Preview: Highfleet

By: Derek Yu

On: July 18th, 2016

The other day, I was wondering to myself: “What ever happened to the guy who made Hammerfight? I liked that game.” Hammerfight, released in 2009 by Russian game-maker Konstantin Koshutin, is an action game about piloting flying vehicles armed with medieval weapons like hammers, maces, flails, and swords as well as the occasional long-range cannon. Its dusty Steampunk world was beautifully rendered – bashing it out with mutant bugs and other pilots was often as lovely as it was brutal, with colorful faction banners streaming about and little people cheering you on in the background. I quite enjoyed knocking my enemies about, too, since a meaty hit could send someone’s airship smashing into a wall, with bricks flying everywhere. Unfortunately, the physics-based movement also took its toll on my poor wrists and constantly swinging my mouse around in circles became painful and repetitive after awhile.

Koshutin’s newest project, Highfleet, seems to share some things in common with Hammerfight: mid-air duels in a dusty, lovingly-rendered world. Instead of floating ships with melee weapons, however, it looks as though you’ll be piloting more traditional aircraft and engaging in dogfights not dissimilar to Vlambeer’s Luftrausers (but slower-paced). From browsing the game’s Facebook page and Twitter, it looks like there will be a lot more to the game, too, like an overworld map and ship construction. Could be really cool (and a lot easier on my wrists).

No release date for the game has been announced.

Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight

By: Derek Yu

On: July 7th, 2016

Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, by rdein

It’s become a joke to talk about Cave Story and Dark Souls when describing other games, but in the case of Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, I’d be remiss not to: the series has never been shy about its influences. In Reverie, the fourth game of the Momodora series, rdein has done a fantastic job joining the simple charm and tidy aesthetic of Daisuke Amaya’s little masterpiece with the methodical combat mechanics and level design of From Software’s Souls games. The result is something of a “perfect” Metroidvania, which feels neither meandering nor linear, frustrating nor dull. And it’s easy to see why rdein considers this to be his best-looking and most polished game yet: out of all the many beautiful animations and effects in the game, there’s not a single pixel that seems out of place.

In this bustling age of indie game development, it can be refreshing to see a title that shows restraint in its design without being minimalist or abstract. You’ll love Reverie if you enjoyed any of its influences. At this year’s Summer Games Done Quick (going on right now), it produced one of the marathon’s most heartfelt and inspiring runs:

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*Looks Around*

By: Derek Yu

On: June 23rd, 2016

???

“Are they all gone yet?”

Punch Club

By: Derek Yu

On: February 24th, 2016

Punch Club, by Lazy Bear Games

The Rocky Balboa-esque boxing theme and pixel art are what got me to try out Punch Club, a management game from Lazy Bear Studios. On the surface, the idea of moving direct control away from the fighting seems like a bad one, but it’s satisfying to see your training pay off as your character punches, kicks, and blocks on his own. Outside the ring, it’s all about efficient management of time and money – you want to spend each day training and sparring to improve your chances of winning, but your character also has to buy food and gym membership, which means taking on construction and pizza delivery jobs to make ends meet. Making things more difficult is the fact that your three main stats – strength, agility, and stamina – actually drop a little bit at the end of each day. Just like in real life, it takes sustained work to keep your physique in good shape.

The biggest problem with Punch Club is the skill system. When I played the game, its three main build paths were very imbalanced. Initially, I went with a strength build, called the Way of the Bear, and found halfway through that I had hit a wall against the agile opponents whom the game heavily favors. The intent behind strength characters is that they get fewer opportunities to punch, but can end matches quickly if they can string some hits together. In practice, unless your agility stat is comparable to your opponent’s, you probably won’t land a hit at all. The Way of the Tiger, on the other hand, allows you to focus solely on agility and a little bit of stamina, learning counterattacks that use your opponent’s strength against them. The supposed weakness of agility – damage potential – ends up not feeling like a handicap at all. And the stamina-focused Way of the Turtle is apparently even harder to succeed with than Bear.

It’s a shame, because the interplay between the resource management and fighting works well fundamentally. If you were given more interesting and well-balanced choices in terms of designing your character and his (or even her?) story, it could have found a permanent home on my phone (where I think this game is best-suited). As it is, one time through is enough for me.

Dwarf Fortress 0.42.01: Taverns, Temples, and Troupes. Oh My!

By: Alehkhs

On: December 1st, 2015

Winter is here, and with it the next release of Tarn Adams’ Dwarf Fortress has arrived.

Dwarf Fortress 0.42.01 continues to build upon the “living world” features added in last year’s major release, allowing players even more interaction with the larger world outside their fort (or lone adventurer). Troupes, mercenaries, refugees, scholars, and more will now visit your fort. Social interaction will also play a larger role so inns, taverns, and temples have been introduced as social areas. Libraries have also been added for more bookish individuals, collecting the various written works and technological advancements of the world.

