Savior might seem like one of many 2-D sidescrollers at first glance, but this game is actually the first of its kind. The game’s developers, duo Johann Armenteros and Josuhe Pagliery, are working alone from their headquarters in Havana. Games have been made in Cuba before, but only with the power and permission of the government. It’s an oddly specific claim to fame, but worth celebrating nonetheless.
So what exactly makes this milestone so important? Plenty of other games have been made entirely from scratch (international or otherwise). Essentially, it’s an issue of diversity. While “diversity” is a term normally used to encourage representation of varying races or genders, it’s also important to examine the diversity of development and perspective. Diversity stimulates discussion and understanding of different aspects of humanity, as well as allowing individual pieces to exist in conversation with one another. The highly controversial 2003 shooter September 12, for example, was created by Latin American developer Gonzalo Frasca to highlight what he perceived as the ultimate futility of the War On Terror. It’s a deceptively simple simulation where the player is tasked with killing all of the “terrorist” NPCs, who are noticeably distinguishable from the “civilian” ones. However, since the missiles used are ostensibly lacking in precision (an implicit response to the United States’ use of so-called “Smart Bombs”) civilians are almost always killed alongside the terrorists. When a civilian is killed, other civilians gather to mourn them, thus spurring them to convert to terrorists. Though it immediately drew criticism from American outlets for being narrow and short-sighted (there are no options to deploy aid or take less risky countermeasures – only to shoot or not shoot), September 12 gained much positive attention for its unique commentary on the War On Terror and has even been used as a teaching tool in terrorism discussions. Frasca’s work – an alternate yet striking perspective on current events – is a perfect example of why diversity in development is essential for the gaming world.
Of course, Savior takes place in a mythical world with a much lighter setting. But even if Cuba’s unique sociopolitical landscape isn’t the center of the game, it serves as the framework from which it was built. Savior the product of a relatively unexplored cultural environment (in the instance of gaming, at least). If anything, there exists an artistic obligation to examine what is hopefully the first of many independent games from Cuba.
Abstract artistic arguments aside, entering the video game industry would no doubt be a boon for a country like Cuba. Gaming is a medium that walks the line between creative and technological industries – and its popularity encourages business in each. This is the case for much of Latin America. The Uruguayan game company Ironhide is responsible for the wildly popular tower defense game Kingdom Rush, which surpassed 100 million downloads on the Apple Store. Mexico City developer Squad created the space flight simulator Kerbal Space Program, which garnered widespread praise from both the gaming and scientific communities for its creative, lighthearted humor and strikingly realistic orbital physics engine. The game also saw much commercial success as one of Steam’s top five best-selling titles shortly after its release. In addition to fueling their respective countries’ tech and art industries, successful titles like these have made Latin America increasingly relevant in the gaming world.
But if all this is true, what’s taking Cuba so long?
Since indie games are so prevalent in the Western world, it’s hard to believe that a country in such close proximity has yet to make one. Cuba lacks both the tech climate and cultural atmosphere conducive to making games. Why? Well – it’s complicated.
First, there’s the issue of resources. Generally speaking, gamers and developers have a wide array of consoles and PC rigs to choose from in countries like the US and Canada. Though expensive, they’re rather easy to come by. This isn’t the case for Cuba, leading to a relative lack of both game developers and public interest in gaming. Sale of computer equipment is subject to strict regulation. Internet access throughout the country is sparse (and illegal in private homes). Those wanting to use the internet must do so through hotels, cybercafes, and other government-sanctioned hotspots.
In regards to games made abroad, trade embargoes and high prices make the overwhelming majority of them inaccessible to the public. But like any contraband good, they thrive on the black market. In fact, underground speakeasy-esque arcades have existed in cities like Havana since the days of the NES. Unlike the bright, bustling hubs that are traditional arcades, they are largely home-based and smaller in size. Despite government crackdowns and limited availability, the persistence of underground gaming has left its mark on the newest generation of Cubans, who (with any luck) will influence how the country as a whole will treat the industry.
So what does the term “indie” mean here (or in Cuba, for that matter)?
