PAX West IMPRESSIONS: Nicalis Games

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

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I love indie games. I’m pretty sure that’s a fact about me most of you already know, but I think it’s important to use that fact to frame my PAX West experience. Sure, the big AAA games get all the attention, but I find that indies are the heart and soul of the industry. They may not make the most money, but they keep that creative spark burning. That said, one of my favorite indie publishers, by far, is Nicalis. That’s why this year I was overjoyed to not only swing by and see them, but to cover five different games they’ll be publishing!

nicalis-creepy-castle-explore

First up is Creepy Castle. Set to release later this month, I was quickly drawn to the antiquated visual style like a moth(man) to a flame. Note I said antiquated, and not mediocre or terrible. I find retro art to be beautiful, and think it’s just as apt to convey emotion and action as realistic 3D graphics. Artistically, I found the game resembled Cave Story, but with more comic book flavor. I had read about Creepy Castle a bit online, enough to realize it was originally kickstarted before Nicalis became the publisher. What I could not have known was how fun this quirky little game could be!

nicalis-creepy-castle-battle

Love the dramatic battle art!

You control heroic Moth as he explores a giant castle full of odd and freakish monsters. You go about finding keys to doors, food and magical items. In my time with the demo, there were also plenty of battles. Each battle is represented by various random minigames, all with different rules you must quickly grasp. It’s a bit like WarioWare, and I love this aspect of Creepy Castle. It never felt unfair, and was always fresh and interesting. There were even a couple of boss fights that had their own truly challenging minigames to conquer. I am now very curious to see how the final build of Creepy Castle plays when it launches this Halloween. What better day to jaunt through a Creepy Castle?

nicalis-ittle-dew-2-cactus

Next up was Ittle Dew 2. I remember seeing the original game on Steam and Wii U, but somehow never got around to playing it, which is odd. I liked the visual style, as well as the fact it was a bit like a Zelda game. As far as the demo, it was definitely evocative of Zelda games, but with its own unique traits. I spent a good portion of my time wandering around pretty aimlessly, porting here and there and fighting hordes of enemies.

nicalis-ittle-dew-2-combat

You’ll face LOTS of Medusa critters…

Players seem to have a lot more control and freedom to wander in Ittle Dew 2 than in most Zelda games. Though the combat and art were great, I was a little frustrated that I seemed to keep getting lost, over and over again. It was less than clear where I needed to go next, and I eventually got swarmed by some malevolent frost spirit when I wandered over to a snow covered area. I think Ittle Dew 2 definitely has potential, but I sincerely hope the final game is a bit more clear cut in terms of your objectives.

nicalis-dimensional-intersection-red

I’m not quite sure how to describe the next game I tried, Dimensional Intersection. It was the only VR game I played being published by Nicalis, and it’s definitely one of a kind. The problem is, I’m not sure what to call it. My demo pretty much just consisted of me watching pretty patterns and panning my camera forward and backward while listening to the trippy music.

nicalis-dimensional-intersection-pretty-colors

If you stare long enough you start to see some weird images…

There is seemingly no objective at all to Dimensional Intersection, other than to experience hallucinatory visuals and listen to funky music tracks. While it’s true you can change the colors and patterns, I would have preferred interacting with the game in a more significant way. I would have loved if this had aspects of a rhythm game, only in a virtual environment. Can you imagine Hatsune Miku or Theatrhythm, but in 3D? That would be amazing! That said, I do give credit to the developers for trying something totally and boldly new. If you own VR or plan on getting it, this might be a worthy experiment.

nicalis-tiny-barbarian-traps

If Conan was digitized into a game, this would be it.

The next game I tried, and perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise after Creepy Castle, was Tiny Barbarian DX. Pretty much everything I love about retro is exemplified in this game. It is hard as nails, has beautiful old school art, and is a blast to play. Stylistically, it kind of reminded me of a mix of Ghouls and Ghosts and Shantae. The game is comprised of multiple chapters that are all unlocked for free as they are finished.

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Nothing says manly like riding a giant bee!

For the demo itself, I spent the most time on this of any of the Nicalis games because I was determined to beat the chapter I played! Determined, but unsuccessful, thanks to a particularly nasty boss, though the developer kindly said I did pretty well. Tiny Barbarian DX is a triumphantly old school game, and the mix of classic tunes, tight controls and lush art make me happy I played it. I would highly recommend others pick it up, which I myself did at my first opportunity. StarQuail has done a great job with this one!

Now the last game I played probably surprises nobody. It’s the game that did the most work in converting me into such a fan of Nicalis so quickly. It’s a fantastic and genre-breaking game about religion, roguelikes and insanity. Yes, the last game I played at Nicalis this year was The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+!

Nicalis | Afterbirth+

GLORIOUS! This is what happiness looks like…

I won’t go into all the myriad things I loved about Afterbirth+, other than to say one thing; this had better come to the Wii U soon, or I will riot! It played as smoothly as I remember but with a lot of nifty new bells and whistles, including bosses reskinned to resemble well known Twitch personalities. But I could care less about that. I just care that this marvelous game makes it to a console I own soon!


So that’s it for my visit to Nicalis this year. I had a great time, as always, and look forward to next year! Many thanks to Geni for the awesome featured image!

About Josh Speer

Josh Speer is addicted to two things in equal measure : Books and Videogames. He has a degree from the University of Washington in English with an emphasis on writing. He joined Operation Rainfall last year while following it on Facebook. His two giant life goals are to write his own series of fantasy / science fiction novels and to get into the creative side of the video game industry. He is beyond pleased to now have his proverbial foot in the door thanks to the opportunity provided by Oprainfall!