Phew, that’s another Rezzed over with – and I’m exhausted, but happy. I got to speak to loads of devs and industry types, and I’ve returned with lots of exciting news to share with you! Here are the games that really leapt out at me, along with a few honourable mentions…
Guntastic was probably my favourite game on show at Rezzed. It’s by two Italian developers, Francesco Camarlinghi and Simone Ferroni (aka Ludicrous Games), and it’s their first title – yet it feels incredibly polished and brilliantly balanced, even though they were only showing alpha code. The game takes place on a single screen, and the aim is to grab weapons and eliminate your opponents – but the beauty of it is the incredibly fast pace. Each round only lasts 25 seconds, and it takes just a single hit to kill a foe, which leads to some frantic scrambles to grab a gun while dodging bullets.
It’s one of those games that’s incredibly simple to pick up and play but that has surprising depth. The environments have lots of traps that you can learn to use to your advantage, like a platform with spinning saws that you can drop on your opponents. And the weapons each have certain advantages and disadvantages – for example, there’s a drill that you can use to hit opponents on the other side of a wall, but it’s slower to fire than other weapons like the laser beam.
I had an absolute blast playing Guntastic in local multiplayer – and the devs say they’re currently fine-tuning the online multiplayer ahead of the game’s release later this year (platforms TBC). I can see this becoming a firm favourite for couch PvP, as well as a big hit with streamers – it’s definitely one to watch. The only negative point is the name – it’s so generic that I had trouble remembering it even seconds after playing the game!
LUNA: The Shadow Dust
The publisher Application Systems Heidelberg was behind one of my favourite games of last year, Unforeseen Incidents, and this year they were showing off a new game by the artist Beidi Guo, one of four people who make up Lantern Studio. LUNA is heavily influenced by Studio Ghibli, right down to your Totoro-esque companion, and the hand-drawn art is simply superb.
You play a young boy who finds himself lost in a strange, dream-like world. A tower appears, and the game sees you work your way upwards, room by room, trying to solve the mystery of where you are and why you’re there. Each room is essentially a puzzle that requires careful scanning of the objects within and some playful experimentation to decipher how to open each locked door. It’s slow paced, but that’s no bad thing – I found the dreamy music and gentle puzzle-solving to be incredibly relaxing. The only downside is that LUNA is a relatively short game at 3-4 hours – but those few hours promise to be joyous.
Mable and the Wood
We love Metroidvanias here at AMAP, but even so, it takes something special for a game to stand out in this crowded genre – and Mable and the Wood feels suitably unique. You play a young girl who sets out to prove herself against a background of sceptical adults – the solo designer, Andrew Stewart (@triplevisgames), says he was inspired by his young daughter. But the really unique thing about this game is the way you take on the abilities of the bosses you defeat. And as an added facet of uniqueness, Mable can’t jump or even swing the heavy sword she drags behind her.
In the demo, Mable starts with the ability to turn into a fairy for a limited time, which lets her flutter up to high platforms while leaving her sword behind. Then a quick button press summons the sword back to her, hurting any enemies between her and the sword. Later, after defeating a spider boss, she gains the ability to turn into a spider herself and climb walls, as well as shooting her sword into the ceiling on a silk string and swinging from it. It’s a neat little mechanic, and Andrew says there will be multiple bosses and abilities in the finished game, as well as the option to play through the whole thing in pacifist mode without killing any enemies. Intriguing.
One of the journalists I spoke to joked that the Unreal Engine Zone at Rezzed should have been dubbed the ‘Facsimile Room’, and I can see what they were getting at. There was Pacer, a thinly-disguised version of WipeOut; Negative Atmosphere could have easily been mistaken for Dead Space; Close to the Sun was the spitting image of BioShock; and Grip may as well have been called Rollcage. Then, tucked at the back of the room, was Partisans 1941, aka Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines. But as Partisans‘ Russian developers Alter Games pointed out, it’s been well over a decade since the last Commandos game – and its brand of tactical infiltration is long overdue a revival.
Partisans 1941 focuses on the rarely explored setting of the Eastern Front, and the struggles of local forces to hold back the Nazi invasion. It’s a complex beast, too, with myriad ways to achieve the objectives on each mission, combined with things like procedurally-generated weather that can affect the health of your troops: soggy soldiers are more likely to get ill, meaning you’ll spend time searching out medicines to heal them. I should also mention that it looks absolutely gorgeous – seriously, you could just frame screenshots from this game.
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech
The SteamWorld games have all been excellent so far, and upcoming RPG SteamWorld Quest looks like it’s not about to break that trend. I spent a good long time at Rezzed playing through the game’s first two bosses, and I have to say it was an utter delight. The artwork is beautiful and wonderfully quirky, continuing the unique style of the SteamWorld series (check out the bird-brained Canary Knight below). Although here, the steam-powered robots find themselves in a fantasy setting rather than space or the Wild West.