While the most colloquial definition of “indie” points to the lack of a publisher, the term takes on a slightly different meaning when considering the Cuban gaming sphere. Games have been made in Cuba before, but they’re created through government programs or at universities (all of which are funded by the government and thus subject to its oversight). While it’s certainly odd to imagine a government-made game, the Cuban government has begun to sponsor the development of a number of video games in recent years, most of which are centered around history or education. The 2013 government-backed game Gesta Final was a three-dimensional depiction of the 1959 uprising against dictator Fulgencio Batista, created with the goal of teaching history to young Cubans. It isn’t exactly a stunning recreation, but it remains an interesting look into the country’s perspective on gaming. But because the government sees gaming as more of a teaching tool than an artistic medium, there’s a relative lack of variety in the games it sponsors. Thus, game designers in Cuba essentially fight a two-front war: Of course, this just makes the emergence of Savior all the more encouraging. With the lack of a publisher (or just about any professional funding), Savior is about as indie as you can get.
Though still a work in progress, Savior aims to be an experimental platformer about power, spirituality, and a fluctuating sense of what is real. The inspiration from classic 2-dimensional adventure games (think Castlevania or the early Zelda games) is fairly obvious, but it doesn’t take long to find that Savior has a mind of its own. The story centers around the protagonist “Little God” struggling to save his world after the mysterious departure of the “Great God” and the resulting destruction of his homeland. The premise starts out as a familiar, archetypal journey as the hero aims to save his crumbling world, but takes an interesting turn when he discovers that his entire reality is an unfinished video game. It’s quite an ambitious creative choice that results in what is essentially a game within a game. Lush, layered visuals are interrupted with jarring, glitch-like effects that tie in with the game’s flexible definition of what’s real. Enemies turn into bits of code when defeated, and lines of code are visible as the environment deconstructs. Still, one has to wonder where the narrative will go after breaking the fourth wall so boldly.
Aside from being an experimental project with much potential, Savior is also a cultural milestone – its emergence represents a turning point in Cuba’s short but intriguing history of gaming. Despite getting relatively little coverage in Cuba, it’s gaining traction from the international community thanks to its Indiegogo campaign. Although it isn’t due for release until early 2018, its anticipation (and hopefully, success) could bring Cuba to the forefront of the indie game community and inspire more of its developers, animators, musicians, and gamers to put their skills to use.
Indie Games Spotlight – Pastels, Parenting, and Pedestrians
Check out five of the most creative and compelling upcoming indies in the second Indie Games Spotlight of 2020.
Indie Games Spotlight is Goomba Stomp’s bi-weekly column that shines a light on some of the most promising new and upcoming independent titles. Though 2020 is already scheduled to have several of the most anticipated indie releases of the last few years, this time we’re going to focus on games coming out in the immediate future. From vibrant brawlers to daughter raising simulators, you’re bound to find something that tickles your fancy in the coming weeks.
Be John Wick for a Day in Super Crush KO
The neon-tinged shoot ’em up Graceful Explosion Machine quickly became one of the best indies on the Switch in 2017. Almost three years later, the same crew at Vortex Pop is back again with Super Crush KO, a fast-paced brawler set in a vibrant, near-future city. Despite the change in genre, however, it’s clear that Vortex Pop haven’t lost their design sensibilities in the slightest.
Super Crush KO plops players into a pastel world full of evil robots and cat-stealing aliens. Such is the situation of protagonist Karen when she’s rudely awoken to find her fluffy, white-furred pal catnapped. Thus, she embarks on a mission to punch, kick, juggle, and shoot anyone trying to keep her from her feline friend. Just like with Graceful Explosion Machine, the goal here is to clear levels with style, rack up high scores, and climb the leaderboards to compete with players around the world. Super Crush KO is out now for Switch and PC.
LUNA: The Shadow Dust Rekindles Lost Memories
Luna: The Shadow Dust is an absolutely stunning, hand-drawn adventure that follows the quest of a young boy who must restore light and balance to an eerie, enchanted world. This lovingly crafted point-and-click puzzle game originally began as a Kickstarter and is finally seeing the light of day after four long years of development.
Beyond its frame-by-frame character animation and appealing aesthetics, LUNA also promises to offer all manner of environmental puzzles to keep players engaged. Control will be split between the boy and his mysterious companion as the two gradually forge a bond and try to uncover the boy’s lost memories. With emphasis placed on emergent storytelling and atmospheric mastery, LUNA should be well worth investigating when it releases on February 13th for PC. Don’t miss trying out the free demo either!
