As you may have noticed, we've been throwing a Rezzed Digital party over the last few days, and were inundated with demo and preview builds for a whole plethora of interesting indie games. We weren't able to play them all - but we played a lot. As is our way, a few of us got together to share our pick of the bunch, which coincidentally turned out to be a nice round 10! We weren't even trying to do that.
Skip to the end if you just want a list of the full 10, but otherwise dive right in to this, our luxury family-sized paddling pool of soupy pixels. It's a very diverse spread, including puzzle games, deck-building, strategy - truly, something for everyone.
There are a few games that we're still going to play and try out, and write about of course, so keep an eye out on the site, and check the Rezzed Digital tag for more as it appears. Remember that the RPS VidBuds are doing their own video demos of a bunch of cool indie game too, if you're more about them moving pictures than these old fashioned static words.
What is it? A very fast but forgiving roguelite platformer.
When is it out? February 6th 2020
Alice Bee: I do not usually like these kinds of games because I hate the dread feeling of having pissed all my progress up the wall by dying. But ScourgeBringer gives you the opportunity to level up and get new abilities each time you die, so I felt like I was making more headway than just, you know, getting a bit better at playing the game.
I also really enjoy how fast and free ScourgeBringer is. You zip about and do your dash attacks and your heavy hits and Kyhra (the protagonist with a big white 80s hairdo) even has a gun for a few quick ranged kills. But the game doesn't reward you for precision, it rewards you for moving and hitting and bouncing around. You can smash through most problems ( apart from the massive bosses) which is gratifying when you're not particularly good at roguelikes/lites.
Also I really like this mysterious little old man in the between-deaths area.
Sin: Crikey this takes off fast. You’ll be away and slamming it in ScourgeBringer within a couple of minutes at most, and feeling like a bit of an expert even as you flub it and get taken out by the most pathetic of foes. But you’re surprisingly tough as well as nimble, so it doesn’t feel too punishing, nor does it rub your face in your mistakes.
I feel in control when I play ScourgeBringer. I may not be good at it, but I still get to do what I aim to do, my decisions more important than my reflexes (although those still count). You can double jump again after leaping off a wall, giving you lots of air time, and the 360 degrees you can aim your melee attack in mean that you don’t have to memorise animation timings or get into the perfect position to hit. And you can just keep on hitting… but that doesn’t interrupt enemy attacks, so when you see their wind up start you have to make that gut decision - do I keep stabbing and hope it goes down before it fires, or leap away, to hit and run again?
Great stuff. Loads of little good-feeling details that you don’t even notice because it all just feels so natural.
What is it? Multiplayer sumo
When is it out? Right now
Matt It’s a giggler, this one. The type of multiplayer game that immediately sends you into laughing fits. The mode I’ve played is exactly what you’d expect: two players each try to barge each other out of a ring. There are counters and dodges and nuances, though, and I imagine it gets surprisingly involved once each player knows that they’re doing.
I do not know what I’m doing, but that’s fine because I’m having so much fun sprinting around the edges of the arena and letting my opponents hurl themselves into oblivion. It is hard to convey the joy of this with words.
There’s a seperate free-for-all mode with up to four players in the ring at once, though when I searched for that it couldn’t find anyone to match me with. I’m sad this is bound to die an online death, but glad I’ve found my next local multiplayer hit.
What is it? Tactical turn based RPG in piss-take D&D setting
When is it out? Summer 2020
Alice Bee: It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that fantasy RPGs all have to have really naff names. But at least The Dungeon Of Naheulbeuk is being self aware about it (probably). You play as a team of extremely standard adventurers, and the standardness is the point. There's a cutesy elven archer in a crop top and skirt called The Elf, a belligerent Scottish dwarf called The Dwarf, and the leader is a ranger with a smug goatee called The Ranger.
How quickly the humour wears thin over the course of an entire game remains to be seen, but I really enjoyed the scenario example in the demo (just one fight, as yet). From what I can gather, the titular dungeon is a multilayered affair with taverns and quest givers and all sorts of carry on, all rendered in surprisingly detailed 3D. You get into scraps, as adventurers are wont (with a gang of orcs in the demo) and then take your combat turns in very polite order.
