At GDC this week, we got the chance to check out a horde of indie games coming to Xbox One this year. While it would be impossible to list out every single one we're excited for, here are a few that stood out.
Like creator Keiji Inafune's previous games, Mighty No. 9 is a platformer that requires you to move breezily through levels, blasting enemies, collecting power-ups, and generally trying to avoid taking too much damage. Protagonist Beck moves quickly through brightly lit rooms packed with conveyer belts, ladder, laser-shooting baddies, and drums filled with explosives. Quick response is the name of the game as you guide Beck through obstacles to the ultimate end goal: a robot boss whose powers you want to assimilate.
You'll die frequently and have to restart levels from the last checkpoint if you're not careful, but the game moves quickly enough that repeating levels doesn't feel like a chore. It's a platformer that's sure to delight hardcore fans of the genre and a welcome addition to the Xbox One indie retinue. -- Alexa Ray Corriea
The Behemoth is known for frenetic brawlers and multiplayer hijinks, so it's understandable to be wary of the still untitled Game 4. But this turn-based strategy game maintains the developer's iconic designs and zany sense of humor while wrapping it in fun, hex-based strategy gameplay.
The sections that The Behemoth has shown off so far are still early in the game, so it'll be interesting to see both how the difficulty and strategy ramp up as you face increasingly difficult odds. But the deft mix of storytelling and rock-paper-scissors gameplay from the demo shows that the developer is just as good at introducing players to a traditional turn-based adventure as it is to a puzzle-based platformer like Battleblock Theater or a multiplayer brawler like Castle Crashers.
But the biggest selling point (for me) is still the opening premise: a giant space bear with star nipples crashes into your planet causing widespread mayhem and rivers of green, space bear blood. So reminiscent of my childhood. -- Justin Haywald
One-woman developer Tiger and Squid created Beyond Eyes solo before publisher Team 17 picked her up. Beyond Eyes stars a 10-year-old girl who was blinded in accident at an early age. Now, when her only friend--a fat, fluffy cat--goes missing, she ventures out into the world to find him.
Because your character is blind, everything initially appears more scary than it is. You navigate based on sound, but because it's third-person, visual cues show you what the girl is thinking. For example, the sound of scuttling birds reminds the girl of scary crows, and these crows will show up as thin, watercolor shapes ahead of you. But as you get closer, she recognizes the sound and they become chickens.
In this way, you help the young girl overcome her fears and re-discover the world through without sight. The game is also beautifully put together--all pastels, soft shapes, and watercolor images with gentle splotchy edges that make objects look hand-painted. It's a new way to experience an exploration game from a unique perspective. -- Alexa Ray Corriea
Do you remember when playing GoldenEye, or any other multiplayer split-screen game back in the day, how you'd inevitably look over at your opponents' parts of the screen to try and figure out where they were, what weapons they had, or what they were planning to do next? Screencheat turns that into a game.
In this multiplayer shooter where all of the participants are invisible, the only way to find out where someone is is to look at their section of the screen and suss out where they're standing. Seeing the origin point of someone's weapon-fire can provide distinct tells regarding enemy location, but by the time you see the smoke from another player's musket, it might already be too late.
Not many games encourage cheating as a core gameplay conceit, but in Screencheat, if you're not looking at everyone else's little corner of the screen, you're probably going to get shot. -- Justin Haywald
Swordy is the next big Xbox One party game, I'm calling it now. Frogshark's multiplayer physics brawler levels the playing field in the most fun and frustrating way. Players control the bodies of tiny knights whose physics have been turned down a notch; their bodies are floaty, a little rubbery, and harder to control. Your knight's tiny little legs take a little while to change directions and the weapons are swung around with some resistance.
The game takes place in a rectangle surrounded by walls on all sides, and lining the courtyard are weapons: giant swords, a ball and chain, smaller swords, daggers, a shield, all sorts of medieval weaponry. The goal of the game is to smash your opponents into oblivion, using up their nearly dozen lives and claiming a golden crown as your reward for being the best.
When the tiny knights get hit, an explosion of paint the same color as their shirt splatters the concrete. If you manage to get ahold of a weapon and take the lead in kills, the weapon will catch fire and become a flaming weapon of mass destruction. Swordy encourages you to be unyieldingly violent and sparks some fun banter and shouting from the couch. -- Alexa Ray Corriea
Shovel Knight may have come out last year, but there's a reason that it was GameSpot's game of the month for June. The retro-inspired art style and platforming gameplay don't really call for any kind of graphical overhaul or other sweeping changes for this Xbox One re-release. Instead, Shovel Knight on Microsoft's console offers the same terrific game that made the original so much fun: solid platforming, challenging bosses, and addictive achievements.
