A Megaton of Indies
The Indie Megabooth at PAX East is perhaps my favorite place at PAX. With tons of small developers showcasing their new titles, you often find several games that are under the radar but make a big impression once you’ve played them. This year, it was two indie titles with great multiplayer experiences that wowed me. One was a action game with a unique gameplay element. The other was a competitive matchthree puzzle game. Inversus and Tumblestone may be as opposite as can be, but they are both unique, engaging experiences that you should keep an eye on.
Inversus - Hypersect
Created by Ryan Junkett, formerly the Lead Sandbox Engineer for Destiny at Bungie, Inversus is difficult to describe, but an absolute blast to play. An action game for one to four players, you move across a black and white grid while trying to shoot down your opponents. The twist is that each shot switches the colour of the tiles on the grid, allowing you to expand your movement range and hopefully trap your opponent while they're trying to do the same thing to you.
Across multiplayer and single player, Inversus is engaging, as you try to outthink the enemy while remaining aware of the environment. It was simple to pick up, easy to play, and incredibly complex in practice. Maps are imaginative and fun, some of which play with your head as you traverse them. And to prevent the spamming of shots, there’s a limit to how many shots you can fire at once before you slowly reload, requiring you to plan ahead.
In multiplayer, one vs. one and two vs. two modes are available. Far from becoming stale, the experience kept changing as my fellow players and I changed our strategies. Sometimes I repeatedly fired shots to create a defensive avenue through which I could not be hit, while other times my opponent would charge up a shot that would hit multiple tiles to send me scurrying for cover. It feels like a great party game, though online matchmaking will also be available at launch.
The single player is an arcade mode similar in style to Geometry Wars, though the limited ammunition forces you to play more intelligently. Enemies change and evolve as waves are cleared, with some gaining the ability to fire their own shots while others rush forward mindlessly. There is no limit to how long a game can go, with the objective being to see how far you can go and how many points you can earn. I kept on wanting to play one more round, as Inversus struck a compulsion of mine. It’s the kind of game that I want to continually play one more round of, trying to learn new methods of playing the game in order to optimize my actions. In all, the gameplay was fast paced yet cerebral, combining with the minimalist aesthetic to create an awesome, replayable experience that looks extremely promising.
Tumblestone - The Quantum Astrophysics Guild
I have not played a puzzle game as engaging as Tumblestone in years. A matchthree game, Tumblestone asks you to remove all of the colored blocks from the screen by selecting three of the same colour. If you mess up and grab the wrong colored block, the puzzle resets and you go back to square one. Speed is important, but being correct is even more so.
At PAX East, the developers were showcasing the multiplayer mode, which is surprisingly great for a puzzle game. Up to four players compete to see who can clear the same puzzle first, with the winner of three rounds winning the game. Tumblestone rewards the player who can see multiple steps ahead, because focusing on one match at a time inevitably ends in a frustrated cry as you realize that you have to reset your puzzle.
This is the first time that I’ve seen people jump and cheer while playing a puzzle game. I cried out when I narrowly edged out an opponent with the final match in a puzzle, with both of our final shots racing towards the top of the screen. While the randomized puzzles greatly help keep the multiplayer fresh, the various modifiers that you can add into any match are a bonus. For example, you can introduce wildcard blocks that can be used in place of any colored block, or creating one line of blocks that constantly moves whenever you make a match.
Tumblestone’s single player is expansive, and in a brief hands on session I got to see several different modes come into play. The main campaign contains several hundred puzzles divided into worlds, each with their own modifier that you have to deal with. Unlike multiplayer however, most of the campaign puzzles will be the same in each level, but are vastly more complicated than their multiplayer brethren. This is a much slower mode, but is no less enjoyable than the multiplayer.
There is also a challenge mode, marathon mode, and quests that can be undertaken with special requirements in the campaign. There is a lot of things to do in Tumblestone, but I keep circling back around to the multiplayer. It controlled well, and was a lot of fun to play with various attendees at PAX East. The game will launch later this year, and I can’t wait to delve into again.
Beat Cop - 11 bit studios
The last game where you control a police officer that I played was LA Noire, where you rapidly ascend the ranks of the LAPD by working on various cases of import. For a brief portion of the game you play as a beat cop, though you do not write tickets, talk with the locals or go on patrol. It’s an experience that, to the best of my knowledge, has rarely been explored in games, though Beat Cop is looking to change that.
Beat Cop places you in the shoes of a beat cop in 1980’s New York City who is tasked with patrolling one street day after day. There are ticket quotas to fulfill, people to talk to, and the occasional crime to investigate or suspect to arrest, which you have to do quickly and correctly if you don’t want to face repercussions. And while those are your day-to-day duties, the game is set against the backdrop of your characters’ unraveling personal life as he deals with a murder investigation, divorce and possible mob relations.
While the premise and general gameplay drew me in, I am concerned that Beat Cop is not clear enough in how to properly perform your tasks, as there is little feedback beyond simple failure. I did not know why my tickets were being filled out improperly, nor was I taught what constituted improper tires. The game is still in development, so there is still plenty time for a proper tutorial and feedback system to be implemented.
Ruiner - Reikon Games
Ruiner was arguably the most stylish game present at PAX East. An action game set in a futuristic, dystopian city called Rengkok influenced by the likes of Akira and Ghost in the Shell, Ruinertakes you into a world of gritty streets, neon signs, and virtual worlds. As the main character (wearing a cybernetic mask with a customizable screen), you search for your brother with the assistance of a mysterious, unnamed hacker who guides you along and provides assistance when needed. From the start, the world of Ruiner commands your attention, refusing to let go even as you fight for your life in the city’s underbelly.
Speaking of, fights in Ruiner are brutal affairs that can end in seconds if you are not careful. Of course, it’s far too hectic to be played carefully, as I quickly dashed across the screen to swipe at gangsters rushing towards me. The tools available at any time, which include a shield to block bullets, a slow dash attack that can hit multiple targets, and guns, ensure that there’s always multiple avenues to approach a fight. Even so, the game is difficult, though that does little to dissuade me from wanting to play it again.