With the week drawing to a close, the dust has just about settled on the UK’s largest gaming convention, EGX, for another year. While last weekend’s showpiece event at the Birmingham (or should that be ‘Brimingham‘?) NEC was as glitzy and impressive as ever – with queues for some titles surely reaching all-time highs – a couple of major players were conspicuous by their absence.
Nintendo and Microsoft, whose booths were amongst the most popular of EGX 2015, were disappointingly nowhere to be seen. There was a silver lining to the consequently reduced triple-A line-up, however. The expo’s ever-popular Rezzed zone, playing host to a growing number of independent developers, was granted more floorspace to fill part of the void left behind, allowing more titles to be exhibited to the public than has previously been possible.
Throughout our three days at EGX 2016, we at Power Up Gaming played close to 50 indie games in total, and are not exaggerating when we say we were blown away with the diversity and creativity on offer. It’s been a laborious process, which has seen plenty of disagreements along the way, but we feel we have now managed to narrow down the field to ten of our favourite titles from the show. Whether it’s been recognised for its gorgeous graphics, intuitive gameplay or unique premise, we feel each entry in our list is well worthy of its place.
— Astro Manatee (@AstroManateeMCR) August 23, 2016
Tucked away in the corner of the Rezzed zone, the first game on our list might well have slipped you by at EGX. Developed by Astro Manatee, a quartet made up of former students from Manchester media college Futureworks, Voltaic is an intriguing top-down competitive multiplayer shooter where players must fight it out in an arena for control of a mystical sphere.
Initially drawn in by Voltaic’s simplistic but stylistic neon visuals, we had tremendous fun battling against the game’s developers, even coming out on top in our very first match-up. Although the title is clearly still at an early stage, as is evident from its rather rudimentary character models, it shows great promise and is still capable of creating some frantic and enjoyable moments.
When you start a match, you’ll soon see lethal projectiles bouncing off of each the arena’s walls unpredictably, with players needing to constantly move either to evade those chasing or to pursue the current sphere-holder. This need for constant movement is emphasised further through the introduction of a quick-dodge ability; which can be used for both evasion and as a ‘quick stun’ to opposing players. Furthermore, ammunition automatically regenerates as you move around the map, forgoing the need to constantly stop to reload. Each second in possession of the sphere adds a percentage point to your on-screen meter; the winner is whoever can fill theirs to 100 percent first.
Voltaic was developed in ten weeks using Unreal Engine, and has served as the fledgling studio’s entry into Tranzfuser, a talent programme funded by the UK government wherein the winner will receive up to £25,000 to further develop and publish their game idea. You can support the team by following them on Twitter, @AstroManateeMCR.
While EGX 2016 attendees had more than their fair share of high-profile platformers to experience, including Sonic Mania, Yooka-Laylee and Snake Pass, The Good Mood Creators’ Mekazoo managed to provide enough of its own originality to leave a lasting impression on us.
Inspired by the fast-paced, side-scrolling 2D platformers of yesteryear – the Sonic the Hedgehog and Donkey Kong Country references are abundant – Mekazoo, uniquely, is a 2.5D platformer that features 2D gameplay set against fully 3D worlds. The game features a vibrant, neon aesthetic that is quite reminiscent of cult hit Ori and the Blind Forest, juxtaposing nature-orientated worlds such as brightly lit caves and forests with Tron-like environs and obstacles; expect to see glowing mushrooms seamlessly fit in alongside pieces of circuit board as you navigate through each level.
The game provides players with a pair of Mekanimals to control, which include an armadillo, frog, wallaby, panda and pelican – all of which come complete with their own abilities that you must take full advantage of to successfully traverse each world. The armadillo, for example, is swift but relatively weak against enemies, while the panda moves along the ground much more methodically but is able to stomp on enemies and climb up walls using its sharpened cybernetic claws.
As it has fully realised 3D worlds, Mekazoo allows for players to switch between planes seamlessly, creating a depth that you wouldn’t normally associate with traditional 2D platformers. This seamlessness extends to the game’s core gameplay; the action feels fluid and fast-paced, with well-paced levels and traditional platforming gimmicks such as swings, loops and pitfalls providing plenty of challenge along the way.
Perhaps most pleasingly, the title features a soundtrack composed by The Quiggles that will feel instantly familiar to old-school platforming fans. Taking clear inspiration from the 16-bit era, it also manages to provide a modern, electro-swing-infused euphony.
Mekazoo is scheduled to release later this year on PC, Xbox and PS4, with a Wii U release following in Q1 2017.
