PAX East 2014 enjoyed the expo’s largest turnout of indie developers to date, and marked the year where, in my mind, indies definitively trumped the AAA publishers. While many of the better known games had lines far longer than I could wait (I’m looking at you, Below), some of the show’s smaller titles left me the most excited.
Tetropolis, described by its creator as the world’s first “Tetroidvania” game, is one of the most inventive throwbacks to early gaming I’ve yet seen. The player controls an abandoned, defective Tetris piece in an Orwellian society where Tetrominoes expect nothing short of perfection from one another. As you progress through the Metroidvania type dungeon, you gain the ability to transform into different types of Tetrominoes, each with their own unique attributes, as you discover the most efficient (or silliest) way to get from point A to point B.
Upon making your way to the “Control Room,” Tetropolis reveals its true nature as a cohesive Puzzle-Platformer. In the Control Room, players may rearrange the many rooms within the dungeon as they wish, and only upon solving the puzzle’s correct shape may players complete the level. Players can warp back to the Control Room at any time if they find themselves at a dead end, which is an effective way to blend the Puzzle and Platforming genres into one. Instead of breaking the game up into a series of disjointed linear chambers, the puzzles themselves reshape the labyrinth exactly as you say.
Tetropolis could have been a shamefully stupid idea made all the more dismissible through poor design, but it prides itself on taking the high road. It makes the most of its scenery and environmental effects to subtly illustrate the utilitarian nature of its game world. It suspends disbelief by having the player move just as clumsily as I’d expect from a walking square. It weaves together its many inspirations in a graceful, cohesive manner at which I’m still shocked. It pays tribute to our favorite games of the golden days on many different scales without losing sight of its own strengths.
Many games “inspired” by some classic title or another become slaves to their predecessors, but Tetropolis succeeds in meeting its identity as an intrinsically sublime game that is influenced—not dictated—by its own history.
Fenix Rage is a spiritual successor to Super Meat Boy in many ways—though most notably for its brutal difficulty. Fenix Rage takes advantage of many abilities and mechanics found in Super Meat Boy but introduces a few new skills to use. The catch, however, is that Fenix Rage has no instructions; players discover the new skills at their own pace, and changes every player’s individual experience of the game.
Fenix Rage has an excellent difficulty curve which is build around gradually acquainting new players while allowing gamers of all skill sets to discover the game’s offerings on their own. By twenty or fewer levels in, you’ll find yourself dying over and over again.
There isn’t a lot more to say that wouldn’t spoil the magic of discovering its features for yourself, but between its smooth mechanics and clever level design, Fenix Rage is the perfect game for Meat Boy fans who want to learn some new tricks.
Paperbound is essentially a low-budget version of Super Smash Bros. where you can throw explosives, invert gravity, ninja the hell our of your friends, and even run with scissors like all the cool kids do Paperbound takes players into the world of literature for their anarchic death matches, dropping them into stages based on Journey to the Center of the Earth, Inferno, and more, but the high culture stops there.
Each of these realms is an enclosed space where players can run around walls, ceilings, and other platforms to outsmart their opponents. The game’s three simple techniques—throwing scissors, throwing a bomb, and a swinging a sword—offer different ways of scoring points on opponents, and you can invert gravity to fly across the stage for whatever reason you wish.
These five mechanics are each satisfying in their own right, but the interplay between them is what makes Paperbound so damned fun. None of them require more than a single button press, and the characters’ swift movement allow apt players to pull of tons of successful kills and run away unscathed all in a single instant. And trust me, there is nothing more satisfying than swooping in on your friends, chopping their heads off in the blink of an eye, flying away as giddy as ever, and then doing it all over again.
Other Great Games to Keep an Eye On
Echoes of Eridu is essentially Mighty No. 9 to Mega Man X fans. From the music to gameplay to the aesthetic and more, it’s an incredible reinvention of the Mega Man X style. Unfortunately it does little to alter that convention, but I’m sure that will change as it moves into the next stage of development. If you love Mega Man X, help fund Echoes of Eridu on Kickstarter!
Project Y2K (pictured above) is the next title from Ackk Studios, the makers of Two Brothers. It features off-beat characters, goofy action commands, and wacky scenarios all inspired by the Mother series. The demo at PAX was a little bare, but if its aesthetic and irreverence are any indicator,Y2K will be an absolute delight.
Project Cyber is a three-on-three MOBA soccer game that is even more fun than its genre is confusing. Each player controls one character, each with a different special ability, such as a reflective barrier or a long-range push. The three of you will need to assume a different role on the field to do well against your opponents, and be able to guess pretty well what anyone on the field may do next. The game is currently in pre-alpha on Steam, and it invites its community to participate in challenges, discussions, and even input on the game, so if you’re looking for a well-connected group of peers, look no further.
Project Totem, though thoroughly enjoyable, can’t justly explained in such a short blurb, so instead I encourage you to check out the gameplay video!