[Dtoid community blogger bbain played a TON of indie games at this year's PAX. Thankfully for us, he was also sober enough to remember all of them! Want to see your own words appear on the front page? Go write something! --Mr Andy Dixon]
Well, PAX Prime 2012 has come and gone, and I happened to have played an absurd amount of games while I was there. Since I've become particularly interested in indie games these past few years, I ended up spending most of my time at the Indie Megabooth, checking out the PAX 10 (the industry-selected 'top 10 indie games') as well as the other indie booths scattered around the convention. I wanted to share my thoughts on all of these wonderful games, so I thought I'd do a sort of mini-review of each of the indie games that I got a chance to play at PAX. This turned out to be a much larger post than I initially expected, so let us dilly-dally no longer and just get right into this thing! These will be listed in alphabetical order, because that is the easiest way. Here we go!
Fellow Dtoider knutaf has been raving about this game since the last PAX Prime, and this year he got me to try it for myself. I can now safely say that his obsession is justified; Antichamber is a really incredible game! Now, if you just watch someone else play the game, it might not make much sense. It's kind of difficult to tell what's going on until you actually begin playing the game yourself. Antichamber is a puzzle game which places you in a labyrinth where nothing seems to behave the way you'd expect. You'll find yourself unexpectedly falling through floors, discovering invisible platforms, seeing things that weren't there a second ago, and other mind-bending things. The game is all about exploring, trying out solutions, and remembering what you did so you can do it again later if you ever find yourself back in a familiar room. It's probably as difficult to describe as it is to watch, so you might just have to try the game for yourself before you understand what it's all about. If you ever get the chance to play it, it's definitely worth your time!
Bit.Trip Presents: Runner 2
A.K.A. Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien. I was already a huge fan of the Bit.Trip series before, so when I saw this game was playable at PAX, I got super excited! Sadly, I didn't play it long enough to actually beat the level I was playing, but I can say for sure that I'm getting this game as soon as it's released! The basic mechanics of Bit.Trip Runner are still there, but with slightly updated graphics, making the game look even more trippy than usual. They also added several new mechanics, such as keys which open locks later on in the levels and a button which makes Commander Video do a random dance move. The game looks and sounds fantastic, although I ran across a few problems with the controller not registering button presses quickly enough, which led to some very frustrating deaths. It might have just been the controller I was using, but if not then hopefully they'll fix those problems before the game's release date. I can't wait to have more Bit.Trippiness in my life!
This was my second favorite game that I played at PAX! In Guacamelee, you play as a luchador named Juan, who runs around performing wrestling moves on enemies and obstacles. You can also play co-op, with the other person playing as a female wrestler named Tostada. I played through co-op twice, once with knutaf and once with another guy who happened to be interviewing the developer. Tossing enemies across the room with sweet wrestling moves is very satisfying, and even more so when you grab them in midair after they've just been tossed by your co-op partner! The platforming and combat are both very smooth and fun, and the graphics are just beautiful! The story is rather bizarre and the dialog is very humorous. It's a solid game overall, and I look forward to the game's release! Also, at PAX the developers were holding a sort of contest where you could pose with an inflatable luchador and perform your own wrestling moves on it and they would take your photo, and if you're lucky enough, you might just end up as a character in the game! My luchador's name was El Frijole, and I've got my fingers crossed that he makes an appearance in the game!
Harold is an interesting racing/platforming game where you can control the track and environment rather than just the player. You can move parts of the track around and activate traps and things to slow down other racers while helping Harold take the lead. I found the game to be extremely difficult though, as it was very hard for me to focus on so many things at once. Trying to slow down other racers while helping Harold at the same time was a bit much, especially since you also have to press a button to make Harold jump. I feel like they should have programmed Harold to jump automatically if he reached a gap, but instead they added jumping to the list of things you have to keep track of in order to succeed. I'm sure the game would get easier with practice, but the few attempts I made at PAX to get through a race all ended terribly. The one thing I did really like about the game was the art direction. The game was beautiful, and the character designs and cutscenes made me think this could have easily been designed with a Pixar or Disney movie in mind. It came as no surprise, then, when I found out the studio had hired animators who have previously worked at Dreamworks, Pixar and Studio Ghibli! Neat!
