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So, on March 15th, I went on the first day of SXSW’s gaming event for 2018. I was curious about how this event would turn out, because when I looked at the line-up of who was going to be there, I was concerned, because there were so few developers. Well, I bought my pass anyway, walked on down to the convention center, and, sadly, I was correct. While this was not a bad showing of games, it never felt like a true video game event. Sure, it had the massive amounts of PC multi-player gaming and streaming of League of Legends matches, but the “Indie Corner” of the show, was literally a corner. There were more stalls for PC tech, art and 3D modeling schools, table-top games, board games, and card games than actual video games. Why where there so few developers? I want to know, because if I didn’t play a couple of these games, I would have found my $25 that went to a one day pass a waste of money. I would have been mad. Still, it was a decent showing, and I found a couple of games worth talking about. I won’t be doing these in any order of favorite to least favorite, and I was able to play the demos all the way through.
Once Upon a Coma
This is a 2D action/adventure/puzzle game developed by Thomas Brush, and his follow-up game after his fan-favorite Kickstarter hit, Pinstripe. You play as this young boy that has woken up in his small town, and all the adults have disappeared. It is up to you, with your daddy’s trusty shaving razor, to solve the mystery. The demo was fairly short with the main puzzles being getting your dad’s razor, and getting a fat kid unstuck from a well. The controls were simple with an attack, interact, and jump button. The lead character, Pete, controls a touch heavy, but he moves around fast enough. The graphics are lush, with soft evening-colored hues and gothic doll-like designs. The music is also well-composed by Thomas Brush himself. It matches the fantastical, yet unnerving atmosphere. The tone of the game has a little quirk to it, and while some of the darker tones will creep in, it still has a slight innocence in its humor and dialogue. I will be honest that my major concern with the game is the combat. It’s pretty simple, and while I’m not going to get or expect a Bayonetta-style experience, this was also the weakest aspect of Brush’s last game, Pinstripe. Still, I found the game to be charming, and I was apparently the first person at the event to actually beat it. I definitely recommend keeping this game on your watch-list.
AER: Memories of Old
Next up for me was this 3D adventure/exploration game developed by Forgotten Key, and published by Daedalic Entertainment. You play as a young woman going through a rite of passage. After picking up a magical lantern, you then set off on a journey to explore your land, and find memories about the people before you.
This game’s biggest gimmick outside of its colorful and vibrant seafoam/water-colored minimal polygonal graphics, was the fact that to get to these floating islands, you need to transform into a falcon and get there. You will be interacting with certain villagers, animal deities, and solving simple puzzles. From what I played, a lot of this game’s strength was its majestic, if empty atmosphere, fun exploration gameplay, and gentle music. It made for a calming gaming experience, with a story that I was interested in. The only thing I didn’t like was that the flying controls felt wonky, because of the inverted controls. I don’t really need to say much else, because this game did come out last year, but I’ll definitely try and get in contact with the publisher and get a review code for my PlayStation 4. I would also love to see this game come to the Switch.
Yoku’s Island Express
If I was making a list of what my favorite game(s) were from SXSW, this charming platformer puzzle game from publisher Team17, and developed by Villa Gorilla would be my favorite. You play as a dung beetle with a ping pong ball, and you traverse to an island for a mail delivery job, but then shenanigans ensue! When I first saw the trailer for this game, it simply didn’t look like a game I would enjoy. Not a bad game or anything, but something I would have no problem skipping over for another game. Surprisingly enough, I had a blast with this game! The controls were tight, and the pinball mechanics work very well. It can be a tad finicky at times to go where you need to go, but I never found myself frustrated as I explored these large and beautifully painted levels. These levels have a lot to do, and when I was done with the demo, I knew I didn’t do everything. I just hope the variety in activities within the levels is varied enough to not simply be repetitive. This was easily my favorite game from the event, and the biggest surprise. I can’t wait to get it on my Nintendo Switch.
Up next was the slimy, yet bizarre puzzle platformer, Semblance, by developer Nyamakop. You play as this blob that can jump, dash, and manipulate the platforms around you by dashing into them. Need to get to an item higher up? Then go under the platform and dash up into it to make the platform higher up. Need to avoid the green crystals and green beams? Then by all means, manipulate the platforms so you can avoid them. You can even manipulate your own body, like being flat, to get through tight places. This was also a rather short demo, and I ran into a bug where I got stuck on a platform. It was a charming demo, but I wish there was a bit more to it than just the platforming sections. Still, I enjoyed the game, and I can’t wait to see what the full game was like when it comes to PC and Nintendo Switch.
My Memory of Us
This adventure puzzle game, developed by Juggler Games, takes the story of two kids and their lives during World War II. The two kids, a brother and sister, have their own abilities. The sister can shoot stuff and run fast. The brother can sneak. You can also have the kids hold hands to stay together, and swap between them. You will definitely need to know how to solve each puzzle, and two of the puzzles I played required them to be separated. It was a tricky little game, but I kept playing the demo, because I was having fun. I also liked the 2D art style that reminded me of a bit of that Cartoon Network show Kids Next Door. I will say that the one part I didn’t like was the driving aspect. It felt unresponsive, and the obstacles that got in the way felt too close to one another. However, I was impressed, and I can’t wait to see how the full game turns out later for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. I also hope it comes to the Nintendo Switch.
And finally, we have the darkly comedic puzzle game from last year, Death Coming, by developer Next Studio. You essentially play death going around different locations, and basically reenacting Final Destination-style death sequences. You have a main goal of killing certain people, but you also have a meter to fill up to get a better ranking for all the creative ways you murder everyone. However, be careful. If you start killing a lot, the level will call in angels that will try and stop you if they catch you setting up a killing. The sprite work is solid, and everything has a cute look to it, even though you are brutally killing people. It’s more charming than creepy, and I know how weird that sounds. The levels I played had variety, in terms of how puzzle-like the deaths can be, and there is a definitely a good layer of strategy to go along with how you handle everything. I did find that you could easily screw yourself over if you are not careful, but I did find myself once again, having fun. It’s available right now on the PC and app store, and if you are into a bit of creative and murderous puzzle-solving, then definitely check it out.