By Josh Speer / June 22nd, 2018
I feel like I keep saying this lately, but I love indie games. While I don’t have anything against AAA titles, I feel indies work harder to do more with less, which often results in surprising, creative and entertaining masterpieces. I had a ton of fun in the past covering the Seattle Indie’s Expo, as well as covering IndieCade at E3, but there’s one more event I need to mention for my E3 coverage, and that’s the MIX.
Much like the SIX, the MIX (Media Indie Exchange) this year was set in trendy locale, on a rooftop alcove peppered with free food, drink and lots of merriment in the form of games sprouting like wild mushrooms. After fortifying myself with a sandwich, I was let loose to play whatever appealed to me (and there was a LOT that did). Even though I wasn’t able to play every game that caught my attention, because there were plenty of crowds, those titles I did play were incredible and diverse. I will list all 5 of them in alphabetical order to avoid any unintentional bias on my part.
MIX Game # 1 – Darq
Developer – Unfold Games
Though I’m terrible at them, I’m often inexplicably drawn to horror games. There’s just something satisfying about that adrenaline rush and the intersection between beauty and monstrous horror. So when I saw the Tim Burton-esque visual styling of Darq, I knew I had to play. Darq tells the story of Lloyd, a young boy who becomes aware he’s in a lucid dream of sorts, and he can’t get out. Which wouldn’t be that bad necessarily, except for the fact this dream quickly transitions into a nightmare.
The one thing in Lloyd’s favor is that physics work differently in this nightmare world, and he’s able to literally tilt the world around him to solve puzzles and make his escape. But since this is a horror game, there’s plenty more working against him, such as the fact that he has no weapons to defend himself against the horrific beings that wish him harm. In my time with the demo, which took place aboard an eerie moving train, these were mostly twisted humanoids, not unlike something you might find in Silent Hill, just with a more cartoony aesthetic. That said, they are in no way cute or cuddly, especially when coupled with the atmospheric and tense sound effects. Your only way to get past them is stealth, and even then you need to be careful and pay close attention to their movement patterns. I did okay against the first such enemy, only to find myself utterly cornered and unable to get past a terrible old blind woman in a wheel chair. I know, doesn’t sound particularly scary, but wait til she lunges at you faster than any old woman should be capable of…
Darq is already impressing me with the deft mix of horror and puzzle solving, and it’s headed to Steam in Q4 of 2018. I’m also hoping that it does well enough to make the jump to consoles, as horror fans will get a kick out of this delightfully creepy game.
MIX Game # 2 – Hamsterdam
Developer – Muse Games
You may have caught on by now that I’m attracted to games that are visually appealing. But there’s a wide range of styles that catch my attention. I was just as spellbound by the cutesy aesthetic of Hamsterdam as I was the creepy tones of Darq. Hamsterdam is quite an interesting game, not least of all since it’s slated for mobile as well as Switch. It’s a rhythm game, but it’s one that doesn’t have you play to the music. Instead, you need to keep track of the rhythm as you battle foes, tapping and swiping to do the proper attacks and counters.
That may sound a bit complex, and while it is, there’s a definite appeal to the game even beyond the cartoony visuals. It took me a while to get the hang of things, but I feel that with a little more polishing, there’s going to be a very addictive and fun system here. Also nice is that there’s an overarching story to the game, and it reminds me a lot of some of my favorite tales by the folks at Laika, with just a dash of Pinky & the Brain for good measure.
While it’s true I don’t play a lot of (or really any) mobile games, I will be very interested to see how Hamsterdam plays on the Switch. Frankly I think it’s the perfect console for such a game, sure to win many over with the art and story. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait too long for this delightful little game!
MIX Game #3 – The Messenger
Developer – Sabotage Studio
In the spirit of avoiding any bias, I will disclose that I was already somewhat familiar with The Messenger. I should also mention that I got really excited when I heard it would be at the MIX. Developed by Sabotage Studio, The Messenger looks like Ninja Gaiden at first glance. You quickly discover it’s far more, as a key element in the game is switching between 8 and 16 bit to provide your character with new skills, new trials and new enemies.
I always am attracted to pixelated goodness, and The Messenger has that in spades. The artistry on display is phenomenal, reminding me fondly of recent titles such as Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, Mighty Gunvolt Burst and even the stalwart Shovel Knight. Yes, that is high praise, and thus far I can say The Messenger is more than deserving of it. As for the demo itself, it not only impressed me with the visuals, but also with the pumping tunes and tight controls. Not to mention the wonderful humor that was evident in the demo in the form of the shopkeeper. I’m not sure if he’ll be quite so entertaining in the final version, but his snark was a joy as I played the demo.
The Messenger has all the hallmarks of a retro classic, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it when it releases sometime in 2018. The best part is, it’s not only coming to PC, but also making the Switch! Keep your eyes peeled for this one, I strongly suspect it’ll be amazing.
MIX Game # 4 – Neo Cab
Developer – Chance Agency
Initially I wasn’t planning on playing the next game, but I’m glad my colleague Benny convinced me otherwise. Neo Cab is a cel shaded adventure where your every decision affects the overall narrative. Though the team didn’t think it qualified as a Visual Novel, I would strongly disagree, and that’s a compliment. Many of my favorite VNs tell complex and intricate stories, and that seems to be the intent of Neo Cab as well.
Stylistically, Neo Cab seems to be a dystopian futuristic story not unlike Blade Runner. There are modified humans running about as well as shady corporations that rule with an iron fist. You play the humble driver, and you decide which fares to collect and how to react to your passengers. A colored bracelet will indicate your emotional state as you play, and depending on that, you’ll be gated out of certain dialogue options. Which is great, since it should mean that Neo Cab has replay value in the form of multiple endings.
Neo Cab is slated to release for both PC and Itch.io, and it looks to be a promising narrative adventure. If you want a good game to unwind with while juggling complex social issues, Neo Cab will make your day.
MIX Game # 5 – Overwhelm
Developer – Untitled Publisher
The last game listed here was actually the last one I played at the MIX, and it certainly made its mark on me. Overwhelm is both visually simple and incredibly atmospheric. Think about a Metroidvania. Now imagine one where only your enemies get stronger as you progress, and you don’t have unlimited lives. Toss in a few horror elements and splash liberally with red, black and white accents, and you have a hell of a challenging game. It almost reminded me of Downwell as a Metroidvania, which is a mark of distinction.
As far as my time with the demo, it was a bit of a love / hate experience. I loved the style of the game, and was utterly captivated by the horror elements, but the difficulty was pretty steep. Though it was fun to experience firsthand, I worry the full game might be overwhelmingly challenging (see what I did there?). That said, if you’re one of those people who won’t shut up about how amazing Souls-like games are, you probably owe it to yourself to check Overwhelm out.
What surprised me most about Overwhelm was that it’s actually already out on PC and Mac. So if you love a lot of challenge and find this art style appealing, definitely check it out. But if you don’t have the stomach for it, you might want to look elsewhere.
Overall, I had a wonderful time at the MIX. It was even better than I anticipated, and I’ll be making a concerted effort to attend it in the future. If you also love indie games, be sure to check out these 5, and stay tuned to oprainfall in the future for more coverage of wonderful indie titles.
DarqE3 2018Hamsterdammedia indie exchangeMIXNeo CaboprainfallOverwhelmThe Messenger