As has become my habit, I visited the Boston Festival of Indie Games at MIT last weekend, an experience I highly recommend to anyone. It’s cheap, you get to see some interesting games, and both the content and the venue are a better fit for kids than PAX can sometimes be. As it happens, I was joined for a few hours this time by my friend Eric and his young son Linus, who loves games of both the video and physical variety but doesn’t get to play too much of the former because his family has no TV and puts healthy limits on his screen time.
As you might expect, Linus was mostly interested by the flashing lights of the video games, though his lack of aptitude with a controller almost drove the developer of Megaton Rainfall—a promising superhero simulator where you’ll knock over a city Man of Steel-style if you muck things up—to despair. When we did get down to the tabletop floor, he was drawn to Maze Racers, a 2-player game where each player uses a set of pieces to build a maze on a mag board. Once the mazes are made, the players race to see who can get their ball through first. Linus beat Eric, so it’s competitive for all ages. I saw kids that looked as young as 5 or so making simple little mazes, and a couple of twentysomethings intensely building intricate mazes as well. This looks like an all-ages winner and is available now.
The big hit of the videogame floor as far as Linus was concerned might have been Mile-Age, a driving game out now for Android and iOS. It lands somewhere between an infinite runner and a bullet-hell shooter, as the goal is to drive a car down a postapocalyptic highway picking up gas cans while dodging obstacles and a blizzard of bullets. Linus wasn’t especially good at it, but we eventually had to almost pry the phone from his hand so other people could get a shot.
The game I had to practically pry out of my own hand was Puzzledrome (out now for iOS and coming soon for Android), a deceptively simple little puzzle game about arranging objects into palindromic arrangements. It’s a clever idea for a puzzle game, and the minimal aesthetic really appealed to me. Also, the difficulty ramp was almost perfectly designed to keep drawing me along into the next puzzle. Considering it comes with an endless mode, it could certainly end up being pretty addictive.
However, what excited me most on the videogame floor (aside from the news that Albino Lullaby comes out this week) was the upcoming subterranean postapocalyptic slime-mold simulator Mushroom 11. It’s something like a puzzle-platformer, but instead of jumping the player controls how a giant lump of fungus grows. By changing shape and shifting center of mass the player moves past obstacles to explore the world and even fight bosses. It’s inventive and interesting, and due out later this fall, at which point you must play it.
Linus has apparently been playing Kingdom Rush quite a bit recently, so he took to World Zombination like a pro. This is a tower defense/swarm assault game that does, yes, feature (sigh) zombies, but I enjoyed it anyway. As the humans it’s essentially a tower defense game, where the player chooses units to hold strong points. Playing as the zombies, it becomes a swarm assault game as the player loosely influences an attacking horde. The game, already out for Android and iOS, has a campaign and also pvp, and appears to be F2P on a cooldown model.
Nearby I found a quirky little route-choosing puzzler called A Tofu Tail (not a typo, there’s a whole thing about Inari going on here), about a man who finds himself transformed into a block of bean curd. The levels are composed of various tiles and the tofu-man can only travel over one type at a time, so hitting nodes that switch him to a new “flavor” in the correct order is the chief challenge. The core idea is a little slim, but the levels I saw were cleverly constructed and difficult enough to be intriguing. The game is still a little rough around the edges though.
Linus was drawn to the cute, Wes Anderson-esque visuals of Maquisard, a game about being a hotel bellhop and also a spy, available now at itch.io. I liked the details of the character animations and the disarming tone of the writing. Alas, I didn’t get to see much of the gameplay (Linus was busy carrying enormous vases back and forth the whole time) but I’ll be looking into this further soon.
Nearby I checked out Luna: A Voyage to the Moon, a new platformer from Double Stallion. The title, black and white aesthetic, and certain elements of the visual design here seem to be drawn from Le Voyage dans le Lun, and the hook seems to come from an idea about cameras. Under normal circumstances the FOV moves as normal for a 2D platformer, but the player can choose to shift its focus, bringing background elements into the foreground where they can be jumped on or otherwise interacted with. Shifting the focus freezes the FOV in place, so the player has to choose a good camera position before doing this. It seemed pretty clever and I’m looking forward to seeing more about it.
A less highbrow space adventure appeared in the form of Loose Nozzles, a family affair of a physics game where the father did the coding and the son did the art and sound effects. The goal is to rescue people using a spaceship with two engine nozzles, and the only way to control the ship is to fire one nozzle and/or the other. Bumping into anything will cause pieces to fall off your rocket, making further rescues substantially more difficult. Linus liked this game a bit too, though I’m not sure he fully realized how much of it had been made by a kid not much older than himself. The Fosters are still working on it but plan to have the game out in early 2016.
I had more fun with Alpha One, a sort of Elite-meets-Asteroids 2D top-down space game. The game features randomized galaxies where the player jumps between systems where space stations are beleaguered by asteroids and/or aliens. The ship itself has rather tricky steering and the weapons are limited, but there’s a tree of tech upgrades to explore and a Diablo-ish “find your body” method of restoring things if you get blown up. It’s at an early phase but I liked it.
Last but not least I checked out Reflections, a first-person adventure game for PC currently available in Early Access on Steam. It’s a pretty low-key game, but I really liked its color-filling mechanic and at least the promise of tangible consequences for action. I had a listen while the developer was outlining his vision, and it sounded pretty ambitious (perhaps too much so). Still, I’m interested and will keep an eye on it.
That’s only some of the games I saw and played, but these were the ones that stood out to me this year. Once again I had loads of fun and will be returning next year.