There’s no denying the value of Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass subscription on both console and PC. Their aggressive push could end up redefining how we consume and value games – for better and worse. Today, we’ll be highlighting two lesser known yet essential games to play on your Game Pass subscription: Sable and Flynn: Son of Crimson.
This feature aims to highlight some of the great games currently part of the subscription – but don’t assume that means they’re not worth your attention on another platform or after they’ve left the service.
Sable is a refreshingly low-stress, open-world adventure. The focus, in the absence of the typical combat loop, is to explore, discover new places, but also help Sable discover more about herself. Unlike so many modern games, it offers minimal character progression, no overbearing checklist or HUD markers driving you to systematically clear regions, and no physical threat. I still consider myself burnt-out on Ubi-style open-worlds, yet Sable made for a more compelling experience than most I’ve played since that initial sense of awe playing Assassin’s Creed in 2007.
Sable is tasked with discovering the other tribes and assisting adults with their respective professions. Doing so earns her guild “badges” that can be forged into masks representative of that profession. There’s no voice acting, but her excitement is conveyed through excellent writing for both conversation and her internal thoughts. The game is also incredibly accessible, thanks to a simplicity that is both a strength and a weakness.
Sable can run, jump, and is given the ability to perpetually “glide”; she can climb most natural and man-made surfaces; lug around puzzle objects, and cruise the dunes on her hoverbike “Simoon”. Once you set out, no part of the world is off-limits or unreachable with your starting skills. It’s incredibly liberating but never aimless.
By far the greatest praise I can give Sable is how it is designed to give back as much as you put in: you learn more about the planet’s original inhabitants by assisting the Machinists in exploring ancient ruins; you learn about your space-faring predecessors by assisting the Scrappers in looting spaceship wrecks, and you discover modern social structures by helping guards solve a crime in the city of Eccria.
The experience is helped to no end by how hand-crafted everything feels, with visuals that rely on flat textures, thick lines, and contrasting colours for detail and a minimalist HUD. The soundtrack (composed by indie-rock group Japanese Breakfast) excels at generating an atmosphere. There were several technical issues at launch, but these have mostly been patched out.
I loved getting lost exploring vast deserts, clambering through spaceships graveyards, or descending into ancient ruins. Everything feels larger than life despite the limited budget, and this ensures the ending choice feels important. Once you’ve seen all that you want to see and acquired all the masks you want to consider, you return to the Ewer camp.
At this point, you must commit to giving her gliding ability, the hoverbike, and commit to a future profession. Despite only spending 15-ish hours seeing 95% of the content on offer, the ending was a more poignant moment than most “AAA” cinematic games achieve.
Flynn: Son of Crimson
Flynn: Son of Crimson is an enjoyably old-school 2S, sprite-based, action-platformer. The titular Flynn, Son of Crimson, accompanied by his faithful magical hound Dex. A morning walk sees the return of an ancient evil – which claimed the lives of his parents in their attempt to seal it away – and his dog stripped of its magical powers. This kicks off a quest to traverse the world, recover four guardian spirits to restore Dex, and master new crimson weaponry to defeat “The Scourge”.
First impressions are that the gameplay is relative simplicity, as you might expect from the 16-bit-era: run, jump, push and pull objects, dodge hazards, and bludgeon foes. However, it quickly ramps up in complexity as you begin to tackle puzzles, uncover new weapons, elemental powers, and character upgrades on a sprawling skill tree. This forces you to consider multiple weapon move-sets, a stun-meter mechanic and ranged elemental powers.
Of course, once you begin to restore Dex’s strength, he accompanies you and is capable of delivering devastating attacks and carrying you through dangerous terrain. Both standard enemies and bosses become more complex to defeat as you advance, so learning to juggle abilities is vital – including a crimson rage mode that is a lifesaver when you need to swiftly finish a fight.
Although have reason to bounce back and forth between locations – secret hunting and dealing with the Scourge invasions (think twisted and dark variants of existing levels) – Flynn: Son of Crimson has a distinctly classic world design. You move from stage to stage, in a mostly linear fashion, tackling distinctly themed areas, before occasionally returning to the hub town to sell hidden relics and upgrade your skills. This gives the game a great rhythm with constant character progression.
That said, it’s not without some flaws. Scourge invasions lock you into clearing a challenging level before you can progress with the main quest, while the keys you find to unlock combat-oriented arena stages force you to backtrack through a prior location until you reach the arena exit.
Thankfully, exploration is often a joy, even when backtracking. The incredibly detailed 16-bit-era backgrounds are beautiful, the sprites detailed and fluidly animated, and the soundtrack distinctly indie but epic. The experience only lasts 7-8 hours – dependant on your passion for secret hunting and optional arenas – but that’s perfect for its limited gameplay elements and brisk pacing. If you’re a fan of classic action-platformers or retro revivals, Flynn: Son of Crimson is well worth a look.