The Best Indie Games at PLAY Expo Manchester 2017
Another edition of PLAY Expo has come and gone, and I had an absolute blast. This was my first PLAY Expo event but it certainly will not be my last; I met a personal hero in Graeme Norgate, who kindly signed my TimeSplitters 2 instruction book along with Lead Artist and Free Radical Design co-founder Karl Hilton, I found my favourite pinball table, Guns N’ Roses, and managed to have several attempts before returning later only to see a big ‘Out of Order’ sign slapped on it (it wasn’t me I swear), and I became fully engrossed in the indie zone playing a whole load of fantastic games, before meeting plenty of passionate developers – all whilst spending far too much money at the various stalls at the convention.
I gave lots of games a try, regardless of whether they were bound for the Xbox or not, and it is great to see the Indie scene going from strength to strength. There were games that weren’t anticipating release until the end of next year, alongside games released the day before the show, but each one I played meant another game title needed to be added to my release calendar.
The list below contains my favourites that are Xbox bound, but these are just a small offering of what was there. Please therefore think of this, not as a definitive list from the event, but rather an Xbox-definitive list.
The Otterman Empire
I love puns so already this game was on to a winner in my eyes. Set in “Otter-Space” the game is a third-person shooter where players control otters that have water packs strapped to their backs. These water packs contain their ammunition but also can be used to jump up and hover using the water as thrusters.
This presents an interesting dilemma though: The only way to ‘reload’ so to speak, is to find the rivers and streams present through each multiplayer map. But obviously everyone has the same dilemma and these streams then become instant choke points, and players will likely battle for control of them to prevent other teams from being able to stock up their backpacks. It was a hugely interesting design mechanic and one that will throw online and local multiplayer veterans off their game as they figure out their best attack and defence tactics.
The Otterman Empire is designed by the team at Tri-Heart Interactive and offers fans of the game the chance to have their voice heard, offering monthly meet-ups in Manchester so the players can offer feedback and tips directly. This community driven development has the potential to produce a unique online shooter. With puns a-plenty.
Akuto: Mad World
Akuto: Mad World is an isometric arena brawler, planning for an Xbox release some time in the second half of 2018.
Players each control a nameless character, who wields a sword and a gun. The gun only contains three bullets and cannot be reloaded. The sword can be also used at range – by flinging it at your enemies. It will need to be recovered afterwards though.
Everything is a one-hit kill so the action is fast-paced. As you get hit, your character collapses into hundreds of cubes in a very stylised motion.
Players aren’t the only obstacle though as each location has a number of environmental obstacles to avoid, whether they are spikes popping up from the ground or traffic on a road. This is the type of game where you need eyes in the back of your head.
Razed is a 3D platformer/speedrunner hybrid where each level doesn’t take long to complete, but will require lots of retries before completing.
Razed also gives you hardly any time to think and plan ahead. At the start of the game you are giving a pair of shoes that also have explosives packed in them. If at any point in the level you stop or slow down, then they explode and you must start again. Think of the bus in Speed and you are just about there. It does mean though that you have little room for error.
Different abilities are available to unlock depending on your progression and most levels feature multiple routes. The more difficult routes have upgrade tokens to upgrade the abilities.
With each level timed and then graded, this will certainly be a game to keep coming back to as you try to get the best times with a fully upgraded sprinter when Razed launches around February time.
Raging Justice is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up that feels like it has come straight from the ‘90s. And it had the coolest merch of the weekend too – beer mats with the games’ logo and main characters on it.
Raging Justice is in the same vein as Streets of Rage and Final Fight, and as a fan of both of those the feel of this game came very naturally to me. It has successfully kept the same design and feel of the games that inspired it, right down to the movement of the playable characters.
But Raging Justice also has a couple of unique features to separate it from what came before. You play as one of two characters, who are both cops. Depending on your actions, you can be a good cop, or a bad cop. Bad cop comes about if you decide to use any of the multitude of weapons on your enemies, but you can redeem yourself and be a good cop by arresting certain people (each enemy has a unique name gifted by the community). You can see which path you character is going down, because your face changes as you head further done the good/bad path.