This is a new game by the developers of Spacechem, which was sort of hidden away at PAX and didn't get much attention. It's an RTS card-based game with steam-powered robots set during the Civil War! It's an interesting premise, but unfortunately I'm not very big on real-time strategy games. I got to play the game with Beyamor, though, and he seemed to particularly enjoy it! You can do co-op or single player, so we tried the co-op. In co-op, each person get their own deck of cards, which will appear randomly at the bottom of the screen and you click and drag the cards that you want to use. The few levels we played were pretty straight-forward, and we only died a couple times through trial and error. They could have made some improvements to co-op, such as including the ability to equip weapon cards on the other player's robots to help them out, but overall it was really well done. If you're a fan of RTS games, keep an eye out for this one!
Johann Sebastian Joust
Joust is kind of a silly game that you play with a group of people and several PlayStation Move controllers. The goal is to jostle the other players' controllers enough to trigger a flashing red light, while keeping your own controller steady to stay in the game. While this is going on, classical music is playing in the background. Slower music means you have to be extra careful with your movements, but eventually the music will speed up, offering you more freedom to move about as you please. I actually had a lot of fun playing this with other people at PAX, and I could see it becoming a popular game to play at parties or with a small group of people. It's interesting to watch other peoples' strategies: lunging quickly at your foes, trying to sneak behind them when they're busy looking at someone else, dancing around them slowly waiting to see who makes the first move. One guy got me out by unexpectedly bumping me with his ass! Unfortunately, I probably won't be investing in any PlayStation Move controllers just to play this game anytime soon, but if I had some controllers in my possession, I'd definitely try it out with my friends!
Luftrausers is an updated version of the flash game Luftrauser by Vlambeer (or Not Vlambeer), the developers behind Super Crate Box. In Luftrausers, you'll be assigned a random aircraft with various possible weapons at its disposal, and your goal is to take down as many enemy planes as possible without dying. The control scheme makes this game very unique, as you'll find yourself flipping around, diving and flying in very unpredictable ways, but once you master the controls you can begin to strategize. You can hold down the attack button to shoot constantly, but releasing the attack button lets your aircraft repair itself. Enemy forces also increase in quantity and toughness the longer you play, so things can become very intense very quickly! I can see myself becoming just as addicted to this game as I was with Super Crate Box, so I'm definitely excited for its release!
Mark of the Ninja
I guess I don't really have to tell you how great this game is, since Destructoid already reviewed it for a 10/10 and people have been raving about it since its release shortly after PAX. I hadn't even heard of the game until I saw it at PAX, and I happened to stop by the booth right as someone finished the demo, so I got the chance to play it without having to wait in line. I'm not sure what else to say about it that hasn't been said by others, but I will say that it is definitely as awesome as everyone is making it out to be! Playing as a ninja has never felt so satisfying; sneaking around, climbing up walls, hanging from ceilings, making distractions, silently knifing people in the back... everything you would expect a ninja to be able to do can be done, and the controls are so fluid and responsive that you feel extra-badass when you string together a perfectly stealthy attack or slip by a group of guards without alerting their attention. Basically, it's everything I could have possibly wanted from a ninja game! The game is already out on XBLA now, but I hope to see a possible PSN or Steam release in the future!
Monaco has been on my radar for quite a while now, so it was a must-play for me when I saw the booth at PAX. It's marketed as a co-op action stealth game, which is a fair description. I played the game for a bit with knutaf, and while I'm still not entirely sure how to properly play the game, I still had fun stumbling around the maps trying to avoid detection and attempting to figure out what I actually should have been doing. I know it's a heist game, so you're trying to crack security, avoid guards and steal money/information, but the goals seemed a little unclear to me in the demo. A few things I did really like about the game: you can pick which class you'd like to play as, each with their own specialized set of skills; the line of sight for your characters is a very cool touch, with parts of rooms creeping in and out of your view as you approach them while the rest of the map remains a fuzzy greyness; the graphics are very sleek and visually appealing, the bright colors of the visible areas of the map contrast nicely with the black and white areas that you can't see. What I did see of the game I think I really liked; I'd just like to spend some more time with this game to figure out how to play it properly and understand what it's really all about. I'll still be keeping an eye out for this one!
