Some Of The Most Exciting Upcoming Indie Games
I ran the gauntlet of indie titles at PAX and came away pumped for 2012 (and perhaps beyond).
Seven developers banded together to form the Indie Passport, where attendees could check out all of the games, fill out a checklist, and get a prize at the end. Well, I played them all and missed out on the button or whatever they were giving away, but seeing this selection of innovative concepts was reward enough in itself.
Developer: 24 Caret Games
Just when you thought it was safe to start getting rid of your plastic guitar collection, along comes Retrograde. At first glance, it looks like a space shooter, but it’s actually more like a really insane Guitar Hero. Your ship flies left to right on five colored lines that match the fret buttons. Every time you press one, the craft moves to the corresponding line and you strum when a ball of energy reaches the ship’s blaster. You see, the entire game is actually running backwards and the shots are returning to the source that is your ship. The score starts high and counts down as you go. The perfect score on any given level is zero, which will make for some unusual leaderboards. Hazards also approach from behind so you have to keep an eye on both fronts. Fortunately, Retrograde features multiple difficulties so that even the rhythmically challenged can survive in outer space. Right now the game is confirmed for PlayStation Network and will likely hit in 2012.
Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack
Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Mutant Blobs Attack has the distinction of being the only game in the Indie Passport that’s releasing exclusively on PlayStation Vita (for now, at least). Followers of downloadable titles may remember the previous Tales From Space entry, About a Blob, which received an impressive 8.5 score from Game Informer’s Matt Helgeson. This new blob protagonist has mutated and is generally much grouchier than the old blob. There’s also been a lot of streamlining this time around. The blob now automatically absorbs objects and will always run. Scoring this time around is more focused on collecting items rather than getting a low time like the last game. The Vita’s touch panel plays a large part as you have to lift and lower platforms with your thumb and also to steer the blob through perilous zero-gravity tunnels by guiding its propulsion. There’s a chance this may later appear on PS3, but hitting the Vita launch window in early 2012 is the priority right now.
Developer: Pocketwatch Games
Monaco is self-described by its developer as “Gauntlet meets Hitman.” Though the stages I played weren’t about killing a target and more focused on pulling off a big heist. All eight pixelated heroes have a job to do and a special skill to go along with it, though the max number of co-op partners is four. The locksmith can get through locks faster, the gentleman takes on disguises, the mole can dig through walls, and so on. Each level is covered in a dark fog of war that’s designed to look like blueprints. As characters move through the area, a unique lighting system illuminates the rooms in a manner you may recognize from hit iOS game, Helsing’s Fire (Pocketwatch’s Andy Schatz created the lighting technique and posted it online for anyone to use). You can fight guards directly, but it works a lot better to simply sneak past them. The campaign of approximately 40 levels can also be played solo, but it seems like co-op is the way to go. There’s a competitive multiplayer mode as well that pits cops against robbers. Monaco is headed to PC, Mac, and one of the major consoles in 2012.
Developer: Broken Rules
Of all the games in Indie Passport, Chasing Aurora has the most content hidden behind a curtain. Developed by Broken Rules, known for indie hit And Yet It Moves, the mode on display was a 4-player versus mode in which origami birds compete to grab a mystic object that dangles from a chain gripped in their claws. One player picks it up and flies away through caverns, trying to force the other players offscreen. It’s easy to swoop in and grab the object from other players, but it can be tough to keep. One way to get people to back off is to fly the object through a flame to ignite it. Then you can swing it around at rivals to take them out. Every time players die, their respawn time takes a little bit longer. The key to victory is to stay onscreen alone for 3 full seconds. Chasing Aurora will include a single player campaign as well, but for now that will remain a mystery. Look for it in mid-2012 for PC, Mac, and a home console.
Developer: Toxic Games
Quick Understanding of Block Extrusion is a first person puzzle game very much in the vein of Portal. You move from one stark white puzzle room to the next. The main character uses a fancy glove to manipulate the few colored blocks sprinkled throughout the environments. Red blocks pull out to make platforms, blue blocks can be pushed down to form a spring that shoots you through the air, and yellow blocks usually come in sets of three that extend in three different lengths depending on which you pull first. The presentation is very minimal, and it’s fun to discover how the world works without any instructions. Things of course get more complicated later on with rotating walls and ceilings. Q.U.B.E. is set to release this holiday on Steam and next year sometime on XBLA.
Go Home Dinosaurs
Developer: Fire Hose Games
At first, Go Home Dinosaurs looks like a cute, if a bit standard tower defense game. You command a squad of gophers who are trying to defend their barbeque from waves of hungry dinosaurs. What sets it apart is that each tower is shaped like a Tetris piece that must be clicked efficiently onto the board. Low level cannons only take up two squares, while powerful lasers require a tricky L shape. A giant magnet that summons deadly meteors down on the dinos eats up a big block shape. To keep things active, you also control a gopher avatar that serves as a mobile tower that can throw projectiles and also collect resources in the form of coconut trees that sprout up randomly around the board. Fire Hose plans to bring the game to PC, consoles, and mobile platforms in 2012.
Retro City Rampage
Developer: Vblank Entertainment
It’s nearly impossible to fully recount the ridiculous amount of tongue in cheek video game and pop culture references on display in Retro City Rampage. In the beginning of the game, your character, Player, is part of the Jester’s gang trying to rob a bank. When a school bus crashes through the wall as your escape vehicle, it’s clear this is a take on The Dark Knight. Through the rest of the demo, I saw references to Paperboy, Mega Man, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Back to the Future, Ninja Turtles, Duck Hunt, and much more. It’s all presented in a charming pixelated top down view clearly inspired by the early Grand Theft Auto games. Despite the lo-fi look, it still includes modern features like a cover system and character customization. You can go to a hair stylist for a new ‘do and it’ll actually change the two or three pixels on your head. Retro City Rampage is set for an early 2012 release on XBLA and WiiWare.