Street Fighter V and the now-infamous Nathan Drake grapple-punch may have garnered the biggest headlines coming out of this weekend’s PlayStation Experience, but Sony’s inaugural fan expo also featured a surprising emphasis on smaller independent games. In fact, there were so many indies lined up row after row across the show floor that I couldn’t possibly have played them all in just two days.
While I’ve already highlighted the exceptional Cosmic Star Heroine (and I’ll be singling out another title tomorrow), I wanted to shine a light on another eight of the best indie games I had the pleasure of playing at PSX. Some are ambitious innovators, some are cleverly minimalist, and some are just plain silly, but they’ve all got two thing in common: They’re absurdly fun, and they’re shaping up to be fantastic additions to your PlayStation 4 or Vita library.
Between Towerfall: Ascension and Super Smash Bros., I’ve spent a lot of 2014 on a local multiplayer kick, and Rockets Rockets Rockets looks to keep that streak going into 2015 by scratching my itch in an entirely different way. Two players (or more?I played a prototype three-player mode) take control of, you guessed it, rockets, cutting fast loops across a technicolor arena trying to draw a bead on their competition. The flying is remarkably tight and fluid, the three weapons (with more on the way) are well balanced, and the thrill of pulling off a skill shot on an opponent is hard to beat. No game at PSX kept me parked in a chair for longer, even while I was getting my ass handed to me by the devs. It’s an absolute blast.
A bit like a cross between Year Walk and Skyward Sword, Severed tasks you with exploring a world that’s broken up into a series of nodes?2D panoramas that completely wrap a full 360 degrees around you. Combat involves swiping on the screen in specific patterns to parry enemy attacks and deal damage to their weak points, and as the game progresses, you power up Mega Man style, acquiring new abilities by wearing the severed parts of fallen bosses. With a striking, beautifully rendered world and novel mechanics, it’s at once a departure from and a fitting continuation of the impressive, eclectic catalog Drinkbox has built up on the PlayStation Vita.
Skytorn shares a lineage with one of my favorite games of 2014, Towerfall: Ascension. The art is being handled by the same guy, Pedro Medeiros, and Towerfall‘s developer, Matt Thorson, is helping out on the design side as well. I was only able to go hands-on with Skytorn‘s procedurally generated hub world, not the dungeons that populate it, so I can’t speak to how the entire experience will come together in the end. The basics, however, are plenty exciting, with a Metroid vibe mixed with the ability to dig through most of the walls you encounter in the world, similar to Terraria. There’s a metric ton of potential here, and I really hope the finished product is every bit as engaging as the concept sounds.
Miegakure is a puzzle-platformer that operates in four spatial dimensions, which is a fancy way of saying it will completely and utterly break your brain. Since it’s impossible to visualize a 4D environment, all of your movement occurs in the standard three dimensions, but at the touch of a button you can swap one of the dimensions for the previously invisible fourth one. I imagine you’re probably still confused, but it’s much less complex once you’ve experienced it in practice. After solving around a dozen of Miegakure‘s puzzles, I feel like I’m starting to grasp its internal logic, even if I don’t always understand exactly why what I’m doing works. I don’t know about you, but to me, it’s an absolutely astounding proposition that a smartly designed game can help us think four-dimensionally, even on a limited scale.
On the absolute other end of the intellectual spectrum, Gang Beasts has got to be one of the silliest games I’ve ever played. Gameplay takes the form of relatively simple brawls between wobbly, physics?based characters that throw flailing punches and stubby kicks. The objective is to knock or throw your opponents into hazards or off of ledges to become the last man (mascot? Jell-o person?) standing. The deceptively simple control scheme opens up plenty of options for bringing the pain, from lifting competitors over your head and chucking them to flying haymakers. Gang Beasts could well be the ultimate party game, not just because it’s a riot to pull out after everyone’s had a few drinks, but because its comical smackdowns are a great way to break the ice between complete and utter strangers, as my time at PSX can attest.
I can’t say for certain, but I think it’s a safe bet that Klaus is the only platformer ever to be inspired by German Expressionism. You take on the role of Klaus, a man who wakes up with no memory and soon discovers he’s actually a clone, being tested for fitness by you, a QA agent at whatever horrific company created him. Not only that, he discovers that you’re the one controlling him, which isn’t exactly the easiest existential pill to swallow. While the platforming mechanics aren’t revolutionary, they come together neatly to form a solid experience that lends itself to both newcomers and frame-perfect speedruns, and I’m excited to see where the zany premise goes in the later stages. This could easily join the likes of Thomas Was Alone as another indie platformer with a compelling story to tell.
As I sit here typing the words “socially conscious monkey rhythm game,” I can’t help but wonder if I’ve lost control of the language center of my brain, but that’s the odd pairing of genre and premise at the heart of the adorably charming Jungle Rumble. The basics of gameplay are a bit difficult to convey through words, but you’re essentially controlling an army of monkeys by tapping out actions on the screen in time to the music, moving your simian forces from branch to branch and tossing coconuts at enemy forces. It’s complex for a rhythm game, forcing you to pay attention to space and strategy in addition to the beat, but once you get into a groove, all that melts away and you discover the same hypnotic zen you find in the genre’s best.
Pavilion calls itself a “fourth-person” game?that is, the player is one step further removed from the main character than in a third-person title. In practical terms, that means our tiny suited hero moves entirely of his own accord, and you’re only able to influence hist actions by affecting his surroundings. Ring a bell, and he’ll walk towards it to investigate. Block his path, and he’ll need to find another way around. The simple gameplay premise?and even simpler controls, using just one analog stick and one button?help ensure that good puzzle-solving skills are the only barrier to entry. The visuals are haunting, and the puzzles themselves show a lot of promise; in a fairly short demo, I had at least a couple “a-ha!” moments, always the hallmark of a solid entry in the genre.