As we carry on our coverage of EGX 2017, we get to the indie games. As someone whose spare time is absolutely stuffed with playing or writing about games, the progression and imagination indie games often bring is one of the major highlights of my job. After all, there’s only so many times I can star as a hero shooting dead the bad guys in time to get home for pink lemonade. I want to try new things, or at least old things in a new light. I want to experience the beautiful progression of our culture, industry and hobby as it experiments with new concepts, narratives and implementations. So, without further floundering, let’s get into the indies.
Game: Guns, Gore and Cannoli 2
Developer: Crazy Monkey Studios
Format: PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Switch
Release Date: Unknown
Guns, Gore and Cannoli 2 is a side-scrolling shoot-em-up starring 1940s gangster Vinnie as he must retread the massacre of the prior game to deal with loose ends that take him from “Thugtown” all the way to the European battlefields of WW2. I got to try the co-op mode with a friend, although it does have the potential to have 4 folks on the same screen at once.
Verdict: If I had to sum up my experience with GG & C 2 (which, while an acronym of the game, feels like a sequel to a law firm), it would be frustrating. Sure there were small niggles, biting at my toes as I dipped my foot into its waters. There was sometimes moments where the environment wasn’t exactly clear what to do (a defence section is a particularly strong example, as I wasn’t sure if it was a time limit or if I had to kill so many), only I had a baseball bat so my friend couldn’t melee beyond just kicking their teeth in and the ammo count wasn’t on an UI.
However, the twist of the knife in the gut of this game came from the camera. The camera seems to have a limit with regards to zooming out, and this limit is shorter than arena sizes. So often it’d pick who it wants to follow today, and either my friend or I would just stumble off camera for some off-screen curb-biting. Combined with the defence sections after I would ignite a TNT and summon a hoard of beasties, one of us would have our head-caved as we wrestled to get ourselves back on screen.
Maybe a lot would be forgiven if everything else was enjoyable, but it felt like white noise reminding me of better titles. GG & C 2 feels like it has a road to go before I could brandish this as a local co-op to mess about with. Until then, it gets an unfortunate grade of E+.
Game: Sunless Skies
Developer: Failbetter Games
Format: PC, Mac and Linux
Release Date: Out now in Early Access
Price: £18.99 (Steam)
Fallen London (also known as Echo Bazaar) built up a solid reputation as one of the best web browser games around on the back of its excellent writing and unusual approach to challenge. A challenge wasn’t just in thumping someone as hard as you can, but also if you’re able to charm someone over a glass of wine or deftly pick a pocket in a crowd. Since then Failbetter Games went onto make Sunless Sea, where you explore the unknown Unterzee (well, the sea, but in the Gothic Victorian Fallen London things are a bit different).
Now you must explore the unknown skies, travel between settlements and defend yourself as you delve deep into the bizarre unknown.
Verdict: As the intro might have “subtly” suggested in block capitals, I love games that either are completely different or leap off something enough to distinguish itself. Sunless Skies does try to distinguish itself from it’s predecessor. Its combat is more manoeuvrable, its legacy mechanic makes death less frustrating and it is in the sky after all. However, as much as I kept trying to drag some enjoyment out of it, I kept questioning myself why would I play Sunless Skies while Sunless Sea exists.
I still remember trying to wrap my head around the game, mentally rolling it around like gum in my mouth, as I was talking about my experience with the game to my friend. I kept feeling like I had missed something, as “Sunless Sea but in the skies” felt like a harsh statement. My friend turns to me, loaded with a smirk, as he tells me “so, it was Funless Skies?”.
So Sunless Skies gets a drab D, as fans of the original will get more, those not impressed with Sunless Sea wouldn’t find new worth and it is relatively inoffensive. My friend gets a F for his bad pun though, dang it Josh.
Game: Balance of Kingdoms
Developer: Woks On Studios
Release Date: Unknown
Balance of Kingdoms is a 1 v 1 physics combat title. Build your kingdom and then lob all you can at your enemy, as both of your kingdoms got the clever plan to build your settlement on a horizontal plank of wood balanced in the middle by a vertical stick. So knock your enemy’s kingdom off balance and into the abyss below, while making sure you don’t do what I did: Lose by building too much on one side while oblivious of how the game works. Pay gold and population to build items, which some buildings increase the rate of gaining either resource or can simply be used to block missile fire from your foe.
Verdict: Balance of Kingdoms is a simple and basic title, but that doesn’t exclude it from being enjoyable. My friend and I got plenty of joy from what is a simple premise. Sure it had some problems, like it is possible to have your cannons shot off the platform and then shot as they spawn. That said, it feels like a small neat title to pick up on the cheap currently. Maybe it’ll grow into something splendid eventually, especially as it is seeking funds through Indiegogo, but at its root lies something basic, simple and satisfying.
Balance of Kingdom gets a cautious C- as a grade, with hopes of it growing into perhaps even a strong B one day.
We arrive at our 4th and final game, which is our Indie Game of EGX 2017. Unfortunately, this year I was tied up in queues and interviews to the point where I couldn’t play many unreleased indies. However, the Indie Game of EGX 2017 was one that I felt took an old style of gameplay and aesthetic and brought it to the modern day. There is a chance of a personal love, as it does mimic a particular game I grew up with a little while adding its own flare, but even putting that aside it is a good game in its own right. So, let’s get to the winner.
Game: Racing Apex
Developer: Lucky Mountain Games & Onyx Digital Studio
Format: PC, Mac, Linux and Switch
Release Date: Unknown
Imagine if someone got a racer from the early 90s like Ridge Racer, combined it with bright low-polygon graphics from the era and added a spice of modern day racer mechanics. These mechanics currently come in the form of getting extra nitro from your car by drifting around corners and having an inside-car camera view. However, extra mechanics will later be added such as car customisation, various game modes and vehicle damage.
Verdict: Truth be told, this is the type of game where people already know if they’re going to be plinking their PC tower units full of coins in the hopes that money will speed up development or just move on. However, if your attention is still drawn to the game, nostalgia welling up inside like an uncontrollable bout of intense glee, then Racing Apex delivers already in the broad-strokes. There are still some areas that do need to be smoothed over prior to release, like the nitro-gaining system (especially if how sharp the drift is could increase or decrease the amount of nitro reaped, maybe lose the gained nitro if you crash before leveling out), but it still works as is.