Shovel Knight looks old-school, but it borrows liberally from modern game design to make sure the experience is fun without being punishing. The save system lets you balance the risk and reward of setting up a safe place to return to within a stage against the instant gratification of rewards for destroying the spot entirely. The shoveling gameplay allows you to bounce off of enemies like in Duck Tales, and the world map even offers a handy feature to quickly warp from one end to the other when you're in either of the game's towns.
I didn't know quite what to make of Studio MDHR's Cuphead when it appeared briefly in an indie reel at Microsoft's last E3 press conference. But now that I've gotten my hands on it, I can't wait to see more. Cuphead is entirely hand-drawn--the characters, the overworld, every last little detail has been crafted to make the game look like an early-20th century cartoon. Think early Disney.
Cuphead is your hero, a tiny fellow with a cup for a head. In the demo I played, he walks through an overworld--a wide expanse of grass, trees and hills dotted with gardens, air ballons and boats all filled with enemies to encounter. Cuphead can jump, shoot from his fingers, and execute a timed action called a Straw Slap that helps him power up. Once he's fully powered up, Cuphead can use a special attack that deals more damage.
All the bosses I played against had multiple stages, requiring frequent strategy changes. For example, after defeating a giant potato in a garden, a giant carrot showed up and start raining down little carrots on me. Cuphead is different in look and approach to most anything else out there, and I'm looking forward to it. -- Alexa Ray Corriea
From a distance, you could easily mistake LA Cops as a mod for The Sims that introduces guns and lots of shooting. But the similarities to Maxis' popular life-sim end pretty much right at the isometric view of house interiors.
The cut-scenes for LA Cops are put together in a simplistic style reminiscent of animation from the '70s. The music harkens back to buddy cop films also from the '70s. And the gameplay is a challenging mash-up of top-down shooter and co-op puzzle game.
For the missions I played, I took charge of two cops from my stable of officers, trading off as one or the other took too many bullets. Playing on the game's easier difficulty setting, the challenge still ramped up quickly, but the characters' abilities level up as they finish missions, and there are multiple difficulty levels to choose from if things at the low end feel too forgiving. But at the hardest setting, you give up the option to target enemies with at the press of a button; a choice that I can only imagine is designed for the most hardcore of hardcore.
LA Cops' methods may be unconventional, but it gets the job done. -- Justin Haywald
Another testament to the popularity of minimalistic sports games: In Clusterpuck, each, player controls a small circle. These circles are placed in a small map riddled with traps, cliffs, bumpers and perilous spikes. At the end of each playing field is a goal for each team, making it feel a bit like you're playing soccer.
But it's not quite soccer. The physics are a little loose, meaning you need to carefully time when you turn and shoot the ball. The ball is represented by a tiny pixel and it moves quickly, making it hard to catch. It's also very easy to knock the ball off other players' circles, making it difficult not to shout at the friends playing on the couch next to you.
Clusterpuck may seem simple, but its nearly two-dozen arenas keep things interesting. With different arrangements of obstacles and goals, it's difficult to not get sucked into one game after another. This is another couch-competitive indie darling that I'm looking forward to seeing on console. -- Alexa Ray Corriea
Shoot-em-ups are not typically my favorite genre. The controlled chaos of trying to dodge between small flashy bullets while unloading on endless waves of enemies gets monotonous quickly. But I was still taken with the bullet hell charm of Pixel Galaxy.
At a glance, the simiple box graphics would seem to make the entire experience harder. You're basically a floating cube, all the enemies are colored cubes of a different color and the bullets...you guessed it, more cubes. But the twist in Pixel Galaxy is that you're a completely useless cube. That doesn't make it sound the much fun. You're useless in that you can't fire bullets or pull off any exciting special moves, but when you run into the enemy, they're absorbed into your ship.
With careful navigation, your tiny ship can grow to an immense size, until it engulfs a big chunk of the screen. The ships you absorb act like little turrets on the fringe of your junky barge, and the bigger you get, the easier it is to suck up even more ship. It's like Katamari Damacy meets Asteroids.
The bosses keep your size in check, since they're not so easily absorbed and their weapons can quickly reduce the size of your ship back down to single-digit pixels. But as a unique take on the shoot-em-up, Pixel Galaxy is worth checking out. -- Justin Haywald