Thoughts On: Games from SXSW Part 1

I honestly mean this from the bottom of my heart that 2015’s SXSW’s video game scene here in Austin, Texas was the best I have ever seen. I think it was because a majority of the games that were there were the indie games, which I really dig. Sure, big budget games are still a thing, but if 2014 was any indication of how underwhelming the Triple A industry was, indie developers and the ones that appear on Kickstarter are going to be the next big thing. My favorite games were from the smaller teams, and the teams that appeared on Kickstarter. This article is going to go over my impressions of my favorite games from the event. Some of them might be ones that I have talked about before, but some surprised me, since they were normally from a genre I don’t play. I am also not going to go into any specific order, because even though I might have enjoyed one demo or beta build of a game more so than another, I love them all for very specific reasons. Let’s get started!

Bierzerkers

The first surprise of the event was Shield Break Studios’ Bierzerkers. This is a multi-player arcade-style action game where you choose from four different classes of Vikings, with their own styles of combat. Two of the examples were the sword and shield wielding Raider, and the keg hammer armed fat Drunkard. I know I am going to repeat this, but each of the four classes has special powers. For example, that Drunkard class can do a keg stand and have a fountain of booze spin around him, and can use that as a healing station when playing with other players. The combat, while more arcade in gameplay, still requires the player to pick and choose their attacks. Think of it as a cartoony version of Chivalry.

Graphically, even though I have just been playing the demo that the team brought to the event, I love it! I think games that are more artistically pleasing or more cartoonish should be used more often, since hyper-realistic graphics can only give you so much. I like both, but if you look at my video game collection, it’s mostly cartoonish-looking games. They just come off more attractive looking than games that look like Call of Duty or Battlefield.

My only concern is that when I talked to the developers, they haven’t really set up whether they will make this a free-to-play title or a digital download. If they do either, make sure to have enough in game content to warrant the price or the free-to-play model. Make a game first, and make sure it’s fun. Other than that, this was a really enjoyable surprise to me. If you are at all curious about the game, you can sign up for their alpha. I don’t normally play these types of games, but rest assured that whether Bierzerkers stays on PCs or comes to consoles, I will definitely be checking it out.

Darkest Dungeon

Out of all of the demos that were being shown off at the event, Darkest Dungeon probably was the most polished, and one of the most satisfying and most frustrating (in a good way) gaming experiences from the event. I have already written an editorial on the game itself, but I will give a quick summary about the overall game.

Darkest Dungeon is a 2D turn-based RPG with heavy dungeon crawler/roguelike elements. The main gimmick of the game is to travel through challenging randomized dungeons, while keeping the character’s stress down. If your party of varied heroes from clerics to bounty hunters stress out, side effects start to pop up that could help or hinder your progress. It made getting to some of the boss encounters rather difficult, since I had constantly gone into battle with the characters with no food, and a lot of them at their highest stress level. One side effect made a character that was good from long range move forward making him unusable, and another side effect attempted to keep everyone’s stress level down. However, even though this sounds extremely difficult, and maybe a bit too much to handle for a lot of gamers, Darkest Dungeon is a lot of fun. It might take some micro-managing and some luck to get past the dungeons, but you will have one of the most rewarding and beautiful-looking RPGs to go through. I even made it to one boss with some health and high stress levels, and was able to beat the him.

There is a reason why so many people love the Early Access form of this RPG. It’s polished, well designed, and while the difficulty degree might be cheap here and there, the game is definitely worth keeping your eyes on.

Jotun

Like Darkest Dungeon, I have written an article for this game, and I did an interview with the designer of the game so I won’t go into too much detail, but this was one of my favorite games that I played at SXSW. The summary of this action adventure game is that you play as a female Viking named Thora, who is stuck in purgatory and must take down the giant elementals known as Jotun to get into Valhalla. The gameplay is basically the top-down The Legend of Zelda games combined with the boss fight-focused Shadow of the Colossus. While you won’t be able to climb onto the giants themselves, you will still need to attack the Jotun, and get out of the way of their attacks. The demo I played only had the Ice Jotun that you have seen in the game’s newest trailer and in the advertising. The battle was exciting and really tough. With that said, I played this one boss fight so many times and died every single time, but had so much fun with it!

I think my only nitpick complaint is that I wish the dodge animation was a little longer in range, in terms of how far I moved when I rolled out of the way. It got especially hard to do proper dodges during the midway point where the ice turns black and movement is much more slippery. I know it’s ice, and it should be slippery, but I think having a much longer dodge roll would help out a bit more during the second half of the fight. If you love any of the games I described Jotun with, then I think you will love this game. For now, it’s coming to PC only, but the lead designer of the game, William Dube, said that they have plans to bring it to home consoles.

Salt and Sanctuary

From the creators of The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, and Charlie Murder comes Ska Studio’s newest game, Salt and Sanctuary. This is a 2D action game, with RPG and platforming elements that puts you in the role of a sailor that is shipwrecked on an unusual island. If you have played action games that had more “pick and strike” kind of combat systems like Strength of the Sword 3 or the famous Dark Souls series, then imagine those games on a 2D plane. You really can’t button mash your way through this game or else you will die horribly at the game’s bosses. You can choose from a multitude of characters, with different weapons like a sword or mace. I played the character with the shield and mace, and could wield both, or use both hands for the mace. The game also has a Metroidvania-style to its level design, where it wasn’t just a straight forward path to the boss. You can also gain items like health potions, or sub-weapons like throwing knives or bombs.

This was one of the most interesting looking games from SXSW. It had a very imposing atmosphere with the world looking like it has been covered in cobwebs, soot, and the bodies of warriors long gone. It’s basically if Dark Souls was flattened into a 2D format. I also like the art direction for the characters. They remind me of a gothic version of human Muppet characters.

The only concern I have is the balance in difficulty. I want the gameplay to be so that when I die, it’s because it’s my fault and not the controls or cheap attack patterns. If you loved any of Ska Studios’ past work like Charlie Murder or The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, then you should definitely be on the lookout for this game. It’s coming to the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita as a timed exclusive.

Road Redemption

I was waiting quite some time to play this Kickstarter gem, Road Redemption. Think of it as the spiritual current gen version of those Road Rash games from the 90s. You will travel along dusty roads and city rooftops, taking down other bikers on the road. You can swing melee weapons at them, shoot at them, or if you are lucky enough to pull it off, push them into ongoing traffic. You will have to deal with other obstacles like falling cars, logs falling off the back of a truck, and the police. You can choose from multiple riders, and can even play as Shovel Knight, and when you gain cash from completing certain events, you can buy upgrades for your motorcycle.

Now, a lot concern that comes with games from Kickstarter that ends up on Early Access means it won’t be polished and will probably be a buggy mess. Luckily, Road Redemption misses the garbage pail, and ends up as a rather polished product with tight controls, satisfying combat, and it feels great to play. Sure, the graphics might not be super high-end, but when I play games like Road Redemption, the controls, and how satisfying the gameplay is comes first. The game is on Early Access, and it is really fun. If you miss playing games like the Road Rash series, and need something to wash out that awful taste that Ride to Hell: Retribution left in your mouth, then check this game out. It’s going to come to PC and home consoles in the future.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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