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PAX East 2012: Indie Round-up Part 2

Okay, I’ve talked about the bigger boys at PAX East, but there’s a lot more to talk about. the Indie megabooth alone held 16 developers; some I had heard of, others new to me. I’ll start with the devs I already knew.

Capybara Games, responsible for the recent Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes on XBLA, DS and Steam. The newest title being showcased was Super Time Force. At first glance it looks like a standard side-scrolling shooter, like Metal Slug and so many others before it. The twist is that you’re facing a near insurmountable army. To aid you in your fight, each time you die, your next attempt will be accompanied by ghosts of every previous attempt. In this way you will gradually build up an army of your own to face down the enemy. While this sounds as though it would eventually make your own force overpowered and make finishing the game reasonably trivial, it is definitely an original concept.

Owlchemy Labs (whose Smuggle Truck I reviewed in my last article) appeared dressed in splendid lumberjack shirts to promote their new title, Jack Lumber. The entertaining game concept being that the titular Jack’s grandmother is tragically killed by a falling sapling and so Jack sets out to exact his revenge on all the trees in the forest. This is done by blasting them up into the air and then chopping them up while airborne. The game draws quite obviously from games like Fruit Ninja but is different enough to stand out as something different. The fact that it’s got a good sense of humour is just a nice bonus.

Ska Studios, known for I Made a Game With Zombies In It, showed off Charlie Murder. A game featuring a punk band who go forth to beat up other evil bands in a side scrolling beat-em-up. Yeah, so that sounds kinda familiar. As chance would have it, it’s an unfortunate coincidence, and Ska have been working on this since before Scott Pilgrim was announced. Unfortunately I feel like a lot of people could easily label it a rip-off out of hand and hurt them somewhat, but I think if you like Scott Pilgrim the game, you should have a look at this, too.

Carbon Games had a double booth space set up to show off AirMech. A free-to-play DOTA-like (or MOBA or Action-RTS or whatever we’ve agreed the genre is called these days) that will run in your browser. It’s currently playable in an alpha state in the Chrome web store. A reasonably diverting title, you play a transformer leading your army against the armies of other transformers. In mech form you can walk around on land and shoot everything up, and at the press of a button convert into a jet allowing you to ferry units around and making you immune to damage from most land units but also rendering you unable to fight same land units. The unit transportation brings it much closer to a traditional RTS than many DOTA games. For a game labelled as being in alpha it’s incredibly complete and being free-to-play there’s no reason really to not at least take it for a spin.

Rockin’ Android, a team notable for their work on localising Japanese indie games, while showing off a now respectable library of titles also had on hand Bunny Must Die: Chelsea and the 7 Devils, a cute anime-style Metroidvania title with time manipulation mechanics. While the game is pretty solid it suffers from a poor control scheme. A problem common to a lot of Japanese titles, it stems from the fact that Japanese and Western titles have fundamentally different base control schemes. Western titles typically use WASD to move with Q, E, R and F as common action buttons. Japanese titles tend to use arrow keys to move with ZXCV as actions. This translates equally poorly to a gamepad. After speaking to the developer, he explained that while he hadn’t considered it a problem, he would proceed to add both Japanese and Western control schemes as an option to players from both audiences. I have to say I’m pleased by how receptive he was to player input, something that’s always nice to see in a developer.

Now onto more surreal stuff. 24 Caret Games showed off Retrograde, coming to PSN. The world’s first game played entirely backwards. The game begins at level 10 with you defeating the final boss and the credits roll. However, killing the boss damages the space-time continuum and you must play the game backwards to repair the damage you have wrought. It’s a cross between a scrolling shooter and a rhythm game and is best played on a guitar controller. You stand in the path of bullets coming from enemies (because you already fired them) and press fire when they reach your gun barrel, whilst also dodging the bullets coming past from behind you (because you already dodged them). A thoroughly confusing game, it should be well worth checking out.

Kairo by Richard Perrin is an exploration game. A minimalistic style in a world of geometric shapes you can move around and jump and little else. The more you explore your surreal world the more you will uncover, puzzles along the way leading you further into this mystery. The demo I tried felt a little vague, with no real direction, incentive or narrative to guide you through, though I was assured it gains more of a narrative later on.

Marc ten Bosch (I’m still not sure if that’s just a person or a studio) showed off Miekagure, a 4-dimensional game. To clarify, that’s not 4D as in three spatial dimensions and time, or whatever marketing types are trying to tell you is “3D plus one better” these days, that’s four spatial dimensions. As in tesseracts. Hypercubes. The old analogy goes that a 3D creature viewing a 2D world could appear to teleport to a 2D creature by using dimensions the 2D creature can’t see. The same applies here, you can only view three of the four dimensions at a time allowing for 4 different perspectives of reality. You can change to any three dimensions you want at will and changing items in one version of reality will affect (presumably) two of the others allowing for some fiendishly clever puzzles. Honestly, watching people try to play confused the hell out of me. Maybe it’s more intuitive when you get into it yourself, but I suspect it’s a title for the more intellectual gamer.

Finally, Antichamber by Demruth. It’s going to be very difficult to describe this using mere words, but such is my task. Anticahmber is a first-person game designed to challenge the way you think about absolutely everything. The first half hour of gameplay is set up to force you to unlearn everything you know about games. You may solve a puzzle and then find yourself immediately thwarted by a similar looking puzzle that is fundamentally different. If you try retracing your steps you’ll often find yourself somewhere entirely else. Coupled with an incredibly striking visual style this game has already won countless awards and deservedly so. If there’s one indie game to watch this year, this is it.

There was so much else there that deserves recognition. PAX East was jam-packed full of so much talent, but unfortunately I can’t cover everything or this would never end. A bonus shout to Snapshot, Vessel, Skulls of the Shogun, Bit.Trip Runner 2, Monaco, and BattleBlock Theater. All well worth your time checking out.

I’ll finish the PAX East round-up tomorrow with the Boston Indie Showcase. Six up and coming mobile games from some excellent aspiring developers.



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