It's basically the most boring bit of Dungeons & Dragons, but instead of having to wait for the next idiot at the table to say what they're going to do, you get to make all the decisions yourself. One slightly annoying thing is that it's locked into an isometric view from one angle, which does make it tricky to hunt down the last orc in the room when he's hiding behind a bookcase in a corner. But still, I'm intrigued to see how this plays over a longer chunk of time.
What is it? Bird-collecting digital board game
When is it out? Spring 2020
Matt: Wingspan was The Big Thing on the board game scene, for a while. I can see why, now that I’ve dipped my toes into the digital version.
It’s an ‘engine-building’ game with birds, though not in the sense that the birds are forced to perform horrible oil-covered labour. That’s board games lingo for games where you build up abilities that let you gain more resources, which you spend on either improving your ability to do so, or generating points that win you the game. In Wingspan, those points are eggs. And birds.
This can be fiddly, and I don’t think the digital version does a great job of navigating that. You’re playing birds in three different areas, while using the abilities from those areas to gain eggs, bird cards, and food to pay for those bird cards. Success is about weaving a path through all that, while also using the abilities of birds as you accrue them.
It made me sorely missing having a friend around to explain the rules, but I had fun once I grasped it. It’s satisfying to build something and watch it grow, especially when it’s wrapped up in such soothing presentation. That’s where Wingspan wins, with its gentle guitar twiddling, lush countryside, and birds tweeting away in the background.
It’s the gaming equivalent of a cup of tea, except part of you has to mull over milk and sugar ratios.
What is it? Real-time-tactics with cowboys
When is it out? Summer 2020
Matt: When I wrote up what I saw of Desperados III at E3 last year, I called it “Shadow Tactics wearing a lovely cowboy coat that lets you pause”. I’ve played for a longer stint, now, and to be honest I’ve got little more to add.
It’s made by the same studio, and it feels like a Shadow Tactics sequel in all the right ways. You’ve got the same core of using abilities to distract and murder, and the same puzzle-type thinking about how to pick apart groups of guards. The real joy comes from combining these abilities in clever ways. My favourite trick so far is tossing a coin with one character to get a guard to look at my other character’s fake doctor’s bag, which they then investigate before getting blinded - then, usually, stabbed.
I can’t wait for this to get more elaborate. You can pause time completely now, unlike in Shadow Tactics where you could only slow it down. That allows for more split-second executions, increasingly convoluted plans where you duck through sightlines and manipulate people into murder zones.
You’ve got guns now, too, which are incredibly powerful, but loud and come with limited ammo. A tooltip tells you not to be shy about using them, but I think I’m doomed to always save my bullets ‘for when I really need them’.
What is it? Roguelike deckbuilding in the apocalypse
When is it out? Out now on early access
Matt: I’ve a weakness for deck-building roguelikes. There’s something about the formula that worms its way into my brain, compelling me to launch into run after run. Trials Of Fire does that, but it also does so much more.
It’s a neat combination of deckbuilding and position-focused combat. To play most cards, you need to gain willpower, and the simplest way to do that is to get rid of other cards. You’re forced to use abandoned plans as currency, which gets my brain jogging along lines of thought that I adore. It’s an elegant way of giving you loads of options, without being overwhelming.
All this feeds neatly into the overworld. You’re managing a group of heroes as the trudge about a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where resource scarcity prods you into making unsavoury decisions. I just slaughtered a group of peaceful farmers because I was running out of carrots.
Sin: I have little to add except that I hate both roguelikes and deckbuilding games, but enjoyed Trials Of Fire. Its narrative and resource management layers give it a much more engaging structure than most of its peers. Also if anyone has any carrots I just want to talk.
Alice Bee: Our early access boy Steve Hogarty actually took a look at Trials Of Fire almost a year ago, and I was pleasantly surprised when I played it because, like Sin, I'm not usually a fan of deckbuilding. But I really enjoyed the depth of combat and how satisfying a win is. Plus the way it plays out over the pages of a massive tome is very cool. I was not a fan of the resource scarcity though. Carrots should be no concern of mine. Keep your carrots. More exploding monsters with lighting, fewer root vegetables, that's what I say.
What is it? Build-your-own vehicle combat and gathering game
When is it out? Now
Sin: Games about designing your own vehicles are double edged. The promise of “build anything!” is very often sunk by the reality that building things is slow, complicated, and frustrating, and gets more so the more possibilities such a game offers. TerraTech sidesteps this neatly, being simpler than many, but retaining enough variety and options to work.
