Amid all the big-game bluster at the recent Eurogamer Expo it was refreshing to see the constant mill of people around the Indie Games Arcade at the back of the hall. Fortifying himself with a hot dog at the tail-end of the Saturday, our correspondent dared to enter this den of experimental gaming thought. This is the report he filed.
Tiny and Big – Up that Mountain
- Developer: Black Pants
Here's the situation, or at least the one that I could decipher, in the beta demo of Tiny and Big. Tiny is a cute chap with Bomberman eyes, and he's chasing his foe up a mountain. The guy being chased is called Big, although in fact he's very small, and he has fiendishly stolen Tiny's granddad's pants. Dramatically, it has been revealed that these pants (Y-fronts, in fact) bless the bearer with the power of teleportation, but only when worn on one's head.
It's a deep and emotional tale, yet also one packed with some impressive physics puzzling. Tiny is armed with a laser-cutter, and the world he inhabits is one packed with teetering columns and wobbly platforms. A left click pulled across a piece of rock at any angle will slice it down that line, meaning that one chunk of rock becomes two, generally with the top-half slowly sliding down to where gravity instructs.
If a little more encouragement is needed, however, you can always attach a rope with a right click, and tug the newly unstable structure in your direction. Every crack and smash, meanwhile, is accompanied by huge onomatopoeic on-screen text saying "Crack!" and "Smash!". It really is quite charming.
The quest for the pants becomes one of building your own platforms and toppling obstacles, essentially tactically deconstructing the various towering objects that pepper the terrain. It's a clever game with a beautiful art style, and its beta demo is certainly worth a download from developer Black Pants' website. Yes, there are rough edges in Tiny's movement in this early version - but the dialogue, gameplay and basic concept sparkle enough to let you forgive the occasional unfair plummet and untimely death. Roll on the full game episodes...
Skulls of the Shogun
- Developer: Haunted Temple Studios
When it comes to turn-based strategy that doesn't start in 'Civ' and end in 'ation', this particular EG correspondent generally responds in the way a Labrador might to being set a particularly difficult maths problem. To which end (as I tilt my head on one side and look at you quizzically before making a move to lick your shoe), I must say that even someone as clueless as me can see the innate charm of Skulls of the Shogun.
The clear inspiration here is Advance Wars, though there's a touch of Final Fantasy Tactics in there too. The rubric has it that two spectral teams of Samurai types are having a showdown in the afterlife as a part of the ancient ancestral battle between primary colours.
Each team has a selection of horsemen, archers and foot-soldiers, backed up by a General who comes with the advantage of two different attacks and steadily increasing health, yet the disadvantage of prompting your own personal game over come his death. Each player (although there will be singe-player levels available) gets to move five units per turn, moving to strategic spots on the sumptuous battlefield, haunting different locations to summon up bonuses or making attacks on your foes. Have him eat the skull of a fallen opponent, meanwhile, and your chosen little Samurai chap will become ever more effective as a smiter of his enemies.
It's a charmingly free-form affair, not limited by some boring grid beneath the battlefield, yet there's a deep vein of tactical thought that runs beneath its easy-access veneer. Best of all, however, is that it has magical foxes. What's not to like?
Swimming Under Clouds
- Developer: Piece of Pie Studios
Swimming Under Clouds is essentially a pastel-shaded platformer in which you control a goldfish in a fishbowl, albeit without the bowl. You move your fish around levels in a globule of water, jumping from platform to platform and trying to keep enough momentum to make the trickier jumps. It's got the mentality of an old-school 16-bit platformer, filled with pick-ups and Sonic-style alternate routes through the level, yet it blends in a very modern approach to its physics.
Swimming under Clouds plays like a floaty and freed-up Gish; you're bouncing your water glob off ledges, building momentum up ramps and even jetting up into the sky by firing trails of water behind you. Your wobbling liquid outer layer comes with its own set of risks, however, with nasty collisions and bumps into anything vaguely spiky generally leaving your asphyxiating, flapping body exposed to the elements.
In their current form these airborne fish adventures are undeniably hypnotic to play, although whether the full game (currently tentatively aimed for PSN) can maintain its attraction for long is unknown. The format also seems to beg for some top-notch water-bearing puzzles to spice up the platforming. But with a clever mix of both left-field and old-school sensibilities it's altogether unique – and also rather lovely.
- Developer: Messhof
A game of lo-fi Errol Flynn swashbuckling, Nidhogg is a tremendous two-player flurry of sword-waving and skewering. It's like someone auto-filled the model of the first Prince of Persia with quinoline yellow, added another player and ran the program on a computer several times too powerful – such is the fast-pace of the action and the beauty of the animation.
A welcome return to the sweaty-fingered joy of two players crowded around the same keyboard, in Nidhogg death is frequent and messy. You can hold your sword at three different heights as you slash and parry, and even hurl your sword at your enemy if you're confident of impaling him – leaving you with only fists to wave as you dash for your thrown sword if you miss the target. It's a game of slides, jumps and insta-death, with your character reappearing a vital second later, post violent demise, as you battle your way from left to right, or right to left.
It's fast, stupid fun that prompts adrenaline-flow as much as it does laughter, and it quite rightfully left with the EG Expo plaudits from our good buddies at Rock Paper Shotgun. As and when you get the opportunity, you owe it to yourself to get around a keyboard, immersed in the body odour of one of your better friends, and revel in Nidhogg's true-blood insanity. Strongly recommended.
- Developer: Copenhagen Game Collective
We'll end on an oddball. Well, an odder ball. B.U.T.T.O.N. stands for Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally Okay Now, and it's best described as Mario Party directed by Werner Herzog. It's not the most refined experience, nor is it the cleverest, but it did make me take five steps back from my controller, pretend to be a monkey, take off items of clothing and then get embroiled in some manly playfighting with my competitor. We drew quite a crowd.
It's wildly silly and entirely revolves around the eventual tapping of the A button and variations on that, such as 'not tapping the A button'. According to your success or failure the various cartoon animal avatars who represent you will then either look ecstatically happy or terminally depressed. It's not rocket science, in fact it occupies terrain very far away from rocket science, and in all probability its lasting appeal will be minimal. It is, however, quite bonkers - and should be praised as such.