayStation exclusive – made available for PS4 later, in 2015 – Journey is the kind of video game that everyone who managed to play remembers it with a warm heart. Even if not many did get to experience the amazingly soothing and different adventure that Journey was. But by all means, if you happen to be the happy possessor of a PlayStation, do try Journey out – it is an irreplaceable 2-hour long experience.
You take on a cloaked and hooded character whose name and background are not really relevant. A vast dessert stretches to infinity ahead of you while the scorching wind makes ripples in the ground and the sun transforms everything into golden dust. You start by walking towards the only distinct construction in the emptiness of the scenery and as you reach its peak, a great mountain of light rests as far as your eyes can see.
Walking turns into running; running turns into sliding as you try to go down a sandy slope. Sliding turns into graceful flying motion as you head towards the source of light without really knowing why. There are no words to guide you on your journey, no verbal explanation as to what this place is. All you encounter seems to be the remnants of a lost civilization and a vague story that slowly gets pieced together through hieroglyph-like paintings. But a white guiding presence makes its appearance every now and then to keep you going.
This mystical and emotion-fueled trip is simply enchanting and employs simple elements of puzzle-solving gameplay, focusing on the Journey more than anything else. The ambient effects and soundtrack compliment the speechless and almost cinematic experience even further.
You can purchase Journey from the PlayStation Store for $14.99.
- Year Walk
Year Walk is a game based on an old Swedish folk story that says that whomever manages to complete the Year Walk ritual may then peer into the future at the cost of their Christianity. Coming as a once-mobile game and ported onto PC in 2014, Year Walk is a title that has gathered the attention of many; and for good reason.
Set in 19th century Sweden, Year Walk is a first person game that mixes elements of two-dimensional and three dimensional sceneries, and follows the story of a man who lives in the woods. He has feelings for a woman who is not as ready to offer him hers, and thus he decides to go on the Year Walk, against her warnings.
Foreboding and, at times, frightening moments await the player in what comes next. Built upon a rich web of folklore tales that you can read in the game encyclopedia as you progress, the game will take you through puzzles and tense experiences as you encounter strange creatures and unexplainable phenomena in the deep, dark woods.
Many things await you to uncover them while some secrets are left hanging – depending on your involvement in the game. Featuring a very abstract approach to things, Year Walk takes onto a very artistic way to present a video game; dripping with atmosphere and surrounding everything in mystery, it is surely one of the most intriguing surrealist games out there. As long as you’re willing to get shaken by a jump scare or two every now and then.
Year Walk is available on Steam for $6.49.
Surrealism is one of the most influential art movements of the past century, and Salvador Dali, Kansuke Yamamoto, Rene Magritte, to name just a few, have influenced not only musicians, and filmmakers, but also video-game designers, and developers. Surrealist games are a thing of the present, and boy, aren’t they just fabulous.
Actually, surrealist games have been around for a while now, and we can pin point their start in 1993 when Myst was released, but only with Psychonauts has the genre started to garner a fandom. I remember my first time playing Psychonauts, when I was just a wee lad, and thinking what a stupid game this is, but oh, I was so wrong. I got sucked into its universe so quick, that it trapped me in front of my PC for days.
But enough reminiscing, let’s talk games!
Released on February the 7th of 2014, Jazzpunk has received overwhelming positive reviews, and critical acclaim, as one of the best, and most funniest surreal video-games to emerge in the last 10 years. Jazzpunk is a single-player fist-person adventure game that tasks you to meddle with the absurd, and try to find a logical solution to your current predicament.
Each mission has its specific goal, an objective that you must finish in order to advance towards the next phase, or level if you may, of the game, but it doesn’t block the player on a certain path, no, au contrair, it offers the player limited freedom of exploration – I said limited because it’s no open world video game, but its levels are quite spacious.
The game is focused on a top-secret espionage agency that is being run out of an abandoned subway station in Tokyo, sometime around the 1950’s. You are in control of Polyblank, a spy that is tasked with various absurd missions like smuggling pigeons, cross-dressing, killing a pig with an ukulele, and of course you wouldn’t be a spy without assassinating a cowboy.
In an alternate reality plagued by corporate espionage, and sentient Martinis, Jazzpunk offers comedic relief in a surreal Cold War World.
Its available on Steam for $15.
Well Bastion is one video-game that marked my gaming experience. An action role-playing game that sets the player in the surreal post-apocalyptic world of Caelondia. A catastrophic event fractured the city into different plateaus, as well as its surrounding areas, changing it completely. The majority of Caelondia’s inhabitants have been reduced to dust, while other alienesque species have taken control of certain zones.
