This past July, Xbox (and Steam) hosted an event for the public unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. The Xbox Summer Game Fest – and the Steam Summer Game Festival – shined a light on the smaller up-and-coming developers in the games industry, offering multiple free demos for anyone to play. While I tried quite a few in the Steam Festival, the Xbox one left me with some genuinely unique games on my mind, which were quickly added to my wishlist. Today, I’d like to share my impressions on 10 of those special games you may have missed.
9 Monkeys of Shaolin
The first demo I tried during the week, 9 Monkeys of Shaolin follows a fairly standard side-scrolling beat ’em up formula. Set in what feels like an old kung fu movie from the ’70s, players take control of a fancy high-kicking protagonist with an array of powerful attacks as well as the ability to deflect oncoming projectiles. While exploring the Asian landscapes and learning the ways of Shaolin martial arts, you’re taken through a narrative that feels extremely detailed for such a seemingly basic indie game. On top of this, all of the dialogue is fully-voiced, which just goes above and beyond what’s necessary. What really drew me into 9 Monkeys of Shaolin, however, was its unique art style, which blends 3D and 2D visuals with a cel-shading scheme I’ve never really seen in a game of this genre. This started the week off with a bang and got me excited for something I had no intention of loving so much.
The Ambassador: Fractured Timelines
I’m not much for rogue-lites and rogue-likes. In fact, I tend to steer clear of any game that utilizes “replayability” as a selling point. However, the pixelated fantasy rogue-lite, The Ambassador: Fractured Timelines, drew me in for a number of reasons. At first glance, its visuals are enough to make the retro lover in me get excited. Fortunately, beneath its colorful exterior lies a comprehensive RPG with countless upgrades and enemy types to pepper the gameplay with a unique flair. On top of all this, the player is tasked with using the protagonist’s time-manipulation powers to navigate multiple levels in a single run, encountering harder enemies with every stage. Upon completing a stage, the player will be awarded new weaponry, which calls for new skills to be learned if they wish to come out on top. The Ambassador feels simultaneously familiar yet refreshing, which makes it one to land on the radar of any classic dungeon-crawling fan.
If you know me at all, then you’ll recall my love of multiplayer games, specifically those that allow for local co-op. Some of the best local co-op games come in the form of top-down, twin-stick shoot ’em up’s like Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime or Alienation. Tesla Force takes the tried-and-true lore of H.P. Lovecraft and turns it into such a game, resulting in a glorious, beautiful, frantic shooter that’s sure to satisfy fans of the genre. I was instantly taken aback by how bright and realistic the environments look in each stage. The gameplay is fast-paced and satisfying, with multiple variations of guns and power-ups, as well as a buildable mech that can blow away smaller enemies and take on bosses single-handedly. The lore behind this game bleeds “scientific revolution,” with characters like Nikola Tesla, Marie Curie, and Lovecraft himself working together to harness the powers of electricity and time travel. I can’t wait to play more Tesla Force when it’s finally released, especially with friends.
Space Otter Charlie
On the surface, a game about anthropomorphic animals in space is probably going to be gawked at by most people. However, I strongly urge you to give Space Otter Charlie a chance. The closest thing I can compare this to would be a game like Gravity Guy, the old flash game where the protagonist could switch between gravity at will. Strangely, I played a game during this week that was even more similar to Gravity Guy called Antipole DX, however, Space Otter Charlie adds some newer mechanics to the formula. By aiming Charlie’s jump pattern, the player must move him through zero-gravity locales, solving puzzles, opening doors, and shooting enemies along his path. The fact that the cast is made entirely of animals shouldn’t dissuade you from giving this surprisingly complicated puzzler a shot. The writing is witty and the visuals are colorfully cartoonish. I had a blast playing as this little Otter astronaut.
I was not prepared for what awaited me in The Vale. Beginning with only darkness and a voiceover telling me about the world around me, my confusion quickly shifted to the realization that I could not see this world at all; I was blind. Playing a blind protagonist in a video game is not exactly uncharted territory, however, the concept of not being able to see anything but darkness and sparkles… yeah, that’s new. Now take that bewilderment and couple it with not only the lore, but also the swordplay of a medieval RPG, and suddenly your perception of The Vale becomes something so foreign, I’ll bet you can hardly imagine it in your mind. Trust me when I say The Vale is one of the most unique video game experiences I’ve ever encountered. Feeling my way through a world using nothing but sound and dim light to guide me is such a fascinating concept, I can’t believe we haven’t seen it utilized sooner. The Vale left an impression on me, and it taught me that being blind? Well, it ain’t easy.
