Tuesday, September 11, 2012

PAX Prime 2012: The indie games of the PAX 10, including some that are free ... - Dallas Morning News (blog)

Every year at the Penny-Arcade Expo (PAX), a group of “industry experts” decides on the PAX 10 â€" 10 exceptional indie games that they feel are worth your attention. Usually, the suggestions are pretty spot on.

In between running around for other appointments during my own time at PAX Prime 2012 inSeattle, I spent whatever spare time I could at the Indie Mega Booth, and I made a point to check out this year’s PAX 10, which includes a lot of games that are available now (and some are even free).

Catch-22: This one-button game is already free to play on Facebook (you currently have to log out in order to play it. Yeah, I know, it’s a pain), but it’s coming soon to iOS for cheap. It’s a simple concept: Two balls are orbiting a planet-like bigger sphere â€" one clockwise, one counter-clockwise â€" and you control one at a time. Tapping a button (or the screen on iOS) will make the ball you control jump. Your goal is to jump and collect all the coins in the level, at which point you switch to controlling the other ball.

Here’s where it gets tricky: Those movements you made when controlling Ball #1? The game remembers those, and it will repeat them. So the ball will continue to jump in all the same places you jumped when you controlled it. As Ball #2, you have to collect coins again while not bumping into Ball #1.

Unless you’re really good, you don’t last long, so it’s very much a game about quickly restarting in order to get higher and higher scores, which are easily shared with your Facebook friends. It’s a lot of fun, and I anxiously await the moment I can play it on the go.

Containment: The Zombie Puzzler: I was excited to learn that the developer of this one, Bootsnake Games, has roots here in Dallas, which helps explain the studio’s name (they also all agree that the best Girl Scout cookie is Thin Mint, so they’re obviously smart people). They’re a very small studio, but they’ve made a pretty fun and unique puzzle game centered on â€" as the name implies â€" zombies.

The undead litter the streets, and you want to surround them with like-colored humans (such as blue police officers or pink scientists), who will kill the affected zombies and sometimes drop items that will help you out, like grenades and air strikes. Be careful, though, because these items will also kill human survivors.

Think of it like the classic game “Go,” but with a lot more going on … and with zombies. Because that’s what Go always needed, I think.

Rare for a puzzle game, there’s a story mode that will both teach you the ropes and tell you about the fall of humanity to the undead menace, but there are other modes as well. The game is available now on Steam and iPad. I downloaded it once I got home from PAX, and I’ve enjoyed my time with it so far.

The Swapper: I’m really bummed that I didn’t get hands-on time with this one, because it seemed pretty cool â€" which was probably why the area around it was packed every time I went by. The immediate vibe I got was one of the amazing Xbox Live Arcade game Shadow Complex, which was a sort of Metroidvania-with-guns experience. The Swapper seems much more puzzle oriented than action, but I’m totally OK with that. The game has you tossing clones of yourself around and switching between them to solve puzzles and advance through environments.

The game itself looks great, aesthetically. To quote the game’s website, “The Swapper is an atmospheric 2D puzzle platformer, constructed using clay models and other everyday materials for a uniquely detailed look and feel.”

Like I said, I regret that I didn’t spend any time with it myself, so I just had to watch others. I’m anxious to see it come out so I can actually play it.

The Bridge: Inspired in part by the paintings of M.C. Escher, The Bridge sports a pretty great looking 2D black-and-white, almost pencil drawing-esque look. The major component of the gameplay is shifting gravity in order to get around, which means that you might find yourself walking on walls, ceilings etc. as if they were the floor. The more complex puzzles approach the sort of impossible geometry that Escher is famous for, so I’m sure the game gets pretty devious in terms of difficulty.

It seemed to bear some similarities, gameplay-wise, to And Yet It Moves, another indie game that achieved some renown in which you tilt the world to move around, but that’s not really a bad thing. Here’s the website.

Deity: A student game from Digipen, Deity is completely free to download and play right now. It’s a cool isometric mix of Diablo-ish look and feel with Batman: Arkham City’s stealth (yeah, really).

It’s an impressive product from a group of students, and the fact that it’s free makes it even more awesome. I’m excited to see what those guys do post-graduation.

PuzzleJuice: This one is easy to write about, because I was already a fan long before PAX. Puzzle Juice is part Tetris, part color-matching game and part word game.

Match up colored pieces to make letters out of their blocks. Once you have those, you need to re-arrange the letters to form words, which will earn you points.

It may sound like a lot to handle, but it’s fun and addictive once you get into the flow of gameplay. It’s available now on iOS and coming soon to PC.

Johann Sebastian Joust: Joust has been around for awhile, and it’s always an interesting attraction whenever it shows up. The game uses PlayStation Move controllers, but you won’t ever be looking at a TV.

Each player has his or her own controller, which they want to keep as still as possible so it doesn’t “pop.” Quick, jerky movements will make you lose. The wrinkle is that as a player, you do want to make your opponents move. The typical result is people moving slowly around each other in circles, like they’re doing a dance, as they try to smack the opponent’s hand holding the controller, or otherwise cause them to eliminate themselves.

The game uses selections from J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, which play in slow-motion. When the music speeds up, the game is a bit more lax with how much you can move, giving you an opportunity to try to mess with your opponents. It’s fun to both play and watch, and should be a great party game whenever it’s commercially released.

Offspring Fling!: This is a game about throwing your children.

OK, fine. That description actually does this game a disservice. Really, Offspring Fling is a cool 2D puzzle-platformer with a 32-bit era look in which you do, in fact, pick up and throw your children in order to hit switches and solve puzzles. Don’t worry, though. No animal-bunny-creature things are hurt … mostly. It’s available for only $8 on PC and Mac.

Splice: I’ll admit, I still barely understand how Splice works. It’s a puzzle game that goes for a pseudo-science look, in which you manipulate cells in order to change them from one set of strands to another, and you have to do it in a given set of moves. The only way to do this, really, is to experiment. At least based on my short time with the game, there don’t seem to be the same kind of clear-cut, easy to explain rules that you’d find in your garden variety puzzle games. Why does moving one piece of the cell do one thing here and another thing over there? I don’t know!

It certainly looks good, though. It’s from Cipher Prime, who previously developed Auditorium â€" a game (and audio/visual treat) I was quite fond of on PC and iOS.

I would probably get a much better grasp of how the rules work if I were given more time with it. That’s not hard: it’s available now on Steam and was recently released on iPad (as Splice: Tree of Life).

Cannon Brawl: I lost horrendously at this game, which tainted my view of it only a little. It’s a fun combination (of sorts) of Worms, tower defense and real-time strategy games.

You start out with a selection of towers, no income and little money. You begin on a 2D map opposite your opponent, who is in the same shape as you â€" with the same potential. At the start of the game, you want to build mines in order to start earning gold with which to buy new towers. Once you get some steady income, you want to quickly either get aggressive with offensive towers or defensive with shield towers â€" or both.

In order to attack, you manually control which tower you want to fire cannons out of, and where you want to fire it. You can’t fire cannons too rapidly, however, as they all have cooldown timers. So you find yourself juggling between building new towers, firing offensive towers, making sure you’re shields are up and keeping at least a small eye on what your opponent is doing. It can get a little hectic and overwhelming, but it can also be quite a bit of fun, especially with friends. Watch the website for updates on release.

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