PAX Indie Recommendations

I’m going to take some time to redirect my tiny little soapbox to something other than Dota for a bit.  Don’t worry.  There will be actual Dota stuff coming this week, and maybe even something tonight if I can get it done.

Anyway, I have a soft spot for indie games, probably deriving from my deep-seated desire to ignore the last decade and a half of mainstream gaming, so here’s a quick list of the coolest stuff I got to play over the weekend.

Sokobond

SokoBondLogoSokoBondScreenshot1

Probably the nicest people I met over the entire weekend, if for nothing else than their ability to not explode into a gibbering mess of rage every time they get asked “So it’s like SpaceChem?”  Sokobond is a collection of chemistry-themed brain teasers that revolve around using atomic bond to form molecules while the structure of each stage conspires against you.  As you finish more puzzles, you unlock new areas that revolve around features like atom splitting, rotation, double-bonding, and inert atoms.  It’s minimalist, but a lot of fun.  It was also pretty surprising how hype a group of onlookers could get over a single player puzzle game.

It’s available now and on sale (for 18 more hours) for $8.50, and available on PC, Mac and Linux.  iOS and Android versions are in the works, and it also has a Greenlight entry on Steam.

Super Avalanche

 

AvalancheScreenshot

Super Avalanche had another nice group, particularly the part where they sent me a free copy of their game for placing in a high score contest that I didn’t even know I was entering.  Look at me, exchanging good reviews for free stuff.  It’s almost like I’m a real games journalist.

In all seriousness, this is a fun little game that takes some aesthetic cues from the SNES era of Mario games.  It also has rather solid platforming physics, complete with a wall jump that’s actually predictable and responsive.  The gameplay is almost like if you had someone playing Tetris really badly for all eternity as you frantically strive to climb their insanely placed structures.  On top of this, you have an item and mission progression system that’s reminiscent of the recent trend of genre-blurring Roguelikes like Binding of Isaac.  It all comes together quite well as the kind of game that you can both pick up for 15 minutes to clear your head or sit down with for hours as you try to beat your latest high score.

Of the games I played, this one is probably in the earliest stage of production, so some things are still a bit rough.  They’re running with a Minecraft-esque eternal beta, where you can purchase early access for a reduced price of $4.99 and receive automatic updates as they’re released.  They also have a Greenlight.

 

Lovers in a

Dangerous

Spacetime

 

LoversSpaceTimeScreen

I don’t know much about Lovers, except that the demo was an extremely frantic co-op experience.  The obvious comparison on a purely physics level is Asteroids, but the actual pacing feels a lot more like a shmup, with the twist being that instead of innately controlling the vehicle as a whole, you and your partner must juggle your attention between managing all the different subsystems ( the thruster, 4 turrets, shielding, and the giant, rotating laser of doom).  My favorite part was finding out that you could kill enemies with your afterburners, even if reveling in this discovery got me into more trouble than it was worth.

There’s no announced release date, though it is tentatively scheduled for this year, and I don’t know much about the game beyond my short demo experience, but I’m really interested in seeing where this one goes.  It feels like a concept with an incredible potential for expansion, which each new ship design or hostile encounter creating an entirely new and different way to experience the game.

Towerfall

Flight

Towerfall is a four-player competitive party game that had a massive, cheering crowd built up every time I was in the Indie expo hall.  I’m a sucker for competitive free-for-all games and Towerfall completely delivers.  Each player begins the game with a quiver partially-full of arrows.  As you attempt to snipe each other, missed arrows will lodge into the walls, so the second phase of action revolves around an ammo collection resource war.  Each stage is full of chests that can give you bonuses like extra arrows or a damage prevention shield, or they can buff your arrows into things like wall-bouncing laser arrows or wall-penetrating drill arrows,  Each round lasts for about a half a minute or until three of the players are dead, and the ultimate goal is to be the first player to get to ten kills.  When starting a set, you have your choice of multiple stage themes, and each stage theme comes with a number of different stage designs that it rotates between during the rounds.  And since this is still ostensibly a Dota blog, one of the characters also bears a bit of a resemblance to Windrunner

tooSlow

Why do you hate gingers so…” (click for animation)

Towerfall is technically already out, and by ‘technically’ I mean ‘only on Ouya.’  I’ve heard that an eventual PC release is likely, so keep an eye out for that if you have any kind of a craving for 4-player FFA chaos.

Honorable mentions go out to Transistor and Hotline Miami 2, even though I didn’t actually play either.  What I saw of them suggests that if you liked Bastion and Hotline Miami, you’ll be pretty happy with these next offerings.  I also skipped over Rogue Legacy since I had already played the demo before this weekend.  Divekick was another big game this weekend, but it’s also one I had already played some.  I will say that the Divekick tournament had a pretty incredible turnout for something that was squeezed in just before PAX closed on Sunday night, and it also makes a great game to play in line with somebody on the Vita.

Finally, I’d like to mention Wildstar.  It’s certainly not indie, but I’ve been interested in the evolution of MMOs since the Lum the Mad days, so deal with it I guess.

Anyway, my take on Wildstar from what I’ve played is one of cautious optimism.  It’s impossible to be much more specific than that since MMOs can blow up on you in any number of different ways, and I’ve only seem small cuts from two different sections of the leveling portion of the game.  Howevern, what I’ve seen from those sections has been largely positive.  Even at level 1 the game gives you a number of interesting buttons to push unlike FFXIV, and the world is much more vibrant and distinct than, say, Rift.  In the level 25 section of the demo, one of the most interesting things was how non-linear the quest progression was, with what I assume was the path choices giving you a wide variety of possible tasks to choose from when entering the area.  These may all seem like fairly minor points, but they’re a really big deal when it comes to making that MMO world have the initial appeal it needs to maintain a sufficient population.

What I might have been even more impressed by was how the staff at the booth was willing to talk about the intended direction of the game without dancing around the inevitable comparisons to other MMOs, and particularly WoW.  It felt to me that they were prepared to explain why they’ve chosen the features in the game and had a working knowledge of the history behind how we’ve gotten to where we are.  In short, the worst WoW-clones give themselves away when they frantically pretend to not be a WoW-clone, and the Wildstar staff didn’t give me the impression that they were trained to frantically deny the comparison.  The impression that I got was that the Wildstar dev team understands where they stand in relation to WoW and have some fairly clear ideas about how they intend to differentiate themselves from WoW.  Now, that’s not a guarantee that they’ll pull it off, but it’s a fairly enheartening stance.

It’s still definitely part of the WoW genealogy, so Ultima Online purists are going to complain about it, but if you don’t have a deep aversion to theme park MMOs and aren’t scared off by a monthly subscription fee (that appears to be adopting some EVE online style player economy for gametime), then Wildstar might have some potential.  Still, cautious optimism.

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