PAX Prime always designates an entire area of the exhibit hall solely to Indie titles. Booth after booth of smaller developers trying to get their games noticed.
I like to make a pass through this area and recount the best games I find, because it’s 2014 and you don’t need to be a triple A developer to make really good games.
Galak Z: The Dimensional
The first thing I thought when I saw this title was: “Damn that’s some straight Robotech lookin’ action”.
As it turns out, that was pretty spot on. Galak Z stood out in a few ways, but chief among them was how space-y it felt. Developer 17-bit did zero-G physics, animation, and movement extremely well. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when they told me it was a “rogue-like space combat game”, but once I got my hands on it, I was pleasantly surprised with how well that worked.
Players essentially navigate through randomly generated areas that consist of asteroids or debris, as they attend to find mission objective and fight off various space enemies. The controls were a bit difficult at times, but I got the feeling that’s because I wasn’t very good at handling my ship. That’s not a bad thing though, as the game appeared to have a high skill ceiling and I could see mastering it being a ton of fun.
Definitely a game someone could sit down with for a few hours at a time.
Salt and Sanctuary
I didn’t get as much time with this game as with the others, but it’s a grim 2-D action/adventure game. It has RPG elements, platforming bits, and pretty great visuals. This one appealed to me specifically, because not only do I love this grittier fantasy stuff, but I really like the feeling of isolation you get as a single protagonist making your way through a bleak, monster infested landscape.
While the background art was gorgeous, the character models and animations (for the player and enemies alike) left a bit to be desired. The game was a bit slow at times, literally, as the player had to spend a bit too long between objects of interest. Still though, this is a game that I’d look into because it seems like it has enough potential to be better than the demo might suggest.
I immediately want to say this was the best game I saw at the indie booth this year. Amazing art work (that was very reminiscent of the Hellboy comics), clever mechanics, and an interesting narrative back drop make Darkest Dungeon a seemingly top tier RPG.
Players acquire various party members and venture forth from town into dungeons where they fight various monsters and collect treasure. Sounds pretty basic, right? In addition to the animations (and action camera close ups during fights, which was just so spot on), here are some interesting additions to a pretty standard formula:
In a vein similar to old Call of C’thulu games, all party members have a Stress (or Sanity) meter, in addition to their health. If their Stress gets too high, they can lose their composure and be subject to a wide array of negative conditions. However, interestingly, these characters can also rise to the occasion and receive a serious of various improvements. Granted this happens less often, but man did it feel awesome when it did.
Also, a player’s party must carry torches through dungeons. The brighter the torch, the weaker the enemies, but the loot will become less valuable. Players can therefore balance their own risk/reward states to whatever they’re comfortable with. The can carry new torches with them, or camp in any empty room, where players can a myriad of options to strengthen their team for the day to come. I really liked this latter twist, where “resting” doesn’t just replenish health (in fact it doesn’t necessarily do that at all). Rather, players receive 10 Action Points that they can spend on various tasks, such as sharpening their weapons to increase damage, healing each other, taking precautions to become less likely to contract negative statuses… Being able to do so much there was really cool, as a seasoned RPG player.
This is a title I will want to run through from start to finish. For sure.
Screen Cheat is every N64 local competitive multiplayer shooter with a twist. Everyone is invisible and you must watch your opponents screen to find out where they are.
A simple change, but it was enough to make the game far more frantic. They undermine it a little bit by still having weapon effects visible to other players (the smoke from a gun or the trail left behind after charging, for instance), but that’s not really a huge problem.
Screen watching was something everyone did anyways, but putting an emphasis on such a “meta-game” aspect was a cool twist. This game was hectic fun for the time we played it, but the maps are very small and the weapon choices somewhat meaningless (since you’ve nothing to aim at, you’re all just shooting at random anyway). There were some balance issues as well, the hobbyhorse for instance was broke as hell in confined corridor levels.
All in all, it was a decently fun game, but not one I’d spent money on just yet.
If you haven’t heard the pitch, Miegakure is a “4 dimensional platformer”. What, you might be thinking, the hell is that? Well, here’s the best way to describe it:
Imagine a 2D platformer where you move along the X-axis and the Y-axis. Now, rotate the axes so that you’re moving along the X and Z. Then Z and Y. Then back to X and Y. You’re interacting with three dimensions, but only two at any one time.
Now do that with 4 dimensions and walk around in 3 at a time.
Madness… or so you might think.
While the concept of Miegakure is a really grand one, something that evokes notions that this game must be amazingly impressive, or something so much different than anything else ever, it actually falls quite a bit short of that. What the game breaks down to is that you have a “dimensional shift” button which changes the landscape. What the landscape changes into is based on where you’re standing. What that means is that if you stand in the same spot, and shift, you’ll end up with the same resulting configuration every time.
Where this all goes is that Miegakure is a puzzle game that relies entirely on trial and error. I don’t know about you, but having a cabin turn into a desert that turns into a river isn’t exactly a set of scenarios I can predict. If I can’t predict what’s going to happen before I try, then I’m essentially going through the game at random until I happen upon the goal. Now there are some measures you can take, if you want to push a block but can’t, you should probably be shifting around where that block is, but where specifically you should be is pretty much discovered at random.
The hallmark of a good puzzle game is one where you can use your past experiences to discern patterns in more complex puzzles. Synthesize given information to see a cleverly hidden solution. Miegakure does not have that. It has trial and error around a block until you shifted on the right panel to be able to push it.
I don’t think I’m going to follow up with this game.
Super Meat Boy Forever
What I expected from Super Meat Boy Forever was a Super Meat Boy themed perpetual runner. I did not expect it to feel like Super Meat Boy. It was, however, totally Super Meat Boy. Still with me? Good.
Intended for play on mobile devices, there are essentially only two controls: jump up or fall down (which was also slide if you were on the ground). Super Meat Boy Forever demanded some pretty precise timing. Death was frequent, but you’re able to restart the play session so fast that it didn’t really matter. I would have to say that the number one thing that made it feel like Super Meat Boy, however, was wall jumping. If players ran into a wall, they could jump off of it back the way they came. This feature was required to navigate many of the games puzzles, but could also be used to save yourself if you mistimed a jump and fell into a pit.
The camera, however, did not go backwards, so if you jumped into the left side of the screen it was simply considered to have been a hazard and the player would die. Though this didn’t seem to be the case if you were on the ground running to the left, in which case you’d simply change directions.
This is a time waster. Something to boot up while you wait for your significant other to order coffee. It would never be the main focus of my gaming life, but for something meant to be played on a cell phone in a waiting room, Super Meat Boy Forever delivers.
Gemini was an odd game tucked around the back of the indie booth, but the art was extremely clean looking and I didn’t really understand what was going on as I watched others play. Curious about what was happening in the game, I spoke with the developers and gave it a shot.
As it turns out, nothing really was happening. I mean, you control a star, and have to stay near another star so that you can fly upwards and light up a tree of stars. There… wasn’t really a point to any of it. The companion star was supposed to represent the notion of working together with another personality (so the devs said) but the AI was too simplistic and it was easy to manipulate the star into doing what you wanted. In the end you were just flying upwards seeing things light up. Then the game was over.
I mean, the game had its high points. The art was really clean, as I said, but the music also was very soothing. It was a fine relaxing experience but it was just sort of boring. There was no hook and I never really bought into anything that was going on.
Sorry guys, Gemini is not one to spend too much time looking at at this point in time.