Octodad: Dadliest Catch
It just so happens that I'm a huge fan of cephalopods, as well as a huge fan of the original Octodad, so this game was definitely relevant to my interests! Octodad 2 seems to be much of the same deal as the original freeware title, but with much more polished graphics and some new mechanics, as well as some added backstory to show how the fatherly octopus came to be. The Octodad games are all about adapting to the extremely bizarre control scheme, which will have your tentacled character slipping and flailing all about the screen in an attempt to pass as a human being and avoid being identified as the octopus that he actually is. The first game was so hilariously fun and unique that I'd definitely enjoy playing more of the same, and that's exactly what Octodad 2 seems to be offering. I eagerly await this game's release so that I can once again satisfy my octopus-loving mind!
Offspring Fling is the only game on this list that I'd actually played prior to PAX. It's a game by Kyle Pulver which was part of the PAX 10, and was released on Steam earlier this year. This game is adorable and super fun, and I was really excited to see it garnering some attention at PAX! It's a puzzle platformer where you play as a mother animal (some kind of adorable bunny/mouse/cat hybrid) trying to gather up all of her scattered children, and you can actually use the children to solve certain puzzles by throwing them at switches and stuff. The puzzles are very well designed, and it can be fun to go back to old levels and try to beat your times. I actually got a chance to speak with Kyle Pulver while I was checking out the Offspring Fling booth and chatted with him for a bit about my time with the game and how there was one level holding me back from getting a golden flower on every stage. He was very nice and was excited to talk about his game, and seemed very passionate about what he's doing. If you haven't checked out Offspring Fling yet, I definitely suggest giving it a look!
Part of the PAX 10, Puzzlejuice is basically Tetris combined with Boggle. I happen to love both Tetris and Boggle, so mixing them seamlessly into one great game is an absolutely perfect idea to me! In order to succeed in Puzzlejuice, you'll have to balance your attention to the shapes falling from the top of the screen and the letters that appear when you complete a row with those shapes. Spelling a word with those letters will give you points and free up some space, so being able to find words quickly is very important. Obviously, you'll get more points for larger words. Word games tend to be a forte of mine, so I had a ton of fun playing this at PAX. I even won a tournament they were holding, earning myself a Puzzlejuice t-shirt! I can definitely see myself becoming addicted to this game once I finally own it. The game is available now for iOS devices, which I am unfortunately lacking. I spoke to the developers about the possibility of seeing the game on other platforms, and they told me that a future PC version was probably the most likely, so I shall be waiting very (im)patiently for Puzzlejuice on PC!
Quadrilateral Cowboy is the new project by Blendo Games, the developer behind games such as Thirty Flights of Loving and Gravity Bone. It is essentially a hacking game. You are provided with a hacking deck which will give you clues and info necessary to hack into security systems so that you can safely navigate a highly secure building and avoid detection. I didn't actually play this game myself at PAX, as it seemed too overwhelming and complicated to me since I know nothing about code and that kind of stuff, but I watched knutaf play the demo and he seemed to be genuinely thrilled by the game! He also made the hacking look very easy, which may be due to his prior knowledge of coding, or perhaps the game is particularly good at teaching you the rules. Either way, the game certainly looked compelling enough. I might have to finally try it out for myself someday to see if it's really as complicated as it looks, because if it turns out to be easy enough to understand, then it might be a game I'd thoroughly enjoy playing!
Snapshot is another game by Kyle Pulver (see Offspring Fling!). It's his newest game which was just recently released on Steam, and it seems to contain the same sense of charm as his previous games. Having played several of his other games in the past, such as Offspring Fling, depict1 and Verge, I recognized the graphical style immediately, and so of course I had to play it. Snapshot is another puzzle platformer, where you can photograph certain objects in the environment to move them around and use them elsewhere in the level as platforms or whatever else you might need. It's a strange but interesting concept, and I can see how it could lead to some very challenging puzzles. Once again, the level design is very polished, and the graphics are colorful and charming, much like the rest of Kyle Pulver's games. I'm definitely planning to pick this one up soon!
