Indie games have always been a treasured side of conventions for me, and it was no different at EGX 2016. It combines everything I could ever want, really. I can talk to developers, experience a large variety of unreleased, unusual games and chug free energy drinks while doing so. It’s all like a weird science fair filled with gatling pistols, weapon-equipped scooters, and solidified vomit castles. Something I just bloody love.
So let’s get on with the rules. I’ll briefly banter about each indie game I got to try and give each one a grade from F to A+. Finally, I’ll end this by giving one game the “prestigious” print-friendly Bago Indie Game of EGX 2016 award. Lovely and simple. Speaking of which…
Developer: David Canela
Platform: PC, later consoles
Release Date/Price: (Early Acess) fall 2016, (Full Release) early 2017/ Unknown price
I recall my youth when I first got into playing the bass guitar. One of the trickiest parts at the start was making both my hands do radically different things on it. Modsork combines that same frustration all over again with Geometry Wars. You have two dots you control on each thumbstick. Pressing the left or right trigger when nearby will shoot a coloured laser, which will destroy the same-coloured enemies that pass through it.
Verdict: Where Modsork glistens like a recently caught fish in the sun is in its small details. Special moves aren’t done by slapping a button, but rather doing motions that resemble ice dancing. The music connects with the gameplay as your actions make noises that add to the background music. The only possible stumbling block is that controllers appear to be a requirement even on PC. Modsork gets a C-, making it an easy recommendation for those who need to scratch the Geometry Wars itch but appreciate a twist on it.
Game: Earth’s Dawn
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Platform: PC, PS4 and Xbox One
Release Date/Price: Out now in Japan as Earth Wars, out in the West this fall with a console release before PC release/ £29.99, $29.99
Earth’s Dawn is a stylised 2D side-scrolling sci-fi combat title with an aesthetic similar to Muramasa Rebirth. You shoot beasties, beat them with your sword, and use some form of magic, with each encounter being graded depending on your performance.
Verdict: I may as well get the obvious out of the way: the aesthetic is very nice even if perhaps it’s something I’ve already seen done before. Beyond that, the gameplay quickly devolves into mashing buttons until the enemy stops twitching. This isn’t helped by a camera angle that is zoomed so close to the screen that multiple times I was jumped on before I could react, let alone decipher the madness of colours, movement, and bodies. Maybe this is my antiquated fan-cooled mind overheating, though? The verdict is a D. It’ll sell well for those who know they want it, but it’s best to avoid if there is even a gram of doubt in your desire to own it.
Game: Unseen Diplomacy (VR)
Developer: Triangular Pixels
Publisher: Triangular Pixels
Platform: PC (VR)
Release Date/Price: Out now/ £1.99
Most VR games I’ve come across during my travels around conventions have been the sit or sway kind. Either I sit still but glance around the environment in awe, or I may take a shuffle in one of the few directions about. So, it was a weird sight watching people stumble around in-game obstacles in a fairly large area, trying to stop the internet from being deleted.
Verdict: Sometimes a video is worth 1000 words, so here’s some footage I recorded:
Its grade is a C+. You could argue its lack of replayability, awkwardness (as you can’t see your own body as you crawl through environments, and have the potential to trip over your own cable), and the requirement to have a large space. However, it is a cheap VR title that is genuinely fun to play and funny to watch people attempt, as well as accessible for those with limited movement (e.g. wheelchairs). It’s perfect for an evening with friends if you coincidentally have an HTC Vive.
Game: Black & White Bushido
Developer: Good Catch Games
Publisher: Green Man Gaming & Good Catch Games
Release Date/Price: Out now/ £6.99
Since Towerfall got its claws deep into people, it seems to have had an awkward double-edge effect. While it’s created a hype and glee around 2D arena games, those who attempt to dabble with the genre are fated with being compared to it. Black & White Bushido shrugs off this comparison in two ways. Firstly it has no ranged combat (excluding pick-ups)—it’s purely melee with one-hit kills and parries. Secondly, each side will be black or white and can fade into the background of the same colour.
Verdict: Gameplay-wise, Black & White Bushido has a solidness you can use to crush a fly in a pinch. There is a lot of twitch-based gameplay, as well as bluffing as you sneak into the background and taunt your opponents. There are a variety of arenas as well, and they give you opportunities to lure your enemy onto small platforms to make dodging trickier.
Where it feels like it’d falter is offscreen and between the cracks. Five arenas isn’t a plentiful amount, and there just aren’t enough obstacles to liven things up (e.g. break-away platforms). My friend and I had a very good time, it being one of his favourite games of EGX, but we always felt it was on the cusp of staleness like questionably tough bread. Like half an hour longer and we’d call it done for good. For that, it gets a grade of C+ and a recommendation if you want an arena title that’ll last you an evening or three.
