IndieCade 2016: Sony’s Lineup

The gaming staff here at Crossfader moseyed down to USC this weekend to give you the scoop on IndieCade 2016, one of the biggest festivals focusing entirely on independent titles. Sony’s sponsored selections were playable on the brand new PS4 Slim, and we got a chance to try them all. Here’s a list of the upcoming games, listed from hype to shite.

indiecade earthnight

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EARTHNIGHT

A SONIC-styled endless runner? How has this not already been a thing in the latest console generation? As you run on the backs of airborne dragons, EARTHNIGHT lets you jump and glide your way past enemy hordes, collecting points on the way to the head of your foe. Once the dragon has been slain, you jump off, proceed to the next, and do it all again. Though it perfectly blends retro platforming with TEMPLE RUN-style maps, EARTHNIGHT’s biggest selling point is actually its flavorful music and gorgeous hand-painted art style. Conceptually, EARTHNIGHT is perfect tablet gaming, but still needs to prove what it’s hiding up its sleeve to make it a worthwhile console experience. In its current state, it’s in a bit of a conundrum: The demo’s gameplay was too easy, but its commands weren’t responsive enough. If the game gets harder down the line, then the controls need to be fine-tuned. Nonetheless, its aesthetics are so undeniably charming that this might just be a convention highlight. [Sergio]

indiecade manifold

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MANIFOLD GARDEN

MONUMENT VALLEY and PORTAL just had their next-gen lovechild. MANIFOLD GARDEN is a sleek, pretty, and trippy foray into the puzzle-exploration genre. Equipped with nothing but the ability to change the center of gravity and interact with colored blocks, you steer your way through sparse, minimalist set pieces. Each center of gravity is themed around one color, and the aforementioned blocks can only be moved when the center of gravity matches their color (i.e red blocks can only be moved if you are in the red-themed gravity). As levels open up, you careen through massive open arenas, each cascading upon itself. If you fall off a bridge, fear not, for you will soon land on that bridge again. MANIFOLD GARDEN has no floor, and it has no ceiling. Thus, there is no failstate. This surreal quality wonderfully translates to the first person perspective. Breathtakingly beautiful, its mechanics are quick to learn but hard to master; the only thing left to see is if its puzzles maintain innovation as the game continues. [Sergio]

indiecade everything

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EVERYTHING

EVERYTHING is the game you get when a philosophy student double majors in computer science. I was never really able to figure out what the objective of EVERYTHING was, but gameplay involves the player interacting with the world as a spark of existence. Like a bizarre blend of SPORE and KATAMARI DAMACY, players start as a single-celled organism and can absorb other microbes until they ascend into increasingly complicated life forms. According to the devs, it raises questions about what exactly constitutes a “thing”; players can become everything from elephants to frogs to tardigrades to strands of DNA to planets to even galaxies. Players also collect the thoughts of different other organisms and states of matter, creating a scrapbook of thoughts from every level of existence. EVERYTHING’s lofty scope looks promising, and seems like it would provide a solid atmospheric and zen experience. Recommended for those experimenting with DMT! [Steven]

indiecade gang beasts

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GANG BEASTS

The 11-year old cackles when he throws my jello-wrestler into the path of a subway train. In the 30 or so seconds between me asking him if he wanted to play and the moment of my slaughter, we go from minimal fun to all the fun. GANG BEAST, a goofy local multiplayer party brawler, is that kind of game: You pick it up and you play, in the purest sense of the word. The physics-based grappling is custom-designed for hilarity: It’s more slapstick than brawl. While the demo I played became a bit of a one trick pony (subway!), GANG BEASTS boasts 14 levels of varying ridiculousness and even a few boss fights. It’s one to look out for, especially if the devs can really exploit the physics. An important note, and maybe this is a strength rather than weakness: This toybox requires friends. [Jimmy]