Georifters – An Earth-Shattering Party Game
Genuinely entertaining party games are shockingly hard to come by in a post-Wii world. Georifters looks to fill that gap by offering a multiplayer-centric platformer centered around spontaneous terrain deformation. Players will be able to push, flip, twist or turn the terrain to overcome challenges and battle competitors in hundreds of stages in single-player, co-op and four-player multiplayer modes.
Of course, multiplayer will be where most of the fun is had here. Each character boasts a unique terrain-altering ability to help them attain the coveted crystal in every match. This makes character selection a serious consideration when planning a winning strategy against friends. To drive this point home even further, there will even be dozens of unique themed skins for players to customize their favorites with. Just like the original Mario Party titles, get ready to ruin friendships the old fashioned way when Georifters launches on all platforms February 20th.
Master Parenting in Ciel Fledge: A Daughter Raising Simulator
To say the simulation genre is ripe with creativity would be a massive understatement. Ciel Fledge: A Daughter Raising Simulator takes the Football Manager approach of letting players manage and schedule nearly every aspect of their daughter’s life; classes, hobbies, time spent with friends, you name it. The week then flies by and players get to see how their decisions play out over the weeks, months and years that follow. To keep things engaging, extracurricular activities and school tests are taken via a fascinating blend of match-three puzzles and card-based gameplay.
Just like in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, it’s easy to imagine the strong bonds that’ll form after investing so much time and energy into Ciel’s growth into an adult. Better yet, Ciel Fledge is filled out by what Sudio Namaapa calls “a cast of lovable characters” for Ciel to befriend, learn from, and grow up with. Prepare to raise the daughter you always wanted when Ciel Fledge: A Daughter Raising Simulator releases on February 21st for Switch and PC.
The Pedestrian – Forge Your Own Path
The Pedestrian puts players in the shoes of the ever-recognizable stick figure plastered on public signs the world over. From within the world of the public sign system, players will have to use nodes to rearrange and connect signs to progress through buildings and the world at large.
The Pedestrian is a 2.5D side scrolling puzzle platformer, but the real draw here is the puzzle aspect. The core platforming mechanics are on the simpler side; players can jump and interact with different moving platforms, ladders, and the occasional bouncy surface. The possibilities of where this novel concept can go will all depend on how inventive the types of signs players can navigate will be. The character is also surprisingly charming; it’s inherently fun to guide the little pedestrian man through buildings and environments he wouldn’t normally find himself in.
Whether you’re a puzzle fan or simply appreciate the aesthetics, be sure to look out for the full journey when The Pedestrian launches on PC January 29th. Get an idea of what to expect by trying out the free demo too!
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’
We’ve already covered a wide variety of the games on display at PAX South this year, from retro revivals to unorthodox romances to everything in between – and we’re not done yet! In this next roundup article, we cover three more ambitious, action-packed games: Ghostrunner, Everspace 2, and Wrath: Aeon of Ruin.
Ghostrunner was one of the most in-demand games at PAX, and after playing it, it’s easy to see why. This first-person action slasher, developed by One More Level and produced by 3D Realms, lets players dash through the air, run across walls, and slash through enemies at blistering speed all while exploring a dystopian cyberpunk world. It’s gorgeous, lightning fast, and feels amazing to play.
Ghostrunner begins in a broken future, where the remnants of humanity have hidden away in a single condensed tower. Naturally enough, you’re put in the role of the one rebel who dares to rise up against the forces oppressing humanity. As you begin your uprising, you’ll also encounter a grand mystery – why is humanity the way it is now? Just what happened to the rest of the world? And what’s that voice you hear in your head?
My demo didn’t offer much illumination to these mysteries, but the 3D Realms team assured me that the story plays a significant role in the main campaign. What my demo did offer, however, was a look into the fast-paced, brutal gameplay that defines the game. Combat is so dynamic in Ghostrunner. Your arsenal of moves is massive and varied – of course you can run, jump, and slash with your katana, but you can also run along walls, dash over chasms, slow down time to dodge bullets, and more.
