As indies have exploded over the last few years, they've come to take up more and more real estate at the various annual game shows. Nowhere is that more apparent than this year's Eurogamer Expo, where a substantial slice of the main exhibition hall is more or less wall-to-wall indies.
I hit the floor today with an eye toward finding the indies that stood out from the usual adventure games, puzzlers, and other fare. Of the games that caught my eyes, a few fell into the traditional retro shoot 'em up category, but others had unique perspectives on existing genres, or in the case of Sublevel Zero, dusted off a style of first-person shooter that hasn't been seen in quite a while. Here's what I found after a morning spent wandering the show floor.
It's initially difficult to discern what Kingdom is trying to accomplish. A 2D pixel art game, it initially casts you as a king (or queen) riding a horse through the wilderness. My first thought was that it looked a lot like Monty Python and the Holy Grail; and as I dispensed coins to the citizenry and they began to build my base, I figured I was playing a high concept city building sim. When I asked the rep showing the game what it was about, though, he said only, "Discovery."
As the king or queen, you recruit citizens from camps sitting at the edge of the woods, who will in turn build up a town. Giving money to the bow stand will turn a citizen into a hunter who can defend the town and hunt rabbits for money, while investing money in a hammer will turn one of them into a builder. At night, monsters appear to attack the settlement; and if you happen to be out exploring the woods, you will be quickly overwhelmed and killed. The game offers few hints on how to proceed, but as you progress, you will slowly but surely figure out how to build up your town, research more advanced materials, and uncover the world's secrets. It's one of a growing number of strategy games, but its minimalism adds to the atmosphere of danger and mystery that grows as day turns to night and monsters begin to emerge.
Kingdom, as it happens, is apparently a sequel. I missed the first game, which was primarily a browser game, but the sequel promises to fix "all of the annoyances of the original." I look forward to it.
Move or Die
The prototypical indie party game, but a fun one. Up to four players can take on the role of a squat, pixelated character and play against their friends in a series of rapidfire challenges. The name is derived from the speed of the challenges, which never last more than 30 seconds or so, requiring that you try to wear a hat for as long possible before it's stolen, claim the largest number of blocks by running over them, or simply try to survive as your opponents attempt to stomp on your head. It's definitely not the same, but it's a bit of that Towerfall vibe about it. It may ultimately be a bit shallow, but it definitely kept the people playing it entertained for the duration, and that included myself. It's currently available via Early Access on Steam, where it's gotten very positive reviews. Having played it, I can see why.
Monsters & Monocles
Giant eyeball bosses are in vogue in indie games. I've seen this beast in Rogue Legacy, Enter the Gungeon, and Towerfall. It appears again in Monsters & Monocles - a four-player shoot 'em up by Retro Dreamer - were it can be found sporting a smart looking top hat and, of course, a monocle. Outside of its familiar-looking boss, Monsters & Monocles has all of the hallmarks of the indie shoot 'em up - a playful setting (Monsters & Monocles goes for the Victorian look), pixel art, and randomly-generated levels. Nevertheless, it never comes off as tired, and I had a great time burning through waves of enemies with a blunderbuss and a machine gun. A twin stick shooter, it has a top-down perspective, bringing to mind old genre standbys like Smash TV. Monsters & Monocles has been in development for a while now - it was first shown in early 2014 - which Retro Dreamer has justified as a desire to "get it right." With its terrific art and enjoyable action, Monsters & Monocles appears to be on its way to doing just that.
The first PC gaming magazine I ever bought was an issue of PC Gamer featuring Descent, which was touted as a true "DOOM Killer." Descent never quite reached those heights, but it nevertheless managed to build up a solid following over the course of three games. A sequel is due in March; but while you wait, you can play Sublevel Zero - another take on Descent's "six degrees of freedom" that incorporates randomly generated levels as well as the ability to craft items. It's pretty much just as I remembered the original, albeit a tad awkward, as playing with the keyboard isn't the greatest way to navigate a 3D world. As in the original Descent, you move through claustrophobic tunnels in your ship as you search for the installation's reactor, battling ships and automated robots along the way. It serves as more proof that a true PC gaming renaissance is underway. We now live in a world where there are two Descent descendants. We'll see if Sublevel Zero manages up to live up to the original game's legacy when it becomes available on Steam in October.
This game caught my eye when I saw what looked like 30 or more destroyed mechs piled into a pit, with more being added by the four players pouring bullets from every corner of the screen. Inspired by Contra and Smash TV, a proof of concept of Gunnihilation has been available via Newgrounds for a little while now, but it's a gotten a big visibility boost since being named Game of the Show at Gamescom UK. It's not hard to see why it's proven popular with both fans and media alike. It's hugely fun, a bullet hell-like shooter in which up to eight players can battle massive waves of enemies pouring in from all sides. It is 100 percent what the title says - pure anniliation... with guns. It's a little while from being finished, but it's coming along nicely. A nice win for the UK's indie development community.
One Ship Two Ship Redshift Blueshift
And finally we have One Ship Two Ship Redshift Blueshift - an Arkanoid-like shoot 'em up that was released today on Steam. A two-player competitive game, you take turns with your opponent bouncing a ball off the top of the screen, then firing at items and enemies while your opponent takes their turn. It quickly gets crazy, as missing the ball means conceding a point to your opponent; and as you might expect, the ball picks up speed as the match progresses. By the time the ball has been bounced a few times, the screen is typically filled with missiles, items, and your opponent's bullets, requiring supreme concentration to pick out the ball and return it to the top of the screen. It's surprisingly fun to play against the computer, but this is definitely the sort of game that you want to play with a friend. As I mentioned, it's already available on Steam, but I think it could use a bit more love than it's getting. It's a gem of a multiplayer game.