Thoughts On: SXSW 2017

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Once again, I went to South by South West this year for a day to see what everyone was offering. It was a pretty good showcase with a lot of great indie games, and Nintendo decided to drop by with their newly released console and a couple of demos for upcoming and already released games. I had a terrific time, and hopefully made a lot of connections with the developers and publishers there. As usual, I’m going to give you my thoughts on the games I played at the event. Here we go!

Nintendo Switch/Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

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I finally got to get my hands on the Nintendo Switch, and while I know it’s doing well in sales, some people are having some problems. I however was having a blast. At first, it was a bit weird holding the Switch, since I didn’t realize how thin it was. I honestly don’t have a lot of experience with iPad-style devices, so it was fairly new to me. After a minute of feeling it, and holding the undocked version with the joy cons on the side, it was pretty comfortable. I know I won’t be representing everyone in terms of how it feels, but it was a blast to hold. I have slender hands and fingers, so it didn’t feel clunky or awkward, like a lot of old handheld devices that weren’t the Nintendo Gameboy or SEGA Game Gear. As for the Switch port of Mario Kart 8, it ran great, and it was still the amazing Mario Kart experience that you recognize, but with a new battle mode with a lot of varied modes. I got into quite an epic match with another player playing a “keep away”-style mode. It had fantastic, and I even got to bring back a cool little hat. It was probably the greatest part of the event outside of the indie games. I will definitely pick up one of these Nintendo Switch consoles in the future. I’m just going to wait for a couple of more games to come out. Still, I loved it.

Mages of Mystralia

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This was the first indie game I checked out at the event after the Nintendo Switch stuff. Mages of Mystralia is an isometric action adventure game with RPG elements, being developed by the team of Borealys Games. You play as a young girl who one day finds out that she can use powerful magic, and must go on an adventure to save the land from an evil force. So, what makes this game stand out? Well, for one, the story is written by Ed Greenwood who famously wrote the Forgotten Realms world of Dungeons and Dragons. The second element that makes this action adventure game unique is the spell-crafting system. While it doesn’t sound new or unique, it truly deserves those two words. You get some base spells, but then essentially multiple augmentations to customize each spell and give them varying abilities, like raining ice from the sky, shooting multiple fireballs, dashing, making a decoy, explosive thunder, and you get the idea. You can do whatever you want as long as you find those items that will let you augment your magic. It’s a very creative system, and while you could go very basic with the customization, you can do some crazy fun and helpful things with the spells, too. I found this out by playing the tutorial sandbox mode before the main demo, and had a hoot and a half making new spells even if they didn’t really work. Now, you can’t spam them due to a stamina meter below your health, and the bigger the custom spell, the more stamina it drains. It regenerates on its own, but you don’t want to be fighting a boss with no way to attack it. I thought the graphics looked great, and it really gave me The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past vibes. And that shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that, since everyone is calling this game a mash-up of Zelda and Harry Potter. The music is also rather outstanding, with some great tracks done by the super talented Shota Nakama, who helped out with Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom hearts II.5 HD Remaster.

I can’t speak highly enough of this game. It was fun to play, controlled great, there were side objectives, the gameplay felt polished, and it was satisfying to play from the beginning to the end of the demo. As of right now, team launched a Kickstarter (they just got funded, but keep supporting them for the stretch goals) for additional funding to polish up the experience, and if they get more funding, they will maybe add in new features like a level creator. Still, if you can find some way to play this game, I highly recommend it. It’s coming to PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. They are also going to see what happens, and release a version for the Nintendo Switch after the launch of the other platforms.

Sundered

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Now, as a precaution, I did back the Kickstarter for this game that was looking for additional funds to polish up the experience. Let me tell you, this was my next favorite in terms of indie games after Mages of Mystralia. Sundered is a 2D action game with the developer’s iconic 2D animation, as you go through a Lovecraftian hellhole to fight monsters and bosses. You have light and heavy melee attacks, a dodge, and a long-range-ammo-using weapon. The game is set up like many metroidvania-style games where you traverse large levels, gain new abilities, and fight massive bosses and hordes of enemies. When you die, you will use what you gained during the play-through, and upgrade yourself to be stronger, hardier, and gain new abilities. In the fuller version, you will have to choose if you use your abilities one way or the other. Do you want to be tainted by the darkness or not? The 2D animation is fluid, and I’m sure many painstaking hours went into the smooth movements and the hellish designs. It’s a beautiful game that really brings you into that world of madness and monsters. Unfortunately, I couldn’t try out a lot of the mechanics, but the game was still a fantabulous time. It’s coming out to the PC, PlayStation 4, and Vita first in July, and I’m sure more consoles will be on the horizon after said release.

Hollow Knight

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Yeah, the first three games on this list are going to have a pattern. Hollow Knight, the popular Kickstarter hit developed by Team Cherry, is a 2D action game where you play as this small bug called, well, Hollow Knight, as you travel across a dead world of bugs. It’s yet another metroidvania-style action game, in which you use special moves and combat to traverse the decrepit world. You gain something called Geo, the game’s currency, and like in any Dark Souls-style game, if you die, you lose it all and must re-obtain it after you beat the ghost that was your previous self. You also gain souls that are used to recover health. Expect the enemies to be tough, and bosses to be tougher, as this was probably the most challenging game I played at SXSW. The game’s graphics are beautiful, since everything is 2D animated like in Sundered. The world you live in is beautifully rendered, and you will wonder what happened to the world of Dirtmouth. The game is already out on Steam, and will be coming to the Nintendo Switch. And yes, it will also be heading to other consoles in the future, if the negotiations go well.