8. Never Give Up
In a gaming space full to the brim of Super Meat Boy clones, Never Give Up promises to be a skill-based platformer with a difference. The successor to Massive Monster and Tasslefoot’s flash game phenomenon Give Up 2, the game is unapologetically brutal, and it provided some of our most hilariously frustrating moments of the entire weekend.
In Never Give Up, players assume the role of a hapless stickman, humorously voiced by Egoraptor of the popular YouTube series Game Grumps. In what is a laughably simple but ingenious concept, the title reconfigures its levels once you complete them to be progressively more difficult. While at first, a room may simply have you jumping over a set of spikes to reach the exit, expect to have a circular saw menacingly appear directly after them on your second go-through. By the time you’ve reached level 10 or so, along with those initial spikes and saw, lasers, feral animals, lava and trick floors may well all stand in your way of success.
By replicating the basic layout from the previous level, while adding new and unexpected pitfalls in each successive round, Never Give Up uses your own muscle memory against you: you may think you have the level nailed, only to have a hidden wall suddenly appear in front of you, trapping your character as its other obstacles all take their turn in mercilessly dealing you a most painful death.
As annoying as it is, Never Give Up is downright addictive. Even when you’re at the point of constantly dying due to its difficulty, you’ll always want to heed the advice its title provides. Having recently achieved Steam Greenlight success, the game is set to be published by Armor Games in the near future.
7. Oh My Godheads
Developed by Barcelona-based studio Titutitech, Oh My Godheads is one of the more outlandish titles to have appeared in the Square Enix Collective library.
A one-to-four-player affair, the game can best be described as an uproarious capture-the-flag party title: except the flag is an ancient, enchanted, gargoyle-esque head that has the ability to use its magical powers to avoid being captured.
The game features a unique, origami-style aesthetic, with a variety of colourful worlds and characters for players to choose from. Inspired by the likes of old-school multiplayer titles Micro Machines and Worms, Oh My Godheads has been developed with accessibility and fast-paced fun in mind.
In the title’s primary game mode, players are assigned to either the red or blue team, and must battle to return the head to their own base. The head in question, of course, doesn’t want to be captured, and will make full use of its own supernatural properties at various points to try to impede each player. The cat head, for example, randomly inverts your controls while it’s being held, while another spontaneously explodes after being in your possession for several seconds.
Each character comes with the ability to throw the head, charge an attack and melee opponents, requiring at least some degree of strategy and coordination with your teammate to successfully complete each game. Typically a best-out-of-three or five scenario, most rules can be tweaked and customised to your liking. Further depth is provided by some of Oh My Godheads’ other game modes, which include a king-of-the-hill-style battle for control.
The game is tentatively due to launch on PC in early 2017, with a console release to follow later.
6. Forgotton Anne
Developed by Copenhagen-based ThroughLineGames, Forgotton Anne is the latest title to join the prestigious line-up of the Square Enix Collective. Unveiled to the public for the first time at EGX 2016, the game is a 2D cinematic adventure that features a hand-crafted aesthetic which bears a striking resemblance to the work of Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli.
Forgotton Anne focuses on the Forgotton Realm, where all lost items of significance from the human world end up and ultimately become personified as Forgotlings. The titular Anne, along with an old man, Master Bonku, are the only humans trapped in this limbo world, and players must help them on their quest to return home.
Combining accessible platforming mechanics, an orchestral soundtrack performed by the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra, and branching dialogue options most commonly found in classic adventure games, the title promises to be a valuable addition to the Square Enix family when it releases for PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2017.
5. 88 Heroes
Having first experienced Bitmap Bureau’s 88 Heroes at last year’s Play Expo in Manchester, we were keen to see how far the frenetic, outrageous skill-based platformer had come on. It’s fair to say it’s been a busy year for the game and its developers: having splintered off from previous studio Massive Monster, the team successfully reached a deal with acclaimed publisher Rising Star Games, who are now set to release the title on Xbox One, PC and PS4.
Built on the same engine that powered the highly-praised Super House of Dead Ninjas, 88 Heroes features – as you’d expect – 88 playable characters who have only 88 minutes to make their way through the game’s 88 rooms. These levels are full of various pitfalls including lasers, spikes and enemies, which get progressively tougher and more unpredictable as you make your escape from the evil Dr H8.