After indulging in another rhythm game as part of this Summer Game Fest, Klang 2, I longed for something a bit less… “in my face.” While Klang 2 delivered a booming experience full of dubstep and bright visuals, the minimalistic jazzy groove of Genesis Noir had me even more entertained thanks to the mystery it left in my mind. Assuming the role of a musical detective, the player must roam the picturesque city through comic-like panels to uncover clues and bring music back into the world. Losing yourself in the tune of the town is just as enjoyable as the unique gameplay mechanics. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I was fighting a boss, or just jamming with a character in the world on his upright bass. Genesis Noir‘s focus on atmospheric storytelling and using nothing but a black-and-white color scheme to bring the environment to life makes it one of the most standout games I tried all week.
Road to Guangdong
Some of the most imaginative indie games on the market blend two genres together in a combination so surprisingly magical, it’s impossible to picture a world without such a mix. What’s a world without peanut butter and chocolate, or ice cream and cookie dough, or driving simulators and visual novels? That last one… that’s what Road to Guangdong is all about, and it’s a combination unlike any other. After inheriting the family business – and the family car – the protagonist is tasked with taking her grandmother on a road trip to reunite her extended family. Along the way, however, she must take care of the famous family car, and doing so involves driving at a cautious speed, fueling it regularly, and taking it to various mechanics for repairs (all within her budget, of course). Watching this story play out – a very Asian-inspired story, mind you – not only sheds light on the values of family, but also of vehicle maintenance, which is really a sentence nobody’s ever said before. Road to Guangdong is an original, fascinating gem. Just make sure you have some patience before attempting this one.
This game was actually released this week, out there in the real world for anyone to finally get their hands on. However, if you’ve never heard of Helheim Hassle, it’s a humorous look at the lives of Vikings and the gods they idolize. The graphics of this game add to the humor, and its voice acting is absolutely brilliant. Gameplay involves standard platforming and puzzle-solving, but the joy of Helheim Hassle is its comedy. Another great comedy title I played this week was called Welcome to Elk. With its own unique visual style – seriously, every character walks like that Spider-Man meme where they dance in a line to “Take On Me” – this game follows a girl who visits her homeland for the first time, only to get sucked into the wacky lifestyle of the people there. Both of these games are as humorous as they are engaging, with a lot of intelligent writing that’ll leave the player wanting more. I highly recommend them both if you’re looking for a game that will make you laugh and get lost in the world around you.
Armed and Gelatinous
While I was left quite satisfied with the single-player indie experiences on offer this week, I couldn’t help but find myself longing for some multiplayer games. Thankfully, I came across three that really entertained my sister and I. The first of which was called Armed and Gelatinous, and its premise is as easy to grasp as it is laughable. Up to four players take control of a colored jelly blob, floating around in space and collecting heavy weaponry. Whichever edge of the blob touches the weapon boxes then finds itself with the weapon attached there, making weapon placement strategic in order to take down opponents at any angle. As the blobs float through space, they then utilize the guns, missile launchers, and flame throwers to destroy each other, with each weapon having its own range and power. On top of this, gathering guns makes the blobs grow bigger and slower, filling the screen exponentially with bullets and fat jelly balls. Armed and Gelatinous is dumb fun mixed with extreme chaos, and I loved every second of it.
Chickens Madness is a game about chickens, battling for supremacy across multiple minigames. Think of Fall Guys with chickens and a much lower frame rate. Obviously, this game is early in development, however, the fun is certainly apparent, and playing with friends locally makes it even more exciting. But without a doubt, the best local multiplayer game I played throughout Summer Game Fest was Unspottable. Remember the Guess Who minigame people would play in Garry’s Mod? Think of that on an isometric scale, with smaller stages, and you’ve got Unspottable. Up to four local players are thrown in an arena with a bunch of NPC’s who look like them. The goal is to point out unorthodox movements and kill the other players without giving away your own position. There are also side goals to complete that will earn players extra points, but at the end of the day, it’s all about knocking out your buddies. This game can get complicated and frustrating real fast, which makes it the perfect party game.
I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a look at some of the best indie games on the horizon. At least, these are some of the best coming to Xbox, but a lot of them are coming to Steam as well as other consoles. As I always say, indie development is often a lot smarter than AAA game development, and after making this list and playing these demos, I hold true to that statement. Indie developers are the future of creativity and innovative game design, so please go give them some love, and for more news on these games as they’re released, stay tuned to VGU.