Top Picks of IndieCade 2014
If you missed IndieCade this year, here’s a guide to some of Nick’s favorite games of the show.
This past weekend I attended IndieCade. If you don’t know about it, it’s a festival built specifically to showcase games that might have a harder time getting noticed. Ironically, this year it was the same weekend as New York Comic Con- a convention that could not be more different. So while on Facebook I saw most of my friends posting photos of celebrities, exclusive merchandise and huge, expensive statues, I was playing games that cost less to make than a booth babe’s day rate.
As I mentioned in the Coverage HQ article before the convention started, IndieCade and its little brother in the east invariably spawn some of the most innovative games of the year, and this one was no exception. It wasn’t all self-funded titles this time either- companies like Oculus VR, Leap Motion and Noitom were showing off their latest tech, and gaming giants Sony and Nintendo had booths jam-packed with indies they either cultivated or picked up over the past year. Sony had their HD remake of Grim Fandango on display, as well as EarthNight, a game that, according to developer Rich Siegel, they picked up a few days after our interview at IndieCade East earlier this year. Nintendo was showing favorites like Shovel Knight and Shantae, as well as some surprise hits like Runbow and Sportsball. Here are some of the games I checked out this weekend that are worth a look, in no particular order:
I discovered this one during the “Night Games” on Saturday, and couldn’t tear myself away from it for quite a while. It’s built around the main mechanics of Joust: you have a lance, ride atop a giant bird, and die if you are hit by another player from above. It’s what developer Too DX layered on top of those mechanics that make it so special though. In the main mode, two teams of two birds (with names like the ‘Sapphire Skyhearts’ or the ‘Gang of Green’) battle to bounce balls into a central goal. It really turns into mayhem when multiple balls start spawning, as players are forced to split their team into defense and offense, while also attacking other birds to gain some breathing room to score. I interviewed two of the developers, who seem very intent to turn it into the next Towerfall-level esport- judging from the crowd response at the show, it seems like they’re on the right track. Sportsball is expected to release later this year for the WiiU.
If you don’t already know about Nidhogg, you’ve been living an empty shell of a life until now. It’s a sidescroller with a twist: there’s another guy trying to scroll to the left while you’re trying to scroll to the right, and only one of you can make it out alive. You’re both armed with fencing swords, and once one player wins the initial duel at a match’s opening, he makes a mad dash for his finish line while the opposing player continually shows up to impede his progress. If the challenger scores a kill, the onus is then on him to run in the other direction as fast as he can. This game has been making the rounds at conventions since 2010, but recently it’s been added to PlayStation’s portfolio and therefore has another excuse to make an appearance at IndieCade. When this game is projected on a screen for tournaments, it always draws a massive, viciously screaming crowd. I’m not exaggerating when I say Nidhogg is one of the greatest games ever made. If you are looking for a local multiplayer game, look no further. Nidhogg is on PC, Mac, and as of today, PS4 and PS Vita.
Museum of Simulation Technology
What if that head crusher guy from Kids in the Hall was really onto something? That’s the ruleset that the incredibly-difficult-to-describe Museum of Simulation Technology lives by. At the top level, it’s a puzzle game. The means with which you solve those puzzles is an extremely novel mechanic, in which perceived perspective is reality. If you see the moon up in the sky, it looks small right? If you pick the moon up in this game and place it next to you, it will only be as large as it looked when it was in the sky. Similarly, if you pick up a small box from up close (where it fills your screen because you’re right next to it) and release it in front of you, the box will then be very large on the other side of the room. It’s a real mindbender, which truly needs to be seen to be understood. The whole game also has a sort of Portal, or The Stanley Parable-esque irreverence too, which made the brief demo I played quite entertaining. The developers are planning to take their time on this one, shooting for a 2015 or 2016 release. Considering how hard it was for me to wrap my mind around those puzzles, I don’t blame them.
This one’s real simple: 9 players run across multicolored platforms to the finish line. The hook? The background constantly changes color, and if the color matches a platform, that platform no longer exists. It’s a brilliant mechanic that leads to supremely interesting gameplay scenarios, as the environment literally changes underneath your feet. I played Runbow during the “Night Games,” where its developers were running a tournament and acting as hype men for their respective teams. This game is best played with all 9 players screaming their heads off- IndieCade is great for that, but if you have 8 friends you’ll be able to pick this one up for WiiU next year.