Upon death, you instantly respawn as a different hero – the vast majority of whom are hilarious parodies of some of your favourite gaming and pop culture characters. Although there’s far too many to reel off here, some of our favourites included a malting Flappy Bird imitator, who moved just like the real thing; an overweight, balding plumber who suggests Mario has fallen on hard times; a Clippy lookalike who was just as irritating as Microsoft Office’s former maligned mascot; and hell, we even got rick-rolled, as an out-of-tune Rick Astley tribute artist insisted he was never going to give us up.
Intriguingly, each hero comes with their unique play-style and abilities. While it may seem a little daunting at first, we soon discovered that the game’s control scheme is kept deliberately simple and intuitive, with only two or three face buttons being used throughout our time with the demo. These mechanics allow for both hilarious and downright frustrating trial-and-error attempts at making your way through each level. Make no mistake: You’ll die. A lot. But most importantly, you’ll be too busy laughing at your own misfortune to care.
Waiting in line, we were initially a little sceptical about PlayStation VR launch title Tethered. While the animated strategy game was undeniably adorable, we couldn’t help but think that it didn’t necessarily lend itself well to virtual reality; its cursor-based action was certainly a far cry from some of the more adrenaline-rushing experiences we’d become accustomed to over the weekend. Almost as soon as we put on the PSVR headset, however, we’re happy to say that we were proved wrong. Very wrong.
Developed by Secret Sorcery, a small UK team made up of Evolution Studios alumni, Tethered is a god game that combines simple and accessible mechanics with a gorgeous, hand-painted aesthetic. Set in floating archipelago, the game is inhabited by a number of sweet little elf-like creatures – known affectionately as Peeps – who fall down from the sky as enchanted eggs. Upon breaking out, these hatchlings soon come to question their existence, however, and it’s up to the player to provide their life with purpose.
Tethered’s core gameplay is evident in its very name, with players being required to play Spirit Guardian and ‘tether’ their Peeps to various sections of the luscious environment in order to assign them with various, survival-driven tasks. The ultimate goal of Tethered is to command your flock of Peeps to collect enough Spirit Energy in order to free the other Spirit Guardians, all of whom have been imprisoned.
What starts out as a fairly simple task of co-ordinating your minions to harvest crops, mine for materials and build workshops soon becomes rather complex as Peeps continue to fall from the sky at a steady rate. And not only must you try to ensure each and every inhabitant of your island has a meaningful job, but you’re also responsible for tethering various weather conditions to the world, all of which will bring different benefits to its ever-changing landscape.
While your world initially appears colourful and ripe with life – a fact supported by the jaunty soundtrack of LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway’s Kenny Young – failing to manage your Peeps adequately will lead to darkness, death and decay. Your failure to keep an inhabitant busy with meaningful tasks will soon lead to them becoming disillusioned, eventually jumping to their doom if you fail to address their concerns. While by day, you need to keep your Peeps busy with their respective jobs, by night you must guide them to seek refuge and shelter, as a whole manner of creepy critters come out to play.
As we mentioned, any concerns we had of Tethered’s suitably to VR were soon overcome. Providing a perception of depth that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, PlayStation VR transforms Tethered into a sort-of living, breathing plasticine model island; the kind childhood fantasies are made of. Ultimately, putting on the PSVR headset allows for full immersion within the charming world created by Secret Sorcery, and you’ll soon lose yourself playing god to your tribe of Peeps.
Tethered is slated to launch alongside PlayStation VR on October 13.
Touted as the spiritual successor to classic N64 platformer Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee is being developed by a number of former key Rare personnel who came together to form Playtonic Games. With one of the most successful video game Kickstarter campaigns of all time under its belt, and the longest queues of the entire Rezzed zone, public appetite for the Team 17-published 3D platformer is at a high. At EGX 2016, we had the opportunity to have a global first playthrough of one of the early levels in the game, and it’s fair to say the hype is justified.
Yooka-Laylee sees its titular heroes, a lovable, whacky duo consisting of a green chameleon and a purple bat, explore vast worlds in the search of quills, gems and paiges; collectables that can be used to buy new abilities and even unlock new worlds. It features a lush, vibrant aesthetic that will feel familiar to anyone who grew up with the likes of Banjo, Spyro and Super Mario 64, although let’s be clear: Yooka-Laylee is not a retro game.
While its overall warmth and cuddliness are deliberate nods to platformers of old, Yooka’s graphical fidelity, gameplay mechanics and even sound design are certainly of the modern era. This modernisation also extends to the game’s level design; while at its core, Yooka-Laylee is all about the classic ‘collectathon’ associated with Banjo-Kazooie and its ilk, it also provides a Metroidvania-esque element in terms of hidden content and locked areas that require players to backtrack through earlier levels having obtained the requisite items later in the game.
