PAX Prime 2012: The best of the best at the Indie Mega Booth

This is it, our favorite part of coverage for any PAX; new indie games! PAX Prime 2012 was home to the Indie Mega Booth with over thirty games featured. Never before have we had access to so many different indie titles at once which posed the difficult question as to how to tackle all of these games at once. After much intense nerdy deliberation, we decided to choose twelve of our favorites and the honor of our title for the King of Indie Mega Booth! So without further ado, let’s jump into thick of these modest productions.

Pete Angstadt of Turtle Sandbox games spoke to us about game that provided a pick up and play attitude and was still able to offer a level of complexity and depth that kept people coming back for more. Enter Cannon Brawl, a Worms-esque game that offers a similar level action that is balanced by resources that carried very much in the same vein of an RTS game. You have your main base that’s positioned opposite to that of your opponent and victory, of course, lies within the destruction of their base. While this may not sound like much, it’s the polish to the fundamental design and its execution that is truly impressive. Within different stage placements and environments, it is a mad race to build your resources by dropping mining camps over ore deposits in order to build enough capital to purchase weapons and to upgrade them, while simultaneously trying to increase territory through your hot air balloons in order to advance against the enemy. The experience was surprisingly fluid and addictive, racing against your opponents’ micro-management skills as you blaze a pathway of devastation to their base. No word yet on when we’ll be seeing it released but definitely keep an eye on it.

Next up was Chasing Aurora from the fine folks at Broken Rules. Felix Bohatsch was kind enough to demonstrate their title which had the unique distinction of being the only WiiU title on display at the booth. Seeing the game in action was truly an awe, as we watched the construction paper thin visuals juxtapose against vibrant colors that made it a sight to enjoy. As we sat down and picked up the gamepad, we learned that the game bears a lot of similarity to the concepts of Pac-Man VS. but with a much more whimsical undertone. Players can gather around with Wiimotes and play freeze tag --quite literally, assuming the roles of different colored birds that evade the chase of a frozen bird that’s piloted by the player using the WiiU gamepad. The party mentality of open forum communication in shouting where the frozen bird is as you try to outlast their rampage for a minute or even flapping madly to save their partners by touching them into freedom from their frozen prison. Overall, the game was solid and though we didn’t have the opportunity to check out all the modes of play, the emphasis of flight and playing against each other with the skill of flying was an experience worth looking out for.

Bill Schmidt treated us to the sequel behind their original sleeper hit Dragon Fantasy Book with Book II. The newest editions to the game were emphasis on the Sony cross system between the Vita and PS3. Purchasing either of one of the versions allows you to take it to the other platforms and utilize the cross-play and cross-save features to unite the experience. Dragon Fantasy Book II is more or less a tongue-in cheek homage to the earlier culture of 16-bit RPGs with modernized mechanics to make the game more accessible; sounds familiar right? Well, Muteki was able to shake things up with incredibly cheeky and charming humor that parodies all of the context involved with the references and it felt sharp when it was done. The 4-player multiplayer aspect works really well to emulate that same sort of dynamic from games like Final Fantasy IX that hasn’t been done as well. Chalk it up with the option of choosing a pixel aesthetic or a smoothed over animated look and you’ve got another RPG vindicating the survival of the genre.

Next up, Ben Lee slaps down his hand by offering up their humble production, Card Hunter, a free-to-play flash game available in different web stores. Card Hunter manages to take elements from every sit down table-top game you’ve grown up with and shoves them into one comprehensive experience. You’re given a game board that allows for tactical movement on a grid-based system with a hand of cards you use from a deck ranging anywhere from movement to attack. The element of their fusion gets a bit tricky with the inclusion of classes like your warrior and mage using their own decks which are rated according to their stats as a class. The results however are engaging and solid, the seamless learning curve sneaks up on you and you immediately find yourself delegating turns between movement and support through such a modest presentation that still feels great. The free-to-play only encompasses any cosmetic DLC for your player and the entire package is available for all who play it when it’s released later this year.

