By Josh Speer / September 23rd, 2016
Though PAX West is always a great privilege to attend, one of my favorite traditions during the show is attending the Seattle Indie’s Expo (SIX for short)! It is a great gathering of indie gems that often go under the radar or which just don’t have the means to advertise their games to a large group of fans. That’s where I come in! Every year I have attended SIX, I cherry pick what I think are the very best games and write up my impressions. For fairness’ sake, I cover them in alphabetical order, so there is no bias on my part. This year I have 5 games to discuss, representing a wide variety of genres, from puzzle to RPG to shmup to racing. There’s a lot of great stuff to cover, so let’s get started!
SIX Game #1 – Ghostlight Manor
Let me start out by saying that not only is Ghostlight Manor alphabetically my first game, but it was also the first game I sat down to play this year at Seattle Indie’s Expo. Why, you ask? Quite simply, because I LOVE Halloween, and when I saw that Ghostlight Manor is a Halloween themed puzzle game, I was sold.
The basic premise is you control an adorable little Lightbot armed with nothing more than a multipurpose flashlight. It’s your only weapon against hordes of the undead. First you use it to reveal the type of foes descending, Space Invader style, from the top of the screen. Once revealed, you are able to destroy them with additional flashes of light. It sounds simple, and it is, but it’s also very complex once you factor in the vast menagerie of ghouls, all armed with different skills and patterns. It is also complicated by your need to conserve energy and utilize different types of flashlight beams.
While it’s true that the graphics in the game aren’t mind blowing, I really like their colorful simplicity. The music was fitting and quaint, but the real draw here is the gameplay. Digital Future Lab has something great on their hands with Ghostlight Manor, and best of all, it is slated to release very soon. Just in time for Halloween!
SIX Game #2 – Gravastar
Like many gamers, I am drawn by visual stimulation. So when I saw a vibrant, fast paced anime styled RPG, I had to drop by. That game was called Gravastar, and though the demo just consisted of one battle against a couple waves of foes, it caught my attention. Studio Atma has the potential for a great game on their hands, assuming they can add a little polish and care to the very sexy prototype.
In the demo you only played as one character, but a whole group of them. I appreciated that Gravastar was turn based with Mario RPG style input commands for attacks. My only complaint was the time needed to input commands was very brief, and my lack of familiarity with the controller made me miss a few attacks. That’s definitely something that should be tightened up in the final version. That said, I was utterly captivated by the style of Gravastar, and hope to see it progress into a fantastic JRPG game! To see a bit of what I loved about it, check out the trailer below.
SIX Game #3 – Rival Star Hero
Let me start by saying I absolutely love shmups. They are a classic genre that rewards you for pattern memorization, quick reflexes and courage. So it shouldn’t surprise anybody that I played not one, but two shmups at SIX. The first one, and perhaps the most innovative, was called Rival Star Hero. The premise of the game is simple – it’s a competitive 2 player shmup. The way that works is that you play on a split screen, and the first player to explode loses. You play a round composed of a couple battles, and the person who died the least is the big winner!
There’s a bit more to it than that, luckily. First of, there’s a combo system which keeps track of how many ships you have destroyed in a certain window of time. You can translate this into threats thrown against your opponent, such as space debris or more enemy ships. If you’re really good, you can even get a high enough combo to transform your ship into a massive enemy boss cruiser, and rain havoc on your foe!
Besides the basics, I also appreciated how every pilot has a different playstyle and ship at their disposal. These differences even translate to the type of boss ship you transform into, which was a very nice touch. Besides that, Rival Star Hero (I still think it should be plural) has many basic conventions for the genre, such as bombs, powerups and more. I was very pleased with the game thus far, especially since in my short time playing the game, I was undefeated! It should make for a lot of fun when Spacewave Software finalizes it.
SIX Game #4 – Starr Mazer DSP
Let me start with a quick confession – Starr Mazer DSP is the only game I played at SIX that I already owned. However, backlogs being a very real thing, I hadn’t gotten around to playing it prior to the event, which worked out wonderfully, since it let me sit down and play while inundated by the wonderful enthusiasm of the Starr Mazer team! Most notably, the one and only Don Thacker, who was shouting slogans, cheers and jeers at every player the entire time I was there. At first I couldn’t figure out who was making all the noise, but I was very pleased by the sheer amount of energy radiating off Don and the rest of the crew.
Fun fact – every randomly generated pilot in Starr Mazer DSP is actually voiced by one of the team, which I found utterly fantastic. I’m still blown away by the fact this side project has actually fascinated me more than the game I actually backed on Kickstarter, Starr Mazer itself. But when you throw roguelike mechanics into a super addictive shmup formula, I’m pretty much sold.
Suffice to say, Starr Mazer DSP was a joy to play at Seattle Indie’s Expo, most especially since they had it working with a classic SNES controller! Though the game is episodic in nature, the first episode, which was on display, is plenty challenging, and offers a lot of great shmup bang for your buck. I can’t recommend this one highly enough to fans of the genre. It’s truly a blast!
SIX Game #5 – Trundl.buddy and the Ghostly Wi-filactery
Have I mentioned I’m drawn to games that are visually appealing? Cause that’s definitely the reason I wandered over to the Trundl.buddy booth (from now on, I’m just gonna refer to it as Trundl to make my life easier). Trundl is a strange little game where you control a automated robot who I presume is possessed by spirits. I wasn’t really clear on the plot, as it were, but the art was lush enough I didn’t really care.
As for how the game handles, it’s kind of like an endless racing game. Trundl is constantly moving forwards, and being beset by various freakish foes. You’re not defenseless, however, as you have a range of crazy attacks at your disposal. Each of them is represented by a specific grid, and works better against some enemies than others. The tricky thing is that the game is so fast paced that you can often die before figuring out the proper tool.
Besides avoiding enemy attacks, you’ll also have to zoom past rocks, trees and other inconvenient debris. Trundl is being developed and designed by the talented folks over at Spite House, and I really hope they are able to polish and balance it a bit. The game right now is truly unique, and that’s great, but it definitely needs a bit of love and care before it can reach its full potential.
So that’s it for my SIX adventures this year! If any of these look appealing, I encourage you to check the links I provided to their websites. Help spread the word about these great indie games. And many thanks to Brandon for the truly transcendent featured image!
Ghostlight ManorGravastarPAX WestPCRival Star HeroSeattle Indies ExpoSIXstarr mazerTrundl.buddy