In our 30 minutes or so with the title, we had a joyous experience, taking our time to explore every nook and cranny the demo area had to offer, and eagerly anticipate Yooka-Laylee’s release in early 2017. For more, check out our extended preview.
2. Snake Pass
While Yooka-Laylee may have been, justifiably, our most eagerly anticipated platformer at EGX 2016, it was narrowly beaten out on our list by an unlikely contender in Snake Pass.
Developed by Sumo Digital – a team better known for their work on triple-A titles such as LittleBigPlanet 3 and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing – Snake Pass is a 3D physics-based platformer that requires players to think just like our reptilian friends.
While its colourful, stylised aesthetic is clearly inspired by the likes of Super Mario 64 and Spyro the Dragon, that’s about where any and all similarities end. Snake Pass has a delightfully original core gameplay mechanic, which requires players to realistically emulate the movement of a real snake in order to traverse the game’s levels and collect all of the items they have to offer.
The brainchild of former biology teacher and wildlife enthusiast Seb Liese, the title started out as the winner of an internal game jam at Sumo. Initially intended to receive a small-scale Steam release, executives at the studio were so pleased with Snake Pass’s concept and progress that they assigned Seb with additional funding and a developmental team made up of 18 people.
Featuring minimal preset animations, Snake Pass features a realistic physics engine, whose juxtaposition with the game’s cartoon worlds is both curious and creative. Much like a real snake, when players attempt to traverse in a straight line, it’s almost impossible to move. Instead, you must make use of curvatures and momentum in order to gain speed and climb to greater heights, curling your snake’s body around and around various obstacles and structures to progress.
According to Seb, conventional enemies don’t exist in Snake Pass; instead, your biggest foe is gravity. While the earlier levels showcased at EGX featured stable, solid floors that didn’t punish our repeated failed attempts to climb our way up to the top of a tower, later stages introduce various environmental hazards, including spikes and hot coals, that will soon teach you to think with the mind of a serpent.
Snake Pass is aiming for a February or March 2017 release on PC and consoles.
1. Jump Stars
Deciding between our top two or three – hell, even five or six – games for the number one spot on this list was no easy task. Rather than relying on technical or graphical benchmarks, however, the title that takes our Best Indie Game of EGX 2016 is ultimately the one that provided us with the most fun.
Developed by Brighton-based studio Jamit Games, Jump Stars is one of the best party games we’ve played for many years. A zany concoction made up of some of the accessible, frantic gameplay you’d associate with early Mario Party titles, along with the hilarity of tumultuous pseudo-gameshows such as You Don’t Know Jack and Fibbage, the title saw us returning countless times to the Curve Digital booth for just one more shot at bettering our previous high score.
Jump Stars contains ten unique mini-games, all of which ingeniously require players to simultaneously co-operate and compete with each other to build up their overall team score and own personal tally. Throughout our numerous playthroughs at EGX, alliances were forged and broken in an instant, as Jump Stars’ frenetic, fast-paced gameplay had us both howling with laughter and shouting obscenities in disappointment.
The mini-games featured in the title are all based on simple, 2D platforming concepts and are relatively straightforward to master, surely making Jump Stars an undeniable family hit this Christmas. Each match of Jump Stars is based around four different rounds, which in turn are comprised of a random game from the pool of ten. Most of these seem to be based around a ‘Royal Rumble’-esque concept, where the winner is the last one standing on the stage.
In our demo, Cool Aid was a definite favourite. In this game, players had to stand on snow-covered spots to keep cool on a stage that had been set on fire; no mean feat when no more than one person was allowed to occupy an individual spot at any given time. Another game saw us desperately clinging to a conveyor belt as different sections of it corroded away, all the while overhead rollers tried to push and prod us over the edge.
To keep things even more exciting, the maniacal and frankly sadistic host of the show can introduce a wildcard to your mini-game at any time, which may have any number of effects including inverting your controls or flipping the stage on a sharp angle.
Ultimately, Jump Stars managed to provide enough hilarity, originality and addictive action to deservedly clinch our inaugural (and sadly virtual) award of Best Indie Game of EGX 2016.
Jump Stars is currently scheduled to release in December on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
As you’ll be able to tell if you’ve made it this far, EGX 2016 provided a fantastic platform for some of the most diverse and creative independently developed games we’ve seen to date. It’s inevitable, therefore, that with a list made up of only ten entries, some of your favourites may have been missed off. Please feel free to point out any glaring omissions in the comments below, or hit us up on Twitter to set the record straight, @PowerUpGamingUK.