When all the moving pieces flow together, Ghostrunner achieves a visceral, almost hypnotic flow of battle. There are a few obstacles to this feeling. The controls took a bit of getting used to on my end, but that would be because, console peasant that I am, I’m not used to playing 3D games on a keyboard instead of a controller. Also, this may be an action game, but at many times it feels more like a puzzle game. With bloodthirsty enemies scattered around each environment, you’ll often need to take a step back and methodically evaluate which abilities to use in each situation. This can take some trial and error – it might have taken me more than a few tries to clear out the final wave of enemies. But when the solution works out, it’s a beautifully exhilarating feeling, and that’s what sets Ghostrunner apart.
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin
PAX featured plenty of retro-styled games, but not many quite like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. This retro-style FPS is a throwback to the simpler, faster days of shooters, built entirely in the same engine as the original Quake. It was even based off the work of Quake community modders. If you’ve played any classic FPS like the original DOOM or Wolfenstein, then you should have a good idea of how Wrath plays: it’s brutal, lightning fast, and action packed.
My demo got straight to the point. After teleporting me to a distant hellscape, I was faced with a horde of demons, ranging from simple skeletons to more aggressive ogre-like enemies and flying laser monsters. Thankfully, I was also given an assortment of weapons to take these creatures down with, including a simple handgun, a powerful blade arm, and my personal favorite, a shotgun. Each one of these felt good to control, and like any good old-fashioned shooter, they gave me a great feeling of power.
Like any good, brutal FPS in the vein of Quake, Wrath features an insane amount of mobility. Movement is extremely fast and fluid, allowing you to zip across and above stages with reckless abandon. This extra speed will be necessary, especially considering that enemies can slaughter on with reckless, overwhelming abandon.
Of course, being built in the original Quake engine, Wrath is a delightfully retro treat to behold. It features all the signature hard polygonal edges of PC shooters from that bygone era, but with the added smoothness and fluidity of modern hardware. The game feels great to play and is a unique treat to behold. Wrath is currently available on Steam Early Access, and there’s plenty of new content that can be expected throughout the year, including new levels, enemies, and even a full online multiplayer mode. Stuffed with violent retro action, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is absolutely worth watching out for.
Space is the final frontier, offering limitless exploration This’s the exact feeling that Everspace 2 captures. This sandbox open world space shooter dumps you in outer space and leaves you to figure out the rest, allowing you to fight, scavenge, and explore as you will, all with an incredible amount of freedom.
It’s a remarkably beautiful game too, boasting of extremely detailed 3D graphics that wouldn’t look out of place in a full 3D AAA experience. It’s extremely ambitious, offering a wealth of customization options through parts that can be scavenged from fallen space craft or space debris. There’s alien life to discover and a wealth of locations to explore, with the full game apparently featuring more than 80 unique environments.
These environments will always be interesting to explore thanks to a mix between handcrafted worlds and randomization. The original Everspace was a pure roguelike, and as developer Rockfish Games told me, this constantly changing design has often been fundamental to previous great space shooters. Although Rockfish opted for an intentionally designed open world for the sequel, they want to maintain some of those same roguelike elements. That’s why whenever you venture through the many galaxies of Everspace 2, the galaxies and planets will be the same, but the items you find or enemies you encounter within them may change each time.
It took me some time to get used to Everspace. It immediately offers a great amount of freedom, with the demo simply dumping me in space and only requiring that I take down some enemy units and pick up some loot. Yet once I got the hang of the controls and the environment, it became extremely fluid and natural to zip through space, upgrade different components, and experience all the free-flowing action that it has to offer. Space is the ultimate freedom, and Everspace 2 is set to represent that.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Windjammers 2,’ ‘KUNAI,’ and ‘Young Souls’
PAX South 2020 attracted tons of exciting publishers to San Antonio, and even with such a crowded lineup, the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth easily stood out as some of the show’s very best exhibitors. Streets of Rage 4 might have been their standout demo, but the French boutique publisher and developers brought a fantastic selection of games to the show, including their signature retro revivals and some promising original indie games of their own.
Sequel to the much-beloved arcade classic, Windjammers 2 takes all the hectic frisbee-throwing action of the original and updates it for the modern generation. For those unfamiliar with the art of windjamming, it’s effectively pong, but instead of balls, you toss discs back and forth across the court. It pits two players against each other on opposite sides of the court, tasking you with mercilessly hurling your disc back and forth until it gets into your opponent’s goal.