indiecade disc jam

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DISC JAM

Tennis games have never exactly been in high demand, and though I do love (pun intended) a good match between a friend, every other sports game emits a sense of momentum that’s lacking in this dour sport. DISC JAM does away with the polite clapping, quiet realism, and core rules, replacing the tennis ball for a metal frisbee, the bland colors for candied action figure glitz, and the tennis players for a roster of ripped, hulking dudes and dudettes. The whole thing sounds pretty lame, but in practice, this is immense fun. Discs can be ricocheted off the sides of the arena for extra points, causing doubles matches to become a hectic scramble for the wildly oscillating projectile. While the entire experience is an electrifying e-sport in the making, I occasionally felt like my losses and wins had a little more to do with chance than pure skill, especially when trick shots reminiscent of power-ups came into play. I’d love to see DISC JAM’s development team work their magic just a little more, since there could be something really cool here after a bit of tweaking. With just a little more polish, we might have the next ROCKET LEAGUE on our hands. [Sergio]

indiecade cosmic star heroine

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COSMIC STAR HEROINE

To be fair, it’s been a long time since anyone in the West has been treated to a real old-school JRPG, so I’ll let it slide that COSMIC STAR HEROINE is basically CHRONO TRIGGER in space. But CHRONO TRIGGER is fun, and so is this. The demo saw secret agent Alyssa and her partner Chahne rescuing hostages from eye-patched bad guys and robot dogs, and their cheeky banter meshed well with the spunky soundtrack. Light stealth mechanics in the overworld gave way to turn-based battles, where damage and healing had to be balanced with stamina recovery, meaning that party members constantly have to cycle roles. It’s certainly challenging, which can only be good news for it’s admittedly niche audience. COSMIC STAR HEROINE won’t revolutionize the genre, but it may very well begin to resurrect it. [Ed]

indiecade skytorn

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SKYTORN

Here we have a Metroidvania that borrows from perhaps the least expected source: TERRARIA. SKYTORN places a scripted narrative within a procedurally-generated world, and it somehow works. Heroine Nevoa totes a shovel that can be used both for fighting and digging through the environment. The controls were responsive and tight, and wall jumping back up through the tunnels Nevoa created was a uniquely satisfying experience. The bumpin’ soundtrack and blend of steam and cyberpunk aesthetics didn’t hurt, either. If SKYTORN could be faulted for anything, it’d be that it also looks like TERRARIA, tired pixel art style included. Yet if the art style is the only thing lacking, then I’d say this is a game with a very bright future. [Ed]

indiecade cryptark

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CRYPTARK

This 2D shooter continues the indie trend of appropriating old forms with a slight technical twist: Here we have a classic shoot-em-up stitched to a roguelike. You play a one-man killing machine privateer sent to infiltrate derelict alien ships for reasons, I assume, though my demo didn’t really get into it. Using your mechsuit and skills of one-man-killing, you enter procedurally generated ships in search of their ~cores~. On the way, you can choose to destroy secondary systems like alarms and turrets, each with its own clever boss-battle design. (For example, the door control requires a cheat code style button press minigame to bring down its shields.) While the Geiger-inspired art style and open level design are effective, the secret to a good roguelike is a balance between meaningful play and disposable play — and I’m not yet sold that CRYPTARK has anything outside the experience of its twitchy gunplay worth scavenging. [Jimmy]

indiecade eitr

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EITR

In addition to being another DARK SOULS clone, EITR is an isometric hack-n-slash dungeon crawler that has the added benefit of feeling like the hardcore video game adaptation of the movie BRAVE, primarily because of the redheaded protagonist fighting legions of what I imagine are the undead. EITR’s controls felt slow and unresponsive, and the game as a whole failed to leave much of an impression on me. Though it was fairly atmospheric and could prove to have an interesting plot and direction once it comes out, the build I played lacked a voice. If DEATH’S GAMBIT was a boring blend of CASTLEVANIA and DARK SOULS, then EITR is a similarly unenthusiastic marriage of DIABLO with DARK SOULS. Hopefully the developers continue tweaking things before release to let it stand on its own. [Steven]

