Indie games provide us with some of the most creative experiences that can be found in the world of gaming, and recently we were at Rezzed in London's Tobacco Docks where there was a ton of indie titles on display. There was plenty to see and lots of great experiences just waiting to be discovered, and we visited a number of booths and played a selection of titles. We even grabbed a few interviews with the devs behind some of the games on show. On top of the titles we previewed in more detail (Phoenix Point and Winter Hall), we also saw five games that we'd like to tell you a bit more about that we uncovered during our time at the event. Whether new discoveries as alluded to in the headline or titles that we finally got to spend time with that we'd only seen glimpses of before, here are the five indies that really caught our attention as we went about our business at this year's show.
The Spectrum Retreat
First up is BAFTA Young Game Designer winner Dan Smith's The Spectrum Retreat, which is all about puzzles in an art deco hotel. Your task is simply to escape by solving increasingly hard puzzles, which revolve around changing coloured blocks from white to red, which in turn activate or deactivate gates accordingly.
The catch here is that only a certain amount of blocks can be red at any one time, so it's not just a case of changing blocks willy-nilly. Instead, there's quite a lot of fumbling and clicking on things seemingly aimlessly while you get to grips with the puzzle at hand, before working out what needs to be changed and where to reach the exit. It sounds basic, but it balances taxing challenge with accessibility well enough that kids were jumping in and finishing the London demo at the same time as adults.
The whole thing looks gorgeous as well. Smith has clearly put a ton of work into making the hotel around you look shiny and polished, and placing intelligently designed puzzles into this environment is just the icing on the cake. This might be one for fans of puzzlers like The Witness to keep an eye on, especially considering it's got a BAFTA winner's name behind it.
Du Lac and Fey: Dance of Death
We've talked to the creators of Du Lac and Fey: Dance of Death in the past, but we got to play it for the first time in London, where we saw that it's shaping up rather nicely. During the demo, which had us investigating the deaths of two people in a village, we swapped between Fey (trapped in the body of a dog) and Arthurian immortal Du Lac.
The curious thing here though is that you needed to use both, as each had their own skills. Fey can talk to animals and get into places that are a tight squeeze, for instance, but when combat ensues (through QTEs, we should add, since it's a point-and-click adventure game), you'll need Du Lac's sword and human arms to swing it. In regards to the actual investigation, it's the usual adventure game affair - you look for clues while Fey and Du Lac exchange dry witticisms back and forth.
It all looks very promising so far, especially with the potential in the Victorian London setting and the mixture of Jack the Ripper mythology and supernatural elements, and despite slightly less-than-ideal visuals and lip syncing, we came away wanting more of the pair's adventure, which can only be a good thing for a game that's trying to entice intrigue in the player.
We're moving from a slow and steady adventure game to an explosive action one, as Red Kite Games' Hollowpoint is at first glance a 2D side-scrolling platformer, although once you get stuck in you realise there's a twist. Sure, you move left to right like classic 2D shooters, but once you aim you can fire into the background, where enemies are lying in wait, quite literally adding another layer to the action.
What's more is that when you activate things like turrets, the perspective switches to 3D as well, so you're no longer confined to the 2D movement in the foreground and can smash your enemies into dust like you would any other shooter. We played with three other soldiers, and combining all of these elements together produced an incredibly chaotic experience, with bullets flying everywhere and the action kept frantic at all times.
Developer Dave Roberts told us that explosive action is their focus here, and it's obvious to see that. The procedurally-generated levels should keep things fresh, as will the regular missions your group of mercenaries undertake, but for now we like what we've seen, although we must say that we felt the weapons in our soldier's hands could have packed a bit more punch. The same can't be said for the turret though...
Loot Monkey: Bling Palace
Last but not least is an unassuming indie title by the name of Loot Monkey: Bling Palace, building upon the original Loot Monkey. We tested the game out on PC and were instantly reminded of the slower-paced platformers of yesteryear - it's not about frantic Super Meat Boy-style running and jumping here, but making sure your jumps are timed to perfection and getting all the loot possible.
Saying that, we couldn't help but feel it was a little too slow at times, and in some levels we felt like we were trudging through. That said, we liked the different visual styles on offer, and the fact that we had eight lives, meaning it's got that arcade feel of doing one run, dying, learning, and doing better the next time. There are modes with less lives for those who want it too, but we struggled with eight as it was.
It's your usual affair of avoiding obstacles, moving over platforms, and collecting loot for the highest score, but it's got that bite-size appeal that makes it perfect for the Switch. With various levels and modes, not to mention that pull of aiming for a high score, platformer fans of old may want to keep an eye on this, especially if the offerings these days are a bit too chaotic for them.
At first glance, Descenders looks like third-person Trials game just only on mountain bikes, and that alone would have been absolutely fine with us. However, upon closer inspection, it turns out that the game is much more interesting than that, as it comes coated in a roguelike wrapper. It thus blends mountain biking with elements that we've seen in the likes of Spelunky and FTL: Faster Than Light. That might sound like a strange mix, but trust us when we say it works.
Each of the tracks you'll race down is procedurally generated, and while we noted some similar-looking sections and reused assets, the setup seemed very polished and every track we played worked just fine. You advance through a series of courses one at a time until you get to the boss challenge. Beat that and you advance to the new setting. Successfully cycle that same path enough times and you'll unlock the next environment permanently.
The progression system and procedural generation work really well and Descenders feels like a unique proposition given the way it has been framed. The main thing that bodes well though is the quality of the experience it offers. It was easy to pick up and play, yet it was also still a challenge, and even after crashing our way through several failed attempts we still wanted more, and that's always a good sign.
For more fresh-faced games that you mightn't have heard of before, why not check out our indie discoveries from PAX East article from earlier this month, where we profile a completely different selection of up and coming indie titles.