Olli Harhola of Facepalm Games presented us with The Swapper, a 2D side-scrolling platformer with one gimmick that was too fun to look overlook. The main draw behind The Swapper is the cloning mechanic; at different points of the stage, you’re tasked with aiming a reticle that clones you at a different position of the stage and will mimic your every movement. This allows your clone duo to jump and push when running to the left or right in order to place a sequenced jump over puzzle or obstacle that requires multiple bodies for the mechanic to be activated. To be honest, the concept was a bit lost on us when it came to our own physical application of the mechanic, but after a few tries, you build a rough understanding of the gimmick and the stage designs were shown to excellently compliment the use into a satisfying result. No concrete details on The Swapper but we’re told it’s being done for PC and Mac until the big console format wants in on the distribution.

Our friends at Fire Hose also made an appearance at the Indie Mega Booth. Sean Baptiste approached the scene with their current development, Go Home Dinosaurs! Tower-defense games: we have way too many available on every medium and it’s one of the most crowded genres in any format you can think of, but Go Home Dinosaurs changes it up with a unique spin on the core mechanic. The maps are centered around different tracks, that twist and turn into blocky pattern, and within the offset of the track for the squared off terrain are the towers that fit a specific shape in the vein of Tetris shapes. Couple of rounds in and micro-management between resources and placement has you playing the game with a Jenga mentality that will make you consciously aware of the shapes you drop in order to succeed the onslaught of enemies. The design coupled with the ridiculous premise of a family of gophers defending their family BBQ against an inconsiderate bunch of hungry dinosaurs, and you have yourself a very whimsical tower defense that engages your brain without racking it in the slightest. The beta is available for free download currently in the Google Chrome Webstore.

Pixelscopic’s newest 2D RPG looks like another Zelda inspired dungeon crawler, but its mechanical aspects seem unique and promising. The prebuild allows players to explore a series of rooms while developing a feel for the overall control scheme, which revolves around the use of friction and different levels of character acceleration based on the hero class. For instance, the warrior-like character offered during the demo glided smoothly across the map. In the future, overall damage (at least with melee classes) will depend on the level of momentum you build up while zipping across the dungeons.

The game’s visuals presented an overall aesthetic akin to a 2D equivalent of the same comic art style we saw in Majora’s Mask. Some rooms seemed overabundant with monsters, but it is still an early build. Given how players are required to ferry entire groups of monsters around the room to ensure survival and victory, the potential for strategy looks plentiful at this point. Dungeon levels will eventually be randomly generated, and with challenges possibly revolving around a player’s chosen character class, there seems to be room for variability and strategy. But tread carefully – like The Binding of Issac, you’re only given one shot to get through the dungeon. It’ll be interesting to see how this project goes, and whether or not there’s an excellent amount of replay value.

From the indie studio Dejobaan, Drunken Robot Pornography is essentially a series of straightforward boss fights that become more challenging as time progresses. The general objective is to hit weak spots on robotic titans until they’re completely destroyed. Players must also dodge patterned energy and laser attacks while assuring their overall drunken robot health also stays in order.

If the name doesn’t grab your attention, the run-and-gun shooting mechanics certainly will. Another prebuild with lots of potential, players start the demo by grabbing three cocktails on platforms in order to gain a feel for the title’s jumping mechanics. And what happens after the booze? Sexy looking robotic titans appear and the action begins.

As Dejobaan continues development, players will be able to create custom titans and challenge their friends to battle steamy robots of their own. Again, there wasn’t too much to see since this was an early prebuild, but Drunken Robot Pornography appears to be a relatively smooth 3D shooter that anyone can easily pick up.

Primer Lab’s virtual programming teacher is certainly an ambitious project. The game’s overall build is still in a very early stage, so there wasn’t a solid amount of content to explore just yet. Regardless, what we saw was an intriguing tutorial hoping to assist both programming newbies and veterans alike.

