Connect with us

Game Reviews

Top 10 Indies from PAX West 2018

Indies littered the floors and halls of PAX West 2018. They once again confirmed that while AAA may have the money, indies have the heart.

Published

on

Another year of PAX West has come and gone. Big games and even bigger budgets all vied for attention, looking to entice onlookers with flashy booths. Massive screens, marquees, and posters proclaimed the presence of Spider-Man, Artifact, and plenty of other AAA titles. However, tucked away amongst the titans of the industry lay some of the more unassuming games. The indies at PAX West 2018 all shared one thing in common: they completely outclass the AAA lineup with their sheer creativity.

Between the Indie Megabooth and the 6th floor of the expo hall, there were over 100 different indies to sift through. While I couldn’t possibly cover all of them, the following ten are the ones that stood out the most.

YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG (Ackk Studios)

Part Earthbound, part Paper Mario, and all kinds of wonderfully weird, YIIK (pronounced why-too-kay) embraces its neo-nostalgic aesthetic. It wears its “hipster JRPG” label loud and proud in hauntingly effervescent neon tones. YIIK‘s sense of style is simultaneously humorous and unsettling.

While the game carries many hallmarks of the JRPG genre (quaint towns, oddball NPCs, and menus galore), it’s different where it counts. YIIK follows eight strangers in the late 90s as they investigate the surreal, supernatural, and downright spooky. With a freaky-fresh style and addictive active battle system, YIIK promises an utterly unique and absolutely American JRPG experience.

World of Horror (Panstasz)

World of Horror cemented ysbryd’s position as one of my favorite publishers. Inspired by the horror manga artist, Junji Ito, World of Horror dips into the edge of insanity. Players embark on a series of investigative journeys as they delve into grotesque, forbidden knowledges.

Combat is fairly straightforward and encompasses a standard set of mechanics like weapons, items, and spells. Where World of Horror truly shines is its utterly morbid aesthetic. The stark black and white tones transport you into a realm unbidden by time, sanity, or empathy. Developer “Panstasz” digs deep into your brain with this eerie title and refuses to let go.

Necrobarista (Route 59)

Having played Necrobarista at last year’s PAX, I was curious what Route 59 would bring this time around. Where the previous build was ponderously moody, the game now feels light, airy, and dreamlike. Artist Ngoc Vu confirmed this as a new direction Necrobarista has taken with the story.

Whether or not that decision works for the better remains to be seen. What has not changed, however, is Route 59’s sense of style and flair. Where most people might get turned off by visual novels being too static and boring, Necorbarista is anything but. Sweeping camera movements and gorgeously lit shots take players on a whirlwind of text and dynamic visuals. If Wes Anderson was a weeby developer, this would be his game.

The Gardens Between (The Voxel Agents)

The Gardens Between proves just how creative gamedevs can get when given a limited number of tools. With only the control stick and a single button at their command, players will spend most of their time racking their brains for the solution.

In addition to its wistfully soft visual design, The Gardens Between draws players in through its unique premise. The flow of time is at your command. However, certain objects act outside of your temporal influence. As the game slowly introduces these mechanics, you figure out just how far bending time can make you think.

Bloodroots (PAPER CULT)

Ever wanted to feel like Samurai Jack? Bloodroots is your game. Its stark colors and strong geometric design come straight out of the Tartakovsky playbook. Yet this game is more than just a beautiful, deadly exterior.

Players control Mr. Wolf, a man out for revenge against the friends who betrayed him. The action never slows down as players jump from baddie to baddie, using anything and everything around them to reign bloody chaos on their foes. Ladder whirlwinds, runaway barrels, and carrots to the eye are just some of the lethal tools at Mr. Wolf’s disposal. Frantic button mashing madness still requires a keen eye, since players will be taken down in just one hit.

Fire up those thumbs, because Bloodroots will take them for a ride.

Boyfriend Dungeon (Kitfox Games)

Okay, okay, hear me out. Even had my reservations on this game. Boyfriend Dungeon, however, doesn’t try to pretend it’s something it’s not. Even then, it aims to go beyond gimmicky VNs like Dream Daddy or Hatoful Boyfriend. It remembers one crucial detail: it remembers it’s a game.

Boyfriend Dungeon comprises two distinct segments: dungeon crawling and weapon dating. Similar to the Persona approach, your weapons grow in power as your bond with them strengthens. As a fairly polished dungeon crawler, it remains to be seen how a full relationship with a weapon will carry out. That said, the fact that I could write that sentence has me eagerly excited for this game.

Treadnauts (Topstitch Games)

Can I really sing more of this game’s praises? Sure I can. If you haven’t yet heard of Treadnauts, go grab some friends and get playing. Treadnauts is the mashup of classic artillery games with frantic arena-style movement. Players can choose to test their skills against one another or chill with a wide variety of game-changing items and settings.

Of the couch-multiplayer games at the Indie Megabooth, Treadnauts was by and far the most entertaining to watch. The tug-of-war between players vying for the top of the scoreboard never ceased to amuse. It caters to the casual, competitive, and everybody in-between. If Topstitch knows anything, it’s how to make people have fun.

What the Golf? (Triband)

This might very well be The Stanley Parable of golf-based satirical games. An exclusive category, to be sure. What the Golf? treads the line between gimmicky and challenging, but never stops being fun. It takes the core concept of golf and runs with it: get thing into hole. That’s it.

How it executes that changes from level to level. One moment you’re literally trying to flip a house. Another, you’re suddenly playing Superhot, launching your character from place to place as you trade shots in bullet time with your opponents. What the Golf? seems heavily dependent on its level design to take full advantage of the gimmick, so hopefully, Triband delivers with ample amounts of content.

Disco Elysium: A Detective RPG (ZA/UM)

Move over Obsidian, we’ve got some new RPG devs on the come up. Disco Elysium immediately strikes the eye with its vivid, painterly quality. Streaks and swathes of color flesh out a dreary landscape that players awaken into, devoid of memories. They must gradually unravel the mystery of who they are as they delve into the grimy, grungy world around them.

Disco Elysium plays like many of the great TRPGs to come before them. You control your character through isometric environments as you interact with NPCs, chase down leads, and complete quests. Much like its predecessors, Disco Elysium presents a wide variety of options and paths for the player to take. With its utterly captivating art style and eerie universe, the game hits hard where it counts for an RPG.

Stone Story RPG (Martian Rex)

On the exact opposite end of Disco Elysium‘s presentation lies Stone Story RPG. Calling its ASCII art style “simplistic”, however, would do it a grave injustice. Stone Story boasts an impressive set of environments, animations, and assets, all based on the DOS-era terminal aesthetic.

Its gameplay also lies between simple and robust. Described by the developer as “Diablo without the action”, Stone Story takes away the nitty-gritty of ability-spamming and button-mashing. Instead, it asks players to focus on the larger picture. It still is, at its heart, an RPG. Behind the impressive visuals, Stone Story remains an adventure where you get gear, fight monsters, and travel the world.

Indies as Far as the Eye Can See

With over 70 games by just as many talented developers, it’d be impossible to cover them all. That’s only counting what was at the Indie Megabooth. Indies littered the expo halls, from Devolver’s massive booth to ysbryd’s cozy little setup in the middle of the sixth floor. One thing’s for certain: AAA may have the money, but indies have the heart.

Kyle grew up with a controller in one hand and a book in the other. He would've put something else in a third hand, but science isn't quite there yet. In the meantime, he makes do with watching things like television, film, and anime. He can be found posting ramblings on liketherogue.tumblr.com or trying to hop on the social media bandwagon @LikeTheRogue

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

Published

on

Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Published

on

Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

Published

on

Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending