The lights are on
Stepping onto the PAX Prime 2012 show floor, you’re immediately greeted with the huge, elaborately lit booths of major video game publishers like Microsoft and Sony. These spectacles cram huge statues and loud music in your face to promote their multi-million dollar, AAA titles. But tucked away just beyond the glitz and glamour is the Indie Mega Booth. What these booths lack in attention-grabbing gravitas, they more than make up for in originality and charm. Here’s a list of the best indie games we saw at PAX Prime 2012.
Code HeroPlatform: PCDeveloper: Primer LabsRelease: TBA
This ambitious PC game makes a game out of making games. Using the Unity game engine, Code Hero starts off with a tour of a virtual university. The first challenge involves editing lines of code so that a dragon’s HP is lowered to 5, allowing you to defeat it and continue. The next challenge teaches you how to create a floor, then leaves it up to you to figure out how to make a ramp to the exit. The final challenge of the game tasks players with making a full, functional game that can be played by fellow aspiring devs. I went from never having seen programming code to doing it myself within 10 minutes.
Octodad: Dadliest CatchPlatform: PCDeveloper: Young HorsesRelease: 2013
This goofy physics-based game puts you in control of an octopus stuffed into a business suit. Mundane tasks like sweeping the floor or mowing the lawn are made hilarious thanks to Octodad’s awkward appendages. If you crack up at the physics foibles of Sumo Tori or rag doll, you’ll get a kick out of Octodad.
Don’t StarvePlatform: PCDeveloper: Klei EntertainmentRelease Date: TBA
Part Tim Burton vibe, part gritty survival tale, Don’t Starve taps into the resource gathering addiction begun by games like Minecraft. Players explore gloomy woods, hunting for twigs, flint, and other supplies they can use to make tools like axes or build fires and shelter. Like Minecraft, being caught after nightfall without shelter leaves you vulnerable to attacks by evil critters like spiders. The unique 2D visuals and simple-yet-addicting crafting makes this one to look out for.
Charlie MurderPlatform: 360Developer: Ska StudiosRelease: TBA
This upcoming XBLA game combines River City Ransom-style brawling with the dark, sadistic style of Dishwasher: Dead Samurai. Up to four players assume different band mates on a bloody rampage. Players wield flamethrowers, katanas, and ride motorcycles across a variety of morbid, inky levels. Charlie Murder looks like it will allow you to enjoy the snappy, gory gameplay of the Dishwasher series, but with up to three friends.
Delver’s DropPlatform: PC, Mac, iOS, AndroidDeveloper: PixelscopicRelease: TBA
This top-down roguelike takes players through a series of monster-filled dungeons. It’s early in development, but Delver’s Drop has a unique look that reminds me of Bastion. Players hack and slash bats and other common enemies on a quest for keys to open doors and explore every room. The physics are floatier than most games in the genre. Even the basic warrior class slides around a bit as he moves. Pixelscopic says the game may include a wizard that floats above the floor or a barbarian that is more rooted to the earth, providing different play styles.
Super Time ForcePlatform: 360Developer: CapyRelease: 2013
This single-player downloadable title by the creators of Swords & Sworcery combines elements of Contra and Braid. Players choose one of four characters on a quest to battle enemy soldiers and dinosaurs from the “Jurassic Park days.” Each death rewinds the game to your last checkpoint, at which point you begin playing again alongside the ghost of your former self. After many deaths, the screen is filled with your ghosts and their guns-a-blazing, which can still affect enemies in the present. The Cartoon Network-quality cutscenes exude a quirky sense of humor comparable to Adventure Time and Ren & Stimpy. This is already one of the funniest games I’ve ever seen.
Dragon Fantasy: Book IIPlatform: PS3/VitaDeveloper: MutekiRelease: 2013
Developer Muteki’s goal is to take the best elements of 16-bit RPGs and roll them into one epic tribute. Enemies appear on the battlefield, eschewing unwanted random battles. Fights don’t teleport you to an alternate battle screen, similar to Crono Trigger. Dragon Fantasy: Book II even emulates the SNES’s Mode 7 world traversal. The game also supports Sony’s cross-buy and cross-save initiative, allowing you to swap play between your PS3 and Vita without added expense.
The BridgePlatform: PS3, 360, PCDeveloper: Ty Taylor & Mario CastanedaRelease: Spring 2013
One day a man falls asleep below an apple tree. He awakens when one of the dangling fruits conks him on the head, similar to Isaac Newton. Unlike Newton, our hero realizes he can now control gravity. Instead of controlling the protagonist, players rotate the world of The Bridge, guiding their character towards the exit. Hazards like giant rolling boulders and swirling vortexes complicate things along the way. The sketch book art style and mind-bending M.C. Escher-inspired levels blend together into mesmerizing works of art. You can look forward to solving nearly 50 of the game’s addictive puzzles next year.
The SwapperPlatform: PCDeveloper: FacepalmRelease: 2013
This atmospheric 2D title places players on an abandoned space station with the power to clone themselves. Time slows as players place their clones in the environment, allowing their doppelgangers to throw switches or access unreachable areas. You can even transfer your consciousness into other clones, allowing your present self to perish without consequence. If the body your mind is inhabiting dies, you respawn at the last checkpoint. Developer Facepalm has scanned real life objects like leaves and clay character models into the game, creating a faux-stop motion look that lends the game a subtle creepiness.