Lately, it seems like there have been more and more indie celebrations on Steam, something I've really been enjoying. I got a chance to check out some great upcoming games in both the Steam Games Festival and LudoNarraCon. The newest face on this scene is Digital Dragons, a celebration of some upcoming lesser-known indie games. I took the plunge and tried out several of the games, and found quite a few that kept my attention. So here are some of the best games of Digital Dragons.
No, YOU'RE a gun!
Look, I love a good big stompy robot, and Uragun lets you play as one. So that's really all I needed to see to know I wanted in on this game. A top-down twin-stick shooter, you'll take control of what is literally a gun on legs. Two different guns to be exact: a chain gun and a rail gun. Enemies will swarm you, and you will push the stick in the direction you need Lots of Death to occur in. That's rather simple. With the addition of nice screen shaking and many particles, this is sold rather well. You really feel like you're dealing Lots of Death in one direction.
The demo only takes about five minutes to play through, and it has you marching through New York City taking down communication towers and freeing the Statue of Liberty from robot tentacles. Besides your many guns, you have a few abilities to help you with this. The walking weapon can deploy a decoy to lure enemies away to it, or next to explosive barrels like I tended to do. It also has a dash ability which you can use to turn the gun into a battering ram. I liked to call this "the pistol whip."
As it stands, Uragun is a bit more style over ,substance, but that's not a bad thing. It could certainly use some more work. In the demo I only saw three enemy types and all three had the same tactic of "run at the gun and try to punch it/explode next to it." Still, this is a solid base and there's really something nice about feeling like a powerful walking weapon platform. It's the perfect fantasy, as far as I'm concerned.
Uragun is set to launch into Early Access sometime this year.
Openly calling itself "Grand Theft Horse," Rustler may be one of the more entertaining surprises I got out of Digital Dragons. Combining elements of both the early Grand Theft Auto games, with a top-down view and open world, and the setting of a bizarre satirical medieval fantasy world, it's a real treat to experience.
You play as someone simply known as Guy, a lazy farmhand and wannabe criminal that spends all day drinking and sleeping. Despite this, Guy will take on various "quests" for criminal enterprises, having him steal horses, murder knights, and occasionally plow a field or two. The writing is rather hilarious, and I quickly came to appreciate how silly the whole setting can be.
To match the "Grand Theft Auto meets medieval village" setting, Rustler is also home to the only soundtrack I can describe as hip-hop medieval. It's an extremely strange mix, but one that works far better than it has any right to. There's something about rapping bards strumming their lutes, and beats being played over Gregorian chanting, that really makes for a better combination than it ever reasonably should.
When it comes to gameplay, Rustler is a top-down action game where you can explore an open world and create havoc as you want. There's a simple fighting system for melee combat, where you need to attack and block while making sure your stamina doesn't run too low. I also found a crossbow that was powerful but could only shoot once before I was trapped in a lengthy reload. With these tools, I assassinated knights and avoided the police all in a manner that made me confident Rustler achieved its goal of being close enough to the big games so you have a solid starting point, while still carving out its own unique flavor.
Also, I drew a dick in a field using a plow. Probably illegal. Certainly funny.
Rustler does not currently have a release date.
This is the Zodiac Speaking
I recently saw the movie Zodiac for the first time. The one with Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. before they became Avengers. So when I saw This is the Zodiac Speaking, I thought about that movie and how cool it would be to play out. Sure enough, the game manages to fulfill the dreams of being a journalist that reporting on video games can never quite capture.
You play as Robert Hartnell, a journalist who is going to meet with the Zodiac Killer. The game's prologue sees Robert knocked out by the killer before it goes back through the events leading up to this moment. This is the Zodiac Speaking claims its made using the real facts of the case, and that's something I can believe. There's always newspaper articles and documents backing up the situations you find yourself in.
Robert needs to find clues and items to interact with the environment, not too much unlike an adventure game. Of course, there's a catch: many of the levels take place in Robert's dreams, and the Zodiac stalks those. The game tells you how much sound you're making and if you're in a lit environment or not, and you have to monitor those two stats to keep away from the killer. Get caught, and you'll be killed. Obviously, you want to avoid that.
Thankfully, if you're not a fan of stealth games, This is the Zodiac Speaking offers up a "story mode" that removes the killer so you can just explore and participate in the adventure game elements. As someone who is almost exceptionally bad at stealth horror, I really came to appreciate this. In fact, I really came to appreciate a lot of This is the Zodiac Speaking and how well made the game is. Certainly one killer worth keeping an eye on.
This is the Zodiac Speaking is set to launch on Sept. 24, 2020 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Legends of Ethernal
Every hero's adventure has to start somewhere. Legends of Ethernal puts you in a fantasy world and sees a young boy with a fishing pole fight monsters while becoming a hero. The 2D action game certainly has enough going on to be worth spending some time on. So I chose to spend some time on it.
Like every good hero, you start the game by having your parents removed from the picture. After all, you can't save the world if you have to do chores, or if your mom tells you to go to bed or something. With the parents missing, the quest becomes to try and save them. Thankfully, you grab some of their tools, the trusty fishing rod that you use to bash monsters' heads in (you'd think a sword would work better?), and you get started on your quest.
Combat is pretty simple, with a single button to attack and another to dodge. You'll use these two skills to fight tree men, bats, acid-spitting snails, and all sorts of other stuff. While simple, I had a pretty good time engaging with these enemies. Fights became fast and frantic, and I had to be careful not to get caught in their attacks, as they often hit hard and fast.
