Last year the Indie Arcade was a narrow corridor with computers lining each side, on counters roughly above waist height, showcasing the various indie games. It got pretty cosy in there at the best of times. Additionally, it was positioned right next to a booming Just Dance 3 stand so talking was strained and anything coming out of the headphones connected to each computer was polluted by the Black Eyed Peas’ Pump It, which seemed to be on loop throughout the expo.
Well this year the corridor seemed a little wider, but the computers were on counters just above knee height with very few seats, if any. Kiss those knees or that back of yours goodbye. Furthermore, it was sandwiched between Just Dance 4, Dance Central 3 and the Scan Computers stand which had its own DJ and PA system. I love you Scan, but damn you Scan. The expo was very loud anyway so the added noise didn’t make that much of a difference, but the lower computers and the general lack of seating made playing much more uncomfortable than it really should have been, especially after spending several days lugging our bags around London.
The Button Affair – Ollie Clarke, Helana Santos, Chris Randle and Jon Mann
If you threw elements of the original Prince of Persia, Another World, Canabalt and Dr. No-era Bond into a blender you’d get something like The Button Affair. You play a special agent tasked with acquiring the priceless Button Diamond, but after some sort of slip up, you’ve got to run, jump and roll for your life. Lasers, pits, chompers, gun toting guards, burly-armed inmates, cell door food hatches — in the two of three planned levels on show, I witnessed numerous entertaining ways to die, some of which were a clear nod to the aforementioned rotoscoped games. And thank god they were entertaining, because I died a lot, mainly because I just wanted to sprint all the time, making the various hazards even trickier to dodge. Checkpoints were well placed and required a quick arrow key combo to activate (which I seemed to be terrible at). If I had one criticism the hit detection and responsiveness felt a bit ‘squishy’ at times, nevertheless, it was great fun and a really spirited and fresh addition to the running genre.
Barabariball – Noah Sasso
While HM and I were playing this somebody behind me said ‘Super Smash Bros. meets volleyball’. Whoever that person was, they were not wrong. Each player, in 1v1 or 2v2, has a character surrounded by seven dots with each dot representing how many air jumps they can make. Air jumps only recharge on the ground so once you’ve ran out it’s time to land, or, failing that, fall in the water, drown and forfeit a point. If the ball sinks in the water on your opponent’s half of the screen then you score a point. To knock the ball out of your foe’s hands or to simply knock them back, you can attack them. The first player to three points wins (or the first team to five points in 2v2). And that’s pretty much it. Simple yet surprisingly deep, and bags of fun I imagine when your opponent isn’t as rubbish as HM. I foresee high-end play rivaling the likes of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in the daft acrobatics department. Unfortunately, and bizarrely, Barabariball isn’t available to download which is a shame because it’s the perfect party game. Provided you have parties. And friends.
A Bastard – George Buckenham
Two players, one keyboard, a single goal to destroy each other and no definite control scheme to help. In A Bastard you navigate your marker around an arena using the controls laid out on screen in a sort WASD/arrow key layout. However, instead of up or W you might have L or B or C or Q or any other letter on the keyboard. This applies to the other keys as well as the other player’s controls. Not only that, but every time you press one of the keys it changes. Cue frustration, extreme levels of concentration, failing, cheating and possible loss of friends. I’m not convinced A Bastard has much mileage beyond that initial surprise and horror when you realise what you’ve got to do, but it was a playful and funny concept thanks in no small part to the name. I think HM beat me at this one. Cheaters never really win though. You can download A Bastard here.
Gear Up – Doctor Entertainment
I played Gear Up twice. The first time I was all alone, driving some chunky tank around a bright and breezy island featuring various buildings, bridges, roads and a lake. My tank kept rolling onto its front whenever I stopped (which was quite amusing) and I didn’t quite know what I was supposed to be doing. It dawned on me that Gear Up was some sort of multiplayer tank deathmatch game, but there were no other tanks on the island and I couldn’t see another game to join so I shuffled off to play something else. The following day I saw somebody creating their own tank from a sizeable list of different parts and suddenly I wanted to have another go. I remember how much fun I had with the ship creator in F-Zero GX so the idea of a vehicle deathmatch game (similar to Twisted Metal et al) that allowed me to design my own Tin Can of Doom was very exciting indeed.
The unit customisation interface was a little uninformative not telling me how each part affected the general performance of my vehicle but… whatever, this was a pre-alpha build and the different components and how they went together looked superb. Besides, there was something really exciting about testing my creation out in the field. I created a zippy hover tank that was difficult to control (I literally drove off a cliff the first time I moved it). I created a very cool spider tank with beautifully animated mechanical legs but it was monumentally slow and prone to fall off the surfaces it grabbed on to it. I created a buggy which was easy to maneuver, but again, relatively slow. I added speed boosters, twin turrets, lasers, a sniper cannon and that was just a few of the many, many possibilities on offer. Aiming was a bit clunky and I don’t think I managed to kill anybody, but there’s a lot of potential here. Be sure to check out the Greenlight page, it’s well worth a look.
IsoChronous – team-iso
IsoChronous was probably my favourite of the Indie Arcade games and an expo highlight because, aside from a lovely sketchy aesthetic, at its heart is an ingenious mechanic that isn’t immediately apparent and quite difficult to explain. It’s a two player competitive game where each player has to try and destory the other player’s tower. This is done by playing through four rounds, each lasting thirty seconds. At the beginning of each round both players select a unit from a list of characters; there’s a warrior, an archer, a fire mage, a trapper, a healer and a hammer wielding nutter berzerker-type dude. Players make their moves, attacking their opponent’s tower or unit then at the end of the round all their actions are rewound and they are required to select another unit. Each round replays previous rounds’ actions while you ‘layer’ your current unit’s actions over the top. By the fourth round you should hopefully have a somewhat co-ordinated group of four units working together to bring down the enemy’s tower. Of course, it never quite works out that way because you’re both trying to foil each other’s plans. It’s an iterative process and what occurs on the first round is a far cry from what happens on the fourth and final round which determines the victor. The player with the highest tower health by the end of the fourth round wins. I’ve never played anything quite like it and recommend anyone with a friend or two handy to give it a try when it’s released, you’ll not be disappointed. HM and I certainly weren’t.