The popular video game genres, such as platformers and shooters, are self-explanatory. But there are lots of video game genres that aren’t so well-known.
In this article we look at some of the more niche 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 game. These works of interactive fiction are text-heavy and don’t feature much action at all. Typically, they’re played from a first-person perspective, and present you with a deep story and memorable characters.
Unlike many video games, the “gameplay” elements in a visual novel are pretty minimal. Most of the time, your interaction with the game is limited to advancing through text boxes, making dialog choices, and occasionally 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 wildly popular in Japan, so anime-style art is common in these games. They’ve recently become more popular outside of Japan thanks to a few key series, many of which you can enjoy right now.
A fantastic visual novel to get you started is the Ace Attorney series. In it, you play as Phoenix Wright and other lawyers who must defend their unjustly accused clients. Beyond that, we’ve looked at some other visual novels you should play, such as the Zero Escape series.
4X refers to a type of strategy game where you have four goals: to explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. Unlike some of the relatively simple gameplay 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 must manage 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’ll have to take into account the cultural and political consequences of your choices—what happens if your government doesn’t like that you declare war on your neighboring region?
The classic example of a 4X title is the Civilization series. If you’re looking for something a bit more accessible, try these 4X strategy games for Android.
3. Walking Simulator
While “walking simulator” is sometimes used as a derogatory term, it’s generally accepted as the name for a particular genre of adventure title. It refers to a narrative game that has few elements of gameplay aside from walking around and interacting with objects.
Typically, walking simulators drop you into a world and let you discover details about it through audio logs, documents, and similar items that you find. Because there’s no combat and minimal puzzle solving, the story is the focus.
You’ll like walking simulators if you enjoy the mystery of discovering a story through in-game data instead of cutscenes. Do walking simulators count as video games? It depends on how interactive you feel games should be, but many people enjoy them regardless.
If you want to give a walking simulator a try, The Stanley Parable is a fun example of this genre, as it’s quite meta. Firewatch is another popular walking simulator, where you play as a fire lookout in a forest.
The term “Metroidvania” is a combination of two game series: Metroid and Castlevania. Since 1997’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, both series have featured similar gameplay styles, giving birth to this genre.
A Metroidvania game features a large, complex map that you can’t access all from the start. Instead, you must explore and find upgrades that provide access to new areas. While new abilities let you access more of the map, they also serve as buffs for combat.
Many Metroidvania games feature epic boss battles, which often protect the upgrades. You can also find secret rooms that provide even more optional goodies. Thanks to the non-linear world design, there’s often backtracking to earlier areas to discover new paths you couldn’t reach earlier.
Most Metroidvania games are 2D, though not all are. While both series are of course a great place to experience the genre, Metroidvania is also a popular genre for modern indie titles. Hollow Knight is a great example because it doesn’t hold your hand while exploring. For something less intense, Ori and the Blind Forest serves as an excellent introduction to the genre.
MOBA stands for “multiplayer online battle arena.” It’s a combination of real-time strategy and action where two teams compete in a small arena, each trying to destroy the other’s base. Most MOBA maps feature three “lanes” that allow teams to travel between bases.
In a MOBA, each player typically selects one hero for the whole match. These heroes are broken up into classes based on their purpose, while each one also has various unique skills. During the course of a match in a MOBA, players defeat computer-controlled weak characters known as “creeps” to gain experience and make their characters more powerful.
Two well-known MOBAs are League of Legends and Dota 2 (Defense of the Ancients). Both are free-to-play and feature tons of characters to try out. Read our introduction to League of Legends to help you get started.
6. Clicker/Idle Game
A clicker game (also known as an idle or incremental game) refers to a title where the gameplay is limited to extremely basic interactions, such as clicking on the screen. Typically, you earn points each time you click. As you continue clicking, the game provides upgrades that let you earn more points more quickly.
After some time, these upgrades will begin to rack up points for you, even if you’re not actively “playing” them. This is where the “idle” term comes from. Many of them have no ending, though they include milestones you can work to achieve.
Cookie Clicker is one of the best-known free games you can win by clicking. Each click earns you a cookie, and you can eventually purchases factories and grandmas to bake even more cookies. AdVenture Capitalist is another clicker game where you start with a lemonade stand and work to earn as much money as possible.
This subgenre of RPGs gets its name from the classic 1980 computer game Rogue. One of its hallmarks is dungeon-crawling through procedurally generated areas, meaning the game is different every time you play. In addition, they feature permadeath, a mechanic which completely resets your progress once you die. “True” roguelikes also use tile-based movement and prioritize resource management.
Classic roguelikes are turn-based, but not all modern instances of the genre follow this rule. One close example is Darkest Dungeon, which is a procedurally generated turn-based RPG where character management is essential.
A subdivision of this genre is the roguelite. This terms refers to games that have some aspects of a roguelike, but lack others. One well-known and accessible roguelite is The Binding of Isaac. It features permadeath, but you can earn some upgrades that persist through playthroughs. The game is also not turn-based.
8. Tower Defense
Another subdivision of the strategy genre, tower defense games focus on you protecting a base or territory. Typically in these types of games, you strategically place defenses and obstructions, and must survive waves of incoming enemies.
As you’d expect from the name, what sets these 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 casual tower defense game. Kingdom Rush is another popular title in the genre.
What Video Game Genre Will You Play Next?
We’ve taken a look at many video game genres you might not know much about. Perhaps you’ve previously heard the names, but didn’t know what each genre entailed. Now that you do, you should play each one to expand your gaming horizons.
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