Code Hero’s main goal is to guide users through a virtual world where they’ll solve contemporary gaming problems through more unconventional methods: Literally copying code. For instance, when you’re given a sword with five damage points to fight a dragon king with 1,000 hit points, you’re prompted to input a coding command in order to lower the dragon’s HP. Later obstacles involve using code to shift entire platforms for your convenience, create entirely new grounds, and manipulate objects for the sake of your overall progression. As you continue, you’ll learn more. And aside from being a virtual teacher, Code Hero is also a playground for seasoned code monkeys to design entire worlds of their own where they can either solve complex programming problems or simply create for the sake of creating.

Since programming is a highly tedious and time consuming endeavor, there’s certainly great appeal in this concept. However, the game itself will still require lots of patience and attention to detail since, like any learning experience, you’ll only get what you put into it. If you’ve always been curious about programming but never knew where to start, Code Hero may be up your alley.

Moving forward, we approached Graham Smith, the Co-founder of Drinkbox Studios that showcased one of the most buzzed about games this year, Guacamelee. Guacamelee applies several different dynamics of traditional game design and fuses them together for a really unique take on the Metroidvania formula. You take on the role of the Juan, a farmer resurrected from the magic of a legendary Luchadore mask has to fight for the life of the president’s daughter. The metroidvania formula is shaken up by the mechanic of switching over between the land of the dead and living through portals before it becomes an executable ability and mirrors an already expansive map, which will need to be switched back and forth from with the routes that can be accessed contrasting the other world. Micromanagement from these abilities and exchanging them back and forth as you go becomes second nature over time and builds an incredible bridge with the player. Add in refined brawl combat and cooperative play via PSVita and you have a cheeky take on Mexican culture brought to life through a more than capable platforming venture.

We then happened upon the next booth, we were estatic to see 17-Bit games  with the man himself, Jake Kazdal, manning the front-lines for Skulls of The Shogun. Skulls of The Shogun, again follows the trend of modernizing the tactical RPG formula with updating the barrier of entry and still keeping the depth of strategic comabt in place. Skulls of The Shogun is the first Tactical map based system to completely do away with grids and instead replace them with radial spheres that outline the distance in which you can treck through a really open field that isn’t hindered by the rules of adjascent grid-lines but instead allows the freedom for a much more user-friendly experience as opposed to the conventions of its contemporaries. The visuals are some of the of the most crisp in it’s field in terms of 2D hand-drawn art design, every single frame of animation jumps out with vibrance that’s unmatched in it’s field. With varied classes, A-syncronis multiplayer and being the first cross-platorm game to have multiplayer available between the Xbox 360 version and tablet versions, Skulls of The Shogun is poised to be a certified hit.

Nathan Vella, Co-founder and president of Capybara Games, showed us their upcoming game, SuperTime Force, and after some extended time with this game, it is safe to say that we have crowned this game the official king of the Indie Mega Booth! Super Time Force, as the name suggests, centers around a troop of soldiers that are each equipped with a different ability and shot patterns for a 2D run and gun experience enhanced by dying -  you read right, you have to kick that bucket in order to get by some the frenetic action that overwhelms the screen. Once dead, time will rewind and a ghost will emerge from your last failed attempt, still equating their firepower to your overall force. Even with thirty lives, you’re never out and after several failures you slowly amass a giant army that floods the screen with bullets and helps you move forward. The ingenious edition of being able to save any one of your time ghosts from the enemy that killed them will create a time paradox that will allow you gain back an extra life back to your original thirty count and stamps an additional life. The aesthetic execution behind the game’s premise is a hilarious twist of John K. meets Adventure time and with all of the homages to other run and guns like Contra and Gunstar Heroes, this game is a must play experience and should be on everyone’s radar! No excuses ya pansies!

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