IndieCade, the International Festival of Independent Games, has commenced in Santa Monica, California, and I'm grateful to attend this year for the first time. I've visited the IndieCade section at E3 in years past and reported on some of the impressive games on display, but to attend the festival and experience the energy, camaraderie and bustle of so many passionate indie developers at once is exciting. Below are the titles I tried out my first day.
Nishan Shaman (NEXT Studio) is a portable rhythm game available for download. Traditional Chinese music is combined with a paper cutting art style to tell the ancient Northern Chinese legend of Nishan, a female shaman who journeys to the underworld to rescue a young boy's soul.
Players hold their portable device horizontally to play the 2D side-scroller. Pressing with their thumbs on either side of the screen will make the shaman bang her drum. The key is to time each bang with an airborne enemy hitting a circle that envelops the shaman, pressing quickly for smaller foes and holding down for snake-like creatures. If mistimed, the shaman's HP meter will decrease. Enemies become faster and more frequent as the character progresses.
The gameplay is simple but intuitive and controls are responsive. This solid rhythm mechanic is complemented by beautiful music, powerful drums and an effective beat. The narrative is interesting and told in the same stunning, colorful 2D aesthetic. Levels are creative, diverse (with different settings include land or water), and appear well designed in terms of action, spacing of foes, and pacing. The demo was fun to play and a treat for the senses.
Balam (Bad Tomato Games) is described as a 2D metroidvania action video game inspired by Mayan culture. The title character, whose name means jaguar, is a young mute girl on a journey to becoming a great jaguar warrior.
Core game mechanics are made to reflect jaguar movements as well as elements of Mayan culture. Those featured in the demo include a claw melee attack, cosmic light, double jump and sprint. The attack can be made in the direction pointing to injure foes or break barriers such as vines, and can be carried out while in midair. Jumps can be used to traverse hazards or climb and leap from platform to platform. And sprints allow players to pass through an area they briefly open.
The gameplay is fairly standard for an action platformer but is well implemented and responsive. Solid level design allows vertical traversal in the air, on the ground and below ground, with loot scattered throughout awaiting discovery. Ground and air enemies use melee and projectile attacks and vary in speed and tactics to keep players on their toes. The detailed and colorful environments, quality sound effects and fluid animation combine with the enjoyable gameplay for an entertaining demo and a promising action game.
Bloodroots (Paper Cult) is what you get if you crossed a Quentin Tarantino movie with a Saturday morning cartoon. The cartoon version of colonial America is the setting for a bloody tale of revenge as your character hunts down the partners that betrayed him and left him for dead.
The fast-paced action tasks players with making use of a variety of items to smash, slice and crush foes on the way to clearing each level and exacting revenge. Everything is a potential weapon whether an axe, stick, ladder, barrel, cart, wheel or even carrot. If especially proficient, combos create an opportunity for even more damage.
Scenarios can see players ride a cart into enemies and take its wheels to finish off other foes, swing a ladder at enemies before using it to scale a ridge, or start a fire that consumes a house, foes and maybe the player. One button picks up items, another attacks and one other jumps. The action is quick and demands near constant movement.
Levels are littered with all kinds of items, plenty of enemies, varied layouts and a pleasant colorful cartoon aesthetic that helps balance the wanton destruction. Controls are fairly intuitive and responsive so the action flows nicely, and the fluid animation and effects keep pace to ensure the excitement never lets up in this gritty brawler.
WaveBreak (Funktronic Labs) is what would happen if someone brought a speedboat to a skate park. Taking its cue from Tony Hawk Pro Skater and WaveRace 64, the game encourages players to grab, grind, and kick-flip their boats in exotic locales.
There are plans for a campaign and narrative, though the levels are designed from the ground up to provide a fun environment for pulling off insane tricks and chaining together impressive stunts. Whether grinding on a rail or virtually any edge, leaping off jumps or nailing midair stunts, WaveBreak promotes a thrilling joyride whether on water or platforms.
Accentuating the playful spirit of the game is an art style that is lifted from the '80s. Colorful pastels, a catchy score and neon accolades, not to mention appealing animal avatars, combine for an entertaining context to the enjoyable gameplay. Playing alone or with a friend, the game should appeal to fans of skating games or anyone who just wants to have fun exploring the possibilities of a giant aquatic skate park.
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