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PAX East 2012: Indie Round-up Part 3

There’s an important aspect of PAX I haven’t covered. PAX East played host to the Boston Indie Showcase. There are a number of events and awards aimed at promoting indie development but few are designed to highlight work on mobile devices. All the titles in the Indie Showcase are playable on tablets or smartphones.

First up was Lunar Enigma with Lawnmower Challenge. This game sees you attempt to mow lawns in as few moves as possible whilst also solving a variety of locked door puzzles designed to hinder your progress. It draws on inspiration from old games like Chip’s Challenge and if you liked that you’ll probably like Lawnmower Challenge.

Bad Pilcrow showed us Not Without You, a puzzle game wherein you must help some adorable creatures known as Hesperides Pilcrus escape from a lab. The catch is that they will not leave any of their others behind. They all move in unison, so if you press left they will all move one space left, unless there is an obstacle blocking the way, and the objective being to use this mechanic to navigate them all to different escape points together. It’s not an entirely original puzzle mechanic – I’m certain I’ve played it before (though where, I couldn’t tell you) – but definitely not one that’s ever been explored in depth. The game’s visual style is very basic at this stage, but hopefully some more polish before release will see this resolved.

Vlambeer produced Super Crate Box. I’ll start by saying I hate this game. It’s not a bad game, it’s actually very well made. It’s not an ugly game, it’s got a nice pixel art style going on. It is just singly the most frustrating thing I’ve ever played, though. On a single fixed map, akin to the original Mario Bros game, your objective is to collect crates, as many as possible. For each one you pick up another will appear. Each contains a different weapon ranging from rocket launchers and miniguns to katanas and pistols, and with each one you pick up you’ll immediately discard your previous weapon, like it or not. A continual stream of enemies flows down from the top of the level to thwart your crate-gathering. It’s brutally hard and you need to be able to adapt to whatever new weapons you pick up on the fly. The dev set a simple challenge to players to score 10 points. Most people failed to even manage that. I scored 9. What is a pretty cool simple concept is ruined for me by the fact that it’s not fun to play. I know some people enjoy bashing-your-head-against-a-brick-wall type gameplay, and this game is definitely for them, however I feel they could have reached a wider audience and made more of a success of it if it had been more accessible to the average gamer.

Popcannibal demoed their charming title Girls Like Robots, a romance, adventure, puzzle game about seating arrangements. Every character in the game is a puzzle piece to be placed as tiles on a board in such a way as to make them optimally happy. Girls, as the title suggests, like robots and are happy to be placed next to one. Girls dislike nerds but nerds like girls, robots, and edges. And so forth. Any excuse to arrange people in the name of furthering a story has been found by the devs. It has a beautiful art style, with all the characters being square tiles to place on the board and all assets being hand drawn by their artist, Luigi. It’s a simple, fun, quite novel puzzle game that should be well worth a look.

Kumobius was on hand with their title Bean’s Quest. A typical 2D platform game with a twist (isn’t there always?). The protagonist, Emilio, has been transformed into a jumping bean by an evil wizard. What this means in terms of gameplay is that Emilio will perpetually jump automatically. On paper, it sounds like a reasonably diverting title, but I feel some of the gameplay could stand to be tightened up. Emilio’s motion often feels sloppy and jumps which should be trivial to make often take several attempts. Graphically, the game is sound, with a bright colourful world that has seen a lot of attention. If the same attention to detail were spent on tuning the gameplay so that it flows better this could easily be an excellent title.

Finally Zach Gage’s title SpellTower; a hybrid of Tetris and Scrabble. You are provided with a grid of letters and must connect letters to make words. Tiles will also fall from the top of the screen and if they reach the top, you fail, naturally. It’s a very simple title, put together in 48 hours for a Game Jam, but it doesn’t need to be complex. If you enjoy word games, this is a nice little mobile game that’s just different enough to stand out from a hoard of scrabble clones.

Lawnmower Challenge is available now for iOS and Android. Super Crate Box and SpellTower are available now for iOS. Bean’s Quest is available now on iOS and for Windows/Mac via Desura. Not Without You and Girls Like Robots will be available later this year. They are all excellent titles in their own right and their places at PAX East were well earned. You’d be doing yourself a disservice not to at least have a look.



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