Gamescom ::: Roundup (Part 3)

Today we focus on indie games. Beatbuddy, Shadow Warrior, Stronghold Crusader 2, Foul Play, Hotline Miami 2, and The Last Tinker.

Beatbuddy

There is relatively little solace from the onslaught of sound on the show floor. The large publishers’ stands pummel your ears into submission and the general white noise of thousands of people chattering can send weaker men insane. Thank goodness for Beatbuddy, a game where music is featured so strongly that they came armed with a glorious set of headphones that drowned out everything else.

Beatbuddy himself is a blue aquatic creature who merrily swims through underground caverns, exploring the secrets they have tucked away. From a side on perspective you send gliding through the water and before long you come across the mysterious inhabitants of the deep. It’s a very musical part of the ocean as bass drum mushrooms dwell next to hi-hat crabs, whilst snare streams pulse away endlessly. Together they layer together and build to become tracks, with non-percussion joining in too. Not since Sound Shapes (which I found at last year’s Gamescom) have I enjoyed an abstract musical games, the songs developing and evolving as you discover more and more components.

Rather than just being an experience, Beatbuddy is also a puzzler as each musical creature also has a direct effect on his journey through each level. Hi-hat grabs activate spiked anemones which are instant death and bass drum mushrooms will catapult you away without hesitation. A quick smack to the hi-hat crab and he’ll fall silent, causing his deadly friends to disappear for a few seconds, allowing you to slip past, whereas the bass drum is far more beneficial. Caught at the right angle it can send you spinning through barricades, your momentum opening up new passageways to explore.

There is a grander story but from the demo on display it is clear that the musical majesty is the core focus. The rest of the show floor drained away from my senses as I happily lost myself in this melodic and captivating world.

Rating: Awesome

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Shadow Warrior

This is not a HD remake of the original Oriental shooter but a complete reboot. What remains however is the over the top violence and its sense of humour, which comes across as Big Trouble in Little China (despite being set in Japan) crossed with an action-comedy as your protagonist quips his way from daemonic bust-up to daemonic bust-up.

Vulture-like enemies come at you in waves as you travel through dark Japanese forests and villages lit by firelight. Each encounter takes the form of an arena battle, you being penned in until you dispatch everything standing against you. The environments help keep the battle fresh and their scale varies but in addition you’re talents are graded. Variety counts for a lot and so the swords, guns and supernatural powers you possess are all required if you are to please the gods and their scorecards. Awards cover the side of the screen as you decapitate, incinerate, and perforate.

All the guns offer something unique, from huge rapid firing gattling guns to crossbows that pins enemies to walls. For the true savant however the katana will call; no less powerful than your projectile weaponry it can slice and dice your daemon foes into tiny pieces, each slice slowing down time momentarily for you to gauge the full effect of your stroke. On top of that there are magical powers that allow you to stop a heart at twenty paces or even use severed daemon heads as in impromptu laser. You will not be short of ways to maim earth’s attackers.

With its hyperviolence set against a grim palette it would be all too easy to glance casually in its direction and paint Shadow Warrior as a dark and brooding shooter that takes itself too seriously, but first impressions can be misleading. This rails against the Titanfalls and CoDs, removing cover and their overinflated sense of drama and simply calls you out to shoot as much stuff as you can in as many ways as you can handle.

Rating: Good

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Stronghold Crusader 2

Updating a game which your fans have loved for over 10 years can be a daunting process, but that’s what Firefly Studios are braving with Stronghold Crusader 2. After the success of the original castle-focused skirmish game their aim is not so much reinvent the series but build upon it, adding a host of extras that they hope will enjoy the same longevity.

A great deal of attention is being spent on the subtler details of the battlefield. Small inclusions such as visualising cool downs and area of effects. On a basic level walls now destruct with feel physics, giving a real time indication of their condition, whilst in the rank and file a slave master’s whip circles his men with those in his range showing signs of his “encouragement” through new animations. They’re tiny things but anything in an RTS that keeps your eyes on the action and away from the menu bar is a good thing.

Elsewhere the number of unit type are being expanded, influenced by the tactics seen and favoured by the community. Whirling dervishes that sprint under the volley of fire from an archery unit before tearing them apart, fire slaves who run into houses setting them ablaze, and assassins which slink into keeps and murder your rivals. It has advanced past rock, paper, scissors; Spock and lizard have come to play, too.

Interestingly one of the core focuses is also the setup of the game. The AI is being tailored to be more human by assigning it a personality that supposedly plays in the more sporadic ways that we flawed individuals do. There are also a number of co-op modes, including one where a team share a castle and all the maintenance and resources that that entails. As a man who has played many a skirmish game where you lend alleged allies troops and alike, though ultimately work out of two different bases, this is very appealing and offers a new way to play an age old format.