Like all games (sub please check), it’s about blocks. Take your core, game-over-if-lost block, drag a structure block onto it, and clip some wheels on, and bam, you’re away. Guns and drills and digger trough bits, batteries, repair blocks, radars, little stabiliser wheels on the back. You can clip them together quickly and easily in all manner of configurations, and notr stress too much about the finer details or potential physics disasters. Combat is cartoony and cheerful, matching the bright and pleasant visual style, and there’s a subtle feeling of bounciness about the whole thing that prevents the fighting and repairing from getting stressful.
There’s a freeform build mode, multiplayer challenges, and a campaign where you pick missions from a trade station - exploring a bit, fighting a bit, harvesting crystals and trees a bit. TerraTech’s been in the works for a fair while now, and it’s as entertaining today as it was when RPS contributor Ben Barret played it at Rezzed in the ancient year 6BV.
What is it? Isometric diorama puzzle game
When is it out? 2020
Alice Bee: The Almost Gone is like being given the constituent rooms in a doll's house, and being told that several puzzles are scattered in several bits between them. Except you're only allowed to look at one room at a time, so you have to build a picture of the house in your head. It's a very lovely, delicate little thing.
You can rotate all of the rooms in The Almost Gone, revealing a new wall or a door or the back of a fridge every time you do. Puzzles can be hidden or found by looking at the world in a different way. And the puzzles are very good. The game is especially adept at making them a bit harder with each new house or area you go to. I nearly whooped when I solved a particular one involving a laser pointed and a broken mirror.
But for all the delicacy and gentle pastel colours of the world you're gently teasing apart, the story is quite… dark. You're tracing the dysfunction of one family through several years, but sort of centered on one catastrophic but never explicitly mentioned event. A lot of the story, in fact, isn't made explicit, which probably helps paper over how incredibly grim some of the grim bits are…
What is it? An autorunner platform game with a hint of puzzling
When is it out? Now
Sin: The implicitly disparaging phrase “cutesy platformer” leaps reflexively to my fingerlips. But that would be unfair. Wunderling is cute, but not sickly sweet with it, and it’s more friendly than anything. It’s an autorunner (whether or not this means it’s also an endless runner is a question to be answered by a series of duels when the RPS treehouse re-opens its leaves) in which you play a little… apple bird? A thing. You’re a thing who got squished by the heroic carrot on his quest to rescue Princess Pea.The local ruler, a witch, revives you as part of a PR campaign and sends you after him.
It’s a fun little premise, never uproarious but gently amusing, and even the fourth wall nods work fine. A friendly cow appears to give you a tip every so often, and the levels, divided into worlds, don’t drag out the learning process or outstay their welcome. You can’t turn or stop voluntarily, only jump, and later use power ups to navigate about the levels. Flower buds line the levels, and sustain your unlife, so while you’ll generally want to collect as many buds as possible, there are levels where you’ll want to strategically dodge some so that you’ll have fuel during your trip back in the opposite direction. This is particularly true if you go for the bonus chests, which have cosmetic items like glasses and hats and bomber jackets in.
I was honestly surprised how much I enjoyed this. It’s curiously relaxing and the challenge feels just right. Although Video Matthew might not agree.
What is it? Very sweet puzzle game starring a monster, some longs
When is it out? 2020
Coming to you from the people wot dun, A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, and someone who used to work at RPS (Pip Warr wrote words for it) is this lovely puzzle game. In it, you are an inquisitive monster with a cool backpack, and you are looking around a museum of humanity. As in, a museum by monsters, presenting human artifacts. One of them is a plinth. Like, just a plinth.
The museum is set up on a series of islands, which is a commendable museum format. Transitioning between islands, though, involves pushing over trees and rolling the resultant logs so they sploosh into the water and make you a little bridge. Think along the lines of Stephen's Sausage Roll, but less meaty and more pastoral.
There's no set order for which islands you have to visit, so it's just very freeing and relaxing, and every so often you run into an exhibit about human customs. My favourite thing is that if you walk towards the edge of an island, the monster sits on the edge and dangles their little feet in.
The full list
2. Circle Of Sumo
3. The Dungeon Of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet Of Chaos
5. Desperados III
6. Trials Of Fire
8. The Almost Gone
10. A Monster's Expedition