However, what makes Legends of Ethernal stand out is the ether system. As you battle you can collect little rocks known as ethers. You then can use these rocks to craft items to help you out on the fly. At first, this just meant potions to heal, but later I could also throw bombs that would cause enemies to stick in place or unleash a flurry of attacks that end with damaging anyone near me. Exploring the environment became important, as that meant finding pouches to let me hold more ether so I could keep a steady supply of bombs and potions coming.
All of this was enough that, by the end of the demo, I was properly charmed by Legends of Ethernal. I can see myself sinking back into my chair and treating it like a nice little treat, nothing too demanding that I need to put all my effort into it, but something that still keeps my attention and is well worth playing. It's a game I'm certainly going to check out at launch.
Legends of Ethernal is set to launch on Aug. 8, 2020 for PC.
If you add rhythm game elements to something, there's a good chance I will care about it a lot more than I already did. What can I say, I love timed button presses. They're my jam, no pun intended (pun 100% intended). So Rhythm Fighter caught my attention by adding it to side-scrolling beat 'em ups/roguelite games. Now that's a combination I can easily get into.
Taking place on a world being invaded by evil vegetables, Rhythm Fighter puts you in the role of one of a chosen few fighters saved by the mysterious Mr. Disco. After this, he helps you get revenge against the vegetables that almost killed you the first time. Always need to watch out for those veggies, after all.
At all times the rhythm is playing, and you can see beats moving across the bottom of the screen. You need to time everything, from movement to attacks, with the beat. So you can't just wail on enemies, or you'll see little more than your character tripping a lot. It's a bit tough to get used to at first, though I imagine fans of Crypt of the Necrodancer won't find it a difficult adjustment. Once you do manage, there's a lot of nice things here.
I came to appreciate how Rhythm Fighter seems to have a bunch of fun items to play with. Before long I found beer bottles to stun enemies, ninja shoes that let me dash through them and deal damage, chairs to smack them into the air, bombs to throw, and more. By exploring stages I could find passive buffs and money to spend. It's nothing too different from your typical roguelite, but all of it manages to work together into a cohesive whole that I really came to enjoy.
Really, every part of Rhythm Fighter feels like it's just different enough to be unique, but just familiar enough that I could figure it out without lengthy tutorials. I really enjoyed the short time I spent with it, and I'm excited to give the full game a shot. Mostly because I want to play as the dog with the eye patch. That's my kind of dog.
Rhythm Fighter is set to launch sometime in 2020.
When is the last time you want to go see an actual play? For me, the last one I remember was Monty Python's Spamalot. There's really something great about going to an actual theater and seeing a show. Ars Fabulae tries to capture that experience in a way, telling the story of a theater owner that playwright after he passed away. It manages to do so in some real excellent style.
Ars Fabulae puts you in the role of a woman who's going back to an old theater to relive a part of her past. For the most part, this plays like a first-person narrative game. You'll explore the environment, read notes, and generally appreciate how lovely the game is. However, the real fun starts when you find one of the masks that is used to represent the plays put on at the theater. At this point, the game radically shifts in genre and art style, providing a whole new experience.
I got to try two of these plays in the demo. The first, Solitude, turned Ars Fabulae into a third-person puzzle game where I had to manipulate light and shadows to advance. Moving around lanterns and props let me cause audience members and stairs to appear in the environment, so I could advance further. At the same time, the game took on an interesting watercolor art style, something a longshot from the more realistic looking narrative gameplay
The other play was Symmetry, and this time around I got to control a robot that could punch things. Using my awesome punching skills I could move objects around. Several times I had to team up with another robot, and that led to me having to figure out how to move both of them at the same time, despite the two being in different environments. It's a pretty fun combination of skills.
I think Ars Fabulae is probably one of my favorite games coming out of Digital Dragons. It certainly seemed to have all the ingredients needed to be an indie darling, and I know I'll be checking back in once it's out. This is a play probably worth seeing twice. With snacks. Both times.
Ars Fabulae is set to launch sometime in 2020.
Liberated, Ghostrunner, Eldest Souls, and Röki
OK, I know it's weird to just sort of barrage you with these four games, but there's a reason. I didn't play any of these demos at Digital Dragons, I played them elsewhere, but they're all games that I think deserve a look for various reasons.
If you're in the mood for some 2.5d shooting? You're going to want Liberated, a comic book shooter that I gave a try during the Steam Game Festival. It contained all the style and substance to really stand out. I gave Ghostrunner a shot at PAX South, and found the fast-paced first-person action game blew me away. It combines all those elements into an almost perfect blend. My fellow writer Andrew wrote about it, but I basically agree with him that it's fantastic.
I got to try Eldest Souls at E3 2019, and even gave it one of our Best of E3 awards. The game combines Furi and Dark Souls into an awesome beast. The game only has boss fights, and you'll move between zones to take them on. The boss I got to fight was a wolf-like knight named the Watchdog, which proved to be a fantastic blend of being hard enough to challenge while still feeling like I could, and eventually did, beat it. I really enjoyed my time with the game.
I also tried Röki at E3 2019. It's an adventure game that digs into Scandinavian folklore. Specifically, it digs into the weirder stuff outside of the usual gods. The game features puzzles, and in my demo I got to help a troll out by figuring out how to get a sword pulled out of its body. That may sound gory, but Röki isn't violent and the whole scene was played closer to the fable of the mouse helping the lion with a thorn in its paw than anything else.
What I'm saying is, these four games are totally interesting and are also well worth keeping an eye on, even if I technically didn't play them here.
Liberated and Ghostrunner is set to launch on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in 2020. Eldest Souls and Röki are set to release on PC and Nintendo Switch in 2020.
With so many golden games in a single celebration, it seems like Digital Dragons is a roaring success, and I eagerly await any future showings it'll have.
Roaring success. Get it? Because of dragons.