IndieCade faves from E3: Spaceteam, Towerfall, 7 Grand Steps, Perfection, Voronoid, Soundodger
by Ozzie Mejia, shacknews.com, Jun 17, 2013 3:30PM PDT
While IndieCade's E3 booth may not be as boisterous as others at the show, its impact cannot be denied. IndieCade has been home to games such as Braid, Dear Esther, and Skulls of the Shogun long before they were on anyone's radar and this year looks to continue that trend. Here are some of the more notable games I got to check out.
One of my favorites was Sleeping Beast Games' Spaceteam for iOS (pictured above). The idea is to gather up to four friends locally via a Bluetooth connection to pilot a starship. Everybody gets their own panel with different instruments. The game will prompt for a switch or toggle to be activated, deactivated, or adjusted. If the instrument requested isn't on your screen, then it's on a friend's screen and you must yell out which one needs to be adjusted, so that your friend can do so before time runs out. You'll occasionally hit anomalies along the way, like asteroid fields and magnetic storms that make hitting switches more difficult, which ramps up the stress factor to fun levels.
I started off in a two-player setting, which allowed for clear communication. If I didn't have the right switch, I'd calmly tell my partner to flip it. As the pace quickened, so did our voices. Two more people came along and we jumped into a four-player session, where all sense of simplicity got tossed out the hatch. We soon started yelling over each other and couldn't make heads or tails of what we were supposed to switch on and off, unless someone yelled out "ASTEROID!" at which point we shook our devices simultaneously to avoid it. Each instance that time runs out on an order, the space craft will hit turbulence, knocking panels loose and flooding the panel with goop. Panels could be put back together and goop could be cleared with the touch screen, but too many hits meant the end of the game. The end came sooner than later with four players, but it showed the potential that Spaceteam has to be a breakout title. It is maddeningly fun and it's available now on the App Store.
I definitely didn't expect an OUYA game to crack my list, but TowerFall, a 2D platformer from Matt Makes Games, strikes the right kind of competitive chord that makes me want to keep coming back to it. Taking place on a single screen, four players start off on opposite corners and battle it out to remain the last person standing. Whoever racks up three wins is the overall winner. Each player starts off with a limited number of arrows and must strike down their opponents. The tower is also filled with treasure chests--some of which offer items or boosts, while others activate hazardous traps.
Games of TowerFall often turned into chaotic free-for-alls, with some players grabbing some of the climbable walls and shooting arrows from there. Others tried to fall through the pit at the bottom and fall through the top of the screen, landing on opponents with a deadly stomp. Most of the fun at the beginning of the game comes from activating some of the traps, like rising lava, but there's a real sense of tension that seeps in when there are only two people left. This is when real strategy sets in and players must take into account the limited arc of each arrow shot before attacking. Each time there were two people remaining, small crowds gathered behind me to see who would remain and almost every game resulted in raucous laughter. For such a simplistic platformer that only really utilizes a "jump" and "shoot" button, TowerFall proved to be surprisingly deep and very entertaining.
7 Grand Steps
I've been having a great time with Mousechief's 7 Grand Steps, which released on Steam shortly before E3 started. This game puts you in ancient Greek/Roman times and has you contributing to your personal life and to society as you see fit. It's operated with a penny arcade-style presentation that has you moving pawns across a board to tell your own story. The goal is more than survival, it's also to forge your entire family tree, one move at a time. Likewise, your neighbors are also moving and will sometimes interact with you by helping you complete certain tasks or by impeding your progress.
The game starts to get interesting when children are introduced. As the next generation in your family tree, the children are literally your future. Investing tokens in them is a must, as educated and strengthened children will help ensure future prosperity. However, it will come at the expense of your current moves. There are also story sequences that will allow you to help shape how your children turn out and whether they become a beneficial member of society or wind up becoming a moral drain. The possibilities are far too endless to experience on the E3 floor, but I have been jumping into the game on Steam and it's every bit as complex as Mousechief said it would be.