indiecade chasm

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CHASM

If you take METROID, CASTLEVANIA, and add just a pinch of MEGAMAN X, you end up with CHASM. If that sounds like the most generic pitch ever, well, you’re not wrong. The pixel art is nice and the flow from jumping to fighting works, but the combat is hindered by the annoying inability to attack things farther than point blank range unless items are used. Chasm follows a young boy who is very bad at spelunking (or very good if the player is anyone other than me), but there is little else here than that very basic non-premise. Overall very forgettable and unimpressive. [Steven]

indiecade deaths gambit

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DEATH’S GAMBIT

There was a real surplus of DARK SOULS clones at IndieCade this year, but DEATH’S GAMBIT was the worst offender. While it did look visually pleasing, that’s mostly thanks to the fact that if shamelessly lifts the entire aesthetic of DARK SOULS, from its menu system and interface, to its combat, to even its font and in-game currency. It definitely gets high marks in the quality of the pixel art, but actual gameplay feels like a slog more than anything else. The “tells” that make DARK SOULS bearable are exaggerated beyond belief here, with flashing indicators showing where enemy attacks will land. With any challenge thrown out the window, bosses become blade sponges that just require a lot of button mashing to clear. I’d only recommend DEATH’S GAMBIT if you wanted to play DARK SOULS, but for whatever reason simply cannot perceive space in three dimensions. [Steven]

indiecade tumbleseed

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TUMBLESEED

This admittedly cute game is so light if feels like it was meant for mobile, not PS4. But that doesn’t fit either, since its design is founded on the analog sticks — you guide a seedpod dude by lifting a platform, rolling the little fella left or right around obstacles. The right analog stick lifts the right side, and vice versa. If this is hard to wrap your head around, that’s sort of the point I’m trying to make — it’s not really clear to me why we need a platformer-ish game where you roll a ball on a stick. For one, it’s frustrating and non-intuitive to control. Not good for a casual, mellow game, but also not hearty enough for players looking for a real challenge. In a similar vein, the fact that the environment you navigate is procedurally generated seems totally unnecessary. They basically made a whole game around the grinding segments from Tony Hawk, except at 1/1000000th the speed. What? Why? [Jimmy]

indiecade 99 vidas

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99 VIDAS

Possibly the most yawn-inducing title in the whole festival, 99 VIDAS is the most cookie-cutter cooperative brawler I’ve ever seen, and this is coming from a guy who played Xbox 360 interactive ad COORS LIGHT: REFRESH-MEN. Generic visuals, generic gameplay, and generic concepts ensure that nothing stands out as distinctive. The four bland characters to select from in the demo had a single punch, kick, and magic attack to draw from, so on top of being boring, 99 VIDAS is absolutely mindless. The only notable aspect was developer Jogo’s Brazilian background, which was reflected in the waves of Futbol fans that served as the primary bad guys. But it doesn’t even matter if you speak Portuguese or English, because 99 VIDAS manages to suck in all languages regardless. [Ed]

indiecade randall

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RANDALL

If 99 VIDAS was the most boring game at IndieCade, then RANDALL was easily the worst. I almost can’t criticize it in good faith, as the trial version I got to play was so bug-ridden and unpolished that it can’t possibly represent a finished product that will one day land on PSN. But even before the game crashed on me, I didn’t see anything that held promise. RANDALL’s brawler segments were too forgiving to prove a challenge, and the platforming controls were too wonky to let those segments be even slightly enjoyable. The tired cyberpunk setting of leather jacket man vs. baton-wielding goons in the robo ghetto was done to death even before the first DEUS EX came out, and ham-fisted writing does the venue no favors. It’ll likely be awhile before RANDALL ships, but that’s not a day anyone should be marking on the calendar. [Ed]

Crossfader Staff

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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