by Daniel Bullard-Bates
I just got back from PAX East this morning, and instead of sleeping all day and recuperating, I am bringing facts and impressions straight to you, dear reader. Today I will focus on the independent and less well-known games. There will be more of these in the coming days. Maybe even some photographic evidence. We'll see. Enough preamble, let's talk about some games:
AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - This was sort of my emotion entering PAX East, since it was more than a little overwhelming. It is also a base jumping game by Dejobaan Games that is currently out for the PC. I'd never tried it before, and found it both simple to learn and invigorating to play. For those not in the know, the point of AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! is to score points by getting close to buildings without breaking your neck by smashing into something at an incredible speed. There's a parachute to help you stick the landing as well. You can score additional points by waving to or flipping off spectators as you pass them.
I definitely enjoyed what I played, but my computer is a nightmare place that can run no living games, so I asked Ichiro Lambe, president and creative director of Dejobaan Games, whether there were any plans to bring the game to a console. He said that they are currently at work making a version for the iPad which will use the tilt functions for the controls, and that they are also investigating bringing the game to Xbox Live Arcade and WiiWare. In the meantime, you can learn more about AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! here. You can buy it for ten dollars.
Slam Bolt Scrappers - This one looks like chaotic, magnificent fun. Slam Bolt Scrappers was showing off its competitive multiplayer mode at PAX East, and I'm not sure I can accurately describe the madness. Essentially, two teams of two bulky angel people fly around fighting little Cthulhu dog monsters. When defeated, these monsters drop Tetris-style blocks which can then be used to build up your side of the screen. Creating large squares out of these blocks makes weapons and shields which are then used to attack the other team's slowly increasing tower. So it's a brawler and a Tetris-like game combined, in which the goal is not to clear lines but to build blocks and destroy the enemy's defenses. Bigger blocks means better weapons and shields. Does that make sense? It looks fun, I promise. Not sure when it's coming out, but I'll be keeping an eye on it.
BattleBlock Theater - I watched people play several rounds of this game, and could not make much sense of it. You want to turn blocks on the screen different colors, and there are power ups, and you can damage enemies, and I think there might be an evil cat overlord or something. This is by The Behemoth, the same folks who brought us Castle Crashers and Alien Hominid, and the art style is similarly silly and cute. It looks like this game has a more developed competitive multiplayer mode than Castle Crashers, which is good, but it also looks a good deal less accessible than Castle Crashers, which may be bad. Only time will tell.
Limbo - In Limbo, you play a young boy lost in a very dangerous forest. The art style is lovely, and presented entirely in black and white, which makes the enemies and dangers difficult to discern at times. This lets some dangers go unnoticed until they are very close, and a sense of dread becomes the standard state of the game after the first few surprisingly vicious deaths. This is a very bad forest, replete with bear traps, enormous monsters, and a few other lost little boys. The controls are simple, and the puzzles seemed fairly intuitive. The biggest dangers I see for this game are repetition and frustration, depending on how difficult and long the final product is.
Shank - Another game possessing a great art style, Shank looks like an action comic book in motion. It's a brawler with a wide variety of weapons, including the titular shanks, some guns, a chainsaw, and grenades. There's also a great pounce move that the main character can do, taking down one character and shooting at others at the same time. The game is quite bloody; at one point in the demo I played, Shank stuck a grenade into a large enemy's mouth and then shot it, resulting in quite a mess. Besides the art and the weapon choices, there isn't much that distinguished this game from other brawlers I've played, but if you're looking for a good brawler when it comes out this summer, you need look no further. I wasn't blown away, but the addition of a co-operative mode might change my mind. I find this sort of experience is best enjoyed with a friend. The booth attendant informed me that they are considering whether they want to add any multiplayer components.
Comic Jumper - This wasn't playable yet, but the new game from the makers of The Maw and 'Splosion Man was being showed off by Michael Wilford, the CEO of Twisted Pixel Games. The game is about a superhero named Captain Smiley, who is the main character in a really lame comic book. The dialogue is cheesy, the villains are dumb, and the women are always getting themselves into trouble. After the first few levels, which take place in said cheesy comic, he decides that he needs to get out there and jump into other styles of comic books to get his groove back and reconnect with his waning audience. Mike told us that the visual style of the different comics would change the looks of the levels and Captain Smiley, but we didn't get to see what that meant.
The level that Twisted Pixel showed off was from the first comic book, and the cheesiness was definitely present. Instead of being grating, though, it was charmingly silly. Captain Smiley spouted moral rhetoric about free will with little to no bidding and the villain was planning to blow up a bank for the crime of having too many fees on their supposedly free checking. The action seemed to combine side-scrolling brawler with side-scrolling shooter to positive effect, and a healthy amount of humor was present in the enemies and scenarios. In a nice visual trick, level transitions showed Captain Smiley actually leaping or running from one comic frame to another. He also has a wise-cracking sidekick in the form of a star attached to his chest. The star pretty much hates him and wishes he were attached to some cooler superhero, or even to Brad, the arch-villain of Captain Smiley's cheesy world.
I asked Mike after the demonstration about what other comic styles would be explored, but he wouldn't give up any details. He did say, however, that the major inspiration for the game was the art of Jim Lee and the work that he did with the 90s splash page style of comics. Mike added that the other comic styles would be from older styles than that, and that they should be recognizable styles to most people, though comic book aficionados may recognize the individual artists used as inspiration.
Miegakure - This puzzle-platformer game takes place in four dimensions. The character can move, jump, and push objects in three dimensions, but through a button press, he can cause parallel dimensions to be represented in three dimensions and then move between them and push objects from one to another. I played through the first few levels and saw the potential for some very interesting puzzles. The game did a good job of teaching what could be a very abstract mechanic in a clear and gradual way.
My one complaint, which I voiced to Marc ten Bosch, the game's creator, was that it was possible to push objects in such a way that the level could not be completed. I asked if he intended to add a pull button so that it would not be necessary to restart the level in a case like this, but he said that he preferred the simplicity of the controls and the levels. Each level can be completed in just a few motions once you know what to do, he explained. The style of the game is inspired by Japanese art and characters, and it seems like the solution to any level should be simple, like a brush stroke or the raking of a zen garden. I'll be most interested to see how the mechanic evolves in later levels, and my major concern is that, like the lack of a pull button to prevent forced restarts, the concept of the game may get in the way of the fun.
Coming soon: thoughts on Red Dead Redemption, Mafia 2, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, Gaming in 3D, Splinter Cell: Conviction, and Starcraft 2.
Monday, March 29, 2010
by Daniel Bullard-Bates