Under the shadow of PlayStation’s industry-leading independent developer partnerships in the home console space, Microsoft has fought an uphill battle in framing its own identity as a viable platform for indie titles. From allowing self-publishing on the console to turning retail Xbox Ones into dev kits, everything that encompasses the company’s indie-focused ID@Xbox program has allowed them to get closer and closer to competing with Sony on equal ground.
Last December, Sony smartly debuted its first PSX, a PlayStation-only event that saw announcements for a slew of new titles for their consoles, many of which were indie. This past week, while Microsoft couldn’t deliver an isolated event for all things Xbox, they did announce a hefty indie line-up, diversifying their catalogue far beyond what many expected. We’ve heard that heavy hitters such as SMITE, Shovel Knight, Wasteland 2, Elite Dangerous, and of course Goat Simulator are coming to Xbox One, but here’s a list of some of the lesser known – but just as interesting – ID@Xbox games showcased at this year’s GDC and PAX East:
From the trailer, Bedlam looks to have the attention span of Thirty Flights of Loving. As an homage to first person shooters of yore, Bedlam drops you in the shoes of Heather, a programmer who finds herself transported inside a ’90s shooter. Beyond the rocket jumping and arena styled throwbacks that feed off of FPS nostalgia, Bedlam looks to splice Space Invader and Pac-Man inspired levels uncompromisingly. For a platform that earned its reputation through the shooter genre, Bedlam might be the history lesson Xbox One owners need.
Easily reminiscent of Unfinished Swan, Beyond Eyes is a story of a single girl developed by a single woman. Created by Sherida Halatoe, Beyond Eyes is all about Rae. She is blind, and desperately wants to find her cat. As Rae moves about the blank-canvassed world, her interpretations of her surroundings fill the screen. The key word here being interpretations. What she may assume to be a fountain of water might actually turn out to be a draining sewer, for example.
However, her imagination might not always be as optimistic. Beyond Eyes also facilitates a relationship between the player and Rae. If players guide her to areas where she’s uncomfortable, her outlook may skew towards more dark and dreary imagery. Beyond Eyes is an interesting concept that’s equal parts an ‘other people simulator’ and a walking exploration game, and we look forward to being educated on what it feels like to be blind.
The Flame in the Flood
The raspy countryside melodies of Chuck Ragan were immediately captivating in this trailer. If you’re looking for a frame of reference to The Flame in the Flood, think a Country-flavored Don’t Starve when trying to conceptualize what this ‘rogue-lite’ is all about. The desolate landscape of the Gulf States is the perfect setting for this procedurally generated survival title. You’ll play as Scout, an expert survivalist who’s accompanied by her dog Aesop. She’ll travel across rivers on her makeshift raft, dig through deserted gas stations for supplies, and avoid wolves and other deadly predators. It’s a sharp-looking game with an effective art design that’s both expressive and rugged. It comes as no surprise that this comes from The Molasses Flood, comprised of ex-Irrational, Harmonix, and other high-profile developers.
If you can imagine a version of the late ’50s, early ’60s aesthetic of The Tomorrow Children and set it in a dense American metropolis, you may end up picturing something that looks like Fortified. Just as tower defense-y, though not quite as Minecraft-y, Fortified is a four player co-operative shooter where players… ahem, ‘fortify’ city streets with turrets, sandbags, cannons, and army units to defend against waves of your grandfather’s interpretation of UFOs and giant robots. As we see four player co-op lean towards asymmetrical design, it’s nice to see some good ol’ wave-based multiplayer action.
SMITE isn’t the only MOBA headed to Xbox One. Gigantic joins the ranks of Battleborn and Overwatch in delivering shooter/MOBA hybrids. With striking, almost Pixar-like visuals, Gigantic’s characters are just as distinct in their appearance as they are in their abilities. Gigantic hopes to encourage players to pay attention to who is on the battlefield. And while knowing what you and your teammates are capable of is one thing, players will also have to consider which creatures to summon in spawn points leading up to the opposing team’s Guardian.
Guardians, as you would expect, take the helm of each team’s base. However when one opposing team’s Guardian is low enough on health, the game enters Clash Mode, a condensed fight to the death where both Guardian and all players on the map battle it out. With games like Gigantic on the horizon, shooters may be taking an all-new identity this generation.
Remember the game that pictured a Neptune-sized bear crashing into the Earth? Yeah, that was Game 4. At least that’s what it’s called for now, following The Behemoth’s Alien Hominid, Castle Crashers, and Battle Block Theater. In their fourth major release, The Behemoth is making a turn-based hex-grid strategy game that also happens to see the return of Will Stampter, whom you’ve heard narrate above. The developer’s zany, theatrical humor has not lost its luster; and, even amongst the granularity of the strategy genre, The Behemoth is aiming for ‘turn based-fast paced’ tactical gameplay. There’s no release date set in stone for Game 4, but the developer seems to be confident that it is coming along faster than Battle Block Theater did. And it better be, because we really want to play this game.
Developer Serenity Forge calls Pixel Galaxy a ‘Katamari-inspired shoot ‘em up’, and once you look at the trailer, you’ll see why. This unique bullet hell shooter forgoes shooting your enemies for collecting them. That’s right; starting off as a single pixel, the goal is to collect as many hostile pixels as possible whilst dodging enemy fire. It’s a hectic-looking shooter with an even crazier soundtrack. Far too many arcade shooters try to ape the Geometry Wars/Super Stardust trend, but while Pixel Galaxy seeks to do the exact opposite, it may actually succeed at being just as addicting.
Blues and Bullets
Easily among the most mature games in this indie line-up, Blues and Bullets oozes with a Max Payne and Deadly Premonition style, driven with some inspired LA Noire mechanics. Developer A Crowd of Monsters will deliver Blues and Bullets episodically, following the story of former detective Patton as he struggles with alcoholism while lawfully purifying a city ravaged in murderous vengeance. The black, white, grey, and red visual noire aesthetic is striking, aligning itself with Patton’s self-deprecating monologues and horrific homicide cases. If done well, Blues and Bullets could be one of Xbox One’s sleeper hits.
The Little Acre
The Little Acre looks too damn cute with its art style ripped straight out of the early ’90s era of Disney. Pewter Game’s first project is part point-and-click adventure, part isometric action game, and follows father and daughter duo Lily and Aidan who get transported to another dimension after an invention has gone awry. It seems that The Little Acre will flip the ol’ ‘damsel trope’ and hold Lily as the savior as she searches for her father in this mysterious fantasy world. As we watch the game’s trailer repeatedly, all we can think is, “Only real men play as pink fairy-winged princesses.”
Miku seemed to have lost her memory, but all she knows is that she has to save her wounded little brother.
Submerged is a peaceful, yet post-apocalyptic draped exploration game. As a sort of non-violent Shadow of the Colossus, Miku sets out in a flooded – and to her – mysterious city, boating from decrepit building to decrepit building, gathering fragments of her memory and assets to save the life of her injured brother Taku.
This post-apocalypse doesn’t have your traditional concrete greys with radiation greens. Like Enslaved, nature has split open and overwhelmed the city, likely thanks to the frighteningly high levels of water-housing mutated, yet completely unaggressive, aquatic wildlife. The soundtrack is also achingly appropriate, with audibly massaging piano tunes levitated by soft violins. Though Submerged is set out to be released on both home console and mobile platforms, Xbox One owners can use yet another Journey-inspired game.
Which of the Xbox One indie titles we’ve covered today are you looking forward to playing the most? Have we missed out your favourite? Let us know in the comments below.