PAX East 2013: The Best of The Indie Mega Booth

ven though the event is still considerably young in comparison to others, the annual celebration of gamers has always been consistent with keeping a routine that’s bordering on tradition. Every Penny Arcade Expo will always be about the individuals who travel from all over. However, the other proverbial half of the show would be the plethora of indie games, and the Indie Mega Booth didn’t pull any stops this year either. Press Pause Radio has scoured the booth to discover the best that it has to offer, and we’re going to cover our experience with you.

Enjoy the best of Indie Mega Booth 2013!

-Passing by, I spotted the Ska Studio booth. As I approached closer to the booth, I came upon what looked like a band of punk-rock punks fighting the undead with Viking helmets and guitars that summon rotating saw blades from the ground. Ladies and Germs, I was witnessing Ska's latest title in development, Charlie Murder. Starting off as casual project that was intended for the Xbox Live indie space four years ago, Charlie Murder has now greatly come into its own with an imminent release on Xbox Live Arcade fast approaching.

The game features an angry, washed-up punk band that’s been thrown into the beginning of a zombie apocalypse as they beat back to death all of the ghouls and nasties around them in order to advance to the right. Managing a careful balance of style and substance, the physical fighting dynamics vary amongst the different set of characters through job classes from tank to sorcerer that play a pivotal role when playing online multiplayer. Abilities are managed through an action wheel that can be customized from different abilities that are gained along with equipable armor and accessories that provide stat boosts or perks for latent abilities which are all hilariously managed through on screen smartphone, complete with apps and text message communication. The focus on plot is much more deceptive than the studio’s previous title, The Dish Washer Samurai, but the scenarios and set pieces encountered and the ciniematic delivery for plot progression is refreshing in the sense you interact with them. Charlie Murder places interest in the narrative, even if it is facetious tongue in cheek nonsense at times.

Charlie Murder is slated for release sometime this summer on Xbox Live Arcade.

-What if I told you my favorite game at PAX was one in which you just went about your day as a normal dad? You get married, cook burgers, make coffee and mow the lawn. And it's the funniest, most enjoyable game I've played all weekend.

Octodad's just trying to be a good husband and father. It's not his fault he was born with these noodley octopus appendages. In Octodad: Dadliest Catch, you assume the role of Octodad. He's just trying to make his wife and kids happy while living a normal suburban life. He just also happens to be an octopus, and his family doesn't know that.

Octodad controls like a marionette manipulated through a computer mouse. The scroll wheel switches between his "legs" and "arms." In arms mode, the right noise button controls his right leg and the left does the same for the left. Flicking the mouse moves the selected leg in that direction. It takes some force to move his legs, so Octodad always flails wildly about the area. Same deal with his arms as you pick up items and interact with the environment.

But be careful, the more stuff you break, the more suspicious Octodad's family gets today he may be more than meets the eye. As long as you keep them happy with adventure game-style tasks like cooking dinner, fixing the birdhouse and checking the mail, they'll be none the wiser.

-As I approached the Compulsion Games booth, the first image that struck before I witnessed any footage of the game was The Great Gatsby-like aesthetic of the character and setting portrayed in the art. It was then I knew that their title, Contrast, hinted at an innovative gameplay dynamic that wasn’t the main drive, but is instead meant to only be a vehicle that drives the presentation of its story and world. Contrast centers on a young woman named Dawn and the efforts she takes to help her young friend who’s trying to support her struggling father into earning back the good graces of her showgirl mother. The art direction and graphic design has elegant simplicity that keeps a minimal composition, but remains stylized with enough charm to give it a timeless look.

The swing music culture and burlesque clothing enforce the undertones of the story. And though the story was splintered for the sake demonstration in a show floor environment, the brief narrative scenes stood strong in their intent to introduce the conflict and advance the plot. The mechanical hook in Contrast involves the ability for Dawn to enter the 2D side-scrolling platform plane of shadows casted against walls from various light sources, which allows players to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.

While there were some slight issues in terms of technical performance and contextual sensitivity, the overall enjoyable dynamic still easily engages you to continue onward.

The game is currently on Steam Greenlight with no release date announced as of yet.

