EGX 2016 indie game highlights
| John Kemp | Event, Roundup
Tags: Aaero, Acrosplat, Blockships, Brut@l, EGX, Flat Heroes, Jump Stars, Laser Disco Defenders, Never Give Up, Super Rude Bear Resurrection
I recently attended EGX 2016 and the star of the show for me was definitely the indie games on display. While the triple-A games dominated the floor space (and the noise production), the indie games were greater in number and showed incredible variety and innovation that the larger developers and publishers simply can’t manage.
This post summarises some of my favourite indie games from the show, with each entry consisting of a snippet from the official site or Steam page followed by my own thoughts. Don’t worry if you don’t see your own game here; it doesn’t mean I’m saying it’s bad, just that it either wasn’t to my personal taste or I simply didn’t have time to play it. So, in no particular order, my picks from EGX 2016.
Super Rude Bear Resurrection
Rude Bear is a gangster bear from East London who’s summoned back in time to medieval England by his mortal nemesis, The Wizard, and forced to overcome challenges that are so lethal he’ll (probably) need to be resurrected hundreds of times to stand any chance of getting out.
Super Rude Bear Resurrection (or SRBR) is the sort of platformer where you’ll die over and over and over again. This one has a twist though: your corpses are still there when you respawn, allowing you to use them to get past traps more easily. None of the levels require you to die in order to become possible to finish, but it does act as a neat self-balancing mechanism where no level should be impossible for a player of any skill level. This means the main challenge is in completing the levels with minimal deaths rather than being able to complete the level at all.
Join the iconic Red, Blue, Yellow, Purple, Orange and yes, even Green blobs as they set out to join the circus. Be careful, almost anything can make a paint blob go SPLAT! (Though if you know what you’re doing, splatting isn’t always a bad thing…)
Acrosplat is a mobile game where you fling goo of several colours from platform to platform with the goal of getting the right colour goo into a bucket at the end. You can change the required colour by sacrificing a piece of goo into the bucket and you can allow goo to go through a wall by splatting another goo of the same colour against it. The wall splatting also relies heavily on combining colours, for example making a wall traversable by a green goo by splatting blue and yellow goo against it. In the early game you get time to think, but things quickly ramp up with the introduction of moving sawblades. Me and Jupiter had a race to the end of the demo, which she narrowly won (next time…).
Jump Stars takes place on the different sets of an abandoned TV studio – where the host just did not want to give up his day job and decided to create his very own show. The host has been kidnapping contestants to take part in his newly, and poorly renovated, ludicrously dangerous gameshow; Jump Stars! Where the props aren’t made from foam, where punching is just as important as points, and where the floor really is lava.
Jump Stars is a fun multiplayer game where each player takes control of a box character (with a range of customisation options) and attempts to either win at a series of mini-games or work together to get the highest total score. The competitive and cooperative modes are both a lot of fun, with my own personal preference being for the cooperative mode. Each mini-game has different mechanics (running to cold spots in a fire level, avoiding mechanical arms that try to knock you off the platform, descending platforms in a vertical autoscroller, and so on) but the way to obtain points is always the same: survive as long as possible and stand on special platforms when they light up with your colour. I see a lot of party multiplayer potential in this game and it’s one of those games that anyone can pick up and play.
Brut@l is a modern re-imagining of the classic ASCII dungeon crawler. Choose your hero: Ranger, Mage, Warrior or Amazon then descend into a procedurally generated world constructed entirely from ASCII letters. With perma-death, weapon crafting, potion brewing and an onslaught of enemies to face, can you survive Brut@l?
I have to confess, when I first heard about Brut@l and saw some screenshots I dismissed it as just another dungeon crawler. Having now seen it in the flesh I’ve found it is much more than that. I love the aesthetic—they’ve done so much with a very limited palette (essentially just black and white for the most part)—but the most original thing about the game is how they’ve drawn inspiration from old text-based dungeon crawlers. A lot of objects incorporate the character they would have been represented by in a text-based game and crafting/enchanting is via collection of the appropriate characters. There is even a map view based on the gameplay map in text-based games. Combine this with some very smooth animation and co-op gameplay and I’d say they’re onto a winner.
Laser Disco Defenders
Join the Laser Disco Defenders on their quest to defeat the evil Lord Monotone and prevent him from using the coveted Mirror Moon to force the galaxy into dancing along to his, and only his, tune.
At first Laser Disco Defenders looks like your typical bullet hell, just with brighter colours and a funkier soundtrack. There is one important different however—the levels are all enclosed and any shots you fire remain within the level indefinitely. Welcome to the world of self-inflicted bullet hell. This game is all about precision because the more you spray-and-pray the harder you are making the level for yourself. This is a fun twist to the core mechanic and it certainly makes you think a bit more than you otherwise would about exactly how wild you want to be with your lasers. I don’t have much more to say on this game, but if your interests lie at the intersection of bullet hell shooters and 70s disco music, well… they’ve just created the perfect game for you.
