Thoughts On: SXSW 2016

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SXSW 2016 was a blast. I was rather hyped for it, because last year was so good in terms of how many great games were there. The lineup of developers this year definitely did not disappoint with some of my favorite games at the event being total surprises. I will say though that it did seem like they wanted more board game and merchandise vendors, instead of more big and small indie developers, but then again, GDC was happening around the same week in San Francisco, so I don’t blame the absence of certain developers. I’m going to go through the games that I considered the best, so that means no games that are already released. Unfortunately, I didn’t get time to try out any of the PlayStation VR stuff, but I did get to experience one Virtual Reality game. Let’s begin.

 

Ray’s the Dead

Awhile back on my series of Kickstarter articles, I wrote about this awesome game being developed by Rag Tag Studios, and was excited to see them at the event. To no surprise, the demo shown did not disappoint. If this is the first time you have heard about this game, it’s pretty much a zombie version of Pikmin. You play as a newly risen zombie from the grave named Ray, who has the ability to raise corpses from the dead. An interesting part of the game is that you will play as Ray before and after he becomes a zombie. The controls were pretty well-executed, where you can shoot zombies at enemies to attack them, dig through holes to take down structures, or group up with them to avoid danger. I loved the cartoony art style, the constant references to 80s horror, and the funky music. It’s a fun game that PlayStation 4 and PC gamers should definitely be on the lookout for.

 

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows

This is an isometric RPG from the developers at Witching Hour Studios, and is being published by Ysbryd Games. The demo showed off its action-oriented combat that reminds me of an isometric Xenoblade Chronicles,where you can move in real time, but all of your attacks have cool-down meters. You can also switch between the three characters given to you.  The combat took a little bit of getting used to, but once I did, it was a lot of fun. The graphical art style that was inspired by French comics is gorgeous to look at, and the voice acting was top-notch. I can’t wait to play this game in the near future.

 

YIIK: A Post Modern RPG

Developed by Ackk Sutdios, and being published by Ysbryd Games, this was yet another promising RPG that was fun. The gameplay is basically a love letter to RPGs, like Persona and Earthbound mixed with a more interactive turn-based battle system. If you love games with more to their turn-based systems like Paper Mario or South Park: The Stick of Truth, then you will get how the combat system works. The art style was charming, and the writing was witty. It’s an RPG that oozes charm, and is another game PC, PlayStation, and Wii U gamers should grab when it’s released later in 2016.

 

Stikbold!

Developed by Game Swing, this is a multiplayer-arcade-style dodgeball game that is played from an isometric point of view. It has you playing as these quirky rectangular/square-looking individuals as you compete to knock each other out with a dodgeball, while avoiding traps and environmental hazards. Stikbold is a silly, fast-paced, and really entertaining multiplayer game. There is even a single-player mode that will be in the game. I just got to play the multiplayer mode, but I am really looking forward to this game, since I can see it being a popular game alongside other multiplayer-focused games like Gang Beasts. Speaking of Gang Beasts,

 

Gang Beasts

If you are a part of the indie scene, this multiplayer fighting game is not some obscure game, it’s one of the better examples of Steam’s Early Access program. You play as these doughy-looking individuals, as you wobble around trying to throw your opponents off the stage, or let an environmental hazard take them out. You don’t use typical fighting game combos, you punch, kick, headbutt, and carry your opponents to victory. I wish the controls were easier to understand, but this game can get so chaotic and wacky, that it doesn’t really matter. I also heard that they are working on some single-player content, which is nice since this game would otherwise fall into the same trap most multiplayer games fall into, with being just about multiplayer and nothing else. It was a fun game that really impressed me.

 

Song of the Deep

Song of the Deep is Insomniac’s newest digital-only game. It’s an action-oriented game, with a heavy emphasis on exploration. You control a tiny sub as you explore the dangerous depths of the ocean. I was a little concerned that the game was going to have really floaty and physics-based controls, but I was happily surprised by how fluid the controls were. No one should feel screwed over by an enemy attack because the controls were fighting against the player. I didn’t get to play a lot of it, but I liked the claw weapon and being able to grab onto torpedoes to make an offensive shield around you. I hope I can get a review code for this game in the future.

 

Enter the Gungeon

This new game being published by Devolver Digital is a top-down 2D dungeon crawler, but with a heavy emphasis on long-range combat. You go through randomized dungeons with enemies that shoot bullet hell-like attacks. Throughout the dungeon, you will be fighting off enemies, finding weapons, and can even encounter a shop to get more ammo and health. Your main goal is to find the boss in each dungeon and take it out. The game is tough! You definitely need to have quick reflexes, and the enemies can easily swarm you with bullets. The pixel artwork is charming, but I do think how you aim the gun looks a bit too much like Nuclear Throne, but that’s just me. If you are looking for a fast-paced dungeon crawler, you will definitely want to keep an eye out for this game if you are a PlayStation 4 or PC owner. It comes out soon, actually, so be on the lookout for it! Oh, and you get to choose different characters with varying skills and can play in co-op!

 

Rivals of Aether

This is another popular Early Access game, that if you are big into the indie scene, you already know about this upcoming Xbox One/PC game. It’s 2D Super Smash Bros. with animal characters and sprites instead of 3D character models. The characters felt diverse, and as usual, playing this game with other people makes for some intense and entertaining matches. I’m definitely keeping my eye out for this project to see if it comes out on other consoles.

 

Strafe

Miss the days of Doom and Quake? Want a first-person roguelike with intense action? Strafe by Pixel Titans is your game for those needs! From the demo I played, you start out with one of three weapons, and you make your way through each semi-generated level, and shoot anything that would look as good as jelly on the floor. This is another game that is definitely tough, and you need to keep on your feet unless you want to be the new pile of meat on the ground. If you love intense shooters, then you will be in love with this game.

 

Pollen

Pollen by Mindfield Games was the only Virtual Reality experience I got to try out since the other games that use VR were taken by large crowds. I was lucky to try this one. It’s a solid-looking first-person exploration game where you play as an individual arriving on a space station that is now abandoned. It was really cool to turn my head, and actually see the room around me by not just using the control sticks on the controller. The graphics were solid as well. My only real complaint was that there wasn’t much to do in the demo, and the slow framerate or pop-in of the level gave me a lot of motion sickness. I could still feel it a few hours after taking off the headset. It’s one of the biggest concerns that developers won’t be able to find ways around motion sickness to make playing with these headsets a long-lasting thing. It’s a cool gimmick, but I still am not fully convinced about the whole fad. Still, the game was impressive. Just wish there was more to it.

 

VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

To round out my favorite games from the event, I have a game that quite honestly surprised me. VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel/bartending game where you talk to individuals, and serve them drinks that they need. You can make what the recipe asks for, or if you want to super-size it, just put double what the recipe asks for. It’s rather complex for a bartending game, and talking with the character in the demo was fun. The sprite work might be limited compared to more action-oriented pixel-focused games, but it’s well done. It’s honestly a nice surprise when you can find a game these days that surprises you, and this visual novel/bartender simulator was that surprise for me.

Even though the venue was smaller than last year, and I do blame it on GDC happening the same weekend, I still had a lot of fun. The games were satisfying, and seeing the upcoming Virtual Reality Trend was promising, if a bit motion sickish. I can’t wait for next year!