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The Unusual And Brilliant Indie Games Of TGS 2015

by Matt Miller on Sep 18, 2015 at 07:12 AM

I can’t imagine the indie teams that made the trek to Tokyo for this year’s big Japan game show could have been especially pleased about their placement. Set aside in a hall far removed from the main convention space, and adjacent to the merchandise booths visited by only a small number of show attendees, the message came across loud and clear that indie titles haven’t quite breached the mainstream in the Japanese gaming scene. And that’s too bad, because when set against the glut of me-too mobile titles and other familiar fare in the main halls of this year’s show, many of the indie titles looked amazing.

While the hall placement wasn’t great, the dedicated setup area for the visiting indie teams was large and included dozens of options. We’ve chosen a few of our favorites to share. 

Black Witchcraft
Developer: Quattro Gear

This side-scrolling action-title doesn’t have any trouble capturing one’s eye. Beautiful visuals echo Vanillaware’s Odin Sphere, which is on purpose – the team at Quattro Gear cites that game as a chief inspiration. You play one of two witch character leads in this goth twist on the formula. One wields a katana in battle, but we got to play with the other heroine – Ligeia – who wields a magic suitcase that can transform into a spear, axe, gatling gun, and more. The combo focused action has you juggling weak, strong, and skill attacks, along with pulling in summons, like a maid-shaped demon who shoots a bazooka. I fought an enjoyable boss battle against Death, who appeared as a towering undead bride. Quattro Gear is aiming for a 2016 release for this stunningly pretty project, and they plan for players to have lots of platform options with a release on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows
Developer: Witching Hour Studios

Masquerada has been making the convention rounds in recent months, and each time the game is making strides. The game is inspired by classic RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Dragon Age. You play from an isometric perspective, and engage in battles that can be fought both in real time, or in a pause-and-play format that recalls the recent Transistor. In the game world city of Ombre, magic can be used, but only by those with the power of special masks. The story follows hero Cicero as he works to challenge the Masquerada, a group of individuals who have hoarded the masks for themselves. Fully voice acted narrative and a beautiful art style help Masquerada stand out, which it especially aims to do when it releases on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac in April of next year.

Lost In Harmony
Developer: Digixart Entertainment

I’m thoroughly charmed by this self-described “narrative music game,” which includes dev team members from the Ubisoft team that created the recent Valiant Hearts. Built for an iOS and Android release in January 2016, you play as Kaito, a teenage boy looking to grow up and overcome his fears. To do so, he has the help of his maybe-girlfriend, Aya, who rides upon his back as he skateboards through the world, confronting his terror of crowds, water, heights, and more; every chapter focuses on a particular fear. Gameplay has you sliding Kaito’s skateboard side to side to dodge obstacles, while simultaneously tapping out rhythms to the accompanying music. The tunes run the gamut of genre selections, including everything from remixed classical music to new tracks from Wyclef Jean. 

Next Page: A fascinating puzzle game about a giant fungus, and the chance to play as an unemployed liberal arts grad

Mushroom 11
Developer: Untame

This fascinating puzzle game is immediately accessible, but the mind boggles at the potential for complexity once you grasp the core mechanic. You control the movement of a single mass of fungus, but the only way to progress the mushroom is by erasing/destroying parts of it with a circular onscreen reticle. Immediately, the other side of the mushroom begins to grow to make up for lost mass. The visual effect is of a rolling ball, until your mind begins to see it’s not rolling at all – it’s simply growing in the only direction it can. You can split the mushroom by erasing its middle, thus allowing one section of mushroom to be moved onto a switch, opening up a passage for the other section. Elsewhere, the mushroom can grow its way through a series of tunnels, but only if you keep it from growing back in the wrong direction. The mushroom only regenerates on the ground, so you can’t just fly through the level. Mushroom 11 is strange and fascinating, and developer Untame aims to release it on PC next month, with a likely port to mobile to follow.

YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG
Developer: Ackk Studios

You are a an unemployed, liberal arts grad hipster with an extensive record collection. Rather than get a job, you’ve opted to follow your dreams and track conspiracy theories online, including one about a girl kidnapped by a rogue elevator. The story evolves from there to focus on 90s internet culture, the occult, and the end of the world, or so its creators at Ackk Studios tell me. Targeting a December release on PS4, Vita, Wii U, PC, Mac, and Linux, YIIK is equal parts absurdist social commentary and homage to the RPGs of the PS1 era. The JRPG style battles include a bizarre but fascinating mechanic – every skill requires that you complete a short Warioware-esque microgame. The game includes 9 playable characters, each with around a dozen skills, so there’s a lot to learn. The story pops back and forth between off-the-wall humor and sudden moments of potent tragedy. I’m very optimistic that the project can provide something unique to players willing to give the strange concept a go. 

Dusty Raging Fist
Developer: PD Design Studio

This prequel to the earlier released Dusty Revenge aims to improve on its predecessor and offer a mix of sidescrolling action and classic brawling dynamics, all with up to three cooperative players at once. You control an anthropomorphic rabbit named Dusty, along with his buddies, a deer named Derg and a Fox named Kitsune. The three fight their way through hordes of bad guys, along with the help of two support characters who wait in the foreground for you to call in their attacks – rockets or sniper bullets, respectively. Beautiful art frames the tight action framework, and the variety of combo-based attacks and elemental skills offers a lot to learn. Developer PD Design Studio is punching for a mid-2016 release on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, and perhaps even Wii U. 

Pavilion
Developer: Visiontrick Media

This puzzle game is something of a mystery, and it’s meant to be that way. You attempt to progress your lead character (an Indiana Jones-esque explorer, perhaps?) through a surreal world of strange architecture and objects, but you can’t control him directly. Instead, you’re forced to interact with objects in the environment that may guide him to your intended destination. Ambient music accompanies your discoveries, which are completed from an isometric view of the evolving environment. The story is clearly minimalistic, and the indirect control method takes some getting used to, but I’m thoroughly intrigued by what Visiontrick is trying to do here. Look for a PS4 and Vita release late this year.