A game about building a bigger, better ship whilst blasting your buddies' to bits (and shouting about it). It is a local multiplayer party/arena game and challenges you to strike the right balance between speed, power, manoeuvrability, and of course fun :)
Blockships is a competitive multiplayer game that I would put alongside Jump Stars as a great party game. The core mechanic is that you build your ship out of blocks that spawn into the arena, but you do this during the fight while under fire from the other players. There are only three types of block (weapon, engine, and power), making the game fun and frantic rather than one where you have to carefully consider the combinations you’re creating. That said, you do have to consider the balance between weapons and engines based on your available power. Do you want to be fast to get around to your opponent’s weakspot or do you want to simply obliterate everything that gets in front of you? This is a game that anyone can pick up and play, though I would suggest that it would heavily favour those with a slightly more tactical mind.
Aaero is a new, unique and exhilarating ‘musical rail-shooter’, created by an indie micro-studio, featuring a kick-ass licensed soundtrack and coming to Xbox One, PS4 and PC in 2016.
It has been a long time since I’ve seen a rhythm or music based game that really captured my attention, but Aaero managed to do exactly that. You pilot a ship and aim to follow particular paths based on the music playing while also shooting at enemy ships. As per most games of this type, any description I give won’t really give you the full picture, so I encourage you to watch some gameplay footage to see it for yourself. In fact, that’s good advice for all of the games mentioned here. I really like what I’ve heard so far of the Aaero soundtrack and in my opinion the musical style fits the game perfectly. The example levels I saw on display at EGX didn’t lean heavily on the player’s twitch movement skills, but I expect that some much more intricate levels will be available in the final release.
Never Give Up
Never Give Up is a face-smackingly hard platformer about one stickman’s adventure to find himself. Break free of the testing environment, roam across the land, battle bosses, and die over and over and over again as you seek your truth.
Never Give Up is similar to Super Rude Bear Resurrection in that it’s a platformer that will try its hardest to kill you over and over again. In this case, however, instead of a bear you are controlling a stickman trying to get out of a testing environment and into the (very dangerous) world. The levels shown at EGX appeared to act as a tutorial, essentially providing you with the same level multiple times, but with an additional hazard added in each iteration. The player was also in a race against the clock, though I suspect this was more to do with the practicalities of demonstrating the game at a show than something that will be present in the final game. While not gameplay related, a feature that might set this apart from other similar games is that the voice acting is provided by none other than Egoraptor (Arin Hanson) of Game Grumps fame, though the voice clips aren’t in depth and seem to largely consist of single words exclaimed when you die. Overall I found the game to be fun, and suitably frustrating when you forget about a trap. Again. And again.
Flat Heroes is a minimalist super intense local multiplayer game with special care put into the game-feel and polishing of every detail in a trendy graphic experience. The game includes multiple cooperative and competitive modes for 1-4 players and features squares!
Flat Heroes is another multiplayer game, perfect for getting some people together on a couch and having fun. Both cooperative and competitive modes are available and there is a single player option as well. While at EGX I played both modes and, as usual, found the cooperative Waves mode to be my personal favourite. In this mode the players simply have to survive through increasingly difficult levels, initially requiring them to stay out of the way of laser blasts that shoot in patterns across the screen and later adding other types of hazard to avoid. The level is passed if at least one player survives, but carrying the team definitely brings some bragging rights. The competitive modes (or, at least, the one I tried) require you to fire a “pulse” that destroys any players in a small range around you. This enables some very visually pleasing kills by combining the dash move with a pulse as you slam another player into the side wall, or drop from the top of the arena onto a couple of unsuspecting players and take them both out.
Mao Mao Castle
While not technically a game on display at EGX, I did get the chance to play Mao Mao Castle when I met up with it’s creator so I’m awarding it a honourable mention here. The thing that makes this extra interesting was that I got to play it on a Leap Motion controller, which is a very different experience to playing it using a mouse. While the controller isn’t perfect, it’s undeniably fun to move things on the screen by waving your hand around.
So there you have it, my favourite indie games out of the ones I got a chance to play at EGX. There were a huge number of other games that I either didn’t play or weren’t to my personal taste but I’ve heard good things about from other people, so I highly recommend checking out the others as well. In particular I only played one of the games from the Leftfield Collection (Flat Heroes) and there are always some gems hidden away in there. Noaksey has also published a list of his favourite games from the show and it’s almost entirely different to mine, so take a look there as well, and discussion with Jupiter Hadley tells me that her favourites are different again. The full list of games can be found on the EGX website in the Rezzed Zone and Leftfield Collection sections.