Perfection, from Dumb and Fat Games, is an iOS puzzler that scales down the pressure factor significantly, thanks to an overall minimalist aesthetic. The idea is to cut large chunk of paper and slice them down to fit within a specified paramter. The touch screen makes it simple to pare down cuts the way you want it and you can take as many cuts as you need to. Stages are randomly generated and you're more than welcome to skip stages that prove too frustrating. Although, with no clear overall goal or campaign to speak of, the frustration factor of this game is almost nil. In fact, Perfection's greatest strength (its clear lack of overall goals, penalties, and scores) also doubles as its biggest weakness, since there isn't particularly anything to accomplish in the game. It's simply a time-waster, albeit an enjoyable one. Perfection is as simplistic as games gets and, without any time limits, it also feels relaxing. Those aching for more of a challenge will more than likely pass this one by, but Perfection is good for anyone that doesn't want to feel pressured by "gamey" limitations. Perfection is available now on the App Store.
17 Bit Studios made some headlines when Sony revealed that their game GalakZ would be coming to PS4, but Zach Aikman of the Skulls of the Shogun creator has another game in the works. Voronoid is a competitive local multiplayer game about territories. Up to four players control different-colored circles, with each one reflecting light in a certain direction. The idea is to push the other players aside, in order to shine your light across the screen until you collect enough points to win the round. The first person to win three rounds is the overall victor.
Players are aided by a limited boost that allows them to ram into opponents. A successful bump will subtract from their score and vampirically add to your own. Power-ups will also appear on the playing field, replenishing boost, while also dropping rocks that will reflect light in different angles. It takes a while to get used to, especially the boosting and ramming mechanics. But Voronoid gets pretty intense and is definitely a game worth keeping an eye on. It's still undergoing the testing phase, but there's a playable version of Voronoid available here.
Michael Molinari is an IndieCade veteran who last appeared at the event in 2011 with BasketBelle. Now the one-man developer is working on his next: Soundodger, a PC title that puts a twist on the music genre. On the surface, it appears to be similar to games like Beat Hazard Ultra and Symphony, in the sense that the music's beat determines what appears in the game. However, Soundodger isn't about shooting anything. In fact, your craft is completely defenseless. The game is about avoiding all obstacles by using the mouse and a limited slow motion mechanic.
Simplistic in graphical design, the playing field is comprised of a circular area, with sharp pointy objects spawning outside the area and piercing through to the beat of the background music. Breakdowns and solos will spawn in objects in recognizable patterns and players will spend most of their time trying to find a free spot to hide. Getting hit means the track briefly speeds up, throwing the rhythm slightly out of whack. Scores are determined by how many obstacles you're able to avoid and how sparingly you use the slow motion mechanic. It's a clever twist on an established formula and I look forward to seeing some of the other original music tracks included in this game from artists like Fez composer, Disasterpeace.
IndieCade has also been known for developers thinking outside the normal parameters of a console and creating a unique, physical experience. Greenfly Studios is keeping this spirit alive with their newest game, QuickDraw. Like Johann Sebastian Joust (which was also playable on the show floor), QuickDraw utilizes up to seven PlayStation Move controllers. The idea is that the Move controllers are holstered to you, not unlike a six-shooter back in the Wild West days. Everyone stands in a circle and faces one another in a Mexican standoff, as some western-themed music starts playing. When you hear gunshots, you draw your controller, point at your target, and pull the trigger button on the back of the controller. Controllers with red lights mean their holders are dead, with the game continuing until one person is left standing.
While it doesn't have that same kind of physical chaos that JSJ has, QuickDraw is a fun game in its own right. It's about putting on your best poker face and not giving any hints to your potential target that you're about to blow them away. While the aiming didn't feel entirely precise, I can't deny that I was having a good time. It's a fun and different way to play games with the PlayStation Move controller and, once its refined, it shows the potential to be an awesome party game.