It’s hard to find games on Steam. I mean it’s easy to find a Game, all game, because there are hundreds of new ones every week. But what about a particular style of play, say something that evokes the nostalgic aspect of 3D adventure games and platforms from the early 2000s, but was created much more recently? It’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 browsing Diablo fakes and thousands of pixel art platforms.
They are there, however. I’ve noticed recently that Steam is hiding a lot of games that look and feel like they would have been at home on the PlayStation 2 in 2003, many of them too obscure to climb the sales charts. They tend to seem on a budget (because they are), a bit dated (because they are), but honestly, sometimes it hits the mark.
Digging through Steam’s recommended “Similar Items”, I’ve assembled a collection of obscure games that evoke those simpler days, and revisited it with some new recommendations. Check them out when you’re feeling homesick.
The second I saw Tanzia I thought: Now this is a PS2 game. It’s an open world RPG where you play as a spell caster and use an alchemy system to build muscle. The art is actually nice and colorful, and obviously intentionally low-poly. Look closely and the detail is there, especially in the faces. Although Tanzia just released on Steam in March 2019, it actually released on Switch earlier. User reviews are remarkably positive.
A Harvest Moon farming and life simulation, except you play as a small animal and each cuteness dial is set to 11. One Steam reviewer said, “Garden Paws is Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, Recettear and Harvest Moon comes down to their purest, healthiest form, combined and filled with indie cuteness and charm. “
A new Nordic-themed 2019 RPG that boasts of stationary cameras, reminiscent of older games. Everything else here reminds me of the early 2000s: the way the characters come to life, the relatively straightforward hack-and-slash combat, the scale of the environments you go through. Pleasant and simple.
Like a pocket-sized Japanese action game, featuring anime characters, big boss fights, and RPG skill trees. Critics say it’s a bit rough around the edges but makes a good Devil May Cry impression, with more exploration and history. There is also a standalone extension.
A game bigger and more ambitious than most on this list, and one that I wrote about on PC Gamer after playing at E3 in 2016. The indie development team made the classic mistake of the first game in the world. ‘try to do all, but it’s honestly a pretty cool amalgamation of Zelda adventures, RPGs, and combo fighting games. It also has a nice, shaded cel art style that won’t blow your mind, but ranks above most of this list. And there are a lot of anthropomorphic animals, if that’s your thing.
Throwback 3D platformers Yooka-Laylee and A Hat in Time have garnered attention, but this 2017 game is down the same alley. Its name reminds me of Blinx the Time Sweeper, but seeing it in action is reminiscent of Jak & Daxter. Reviews say it’s shorter and easier, but overall very positive.
By all accounts, an old-fashioned JRPG that aimed to look like a PS2 game and have a dated feel and everything. I have to say that I really dig into the 2D painterly backgrounds, even though the rest of the art looks pretty lacking. If you’re hungry for new versions of old turn-based combat systems reminiscent of Shadow Hearts, here we go.
Another turn-based JRPG with a crafting system and a base where you can grow magical plants. It won’t be your favorite RPG, but it will likely remind you of your favorite RPG from 15 years ago.
A Japanese arena fighting game starring animated girls (of course) with truly frenetic action. The graphics are straight out of 2003. Supports four player multiplayer if you want to beat your friends like an anime.
Another Nordic themed RPG where you crawl through a dungeon as one of the five Valkyries and defeat the enemies of Midgard. Sounds like a decent hack-and-slash.
An “action-RPG MMO with a quick-change weapon combat system” in which you party with others or play with a group of NPCs if you prefer this lonely life. Released on March 19, it honestly gives me some serious modern day Phantasy Star Online vibes except all the anime girls. Apparently, anime girls and budget PS2 aesthetics really go hand in hand.
Anodyne 2 feels less like a flashback and more like a clever reinterpretation of old games, mixing PS1-style polygons with 16-bit 2D sprites in different parts of the game. We really enjoyed the first Anodyne, and the second seems just as well remember the first 3D games.
A JRPG released by a developer named Visualnoveler, featuring anime girls. The 3D world looks as sterile as I would expect from a budget RPG, but the 2D art is nice and colorful, if a bit generic.
Some real PS2 games on Steam
There are currently plenty of early 2000s console games on Steam, mostly from developers like Capcom and Sega. But there are also a few lesser-known ones that you might have missed.
The sequel to a 2000 Windows / Dreamcast platformer, 2003 Kao the Kangaroo, is like the Jak & Daxter brand! (The off-brand J&D is Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, below). It’s a 3D platformer game developed in Poland and honestly it looks pretty good when it comes to jumping and collecting.
Disgaea 1, 2, and 5 are all available on PC, and the first two came out on PS2 in 2003 and 2006. Think of Disgaea as Final Fantasy Tactics for Fools: These are ridiculously deep tactics games with massive damage counts. . and endless how far you can customize your army. You could waste a thousand hours on any of these games. You’re probably better off playing Disgaea 5, but if you want a real PS2 experience, you can try one of the first two games.
There is in fact Three of these 3D platforms on Steam, which will surely be a powerful injection of nostalgia for some people. I remember renting Ty for the GameCube so I could write a review on my first website, hosted at freehomepages.com. If I remember correctly I thought it was just okay.
A late-era PS2 adventure game featuring an angry-faced cat. Chinese kung fu, but with cats! Was Kung Fu Panda a Legend of Kay scam? I’ll let you decide.
You probably knew the Devil May Cry collection was on Steam, but you might have missed Capcom’s lesser-known Onimusha, which was remastered in early 2019. We wrote that its hack-and-slash styles seem dated these days. , but that’s really what we’re goin ‘over here, huh?
It was definitely those “Really? This game?” alarm clocks for me, but hey, that’s cool. Sphinx was one of those 2003 3D platformer games that hit the GameCube, PS2, and Xbox, alongside Ty and Tak and Vexx and many others that I have forgotten. But hey, it was supposed to be good! Ahh, 3D platforms were fun.