-At Pax Prime 2012 I was fortunate enough to get some playtime on a wicked little arena shooter that broke out of its flash game confines via plurality. Luftrausers is addictive as it is stylish, and now it’s even better than ever. The randomized jets were cool before, but now you can mix and match the wings, body and weapons of your Luftrauser into one of 125 different possible ships… each with their own names and even unique soundtracks! 
Even the visual presentation has received a subtle yet awesome upgrade; as you lay waste to your opposition, newer, more powerful ships and aircraft can be seen getting closer and closer through multiple layers of parallax until they finally attack the hell out of you. 
Luftrausers is coming, and soon, according to Vlambeers’ Remi Ismail. The build I got hands-on with this time feels very solid and offers a lot of choice in how the player can go about his death-dealing business. It will be seeing release on Steam, PS3 and even the PS Vita, likely at a price point of about $10.00.

-Apotheon is an action RPG that's more 'vania than Metroid.

You play as a Greek sol- Roman? No, Greek, definitely Greek soldier. I get all my history from video games and unfortunately God of War isn't very accurate. Apotheon kind of is, though. The visual style beautifully recreates the look of ancient Greek art. The orange and black figures and environments look like they were taken right off an ancient vase unearthed from King Tut's tomb. Christ, I'm bad at history.

You traverse a wide landscape that seems to go on forever in every direction. Doors always lead somewhere and that place usually has some kind of quest available like a tyrant keeping several people as slaves in cages. The player frees people like this with an array of weapons littered about the environment or taken from a fallen enemy. Combat is simple. You choose your weapon, whether it's a thrown spear, a sword or a club, and whack people with them until they're dead. Other items pop up such as healing items, shields and quest items like keys. This all keeps the combat and exploration from getting boring. There send to always be something to do.

-Spotting Blendo Games and hearkening back to their previous releases like Flotilla and Thirty Flights of Loving, my feet naturally took over and hoofed to the booth toot suite. The star project for their demonstration was a game named Quadrilateral Cowboy, and it was unlike any other puzzle game I’ve played. The idea behind QC is that you take the role of a hacker from the late 80s to the early 90s who specialize in a variety of criminal activity that ranges from corporate espionage to blackmail. The game takes place in the first-person perspective with Cowboy infiltrating different building or areas by using his portable computation cassette.

Approaching the end of the room you’ll come across a labeled door with a security alarm and cassette will need to be brought it in where you, get this, proceed to type in DOS command prompts that will work to advance the puzzle by typing in the right commands in order to communicate with the given obstacle. The depth of the mechanic is deceptively deep despite the binary design of constantly switching between movement and cassette use. Although simple in concept, the physical execution of the mechanic quickly becomes a cerebral exercise that will keep you on your toes. The game is currently on Steam Greenlight and follows the same visual trend of their previous titles, definitely one to look out for if you ever had a closet desire of being a pro hacker.

-One of the most visually impressive indie games this year is Guns of Icarus, an online steam punk-style ship battle game from a first-person perspective in which an airship crew attempts to turn the tides of battle against aerial adversaries.

Any of the crew can take on any role of the ship, from gunning to piloting, though certain classes will excel where others won’t. As an engineer, I was able to repair damaged ship parts with an enhanced hammer, then jumped on a cannon to take down an enemy dirigible. Different weapons also behave differently, requiring a bit of tactical thinking and advance knowledge when hopping onto adifferent turret.

Teamwork is a very important factor though, and if you can’t adapt and assist, you will surely fail. That said, the online factor is fun, and again, the visual and sound design is really polished. Guns of Icarus is available right now on Steam, on sale for just $5!

-Like Apotheon, also featured at this year's Indie Mega Booth, Tengami evokes an ancient storm in its aesthetic. Like many games, the goal is to get from point A to B. But traversing the landscape will be more difficult than it initially appears.

Tengami draws its visuals from classic Asian storytelling. Everything is angular and flat to complement its storybook setting. The game is told as a pop-up book. The player swipes sections of the iPad screen to open flaps, flip parts of the scenery and turn to the next page.

Your goal is simply to walk from one side of the page to the other by double taking where you'd like the character to walk. Along the way you'll encounter obstacles. The player has to flip these obstacles to create new terrain and make paths. As you progress, the puzzles get harder. You'll be required to flip different parts of the map in sequence while moving across the page. In one puzzle, I had to get from the bottom to the top using stairs and ramps. The page was split into the segments vertically, and I couldn't move the segment on which I was standing. So I had to keep my character out of the way, while thinking about which flap to flip next. Occasionally the taps will just enhance the scenery like plucking a leaf from a tall tree, but it's always to help drive home the storybook aesthetic which Tengami pulls of very well.

Tengami looks to be a very soothing experience. Everything from the music to the visuals to the laid back pace and minimal control scheme make this puzzle adventure game seen like a very pleasant time.