Crossing Souls

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Being published by Devolver Digital and developed by Fourattic, Crossing Souls is a top-down action adventure game about a group of kids in the magical year of 1986, in which they discover a mysterious item that can somehow let them see the dead. Each of the kids will have their own abilities, like a fast dodge, being able to push large objects, hover boots, climbing, and bomb-making. You will need to use each of them to win against the typical and the atypical enemies while solving puzzles and exploring your town. The game looks great, and its sprite art reminds me of Party Hard. Personally, everything controlled well and it was a lot of fun. I kind of wish there was voice work, since the game can be text-heavy, but the writing and characters do make it all interesting. If you like Stranger Things or shows with a retro vibe to them, then you will love Crossing Souls, since it’s one of those games that perfectly encapsulates that decade, and isn’t just a visual thing. The game is coming out this spring and will be coming to PC, Mac, Lunux, and PlayStation 4, and I’m sure more consoles in the future.

Night in the Woods

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This recently released Kickstarter hit is developed by Infinite Fall and published Finji. It is a 2D-exploration-heavy adventure game where you control a cat named Mae as she returns to her hometown to find quite a few things have changed. The puzzle-solving to me felt very simple, but easy to get into. I don’t have time these days to get into adventure or exploration games with obtuse puzzle-solving. However, that is what I got from what I played. Night in the Woods is a beautiful-looking game with a whimsical art style and a cynical yet amusing real world setting. From what I experienced, I only found one puzzle that kind of bugged me, and it was before you got picked up by the police. Even though I just played a tiny bit of this game, I fell head over heels for it. I hope it can come to other consoles. As mentioned above, it’s already out now and is available as of March 17th on PC and PlayStation 4.

 Katana Zero

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This is a neat little action game with a neo-noir twist by Askiisoft. You play as a samurai who lives in a grimy modern day world, where you must use your fast reflexes to get tasks done. Oh yeah, everyone dies in one hit. That means you do as well. The demo I played wasn’t very long, but I found the animation on the sprites to be expressive, and the combat to be satisfying to play. You really felt the weight of every move and mistake you made. Granted I don’t know what slow-motion (one of the game’s mechanics) feels like, but it was brutal. When you die, you start back from the beginning of the room you are currently in. It’s a game that does one thing, and does that one thing well. You even get this Telltale-style story element, where you can say this one thing, or wait for a different option to appear. I got to talk to the founder, and he said whatever you say in these sequences will change the outcome of each level. In general, Katana Zero is a fantastic action game that might have a bit of a puzzle twist in there due to how you tackle the levels. It’s being published by Adult Swim Games, and is, so far, just for PC. I haven’t seen any word on a console version yet.

 Striker’s Edge

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While there were a few multiplayer-focused games, I decided to check out the one that I first came across at the event, Striker’s Edge. Imagine if you will, the combination of dodgeball and throwing actual heavy metal weapons at people. Well, that is what you do in this game. You get into teams of two, and choose from a slew of characters as you try and beat the other team. The game’s art style is yet again very sprite-based, which seems to be popular among multiplayer-focused indie games, but it looks good, and doesn’t go overly simplistic with its designs. It’s a pretty intense and fun game to play when you have friends over. The developer Fun Punch is bringing this game to PlayStation 4 and PC.

Haimrik

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This was a surprise to me. I wasn’t originally going to play this game, but then I saw someone else check it out, and, well, I had to check it out for myself. Haimrik by developer Below The Game, is an action puzzle game where you travel across literal lines in a story, and solve puzzles by using the literal words beneath your feet. Need a torch? Then all you have to do is lift it from the word. Need to strike someone with lightning? Then all you need to do is lift up the word lightning, and case closed. It’s a cute game with a fun 2.5D art style and a dark sense of humor. It definitely stood out among the games at the event, and it’s going to be coming to PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. I would highly recommend following this game’s development, and supporting it once it is released.

Legrand Legacy

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The final game I checked out was a Kickstarter success that I wrote about a few weeks ago. Legrand Legacy is a PlayStation 2-style RPG where you play as six different heroes that must save the land from an evil force. The combat was probably my favorite part outside of the nice graphics and backgrounds. If you have played any turn-based RPG like Shadow Hearts or Lost Odyssey, then you should be familiar with the game’s mechanic of timing a button press within a circle to do more damage. It also sort of plays like Suikoden, where everyone performs their actions at the same time, instead of just standing there and taking the damage. I love the fact that the developer went with the PlayStation One-style of RPG where you have 3D models, but beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds. It was a very good RPG that keeps the players moving, and I would definitely recommend checking them out and supporting them.

Well, that was my time at SXSW. I had a ton of fun, and I want to thank the developers big and small for being there, and showing off what cool projects are coming out! I will definitely be going back next year.

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