One of the features that makes the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) different from other gaming conventions is that they give equal attention to all forms of gaming, from consoles to PC to tabletop gaming. This convention has become so popular that they actually have several different events, PAX East in Boston & PAX Prime in Washington. The Most recent PAX convention, August 26-28, boasted the highest attendance in record. This means that games that might not receive due attention at other expos are given the attention they deserve.
Every year, PAX chooses ten Indie games out of the hundred or so submitted as their top choices. This decision is made by a panel of industry experts, & the winners are given a free space at the expo, allowing these unique games to get some well-deserved publicity. This year the winners are (in alphabetical order):
A Flipping Good Time
Console: PC, Genre: Platformer, Developer: Digipen Institute of Technology
Described as a “fast-paced, free-flowing, 2D platformer,” A Flipping Good Time uses gravity to avoid dangerous obstacles. The developers describe it as similar to Yoshi’s Island in terms of style. You play as a young boy who collects fireflies & gems. Throughout the levels, you’ll come across items that change the direction of gravity. The challenge is that sometimes you have to quickly shift between directions to avoid dying. Although it’s a short game, it is completely free to download. This game was also nominated for the “Most Unbelievably Awesomely Fun” in the 2011 Extra Credit Innovation Awards.
Console: PC, Genre: Puzzle, Developer: Alexander Bruce
Antichamber is an exploration/puzzle game with Escher-style graphics that are both sparse & vibrant. You’ll use physics, geometry & even philosophy to make your way through the strange labyrinth. This game has been described as smart & challenging, & as a mix between Portal & Braid. Although it’s still in development, it has already won several awards, including the “Make Something Unreal” Contest & the 2009 “Sense of Wonder Night” at the Tokyo Game Show.
Atom Zombie Smasher
Console: PC/Mac/Linux, Genre: Strategy, Developer: Blendo Games
Atom Zombie Smasher is a zombie strategy game. A zombie apocalypse has broken out & it’s your job to evacuate as many civilians as you can. But fear not, because you have an entire army at your disposal. Use mercenaries, snipers & orbital strikes to take out the zombies. The game also features three-person coop play. Available for download directly from Blendo Games’ website for $15 or Steam for $10 (Linux users only have access to direct download).
Console: XLBA, Genre: Platformer, Developer: Polytron
Fez is best described as a 2D platformer in a 3D space. Although at any given time you can only move in a 2D world, the environment is actually 3-dimensional. This means that you can rotate the world, opening up new directions of travel. I can’t tell what the actual story of the game is, but you control a white blob-person named Gomez who wears a fez. This game is still in development, with a general release date of 2011. Fez has been in development for a few years, & won the 2008 “Excellence in Visual Arts” award at the Independent Games Festival.
Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony
Console: PC, Genre: Shooter, Developer: Final Form Games
Jamestown is a top-down shooter that allows up to 4-person coop. The setting is probably the most unique aspect of the game. Set in an alternate universe, Britain has colonized Mars. You play as Sir Walter Raleigh, real life founder of the Roanoke Colony, where all the settlers mysterious disappeared the Anglo-Spanish War in the 16th Century. In the game, you battle against both the Spanish & native Martians to save your colony. Jamestown boasts frantic action with a unique 4-player design: instead of sharing lives or having a set number, so long as one player remains, all players can be brought back. Having received an Honorable Mention at the 2011 Independent Games Festival, Jamestown is available for purchase through Steam, Direct2Drive & Gamersgate for $10.
Console: PC, Genre: Puzzle/Platformer, Developer: Retro Affect
Another puzzle/platformer, this time you play as a robot named Pic. Pic can take pictures of objects in the world, which not only preserves the image, it physically captures the object. You use these snapshots to solve puzzles & reach new areas. Is the area ahead too dark to see the dangers? Take a picture of a light & drop in that area to brighten it up. No release date has been announced yet.
Console: PC/XBLA, Genre: ???, Developer: Murudai
I talked a little about my experience with Solar in my Labor Day Weekend post, but the game has a sequel. Solar & Solar 2 are games the defy genres. I guess the closest official title you could call it is a simulation. As with Solar, in Solar 2 you control a sun & you complete different objectives, like building a solar system or destroying planets. You play in basically a giant sandbox. There’s no limit to space, after all. I’m not sure what new features are in Solar 2, but according to the developers, Solar was a prototype for this game. It’s available now on XBLA for 400 MP or Steam & Gamersgate for $10.
Console: PC/XBLA, Genre: Physics Puzzle, Developer: SpikySnail
The Splatters tag line is “Life’s short. Die with style.” And that pretty much sums up your goal. In The Splatters, you control blobs of goo whose job is to detonate bombs. But the most important thing is to do so with style. Sling & bounce the splatters around & watch them burst into a rain of colorful liquid… all with a smile. The more destructive & impressive your moves, the better your score. This game is set for release in 2012.
Vanessa Saint-Pierre Delacroix & Her Nightmare
Console: PC/Windows Phone 7, Genre: Puzzle/Platformer, Developer: Bad Pilcrow
This mouthful of a game is another 2D platform/puzzler set in a 3-dimensional world. You play as a young girl named Vanessa who gets sucked into a strange cube while exploring her father’s antique shop. To find a way out & save her family, Vanessa must solve the cube’s puzzles. Similar to Fez’s gameplay, Vanessa can travel across a 2D world that exists within a 3D cube. You can rotate the cube in different directions to aid in Vanessa’s escape. The unique art style & 2D/3D design earned this game the “Best Design” award at the IndiePub’s 3rd Independent Developers Contest. It’s available now for download for $7.
Console: iPad/iPhone/Android, Genre: Word/Fighter, Developer: FeelEveryYummy
Best described as the mutated love-child of Scrabble & Street Fighter, Word Fighter gets my vote for the strangest idea. The idea behind the game is that you have a set of letters to make words with, which you then use to damage your opponent. Presumably the longer the word the more damage you do. Even the fighters you can choose from are literary characters. They include Edgar Alan Poe & Agatha Christie, & several others. Obviously this game includes multiplayer, but the most interesting part is that the multiplayer will be cross-platform. Meaning iPhone & Android owners can now settle their differences with words… & animated violence. This game will be available later in 2011.
If mainstream games are the heart of gaming culture, then Indie games are the soul. Indie developers use their own time, & often money, to create new & unique games that otherwise wouldn’t be made by more powerful companies. I mean, really, can you see Square Enix making a game like Word Fighter? But not only do these types of games bring gaming to new audiences, they push for innovation & creativity, something than can be lacking in better funded studios. So I say support these pioneers of gaming.