Splice was another PAX 10 entry. It's a puzzle game where you move cells around by splicing them to balance them out and form a target structure. Moving one cell could also force other cells to move as well, so you have to pay very close attention to how the individual cells interact with each other if you ever hope to win. It actually took a lot of experimenting to finally figure out what I was doing exactly, since nothing is really explained to you beforehand. Once you figure out how everything in the game works, you can finally start forming strategies. I found that the majority of the levels I played could be solved with a single splice, although it usually took a lot of thinking and experimenting before I arrived at a solution. The game also has particularly beautiful music! The song that was playing got stuck in my head for the rest of the day, and I didn't mind. If you're a fan of puzzle games, I definitely recommend looking into this one! It's available now on Steam, so check out the demo if you're interested!
This is another game that had been on my radar long before I attended PAX. I'd been hearing about this game for a few years now, and so I immediately gravitated toward the booth as soon as I saw it. This was actually the very first game I got to play at PAX, and I was joined by Beyamor. The game doesn't seem to have changed all that much graphically from the videos I'd watched of it previously; it still has the same 'placeholder' artwork, which I actually don't mind, to be honest. If that's how the game looks once it's finished, I will still buy it and play the hell out of it, because it's a damn fun game! Playing as the Spy is super interesting. You have to observe the behavior of the NPCs and try to mimic them as best you can, so that you don't get caught by the Sniper while you're trying to accomplish your tasks. The game is all about subtlety, patience, and observational skills. You get quite a rush as you're planting bugs on ambassadors, switching out statues and contacting double agents, all while a Sniper scope is watching your every move, waiting for you to slip up. Playing as the Sniper can be just as exciting, trying to watch everyone carefully, marking targets that you want to pay closer attention to, and trying to discover the Spy before it's too late. It's already an incredible game, and I can't wait to see how the final product turns out!
Super Time Force
This was my favorite game that I played at PAX, and based on everyone else's reactions, it seems like it was one of the most popular titles at the convention! Super Time Force is the new game by Capybara Games, the studio that brought us Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. Super Time Force is a game about time travel, where your team of characters go back in time to try and change certain events from the past. In the demo, which I got to play taking turns with Swishiee, you were tasked with saving the dinosaurs by preventing a meteor from crashing into the Earth. To do this, your characters must shoot and fight their way through the levels, which are filled to the brim with dangerous enemies attacking you and firing at you from every direction. If you die, you just select a new character and start over, but here's the kicker: every character that is killed carries over into your next attempt, and performs the exact same actions that they just performed when you were playing as them. All future deaths keep stacking, so eventually you may have 10-20 characters that you played filling the screen, shooting down enemies to help your new character make their way to the end. Checkpoints are also very interesting, as they're not in a set location. Instead, you can go to the location of your last character's death and 'save' them, creating a checkpoint to start from temporarily. I overheard some other people talking about the game as being a sort of "co-op game that you can play with yourself," which is kind of an absurd idea, but that's essentially what the game is. It's an awesome game with sweet graphics, hilarious dialog and crazy fun gameplay, and I can't freaking wait to play more of it!
This was another PAX 10 entry, one which does not yet have a set release date or specified platforms. The Swapper is a very strange, atmospheric puzzle platformer which equips your character with a device that can create clones of yourself and transfer consciousness between those clones. You'll be exploring a creepy abandoned space station, and the puzzles involve aiming the device to create clones in places that you can't otherwise reach, and then taking control of those clones' bodies to activate switches and proceed forward. There were several puzzles that completely stumped me during the demo, so it's likely going to be a particularly difficult game. The visuals were interesting, featuring seemingly 3D-looking art on a 2D plane, very eerie and beautiful. The sound effects and music helped to enhance the creepy atmosphere and sense of isolation that the game seemed to be going for. The Swapper seems like a very promising title, so be sure to keep an eye out for future details about the game's development and release!
...And that about wraps things up here! There were many more games that I played at PAX, but these were the most memorable for me, as well as the most indie! Did any of these games strike your fancy? Anything you're looking forward to or interested in hearing more about? Any awesome games that I missed? There were several more games that I really wanted to play, but never got the chance. Let me know in the comments!