To aid in the new mingling scene, the inhabitants of your world will now compose poetry, music, and dance forms. While these are currently only described in text, the Dwarf Fortress community has already begun to provide some fantastic real-world interpretations from those descriptions (Listen:The Superior Rampart; Listen:The Grasping Oaks). Of course, these features are also available in the game’s Adventure Mode. Rather than running a fort, players can instead lead a performing troupe on a world tour!

For a more complete changelog, and to download the latest version of Dwarf Fortress, head on over to Bay 12 Games.

Kickstart This: Home Free

By: Derek Yu

On: October 14th, 2015

In Kevin Cancienne’s Home Free, you play a lost dog trying to find its way home in the big city. Each city is procedurally-generated, not each time you play, but once for your entire game. Although it’s unclear whether you can really win (by finding home?), lose (by starving?), or restart your game, or what happens when you do, I think this is a pretty cool and bold way to make each player’s game feel personalized.

I’m also impressed by the quality and variety of the dog animations in the game, even in this early pre-alpha stage. Hopefully it’s as fun as it looks to run, jump, and socialize with other canines when the game releases in a year or so.

Nova-111

By: Alehkhs

On: August 25th, 2015

From funky-fresh indie studio Funktronic Labs‘ comes sci-fi adventure/puzzler Nova-111. Bringing together a mix of turn-based movement and attacks with both turn-based and real-time threats, Nova-111 manages to evoke memories of the classic Chip’s Challenge.

Players control the Nova, a scientific vessel that has been flung into a strange dimension of mixed time, and are charged with guiding the ship and 111 collectible rescuable scientists back to safety. Along the way, upgrades can be found for the Nova that give the player more ways to move about the environment and manipulate time. Puzzles present themselves not only in navigating the terrain, but in the crafty and effective dispatchment of enemies. Combine this with the vibrant art and groovy music from Funktronic Labs, and progressing through Nova-111 can quickly approach a dance-like experience of timing and positioning. With global leaderboards for both “least turns” and “least time,” it surely won’t be long before some amazing speedruns appear.

Nova-111 launches on PC (via Steam, and DRM-free from the game’s website) and PS4 today; Xbox One on August 28th; and PS3 and PS Vita on September 1st. A Wii-U release is expected later this year.

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Argument Champion

By: Derek Yu

On: August 17th, 2015

Argument Champion, by bigblueboo

In bigblueboo‘s Argument Champion, your goal is to win the hearts of your audience by making positive connections to your idea and negative connections to your opponent’s idea. This is done via a simple word association minigame, but it’s not the minigame that’s clever, so much as the way it’s tied to the game’s central premise that arguments are won by appealing to emotion. The ideas themselves are, as evidenced by the hilarious scenario depicted in the above screenshot, largely inconsequential.

This game was released in 2012 for one of the A Game By Its Cover game jams that was inspired by the original AGBIC competition held on the TIGSource forums.

Kickstart This: Tower 57

By: Derek Yu

On: August 15th, 2015

Tower 57 is a gorgeous twin-stick shooter that’s being Kickstarted right now. The game’s developers are paying a lot of attention to graphical detail – as you (and possibly a friend) blast your way up the titular Tower 57, it seems like you’ll be admiring Cyangmou‘s superb pixel art only as long as it takes to destroy it into lots of itty bitty little pieces. One for the fans of the Bitmap Brothers and their classic shooter, The Chaos Engine.

More information (and plenty of fun animated gifs) are available on the Tower 57 devlog.

Doujin A-Go-Go: Comiket 88 and BitSummit 2015

By: Derek Yu

On: August 13th, 2015

This year’s Comiket, Japan’s premiere festival for self-published works, is starting tomorrow (August 14-16). As in previous years, the doujin shmup developer Edelweiss has put together a long compilation video that combines trailers for a number of games that will be available at the festival. Links to each of the games featured in the video are available here on Edelweiss’s website.

Coinciding with Comiket is a doujin games sale on Steam, including big discounts on La Mulana and a number of highly-regarded shoot ’em ups like Crimzon Clover and Kamui. Or if participating in an underwater deathmatch as a laser-shooting barnacle is more your thing, check out NEO AQUARIUM – The King of Crustaceans.

Also, earlier this summer was the third BitSummit, a Japanese indie games conference that takes place in Kyoto. Unlike Comiket, which features all kinds of amateur media and fan works, BitSummit is focused entirely on promoting the indie game community in Japan and helping their game developers share knowledge, network, and get noticed, much in the way that the Independent Games Summit and Festival do for devs that attend GDC. So far it seems to be a great success, with plenty of press coverage and new partnerships, including one with the Indie MEGABOOTH. This Verge article has a nice round-up of some of the games on the show floor.

It’s great to see the Japanese indie and doujin game communities blossoming and expanding their reach internationally. These days it’s actually quite easy to find and purchase Japanese indie titles through Steam and Playism, which was unthinkable only a few years ago during the peak of Cave Story fever. I can only imagine that this trend will keep blowing up in the years to come.