When trying to describe Lethal League to friends, I’ve only been able to come up with “Super Smash Bros, but baseball.” It’s a no-frills fighting game with 5 characters to choose from, in which players smack a bouncing baseball around on a 2D playing field, trying not to get hit themselves. It’s a fun basic mechanic, but an extremely infectious, over-the-top Japanese style does wonders for this game’s charm. As the ball is hit more it gains speed, and eventually crazy stuff goes down like time stopping for players to do Dragonball Z-style super attacks, or the playing field bursting into a torrential downpour due to the extreme intensity of a match. My crew and I played in a Lethal League tournament on Day 3 of the festival, and while we didn’t win, we were privileged enough to see two insanely skilled players face off in the final matchup. They actually reached the maximum ball speed at one point, and if you’ve ever played Lethal League, you already know that at that moment the screams from onlookers were likely heard from miles away. This game is a blast to watch, and immensely nerve-wracking to play. You can pick up Lethal League right now on Steam.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Everybody knows the scene endlessly played out in action movies, in which the hero needs to defuse a bomb and he’s being talked through the process over the phone. Now you can be that guy, while your friend frantically thumbs through a bomb’s instruction manual to act as your defusal expert. The experience is really sealed by the way this one is played: one person wears a VR headset, and is the only one to actually see the bomb. Everyone else reads from a physical manual with cryptic commands pertaining to different aspects of that bomb. Because neither team can see the other’s stuff, communication is key. The conversations that need to occur inevitably end up sounding exactly like a scene from ‘Mission Impossible’ or ‘Speed.’ Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes won IndieCade’s Media Choice Award at the end of the show, and deservedly so. Look for this one when the Samsung Gear VR headset is launched- they’re planning to be there day one.Click to listen to our Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes interview
This project created by a DigiPen student team revolves around player communication. A simple co-op platformer becomes immensely more complex when one player can’t see what the other is doing. This is achieved by two images simultaneously being rendered on-screen, one in red and one in blue. Players then wear modified red/blue 3D glasses, in which both lenses are either red or blue, to see their respective screens. Because players are invisible to each other but share the same world, they must find ways to communicate efficiently enough to get through each level. It’s the sort of game that excels at conventions like this, as friends attempt to yell each other through a puzzle and strangers give each other hesitant orders. It’s an amazing concept, and only at IndieCade could a bold student project like this have been recognized highly enough to win the festival’s Audience Choice Award. Sunder can be downloaded now through DigiPen’s website, but you’ll have to provide the glasses yourself.
This one isn’t a video game, but I need to give it a mention anyway. RainboDisko is played by attempting to place board game pieces on a moving vinyl record. If pieces end up falling off when you’re trying to put yours down you get a point, and at seven points you lose the game. It becomes more interesting as time passes, because the needle is always moving inwards, therefore making the playing field perpetually smaller. I ended up basically glued to this game during the “Night Games” on Saturday- it really encourages that “one more try” mentality. If you have a turntable, some LPs and pieces from a board game lying around, you can make this one at home for free.
This game can be played by as many people as you can cram around a PC’s keyboard. In Elbow Room, each player simply picks one key that’s transplanted onto a circle. A needle rotates around the circle, and all you need to do is press your key when the needle reaches your area. Sounds simple right? Get a couple rounds of this game in, and you’ll think differently. Any player can double tap their key during their turn, causing the needle to switch directions, which can fake other players out. If you tap your key out of turn 3 times, you lose. It’s no surprise that developer Andrei Marks is an alumnus of Cypher Prime, a studio known for its beautiful visuals- this game’s clean look perfectly communicates everything it needs to, all within a bright and stylish aesthetic. It’s also pretty novel to play a video game in a ‘Twister’-like arrangement, with ten people’s arms all squeezed around each other. There’s no set date for this one yet, but the developer suggests looking for it at festivals up to its release.
If you want to see more of Press Play TV at IndieCade 2014, visit our Coverage HQ