The player is The Kid, and you are tasked with searching for special shards of rock in order to power-up Bastion. Enemies will attempt to put a dent in your quest of restoring Bastion as a safe-haven, and you must fight back using your weapons – you can carry two at a time, and also perform a special attack.
In his journey the silent protagonist valiantly fends off invaders, and collects the Cores. The Kid is taken to places he has never been before – some are more dangerous than others. Cities, forests, bogs all located in, what seems to be, the sky.
The whole game is superbly narrated by Ruck, another survivor that points The Kid in the right direction.
If you are a gamer then you’re most likely accustomed to this type of gameplay, where the player sees the world from an isometric view, but I can bet my life on it that you haven’t experienced a sound track more exquisite. Just take a listen to this song – I went on and bought the whole OST, and I still listen to it on occasion.
Available on Steam, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 for $10,99!
Released in 2005, Psychonauts is one of the best video-games ever invented, and as a surrealist game, it stands as one of the contenders to the throne. The genius mind of Tim Schafer was behind Psychonauts, who is also known for Grim Fandango, Brutal Legend, the Monkey Island franchise, and to have spent over a decade at LucasArts.
Psychonauts received critical acclaim, and garnered a huge fan base that just loved everything that revolves around the game, and its main protagonist named Raz. A young and gifted boy who dwells in psychic abilities. He leaves the circus in order to join a camp that trains, and protects those who have similar powers – Raz’s main goal is to become a Psychonaut, a feared spy.
It’s an awesome adventure game that also includes traditional key console platformer element – best played with a gamepad.
This classic physic odyssey is a must-play for every gamer!
It’s available on Steam, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, and Playstation 3 for $9,99!
- Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
I bought this gem on a Humble Bundle deal, along with Bastion. At first I was a little bit confused about the gameplay, and how you can interact with objects, NPC’s, and straight-forward what you need to do in order to advance in the game. But all was washed down the moment I discovered a fellow wood cutter that led me to the entrance of a cave, where I fought a vicious shade.
This indie adventure video game teleports the player to a mythical little realm. You are tasked to relinquish the evil that resides in the world, and bring peace once again. Battle using your sword, and solve magical musical mysteries using sworcery.
A scenic, and atmospheric video-game that deserves the title of The Best Art Game released in the past 10 years, is one hell of an experience. Some may find it unnecessarily cryptic, with too many puzzle elements involved, while other will love every moment of confusion. This surrealist game can be perfectly described in one word – dreamlike.
All of it is encompassed by the beautiful soundtrack that Jim Guthrie created. Here’s a sneak peek of what you should expect.
It’s available on Steam, iOS and Android for $5,99!
- Monument Valley
You’ve probably heard of this game from the last season of House of Cards. But Monument Valley is more than a cheap gimmick made in order to sway hipsters. It’s actually a beautifully well made game.
This puzzle game was compared by critics to M.C. Esher’s drawings, and also to Sword & Sworcery.
The player needs to lead the princess Ida through impossible mazes filled with optical illusions and mind-baffling objects. You will see that objects in-game are referred to as secret-geometry. The game is presented in isometric view, and your character journeys from hidden passage to hidden passage in order to be forgiven for something, and also progress to the next level.
The critics praised it for its ingenuity, its beautiful environment and attention to details, also its gorgeous soundtrack, but they noted the game’s difficulty being way too easy, and that it is a short length game.
Monument Valley is available for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and Windows Phone for $3,99.
Myst is all about a world where everything that you see is somewhat different. Logic, and reason doesn’t have its use in this graphic adventure puzzle video game, because they will only slow you down. Adventure has absolutely no bounds, and you will travel to an island that emits an eerie feeling of mystery, and at times, of utter despair.
The player takes control of an unknown character who is referred to as The Stranger. After finding a book called Myst, the character places his hand on the last page, and is suddenly transported to the island the book was talking about. Now you are tasked to explore, and find a way out.
Back in 1993 when it was released, it received praises from critics and gamers alike, making it a surprise hit over night.
The Masterpiece Edition can be found on Steam for $4,99.
Alas, our journey has ended. In this writer’s opinion, these are the best surrealist games right now. Hopefully, we’ll see more and more as time, technology, and the arts, advance.
What is your favourite one? Don’t be shy and tell us in the comment section below, maybe I missed on!