Rating: Good

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Foul Play

Though I dislike using comparisons to pigeon hole games – I consider it lazy – I found it hard to resist asking “Sort of like Castle Crashers crossed with Guitar Hero?” as Mediatronic described Foul Play to me. You see, unlike conventional side-scrolling brawlers there are no health bars to worry about, instead you must worry about the crowd and their incessant need to be entertained.

Inspired by a drink filled evening and Smashing Pumpkins’ Tonight Tonight, Foul Play sees Victorian deamon-hunter Baron Dashforth put on a play to take the public through his life’s adventures. Setting out through Egypt with his trusty sidekick Scampwick they explore the 19th Century world through their fists, their size nines, and the traditional English attitude of believing that the Queen should probably own everything. The beauty comes from the fact that this is not actually a real life adventure, merely a recreation, and so all those you meet trying to stop you are stagehands and extras. Dressed as mummies, towering ogres, or scythe wielding foreigners, these lackeys have to suffer time and time again, but get to wear a collection of fantastic hats in the process.

The combat is simple enough with a single button used to punch those around you, though they won’t take it lying down; ou may have hired them but they will fight back. There’s the option of dodging but a well-timed counter can turn into a devastating series of moves. Suplexes stuns all in the vicinity, hiptosses hurl your victim into their friends and send them scattering, whilst a series of rapid fire blows pushes your combo meter up and sends the crowd wild. It’s all instinctive and simple, perfect for a game where the focus is on keeping the action flowing.

Artistically some may find it lacking, but the style more than make up for it as it pays homage to the finest themes in Victorian culture. It never takes itself too seriously and in doing so opens itself up for enjoyment by all. Hardcore players will savour the huge combos and hording points to unlock even more powerful attacks, whilst less committed brawlers will still be able to pick up a pad and relish the ludicrousness unfolding on screen.

Rating: Awesome

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Hotline Miami 2

From the mouths of the developers themselves, Hotline Miami 2 is more of Hotline Miami. And it’s clear they have a true passion for their game. One that saw them shelve an alternate project so they could pick up where they had left off and correct a few elements of the original that they weren’t quite happy with.

Initially I was unclear where they could be as on first impressions it was just as exceedingly brutal – both in terms of mechanics and visuals – as before. A top down action game, it’s one hit kills and the odds are always seemingly stacked against you. I started with just my bare fists, strolling into a gangland den trying to take out a host of baseball bat and gun toting thugs. Death followed death followed death but with a little patience and a lot of guile I felt I was in Hollywood. Though in reality I was pixelated and could only see the top of my head, in my mind I was Jason Borne; taking guys out with a single punch before rounding corners and dispatching their friends by hurling a baseball bat at them from 20 yards, finishing them off with the pistol I picked up from their crumpled bodies. I almost felt psychotic with how pleasing that felt.

So what had improved? For one the tutorial. In the first instalment it was too unclear, hidden in the background, but here it is called out preparing the player for what lies ahead. For another, more time has been taken to dress the levels and flesh out the world. Buildings now have more set dressing, tying them into their fiction and making each a unique world to wreak havoc in.

Rating: Awesome

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The Last Tinker

Usually if a game is described as “moody” it’ll put me in mind of the angst-ridden Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, full of cussing, metal underwear, and parent defying guitar riffs. With The Last Tinker however, “moody” simply means “full of moods”.

A great sadness has taken over the land, sweeping in like fog and sapping the colour from the world and the will from everyone. Those caught up in it stand devoid of the urge to do anything. Thankfully Kuru is on hand with his enchanted paints, each one relating to a new mood. When he tosses red at others they turn angry, whilst blue makes them sad and green fearful, each pulling them out of their malaise. It’s an intriguing concept, exploring the world and calling upon different emotions to see you through a variety of pickles.

The most obvious of these are the goblin-type creatures that have come from the fog sent to stop your rescue effort. There’s a very fluid melee system sending you dashing from foe to foe, bashing them in the face until they explode in a puff of smoke, although rather than just working them with your fists colour will also affect them. Blues will make them stand sobbing, leaving them open to attack, whilst a dose of green may will leave them so scared of you that they run for the hills. With eight colours and a host of attacks waiting to be levelled up there appears plenty of possibilities.

The developers have said that they were inspired by the platformers of the N64 but I can also see hints of Zelda in there too, not least because of the automated jumping. In keeping the game flits back and forth between combat and adventuring, travelling through some very vivid environments as it goes. Basic puzzles will block your path and you’ll meet a host of other characters – including a very strange exploding mushroom that follows you like a dog – but still for me the primary draw is the unique exploration of emotions as weapons and as solutions to puzzles.

Rating: Good

About James Thomas

I make my living as a programmer at a British games developer. In my spare time I try and spread myself between writing, gaming, drumming, goalkeeping, rolling dice and keeping my hair blue. Somewhere around that my wife fits in. Disclaimer: the views expressed are my own and do not neccessarily reflect those of my employer.