Plus, you can elbow drop the baddies. That should be more than enough for many to gather interest.
Nippon Marathon – Game of the Show
As soon as I walked past this game something just clicked.
Top-down racer akin to Micro Machines? Check
Japanese aesthetic? Double check
Bat-shit crazy? Triple check
Nippon Marathon is best described as Micro Machines (or its running spin-off, Micro Maniacs) with ragdoll physics getting in the way whenever you fall over. And with the number of obstacles in each race, you will fall over a lot.
In the level featured at Play Expo there were bicycles, fish, dogs, barrels, log piles, fences and pedestrians all to avoid. And they were just the ones I remember. But whatever tripped you up, it was always hilarious to both play and watch as the ragdoll physics took over.
Pickups are also available in the shape of food. Any pickup can be used as its primary objective to help you or hinder your fellow racers, but by holding down the relevant shoulder button (you can carry one pickup in each hand) you will eat the pickup and get a decent speed boost. Apart from the mushroom – never eat the mushroom.
Sometimes the game would offer up a minigame mid-race, just to make things even more crazy too. There were slot machine-type mini games, but also one where the four players would try to make coherent sentences from available bits of sentences on the screen. As all players were trying to do the same, the sentences never made sense, but they certainly brought the biggest laughs.
I had to vote Nippon Marathon as my game of the show because it just clicked with me. The bright visuals and the insane gameplay kept me returning to Onion Soup Interactives’ stand, quite often just to watch other people enjoy the game. There was always laughter coming from the stand, from both those playing and watching, and it was simply a joy to be around.
The highest praise I can give Nippon Marathon however is that even though I regularly finished last in the races, I didn’t mind one bit because I was having that much fun.
A game we have already covered in a best of list as it was also playable at EGX a few weeks back, but it is definitely worth another mention. The previous mention goes into the history of the game, but as someone going into it without knowing anything about the C64 history, Hyper Sentinel still felt new and exciting.
Hyper Sentinel will feature three different modes upon its release: Story/Campaign mode where you try and beat the levels sequentially, Survival mode which will unleash wave after wave, leaving you to hold out for as long as you can, and Guardian/Boss mode which allows you to replay the end-level bosses again.
What’s interesting though is how the multitude of power ups then work. The main mode allows one at a time and is very much the standard way of playing, but Survival mode allows them to be stacked, meaning you could have three or more on your ship at any one time. Replaying the bosses though goes the opposite direction and doesn’t allow any, giving you a true test of your skills.
If you were a fan of Uridium on the C64, then this game sounds like a challenge that you will want to partake in. You won’t t have to wait all that long either; Hyper Sentinel will be releasing in January 2018 with some as yet unannounced special features just for the Xbox.
Another side-scroller but this one is based on the Roman invasion of northern Britannia and has an amazing animated style to it that extends into cuteness to create an extremely well-polished game. This results in one of the best looking Indie games out there. But the gameplay is just as solid.
Wulverblade features three different playable characters that are the archetypal fighters and can be played with local teammates across eight gorgeous locations. But you can also take the fight to your friends in arenas if that’s your bag instead.
Similar to another side-scroller, Golden Axe, this is more of a hack-and-slash affair rather than a brawler. But it’s recommended you bring your friends along with you, as the game can be a bit tricky without a full team of three. Save the battle arenas until you’ve helped each other conquer the main game.
The developers at Fully Interactive have promised 60FPS on Xbox and a ton of hidden extras, including secret areas based on the teams’ favourite games from the past. And a launch date is just around the corner.
There were plenty other Indie games available to play including Tempest 4000, a sequel to the classic Atari game, OAOA (Off and On Again) a puzzle-platformer with some ingenious multiplayer deathmatches, Space Toads, a Galaga-esque space shooter, plus lots of other VR, mobile and PC games away from the Xbox scene.
The games in the list were among my favourites, so expect to see much more of all the games mentioned soon. Hopefully there is something that takes your fancy on this list. Don’t forget, Replay Events host many other Play Expos’, not just the one in Manchester, so be sure to check their website and see where they are heading next so you too can check these wonderful games out.