Popular video game genres, such as platform games and shooters, are self-explanatory. But there are a lot of genres of video games that are not so well known.
In this article, we take a look at some of the more specialized video game genres, explaining what they are and recommending the best games in each genre.
1. Visual novel
The visual novel genre blurs the line between literature and video games. These interactive works of fiction are rich in text and lack a lot of action. Typically, they’re played in first person and present you with a deep story and memorable characters.
Unlike many video games, the elements of “gameplay” in a visual novel are fairly minimal. Most of the time, your interaction with the game is limited to moving through text boxes, making dialogue choices, and sometimes solving light puzzles. This genre focuses more on building an interesting world than revolutionary gameplay. Often your choices in conversations have direct effects on the story.
Visual novels are very popular in Japan, so anime style art is common in these games. They have recently become more popular outside of Japan thanks to a few key series, which you can enjoy right now.
A fantastic visual novel to get you started is the Ace Attorney series. You play as Phoenix Wright and other lawyers who must defend their unjustly accused clients. Beyond that, we took a look at other visual novels you should play, such as the Zero Escape series.
4X refers to a type of strategy game where you have four objectives: explore, expand, mine, and exterminate. Unlike some of the relatively straightforward games offered by other genres on this list, 4X games are incredibly deep and often take a long time to play.
In a 4X title, you oversee an empire and have to deal with important aspects like battles with neighboring kingdoms, claiming new territories, and controlling resources. If you like complex gameplay, you’ll love what 4X games have to offer. You will need to consider the cultural and political consequences of your choices — what if your government doesn’t like you to declare war on your neighboring region?
The classic example of a 4X title is the Civilization series. If you’re looking for something a little more accessible, try these 4X Strategy Games for Android.
3. Walking simulator
While “walking simulator” is sometimes used as a derogatory term, it is generally accepted as the name of a particular kind of adventure title. It refers to a narrative game that has few gameplay elements other than walking around and interacting with objects.
Typically, walking simulators immerse you in a world and let you discover details about it through audio logs, documents, and the like that you find. Because there is no combat and minimal puzzle solving, the story is at the center.
You’ll love walking simulators if you love the mystery of uncovering a story through in-game data instead of cutscenes. Do walking simulators count as video games? It depends on how you think games should be interactive, but a lot of people enjoy them regardless.
If you want to try out a walking simulator, The Stanley Parable is a fun example of this genre, because it’s pretty meta. Firewatch is another popular walking simulator, where you play as a fire watchman in a forest.
The term “Metroidvania” is a combination of two series of games: Metroid and Castlevania. Since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in 1997, the two series have featured similar playing styles, giving birth to this genre.
A Metroidvania game features a large, complex map that you can’t access from the start. Instead, you need to explore and find upgrades that grant access to new areas. While new abilities give you access to more of the map, they also serve as enhancements for combat.
Many Metroidvania games feature epic boss fights, which often protect upgrades. You can also find secret rooms that offer even more optional goodies. Thanks to the non-linear world design, there is often a flashback to previous areas to discover new paths that you couldn’t reach before.
Most Metroidvania games are in 2D, but not all of them. While both series are of course a great place to check out the genre, Metroidvania is a popular genre for modern indie titles as well. Hollow Knight is a great example because it doesn’t hold your hand while crawling. For something less intense, Ori and the Blind Forest makes a great introduction to the genre.
MOBA stands for “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena”. It’s a combination of strategy and real-time action where two teams go head to head in a small arena, each trying to destroy the other’s base. Most MOBA maps have three “lanes” that allow teams to move between bases.
In a MOBA, each player typically selects a hero for the entire game. These heroes are divided into classes based on their purpose, while each also has various unique skills. During a match in a MOBA, players defeat weak computer-controlled characters known as “creeps” to gain experience and make their characters more powerful.
League of Legends and Dota 2 (Defense of the Ancients) are two well-known MOBAs. Both are free and have tons of characters to try out. Read our introduction to League of Legends to get you started.
6. Clicker / Idle game
A clicker game (also known as idle or incremental play) refers to a title where the gameplay is limited to extremely basic interactions, such as clicking the screen. Typically, you earn points every time you click. As you keep clicking, the game offers upgrades that allow you to earn more points faster.
After a while, these upgrades will start to earn you points, even if you are not actively “playing” them. This is where the term “inactive” comes from. Many of them don’t have an end, although they do include milestones that you can work towards.
Cookie Clicker is one of the best known free games that you can win by clicking. Each click earns you a cookie, and you can optionally buy factories and grandmothers to make even more cookies. AdVenture Capitalist is another clicker game where you start with a lemonade stand and work to make as much money as you can.
This RPG subgenre takes its name from the classic 1980 Rogue computer game. One of its hallmarks is the exploration of dungeons through procedurally generated areas, which means the game is different every time. You play. Plus, they feature permadeath, a mechanism that completely resets your progress once you die. The “real” roguelikes also use tile-based moves and prioritize resource management.
Classic roguelikes are turn-based, but not all modern instances of the genre follow this rule. A close example is Darkest Dungeon, which is a procedurally generated turn-based RPG where character management is key.
One such subdivision is roguelite. This term refers to games that have some aspects of a roguelike, but lack others. A well-known and accessible roguelite is The Binding of Isaac. It features permanent death, but you can gain buffs that persist throughout games. The game is also not turn-based.
8. Tower defense
Another subdivision of the strategy genre, tower defense games focus on protecting a base or territory. Usually in these types of games you strategically place defenses and obstacles and have to survive waves of incoming enemies.
As you would expect from the name, what sets them apart from other real-time strategy games is that you’re always on the defensive. If the enemy destroys your base, you lose.
Plants vs. Zombies is an example of a fairly laid back tower defense game. Kingdom Rush is another popular title in the genre.
What kind of video game will you play next?
We’ve looked at many genres of video games that you may not be familiar with much (like RTwP games). Maybe you’ve heard the names before, but didn’t know what each genre entailed. Now that you do, you should play each to broaden your gaming horizons.
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