By Josh Speer / September 7th, 2015
Last year I started a new tradition at PAX Prime. While there is a lot of fun to be had and stuff to be seen on the convention floor, that’s not the only place to find great games. No, there is also a haven of indie gaming called the Seattle Indies Expo (or SIX) that I have now attended for the second year in a row. The first time was a crowded, crazy and awesome affair. This year, much like Seattle itself, was a bit more mellow, but the games were no less entertaining. Read on to see what caught my interest this year, in alphabetical order.
SIX Game #1 – Biodrome
One thing about me is I am a very visually oriented person, so whenever something is visually unique, I head towards it like a moth to a flame. Such was certainly the case with indie competitive FPS exploration game Biodrome. Developed by Seattle dev Pete Hufnagel, it contends with a female astronaut searching for earth-saving genetic material on alien planets. Pete describes it as inspired by the Metroidvania genre, and it definitely shows. But what appealed to me even more was the old school, melodramatic vibe.
While it’s true the game is still in a pre-alpha state, meaning the graphics and more might still change, I was captivated by the retro vibe. Furthermore, the game plays pretty well, using oldschool Doom style controls. As you wander about finding these genetic eggs, which eventually unlock new abilities and weapons, your environment is opened up exponentially. In my time with the game, I encountered a grappling beam, an explosive that could catapult me upwards and more goodies. It also sounded like the game will be played in a competitive aspect, so you’re striving to get the most eggs before everybody else. Though there is some combat in the game, it mostly takes a back seat to the exploration.
What was especially cool is that Biodrome is apparently procedurally generated, so each time the map will be different. This is a bit of an unusual tack for a 3D exploration game, but it seemed to work. I was really captivated by the darkness of the game, and though the controls weren’t perfect, and in my opinion would be better served with a controller, the game overall was quite cool. I can’t wait to see how it shapes up in the days to come, and it is certain to appeal to old school fans when it launches on PC.
SIX Game #2 – Charlotte Seeker
The next game I didn’t actually get a chance to play myself, but I did watch intently as another person played it. That game is called Charlotte Seeker, developed by Bearcowboy. If the previous game was retro, then this would be super retro. Charlotte Seeker may have started out as a Binding of Isaac clone, but it quickly evolved into something very different. Though it’s still a twin stick shooter, it has none of the moral ambiguity or insanity Binding of Isaac is well known for. Instead, this looks like Power Puff Girls mixed with a little Blaster Master and Legend of Zelda, thrown into a twin stick blender. Better yet, it is slated to release on a multitude of platforms, including PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U and XBox One.
The game itself seems to be comprised of gated areas that culminate in a massive boss fight at the end. But knowing that doesn’t prepare you for the madness of combat itself. Unlike the games it took inspiration from, Charlotte Seeker is VERY fast paced and frantic. The action never seemed to let up, so much so that the boss fights themselves were actually the only times things calmed down.
It’s hard to say more without having played it myself, but you can get a better idea of how it plays in the video below. Charlotte Seeker is slated to release sometime in 2015.
SIX Game #3 – Hero Generations
The next game I did play for quite a while. It is called Hero Generations, and it is a rogue-like strategy game. The hook? Each turn of the game is one year of life for your hero. Thus, it is your job to become famous and find a mate before you die of old age. By doing so, you unlock different traits for your offspring, who you then take control of. There is permadeath though, so be careful you don’t wander foolishly into a fight you can’t survive.
Though not as beautiful as some of the other games, Hero Generation’s chibified art style appealed to me. The only odd thing in my playthrough was that it was difficult to discern the difference between a male and female character. Unless they’re all bisexual, but I doubt that was the intent. Luckily, the gameplay was quite solid, as well as quite challenging. Not only do your choices affect your offspring, but the choices they make shape the culture of each subsequent generation. You can purchase dwellings to increase your abilities, or to give more gold, or many other things.
Combat is a simple yet complex affair, where your traits are weighed against your foes, and a simple dice roll decides victory or defeat. Luckily, losing doesn’t instantly kill you, but it does literally shave years off your lifespan, which is quite risky. As if that weren’t enough, there are also several different unit types that your offspring can become. There’s a lot of complex ideas in a very people friendly packaging. I was pretty pleased with Heart Shaped Games’ Hero Generations. If you are interested in seeing what it’s like, check out our review in the coming weeks.
SIX Game #4 – The Last Shore
The next game, despite me not getting a chance to play it, gets the distinction of most visually fascinating game I saw at SIX this year. This game is called The Last Shore, developed by Pulpo Games. Quite simply, the art style of this game left me breathless. Though it is all pixelated and crafted in Unity, the game nevertheless was like a watercolor painting brought to life. Every inch of the game was lovingly crafted, and somehow, despite the retro aesthetic, the game felt like a living, breathing entity. From the spray of the ocean waves to the keening of animals and braying of monsters, the game was constantly impressive.
While I watched the game being played, it was via an XBox controller, and looked to play like a mix between Legend of Zelda and Shadow of the Colossus. Meaning that the controls were simple, intuitive and remarkably well made. After the opening sequence, which seemed to contend with an angry deity attacking the main character’s family, she sets off on her boat on a quest to save her family. Like in Wind Waker, you can go pretty much anywhere with the boat, simply by manipulating the sail. There’s also much exploration and combat to be had, as you have to fight monsters and bosses in your quest.
There were two sections I saw played in the demo. The first was a temple of sorts, where you used your wits and visual cues to solve puzzles and find yourself armed with a bow and arrow. This is your initial means of fighting off foes, as well as hitting switches and solving more complex puzzles. After that, the player found their way to a volcanic cavern full of skeletal monstrosities of various stripes who wanted to end your quest. Rounded out by a massive boss fight against a skeletal cow head that floated in mid air, I was utterly charmed by the experience. It reminded me of games such as Alundra and Lost in Shadow, where players are immersed in a strange world and must use their wits to get farther. Information isn’t doled out in large chunks, and players really have to tackle it like an old school game.
As hard as I try, my words can’t do The Last Shore justice. See with your own eyes what I’m trying to say in the trailer below. I fervently hope to see the final build of this game sometime soon, hopefully on Steam and other easily accessible platforms.
SIX Game#5 – Soul Locus
Last but certainly not least was Soul Locus, a mix of Tower Defense, CCG and Pokemon-esque games by some of the same folks who brainstormed Plants vs. Zombies. You pick from over 80 animal Guardians to fend off wave after wave of creatures, and you can use points to level up and evolve them, making them more ready for the task at hand.
Though there are some definite similarities between this and other games, I like the combination of genres, and instantly picked up on the gameplay. I also appreciated the cutesy yet well drawn art style of the game, and felt it perfectly suited Soul Locus. This is the type of game I could see myself putting lots of hours into, collecting new resources, Guardians and more.
In closing, I’ll say that although Soul Locus had a more casual type of orientation, it was still a game that could appeal to multiple audiences. For those who are interested, it is currently in Early Access on Steam. You can find out more about the game when our Early Access impressions go live on the site.
Overall, I had another great year at SIX. If any of these games look appealing to you, I implore you to check them out in the months to come. These indies need fan support to survive and thrive, unlike AAA games that get far too much backing. There’s a wide range of genres here, so gamers of every stripe should be satisfied. And please do check back with oprainfall for our impressions of Hero Generations and Soul Locus.
BidromeCharlotte SeekerHero GenerationsSeattle Indies ExpoSIXSoul LocusThe Last Shore