This January, I made my annual pilgrimage to Magfest, a gaming and music festival based out of National Harbor, Maryland. I had a great four days, attending numerous panels, events, and meeting big names in voice acting and online reviewing. One of my favorite parts of Magfest has always been the Magfest Indie Videogame Showcase [sic] (MIVS), where indie devs set up shop and show off their games. I spent many hours in between panels examining this section, and after a month of browsing press kits I’m ready to share my findings with you.
Before I go on, there’s a couple of disclaimers necessary: I’m only reviewing games I personally played—there were plenty more on the floor I just didn’t have time for, and I apologize if you don’t see your game here (even though I’m pretty sure everyone who got my business card is here). Also, the length of a game’s segment on here has no correlation with the game’s quality; some are just easier to describe than other.
This is a two-part article. This first half will deal with games that have already been released and are currently available. In the follow up I’ll cover games that are currently in development.
Without further ado: MIVS ahoy!
Developer: Kikiwik Games
At first glance, Default Dan is a standard 2D platformer. It looks normal in every way: cheery graphics, stage selection, even a regular sounding score. (Fun fact: the score was composed by brentalfloss.)
Then you learn that coins kill you.
In Default Dan, everything you know about platformers is wrong. Falling off the bottom of the screen sends you down from the top again. Spikes are springs. Fire power-ups make you nearly invincible for a bit, but kill you if you do something wrong. Even once you get the hang of it, you’ll occasionally find yourself jumping at coins out of instinct.
For all the oddities, it’s not particularly frustrating, in all likelihood because it’s too funny. The game likes to give warnings when it’s too late, so part of the fun is thinking “how likely is this game to screw me over, and how can I outsmart it?” You’ll laugh all the way to the end of the level. It’s Bizarro World Mario (Bizzario?).
Google Play (PC or Android) for $1.99
iOS for $1.99
Greenlit on Steam, distribution coming soon.
Developer: Secret Crush
A spaceship gets destroyed, her crew thrown into space. Realizing that they have no hope of rescue, they decide it’s better to die together, so they work together to jump into the sun. For 50+ levels, you’ll battle gravity to find your crew and make sure that no one dies alone.
Thanks to adorable pixel art and some witty writing, it’s cuter and cheerier than it sounds. Sunburn is inspired by Ray Bradbury’s short story Kaleidoscope, and was originally created as part of a project at NYU’s game design program.
The gameplay can be described as a planet-hopping platformer, where you must travel between planets to gather your lost crew and meet your adorably fiery end together. The hopping gets more difficult as the game progresses, with planets getting farther away and the occasional asteroid belt stopping you from taking a direct route. On top of this, you must fight against gravity and a limited oxygen supply to win each level.
Sunburn is a fun, addicting, casual game with a surprising amount of humor and depth. Death being the victory condition of a game has never been so cheerful.
iOS for $2.99
Android release forthcoming.
Developer: Glass Knuckle Games
Thief Town is a local multiplayer game that harkens back to the days of NES and arcades.
You and your opponents are put onto a Wild West-themed map full of identical avatars, where you must identify which character is yours and stab your opponent before he or she stabs you. Be careful, though—using the attack button reveals who you are, so you better get it right or be exceptionally good at blending in with the crowd. Power ups become available in later levels, including smoke bombs and the ability to switch places with another random avatar.
Thief Town is easy to figure out, and does a lot with relatively simple game mechanics. It’s an excellent party game for gamers of all skill levels.
Steam for $3.99
Direct from developers (cross platform) for $3.99
Developer: Glass Knuckle Games
Noir Syndrome is a detective game in which you play a detective trying to track down a serial killer in a randomly-generated pixelized version of a noir story.
You travel around the map, collecting clues, finding suspects, and doing your best to stop the right person before time is up. The game rewards brain over brawn; the game does feature guns, but they’re mostly deliver one-hit kills that are discouraged except in dire situation, as they require you to make the use of your limited resources. To solve the crime, you must pick locks, make strategic decisions on where to go, and stay healthy while tracking down the killer.
Of course, if you’re so inclined, you can just explore the city and shoot people, but that doesn’t really get you anywhere.
As noted earlier, each game is randomly generated, a different experience with different killers, suspects, and kill patterns.
There are also a lot of moving parts to this game (hunger, inventory, money, suspect list, et al), and as such it takes a little getting used to, but it’s a novel game with a lot of replayability once you get the hang of it. The controls are easy to manage, there’s a neat jazzy soundtrack, and the graphics are all kinds of pixelly fun.
Steam for $6.99
Direct from the developers (cross-platform) for $6.99
Desura (cross-platform) for $6.99
Google Play (PC or Android) for $2.99
Star Saver is an adventure-platformer starring Squidley, a Space Squid, in search of stars that have gone missing from the galaxy, and Squishy, the Prince of the Galaxy, who can eat his way through almost anything. I want to stress again that the star of this game is a SPACE SQUID.
There are about 15 hours of gameplay with over 30 levels, full of puzzles, jumps, edible enemies, and cakes that give you power-ups. It’s easy to learn and rewarding to master. Star Saver is a fun game for all ages that combines a retro console feel with modern tablet-based gaming.
In terms of gameplay and appearance, Star Saver has the adventurous feel of Kirby (not to mention a blob creature that eats and spits enemies out) and the breaking-through-walls platformer style of Wario Land. Playing this game, all my instincts from those games kicked in and I realized how much I missed gameplay like that.
iOS – the first world is free, full game unlock is $4.99
Android release forthcoming.
Developer: Vexel Games
Trace Vector is a modern take on vector-based arcade games, taking the form of a smoothed-out endless runner for the Steam generation.
You control a spaceship that must travel along a series of geometric levels, taking care not to run into dead ends or miss important turns, testing your reflexes and quick decision-making skills. In all honesty, this is a game that you need to play to understand. Video doesn’t do this justice.
There are two modes to Trace Vector: Adventure Mode and Endless Mode. Adventure Mode is more of a puzzle, where you are faced with a series of levels that you must pass with as much fuel remaining as possible. In Endless Mode, the goal is to survive as long as you can before crashing. The controls are simple, smooth, and responsive. Bonus points for the retro graphics and the nifty electronic soundtrack.
Trace Vector is so dedicated to bringing back eighties-style vector gaming that, at Magfest, it was displayed in an arcade cabinet on the showroom floor!
Fast paced, aesthetically pleasing, and rewarding, Trace Vector is a must-have for classic arcade lovers. It’s the perfect game for when you have nothing else to do.
Steam for $6.99
Desura (cross platform) for $7.99
Developer: Too DX
Sportsball plays like a combination of Joust and Quidditch. You select between several birds, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and battle it out against teams of opponents to score points. Said points are scored by knocking a ball into a net, with the last team touching the ball receiving the point. Striking an opponent forces them to regenerate, giving you a few seconds to take control of scoring.
In addition to four player matches, there are also a two-player duel mode and a brawl mode that consists mostly of stabbing your opponents for points.
Sportsball is easy to learn, and it can be just as much fun flapping around like a loon as it is getting serious and scoring points. It gets chaotic at times, but that’s part of the fun.
There are only two drawbacks to the game: there’s not much in the way of single player, and there’s no online play. That said, this game is clearly for playing around with friends, so it’s probably a better experience this way. The dev team was actively recruiting people off the floor for matches, and by the middle of the match, my teammate (who I had never met before) and I were cheering each other on and yelling to get the ball.
Having a big party and need to entertain a lot of guests? Sportsball is the game for you.
Wii U Nintendo eShop for $9.99
Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll be covering upcoming releases!