E3 is an all-consuming beast, and Coverage Club is no exception. While covering the show of shows, we were unable to produce our weekly installment, but we're not backing down. In fact, we're doubling down with two weeks of extended coverage highlighting some of the hidden gems showcased at the annual E3 Media Indie Exchange. The Mix is always a great event for attendees and developers alike, bringing the independent spirit to a traditionally corporate event. To make up for lost time, each article for the next two weeks will cover three games, so it'll be like we were never gone. So, without further ado, let's preview some of the indie games you'll be playing in the year to come!
The King's Bird
Covered by Alex Santa Maria
Before Sega got it right with Sonic Mania, there were a lot of games trying to capture the magic of Genesis-era Sonic The Hedgehog. Whether that meant character designs or gameplay, fans of speed-focused platformers were satiated. As a fan of the franchise, I played them all, but none of them really got all the way there. There's just a certain zone you get into while playing these games, a feeling shared by titles like Super Meat Boy and Runner3. After playing through a brief demo, I think it's safe to add The King's Bird to that list.
Developed by the folks over at Serenity Forge, King's Bird is a splatformer that focuses on flying, verticality, and momentum. Each level looks impossible at first glance, but that's only because you're thinking about it. As you dash forward and test your glide, you instantly get a feel for the controls and start jumping huge gaps with ease. You can glide for a brief window, but your powers recharge instantly if you touch (or even graze) solid ground. So, avoid the pits of ill-defined goop, plan out your movements, and the level can play out as a single swift movement that feels amazing to execute.
The graphical style of the game contributes to this feeling as well. Serving as Limbo's rainbow doppelganger, your character is always in shadow and contrasts with the deeply hued environments. The only color on your character is a white scarf that flutters in the breeze and marks the trail you've traveled. It subtly adds to the sense of speed and rewards excellent play with visual flair. The music is also sneakily brilliant, with shifts in tone that compliment what you're doing. Even with its laser focus on gameplay, this is a beautiful experience that will please the artsy crowd.
King's Bird feels like a game that will ramp up slowly and bring players along for the ride. I saw others stumble in their first few attempts, but I never saw frustration overtake a player. My experience was pretty straightforward, but I am eager to see more difficult interpretations of these mechanics. I'm even more eager to see the game appear on a future AGDQ stream. While learning from the masters, this gameplay feels wholly unique and a great addition to 2018's indie lineup.
Covered by Samuel Guglielmo
Remember when Kung Fu Panda came out and it was hilarious because it had animals doing kung fu? Well, have I got the video game for you. At The Mix, I saw Hamsterdam, an upcoming fighting game that has a little hamster performing kung-fu against rats.
The basic idea behind the game is rather simple. You’re on the right side of the screen and every time you tap your character he’ll punch the dude in front of him. Of course, you can’t just furiously tap your character and expect everyone in front of you to die. If you really want to deal damage then you need to tap along with a “beat”. This isn’t really a music game, but your character does glow after a hit. By tapping at these moments and getting into a rhythm you can deal more damage.
Of course, you can’t just wail on enemies all day and expect to win. Enemies will fight back. When an enemy is about to attack they flash red, and if you swipe across them quickly enough then you can counter attack them. This makes the game a fun combination of getting into an attacking rhythm while trying to pay attention to enemies and counter-attack as necessary.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ywDYwOh4sU
What really sells all this, however, is the animations. Each attack and counter is lovingly animated, with each character erupting into complicated kung-fu attacks. It’s great watching my little hamster fly around an enemy and use their tail to pull them to the ground, or jump over their head and then slam back into them. The best animations come when you perform enough attacks and counters and fill up the K.O. button, which you can drag over an enemy of your choice to knock them out instantly.
Near the end of my play time, I also got to check out a boss fight. Here the perspective changed, with me looking at the boss head-on instead of from the side like the rest of the game. I could swipe right or left to move, letting me dodge the boss’ attacks and eventually catch the hamsters he threw so I could toss them back and damage him. It’s a fun change of pace that made me excited to see how future bosses would change the game.
I know I really shouldn’t dismiss mobile games out of hand, and Hamsterdam did a good job reminding me why. This rhythm fighting game is a surprising amount of fun, and I loved the time I spent with it. I’m very excited to see its full release. It may remind me to pick up my phone for games once in a while.
Hamsterdam was sampled at E3 2018 during The Mix. The game is due out sometime in 2018 for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation Vita, iOS, and Android devices.
Treachery in Beatdown City
Covered by Alex Santa Maria
As I've mentioned in several places across the Internet before, the traditional beat 'em up formula is stale. It can provide hours of fun for those in the right mindset, but it currently lacks the innovation seen in many other genres. This isn't for lack of trying, but it's just hard to crack the code for a set of mechanics that were originally designed to suck quarters from your wallet. When I heard that a developer was demoing a turn-based brawler at E3, I knew I had to set some time aside and figure out exactly what that meant. I'm glad I did.
Treachery in Beatdown City doesn't mess with the setup too much. As the name implies, you'll be guiding one of three characters throughout the titular city and beating down thugs. Your ultimate end goal? Being a bad enough dude to rescue the president from ninjas, cyborgs and various other punks. What else would it be?
As stated previously, what makes Beatdown City unique is its combat system. You traverse a world map and run into enemies a-la Mario 3. Once you zoom in for fisticuffs, you can navigate a small arena and throw weak single punches. Every other move is done via a menu system, which can be called up at any time. This is where you'll be unleashing suplexes, throwing wooden boards, and stringing together combos. You have a certain number of action points that recharge over time, meaning you can do a single finishing blow or a string of short punches.
Honestly, the mechanics were a little much to take in during my short play session, which is impressive enough for a genre known for simplicity. Not only are you pausing the action to queue up moves, but your AI opponents are as well. Each fight feels a bit like an arms race to see who's first to let their fists fly. If you spend some time here, you'll be able to find combos that work for you and get into the flow. In addition, each character controls completely differently, giving the game some serious replay value.
As someone who never conquered Chrono Trigger or its ilk, I'm not completely sold on this next step forward for brawlers. Still, it's admirable to see anyone break new ground in the genre and Beatdown City owns its unique gameplay quirks. It was fun to experiment with what each situation and fights moved at a good pace despite their turn-based nature. It was also fun to recognize all the pro wrestling references the developers have stuffed in. After hearing that a Brock Lesnar facsimile could should up as a boss, I feel like I owe the game a few more hours at least.
Treachery in Beatdown City was sampled during E3 2018 at The Mix. It will release in September 2018 on PC and Nintendo Switch
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.