E3 is an all-consuming beast, and Coverage Club is no exception. It takes time, energy, and health in exchange for early looks at video games and opportunities to make a fool of yourself. That’s why the annual E3 Media Indie Exchange is such a fun time. The stale convention air is replaced by the free-flowing night breezes of downtown LA. The overpriced yet legendary chicken nuggets are replaced with a questionable but probably healthy assortment of meats and crackers. Most importantly to you, the reader, is that there are games. The type of games that are absent from E3 otherwise, and the types of games that Coverage Club loves. Welcome to week two of Coverage Club’s MIX bonanza. I hope you enjoy your stay.
Covered by Alex Santa Maria
One thing I didn’t think I’d get to do during my annual trek to Los Angeles was speak on the virtues of ninja kid. For those fans of puzzlers in the know, Tetris Battle Gaiden is a hallmark title. It combines everyone’s favorite Russian bricklayer with the character powers of a MOBA, and it’s the only way to play Tetris competitively. Spaera is a match three game that takes some inspiration from this Japan-only classic. It’s been kicking around Steam Early Access for a few years, and some legal troubles with the Tetris Company have stripped it of some recognizable pieces. Still, the core of the game remains, and it’s a fun spin on the battle puzzle bonanza.
For those who aren’t in the know, Spaera looks like any other well-based puzzle game at first. However, there are two mechanics that really change the way you play. For one, you and your opponent share the same pool of upcoming pieces. That means that you have to fight for everything, and clearing your board might not be your first priority. The other big difference is the orbs you can match, which charge each character’s abilities. Depending on who you’re playing as these spells can add junk to an opposing board, clear off rows for you, or completely turn a match on its head.
It’s not something that completely translates to words, but sitting down and playing will sell just about everyone. I dragged several friends to the demo station at The MIX, and it never got boring. It’s the type of fun that I used to have playing Marvel games at my local arcade. Complaining about the junk pieces you receive, losing pieces to a well-timed spell, clutching victory from the jaws of defeat, it’s all there. Even against the hardest AIs back home, games can be tense, going back and forth as you climb the arcade ladder. That’s a sign of a well-designed competition if I’ve ever seen one.
Of course, playing at home has other advantages. As much as I enjoyed the game on an LA rooftop, it’s only in the comfort of my office that I can take in the game’s perfect soundtrack. Rocking character themes with all types of uptempo instrumentation fill the air. Each character’s animations as they unleash their abilities are also themed perfectly to their various inspirations. You don’t often see presentation this spot on in the puzzle genre, so it’s worth celebrating.
Simply put, Spaera captured my heart at The MIX this year. It takes a SNES classic and iterates on it, creating more balanced gameplay that’s all its own. It is the true definition of a Steam hidden gem, and anyone who enjoys a round of Tetris would do well to give it a try upon its full release.
Covered by Samuel Guglielmo
When there’s a party that has 30+ indie games at it, you really need to do something to stand out. My eyes caught Darq thanks to a unique black and white art style and some insane looking puzzles. So I lined up to give the game a go. Naturally, as soon as I started some guy gave us the “five minutes warning” about The Mix ending, so I didn’t quite get as in-depth as I wanted.
In my limited time with Darq I learned about a young man named Lloyd who’s trapped in a weird dream. In this case, it takes the form of a mysterious train. Parts of the train are blocked off by puzzles, requiring you to find items to help you solve them. Here’s where the real kicker comes in. At certain points in the world, you can rotate the entire train, letting you walk on walls or the ceiling.
I really have to mention how wonderfully satisfying this is. Feeling straight out of Inception, you get this loud “BAWM” as the player character effortlessly (if sort of in a sleepwalking state) steps on to the wall. It’s dramatic, fitting the tone of the game and making for a striking visual effect that really stuck with me.
A lot of the game has the same style too. The animations are beautiful, managing to perfectly capture that the main character is indeed sleepwalking as he stumbles and lurches around. Special care was put into the atmosphere as well, with the train feeling appropriately creepy. I also loved the game’s monochrome visuals, which really help further the wonderful presentation.
Sadly I didn’t get to actually do much, thanks to the aforementioned warning. I solved one puzzle that required me to open a stuck drawer. I did this by turning the world so the cabinet was on the ceiling, letting gravity do its work and open the drawer for me. Inside I got a plate that I was then able to take to a complicated looking pipe puzzle which I began trying to figure out. Sadly I simply just did not have the time to do so.
In my very brief time with Darq I fell in love with the world. I absolutely can’t wait to see more, as the presentation alone was more than enough to grab me. As I said, it takes a lot for an indie game to stand out at a party. A game like Darq has that indescribable appeal, and that means a lot.
Darq was sampled during E3 2018 at The Mix. It’s releasing on PC sometime in 2018, with a console release to follow at a later date.
What do you think of this week’s Coverage Club selections? Do you know of an overlooked game that deserves another chance? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out our E3 Coverage Hub for even more impressions from gaming’s big showcase.