You can just throw the disc directly at your opponent, but Windjammers 2 gives you many more options besides that. To really excel at the game, you’ll have to make use of the most extravagant moves you can, dashing across the court, leaping into the air, tossing the disc above you before slamming it down into your opponent, to list only a few of the uber-athletic abilities at your disposal. The game can move extremely quickly when both players take advantage of these capabilities, yet things never feel overwhelming. I always felt in control of the action, even when my quickest reflexes were put to the test. It’s fast-paced disc throwing insanity, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Just like the rest of DotEmu’s catalogue, Windjammers 2 combines classic gameplay with gorgeous modern aesthetics. It has the same hand-drawn style that makes other DotEmu titles stand out, like Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap. The original Windjammers was a time capsule of garish 90s style, and that design is retained for the new release, with characters looking even more colorful and absurd than ever thanks to the revitalized art and animations. Hectic to play and beautiful to behold, Windjammers 2 is already set to be a multiplayer hit.
Streets of Rage 4 was certainly the premier beat ‘em up on display at DotEmu’s booth, but it wasn’t the only one. Alongside this retro revival was an all-new take on the genre: Young Souls, an extremely stylish action game that blends fast-paced fighting with deep RPG customization and a charming, emotional narrative.
Beat ‘em ups might not be known for deep storylines, but Young Souls aspires to something more. Along with its satisfying combat mechanics and plentiful flexibility for character builds, it also boasts of having “a profound story with unforgettable characters.” While my demo didn’t give me much of a look at this deep narrative, it’s reasonable to assume that the story will at least be quality, since it’s penned by none other than the author of the Walking Dead games, Matthew Ritter.
However, I did get a substantial feel for combat. Young Souls features more than 70 monster-filled dungeons, and I got to venture into two of them in my demo. The action feels weighty and solid when going up against enemies, yet precise at the same time. Like any classic beat ‘em up, there’s a mixture of light and heavy attacks, along with blocks and powerful special moves, along with items and spells to exploit during combat as well. In between battles, you’re able to deck your character out in equipment and items, allowing for an element of roleplaying depth that isn’t typically associated with action games like this. In my short time with the game, it was fun to experiment with different character builds, which could determine the speed and abilities of my fighter, promising combat for the final game.
I played the demo both solo and co-op; in single-player, you’re able to switch between the two twins at will, while two players can each take control of a sibling. In both playstyles, the gameplay was just as visceral and satisfying as one would expect from a classic-style beat ‘em up like this, but the addition of a deep story and RPG mechanics put a unique spin on this entry. That’s not to mention that, like every other game at the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth, it’s visually beautiful, featuring stylish 2D characters in 3D environments that are all rendered in gentle, washed-out colors. Young Souls might not have a release date or even any confirmed platforms as of now, but it’s absolutely worth keeping an eye on in the meantime.
KUNAI takes the typical metroidvania formula and boosts it to hyperspeed. It has all the hidden secrets and massively interconnected world exploration that you’d expect from the genre, and it gives you the ability to speed through that faster and more dynamically than ever. Its main gimmick is right in the name – by giving you two kunai hookshots, you’re able to traverse up and down your environments with speed and freedom, making for a uniquely vertical method to explore.
KUNAI starts out with the end of the world. In a dystopian future where technology has taken over, you control Tabby, a sentient and heroic tablet that’s dead set on liberating the planet. This serious plot is filled with plenty of personality, however, from the silly faces that Tabby makes in action to the charming dialogue and quirky character designs. This personality is rendered in appealing detail thanks to the game’s simple yet effective pixel art.
It’s in the gameplay where KUNAI truly shines. With the eponymous kunai, you’re able to latch onto vertical surfaces. Combine this with the additional abilities to dash, bounce off enemies, or wall jump, and it provides for a uniquely dynamic method of exploring the world. Using the kunai feels easy and intuitive, fast enough to gain speed but never too floaty. It’s a balanced approach to speed and movement that never gets out of control, resulting in what it is perhaps the best-feeling movement of any metroidvania I’ve played recently. My demo was brief, and ended very soon after first getting the kunai, but the gameplay felt so smooth and natural that I can’t wait to experience more of it. Thankfully, it’s not long to wait, since KUNAI hits Switch and PC on February 6.
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