Combat takes the form of turn-based card battles, with different cards reflecting moves by each of the three characters in your party. Basic moves build up a steam gauge at the top of screen, and that steam power can in turn be used to activate more-powerful cards, like area-effect spells. And if you use three cards linked to the same character in a row, you activate an additional combo card. Building a balanced deck is key – for instance, at one point I found myself with too many power cards and not enough basic cards to build up the required steam to activate the former, prompting some frantic deck reshuffling.
The important thing is that it’s simple to pick up the rules, but the battles themselves have considerable depth, which bodes well for the game’s longevity. Image & Form’s community manager Julius Guldbog told me the game clocks in at around 25 hours, while there are opportunities to continue playing after the ending – and although I&F are not working on any DLC for the time being, they’re considering it after the game is released. And that’s not too far away – SteamWorld Quest is coming to Nintendo Switch on 25th April. Can’t wait!
Night School Studio, the folks behind Oxenfree, are back with a really bizarre and fascinating game in which two dead teenagers attempt to beat Satan in a drinking contest in order to secure their release from Hell. As you do.
I didn’t get to play Afterparty, but I watched someone else complete the demo, and I found myself chuckling over his shoulder the entire time. The dialogue displays a rare, sharp wit – I particularly liked a demon doorman correcting the teenagers when they refer to Satan as the Prince of Lies: “Yeah, well, around here we prefer to call him the Prince of Partying.” And indeed, Hell appears to be one big purple party, a labyrinthine city packed with bars and clubs, all surrounding the Devil’s ‘Party Tower’. As a vision of the underworld, there’s never been anything quite like it.
Nanotale: Typing Chronicles
I discovered Nanotale by the Belgium-based developer Fishing Cactus right at the very end of Rezzed, just as the food stands were packing up and weary booth attendants were glancing at their watches. And what a discovery! I’ve never played anything quite like this – the closest I’ve seen is probably The Typing of the Dead, where you have to type words to down enemies, but here that concept is taken much, much further.
You play an archivist who is attempting to catalogue the plants and animals of a dying world – but some of those animals aren’t particularly friendly. If they attack, a tap of the space bar causes you to raise your spellbook, prompting words to appear above your foes’ heads. Typing the word will fire a spell at the recalcitrant animal, knocking off some energy and causing another word to appear. But you have to type fast, because the baddies’ energy quickly regenerates.
And things are further complicated by spell modifiers – typing HOT primes a fire spell, for example, while adding RAY and LARGE makes it into a devastating fireball. But do you have time to type all that while a nasty beast is bearing down on you? It’s a fun risk/reward mechanic, and it’s complemented by some very satisfying puzzles. For example, at one point I was trying to catalogue some shy bunny-type creatures who kept running off when I got near. The solution was to pop a nearby water plant to irrigate the ground, which in turn caused vines to grow, providing me with enough cover to get close. Clever.
Untitled Goose Game still looks amazing, and although I didn’t get a chance to play it, I embarrassingly laughed out loud while watching another player steal the groundskeeper’s keys and lob them in a lake.
Doggerland Radio is an MA project by the mega-talented artist Amy Godliman (@acgodliman). More of an experience than a game, it involves tuning the dial of a radio to discover BBC Home Service-style announcements, ambient noises and snippets of book readings, which in turn link up with the map and strange novel on the table in front of you. I found it mesmerising.
Metamorphosis was one of the best games of last year’s Rezzed, and this year Ovid Works were showing off a much bigger demo. It looks stunning, and playing as a Kafka-inspired bug is an experience unlike anything I’ve had before. One to watch for when it’s released for PC and consoles in the autumn.
The Collage Atlas by John Evelyn (@johnevelyn) was intriguing – the whole game is hand-drawn using paper and ink, leading to some beautiful scenes. The gameplay is fairly simplistic, but I was drawn in by wanting to see the next bit of stunning art.
PHOGS! was another game I picked out last year, and this time we were treated to a longer demo – but the sad news is that the game has been pushed back to 2020. To be fair though, it’s only being made by three people (aka Bitloom), so I’m not surprised it’s taking a while to finish! We are happy to wait patiently for the two-headed stretchy dog snake.
Katana Zero is still ace, but we already knew that.
Divinity: Fallen Heroes confused the hell out of me in the ten minutes or so I played of it, but that’s not surprising considering that the combat in Divinity: Original Sin 2 (which I haven’t played) apparently takes hours to master according to a journo friend. Still, it sure looks purdy, and I’m intrigued by this turn-based-tactics Divinity spin-off.
Close to the Sun, as noted above, looks more than a little like BioShock. But then again, BioShock was great, and we aren’t likely to get any more games in the series any time soon, so yeah, why not? I’m in.
And that’s about it! What do you think? Any of these catch your eye? And are there any great games you saw at Rezzed that aren’t listed here? Let me know in the comments!