-Let it be known that no matter how jaded any one person can be, nobody can deny the simple delights of bright neon colors and movement backed up by a beat-soaked score of house and electronica. Enter Electronic Super Joy from Michael Todd Games. Electronic Super Joy places you in the shoes of a nameless avatar running through neon strobe-lit stages with sadistic obstacles that demand an immaculate attention to movement with areas of focus that influence your movement and jumping to the soundtrack’s crazy bouncing beats.

As the nameless pixel hero, you’re equipped only with a jump and a double jump as you navigate pitfalls and dangers. Meanwhile, you'll make use of special areas of the stage stars that boost you or special area of context that allow for wall jumping that don’t allow for a single error in execution.

The challenge rivals that of Super Meat Boy, but like the example given, has the innate charm of using your frustration as a means to drive you into achieving success in the stage. The simplicity of binary movement and jumping brings out a whimsy that’s bombarded with all of the bight visuals and thrilling soundtrack. The game is slated for all existing computer OS formats and is also on Steam Greenlight with aspirations to release on consoles in the later future.

-Even in its early alpha build, Ray’s The Dead sure is a charming game, dripping with a ton of personality (amongst, presumably, putrified organs.)

Taking control of the titular Ray, a zombie with the ability to raise the dead and create a legion of undead soldiers, your objective is to amass a ton of zombie comrades to defeat the stage objective at hand. Some stages are oriented around straight-up destroying humanity while others require a bit of stealth, especially when dogs are present.

To control your minions, Ray’s The Dead employs a very twin-stick-shooter-esque system in which a light on Ray’s head aims at various zombies or stage elements, and the triggers “shoot” a zombie to the designated area to attack, hide or otherwise shamble about as you see fit.

There were some incredible, genuine laugh-out-loud moments that had me in stitches and the art style and sound is charming as well. At this time though, the game is only somewhat playable, since a number of bugs are present in this very early build. When the game is finished in 2014, I’ll be looking forward to completing this great little diamond in the rough.

-The Seed is a physics-based puzzle game in which the player tries to guide a seed across the screen to a fertile area and plant a tree.

Every level has a certain number of blue circles available with arrows in them. The player places these circles around and when they've set things up just as they want them the game's physics take control. The seed falls and hits the blue circles which fling the seed in the direction the arrow is pointing. You set the intensity of the throw and try to create a Goldbergian system of tosses to get the seed to the goal. Unfortunately, the circles are beholden to the physics as well. It's all in the timing as you try to hit the circles at just the right time and angle while at the same time avoiding the obstacles in the environment.

This is a game that will take some practice to master. It's fun and I could see myself sinking hours into it, but it's definitely not the kind of game you want to play for the first time in front of a hundred people waiting to play and the guys that made it.

-The strides made in visual design through means of artistic expression is one of the most exciting facets of indie gaming. The bridge of interaction and animation is constantly being pushed and one such game in the booth was able to communicate that within seconds of a glance, and that was Rack N Ruin. The top-down 2D shooter took place in a lush forest of pastel colors as if it was a painting constantly in motion. You take control of miniature horned demon with dungeon tropes like alternate attacks of the fire or lightening variety or item perks, as you traverse through a dungeon layout.

The controls are sharp and responsive and the mechanics service the game. It’s the jaw-dropping visuals and subtle yet beautifully gloomy score work to immerse you in a splendor of sensory, and the subtle pacing of powered up abilities keeps the fresh while maintaining a refined composure. Rack N Ruin is still early in development and is slated to be released for PC later this year.

-Super Meat Boy was great. Mega Man was greater. So a combo of the two should be holy-shit amazing, right? Well, with double-jumping, auto scrolling segments and tricky boss battles, Rock Kickass has the potential for greatness.

But Rock Kickass is only a little ways away from release and despite its recent awards, there are some issues. For one, the jumping is really floaty, meaning without some intense acclimation to how the controls work, you’ll be flinging yourself off of buildings, into saw blades and right through enemies until eventually, death.

But the enemy behaviour isn’t especially great either with static movement that doesn’t bode so well thanks to the floaty physics of Rock Kickass. The boss I fought was programmed to always move above the player, making him really hard to hit, and he stayed up there, not coming down until about 30 seconds later. There is a lot of tuning needed to make this game anywhere near as good as Mega Man or Super Meat boy, but again, the potential is there. If you want to see what I mean, you can download the free android app from the Google Play market to try the auto scrolling endless runner mode for yourself.

And that's that! We hope you guys look forward to these games because they're poise to make some waves real soon!

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