Game: Signal From Tolva
Developer: Big Robot
Publisher: Big Robot
Release Date/Price: Early 2017/ Unknown
I admit I didn’t play Big Robot’s prior game. While its steampunk exploration ideas lured me in, its stealth shoved me violently away as though I accidentally gave it a sinister wink. Stealth and I don’t get along—we’ve had many falling-outs, and now we’re on icy terms at best. So when the same studio announced a sci-fi exploration title about searching a planet as a hijacked drone, I came back with a refound curiosity, especially with its heavier emphasis on combat in comparison to Sir, You Are Being Hunted.
Verdict: Signal From Tolva is technically sound. There is a noticeable degree of progression as you stumble from place to place examining signals. The combat feels unique and satisfying as you shoot down drones with a variety of weaponry. The problem lies in how it lacks that click or hook, that sense the game is going to go somewhere. Although I hope that’ll come out in the final release. Until then, Signal From Tolva gets a C+.
Game: Little Nightmares
Developer: Tarsier Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
Release Date/Price: Spring 2017/ Unknown
This was a title that snuck under the radar. You are a small yellow raincoat-wearing girl called Six who has found herself in a dark place, one you must find a way out of. The demo at EGX had you using platforming skills to try to avoid the flabby, cruel chefs who’d love to grind you into a delicious paste for their next meal.
Verdict: Oh boy! This is a game that just drips atmosphere with every movement, every scene, and every cast member. From you dragging a suitcase so you can open a door, to fishlike fat chefs chasing you across the kitchen as you scuttle under a table, this game is something special.
My only worry with a title like this is it makes me wonder how much there could be. This is amplified because it’s created by an indie developer whose experience is made up of working on other people’s titles. Although, my concerns are more a reflection of the immense quality in aesthetics and animation than anything else. Needless to say, it highly deserves its B grade.
So, the question is, what beat the competition? What could be Bago’s best indie game of EGX 2016 after the fantastic line-up presented above? Especially considering the other games mentioned, this could be something of a controversial pick. This is a pick perhaps so heavily rooted in subjective preference that some might be raising their eyebrows in concern. Although, I’d retort that at the end of the day I believe games journalism is about evidence-based subjectivity. So allow me to make my case of why the following game deserves Bagogame’s award of Best Indie Game of EGX 2016.
Game: Tokyo Dark
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date/Price: 2017/ Unknown
Back in 2015, I threw down £14 to back Tokyo Dark on Kickstarter. It billed itself as a dark detective story where how you solved the case mattered as much as, if not more than, if you actually solved it. I backed it based on curiosity, but set my expectations low. I wanted to believe you had the wiggle room to solve it however you wanted, but I’ve been burned before by games promising freedom, but instead dragged me down a linear line on a choke-chain.
Tokyo Dark is a point-and-click adventure game. You play as Detective Ito whose partner goes missing one day. As she digs deeper into where he’s gone, it’s revealed that a horror has returned from her past in a new twisted form. While you’ll usually be presented a linear path (e.g. “get in the sewer”), how you solve it is up to your discretion. Although, this may have consequences both immediate and far-reaching as it affects your SPIN statistics (sanity, professionalism, investigative, and neuroticism). Just how far are you willing to push things to get to the dark truth?
Verdict: This is where personal flavourings are going to become noticeable. Not only does Tokyo Dark have a noticeable narrative presence, it’s a bleak, grim one that clicks with me soundly. It blends reality and fiction into a thick smoothie and presents it with a creeping fear of reality slipping through your fingertips. That may be you falling into the thick light-engulfing fog below where things have ceased to make sense. While not necessarily scary, it definitely creeped the hell out of me in a way that got under my skin like a knife.
I also got a strong sense of agency in what I did, which is something uncommon. Not only was I seeing my SPIN stats change (something I didn’t see a payoff of during the demo I tried), but there were references to my choices in later dialogue. If I had some whiskey, another character in a later scene would smell it on my breath. It was a small nudge perhaps, but it was enough to make me feel like I was actually interacting with the world I was in.
Overall, with its A- rating, Tokyo Dark oddly captured a feeling that I see a lot of games attempting in their narrative that they never quite manage to nail. You are playing a character who is investigating a case with a horrifying reality, one that will change them and leave them as burnt out as a Guy Fawkes effigy on the 6th of November.
Yet, they can’t look away and neither can you, no matter how bleak and mind-bending it gets. Even at the start, it will get under your skin, and the only way out is to discover the truth. The truth that wouldn’t fix much. Things as awful, bleak, and colossal as what is hiding behind the curtain can’t be rid of by one person just clinging to sanity, but at least you can delay the process. At least you can secure an ounce of understanding of why things are as terrible as they are to sate the investigative hunger you carry . . .
. . . Hmm . . .
. . . And on that note, thank you for reading the Indie Games of EGX 2016 list. Coming up next is the AAA list.