Game Within A Game Within An IndieGoGo: CrossCode
"I've heard of CrossCode [official site] somewhere on here before!" you scream in fury at me, because you've just discovered you can pronounce square brackets and it's freaking you out. Yes, Graham spoke of it in the dearly departed DevLog Watch almost a year ago when the demo I've been playing was far less robust. It's about a futuristic MMO which is based on an entire planet rather than inside a computer, with players taking control of humanoid avatars. Lea, one such avatar/player, has lost both her memory and her ability to speak and must find out why. It's colourful, witty, quite a lot of fun and devs Radical Fish Games have taken the crowdfunding leap on IndieGoGo to the tune of €80,000. You can play a good 2-3 hour early version via download or in your browser here and read on for my thoughts.
It is, by far, the best demo I've played for a currently-crowdfunding project. Along with the first chapter of the story and an example dungeon, a huge open world exploration mode is available. With the vague goal of finding all the chests to unlock some as-yet unseen final challenge, it lets you loose to kill hedgehogs and meerkats (a good indication of the sort of offbeat, odd humour that's prevalent throughout) and experiment with the choice based progression systems that have you unlocking skills and upgrades down one of four paths.
It's big, with at least ten or so areas, each a couple of screens large. Enemies are only hostile if you attack, so you can spend your time wandering around trying to find paths up the cliff faces to hidden items and NPCs to chat to. Movement in CrossCode is wonderfully fluid and fast, Lea sprinting around the place and leaping from ledge to ledge with ease. You can only climb certain heights, so usually exploration is about finding where you can get a leg up to a higher surface and then trying not to fall while searching.
Combat is similar, split into melee swings and ranged 'balls' that are also used to solve puzzles, bouncing them around corners and into switches. On top of that is a standard RPG stat system of damage, health and so on, as well as a huge and growing selection of skills and specialisations that can be chosen between. There's also a lot of play to it, abusing hit stun and charged shots at the correct times to do maximum damage to the surprisingly lethal enemies. It's a fantastic marriage of action and RPG that many larger studios have failed to get right.
On top of this is the Story mode, where you're recommended to start. It's mostly a tutorial, as well as setting up the universe of CrossWorlds, the game-within-a-game you're inhabiting. While a little slow to get going, it does at least always give you control immediately and no cutscenes last more than a couple of minutes before you're back to exploring the cargo ship it takes place in or completing tasks to show you're capable. The characters are also great, a diverse cast that have distinct personalities, even when posing as quest givers or control explainers.
I really want to see what this team can do with a proper budget and even more development time. They've been going from strength to strength for years, with the demo vastly improved even from when I played it a few months ago for the RPS Best Games of 2015. €15 (£10.71/$16.13) will land you a copy of the game and hopefully get Radical Fish creating full time.