As far as award shows go, I’m not a fan, but The Game Awards are, admittedly, fun to watch; I don’t really care about the actual awards, but Geoff Keighley has managed to always put together a surprising and entertaining show with reveals and premieres. He’s also doing some great work “digitalizing” industry events with demos and hands-on gameplay afforded to anyone interested and I was once again interested. There were a few interesting games I tried (seven to be accurate) and here are my thoughts on them; also, this is going up after the event has ended so you may not be able to find the demos in question.
Having seen the trailer for this game before, I was very excited to see it as part of the event and…I’m cautiously keeping my eye out for it. Its very beautiful indeed, with a voxel art style, popping colors and lighting effects, and a very clear inspiration from shows like Stranger Things, it certainly looks great. However, the demo isn’t long enough to convince me on all other aspects; for example, the combat basics are well established like it being turn-based with a party and choosing between attacks or defending or buffing party members or inventory, etc. That being said, there isn’t enough to challenge or showcase something more unique about the combat mechanics. However, the world is given enough spotlight where I am interested in it; it seems like there is a hub with puzzle-oriented tasks like fetch quests where the items are guarded or hidden, which unlock other areas. My biggest concern though is the writing; its very goofy, but in a way that feels forced and inconsistent. I hope with time that would not be the case or some crucial backstory/context was cut from the demo, but as it was shown, that worries me a lot, because without good writing in a game like this, the world/characters could get stale fast or, even worse, annoying.
Cyberpunk is one of those settings that I will (probably) never get tired off; ANNO seems to be another great example of why. Visually, it portrays a fairly standard, cyberpunk world with fantastic use of 2D & 3D pixel art (3D is pixelated) and great lighting; what it lacked in creativity (at least for the short demo I played) it makes up with great execution. Moreover, this is an action-adventure with elements of RPG (which were not present in the demo), with the action feeling fairly good even on keyboard controls; there’s melee and ranged combat with combos, finishers, blocking, and it all feels really good to pull off and satisfying in the moment. I want to see more from it and I hope the RPG side is as well pulled off, but I want to mention the writing as it felt a bit weird; there isn’t enough time given to have a quality-wise assessment, but it feels a bit weird in spots and like it was a 2nd draft (not quite final, but not first write up either). Furthermore, while I don’t mind the absence of VO from games, I do wish they had worked on the mixing of the music to feel more of the void the lack of VO leaves. Regardless, the demo is obviously not final and the team will work on the more obvious parts of the experience, but I’m glad I checked this one out.
This was a really interesting demo that hints at a game with much potential and high ambitions. The idea of mixing Playdead styled non-verbal and brutal narrative and animation with original Prince of Persia platforming and puzzles, is nothing shy of ambitious and tempting, but this is really early and some bugs where present where I can’t really tell if they have the ability to pull it off. It made me shrivel with a few animations and audibly go “Jesus Christ!” at a few moments, but there wasn’t a clear sense of direction for the puzzles and it frustrated me more than I enjoyed it. When it clicked though and I stumbled on what I needed to do and thought back on it, I’m still really looking forward to it and hopeful the team will figure out the right balance for the game; I’m interested, but cautiously optimistic for the end result.
A Juggler’s tale:
If you haven’t noticed so far, I really like indie, puzzle, platformers; so, here’s another demo of one! This game actually represents a stylistic and gameplay trend I’ve seen in games for this year (and the next I guess); it’s a presentation technique like projections or (in this case) string puppets that is both the game’s unique visual style and gameplay feature that sets it apart. So, Juggler’s tale is about a string puppet, but she can’t go under physical objects because of the strings and if she misses a jump or needs to retry something, the puppeteer just jerks her back to the previous position. Its as neat as it sounds and it looks very cool as well, so I’m really looking forward to it. In terms of critiques, I hope the team fixes some mixing issues with their sound and the voice over is given a polish before release, but other than that, if the variety of puzzles, visuals, and the quality of the story is as presented on the demo, then this will be a good game indeed.
Few publishers are as vocal and brash as Devolver is and sometimes, in their loudness, you can forget that they publish very good games; Olija seems to be the latest one. It’s a side-scrolling action game with deliberate but fast combat, a weird story, setting, and concept, and as always with Devolver, I’m in love with it. This is a game about a captain without a ship, ending up in some caverns (for some reason), finding a harpoon that allows him to do weird shit, and killing a bunch of people and old gods (or at least that’s what the boss included in the demo reminded me of). It’s got great ideas (like a harpoon that latches on to stuff and can fling you towards them), it’s got very satisfying combat with some weighty decisions to make in seconds and feel badass while doing that. My only concern is that it does the pixel art that I’ve seen a billion times before, but without any shiny new effects to distract me from that, so I wish it looked more interesting, but if that is the price I have to pay to play this well-designed and implemented game on the Switch, then I’m happy to pay it.
Another indie puzzle game about dark fairy tales and dealing with loss, which is exactly my kind of game! So far, I love the atmosphere, the music is minimal but very effective, the art style is surprisingly good (especially considering this is a one-man job) and there seems to be a real understanding of how to make these games have a punch, emotionally. It is a bit buggy and the controls are unrefined (especially the boat feels unresponsive), but that is some polish that I would expect to see in the final product; however, the puzzles need some work. I’m worried this might turn out to be puzzles that require too much backtracking and somewhat obscure solutions. This can be solved with a higher speed for the character or with a fast-travel system or however the dev wants to, but given the teaser, I do hope the puzzles manage to nail that balance of being challenging enough to test the player, but not stop them on their tracks. Overall, though, I had never heard of this game before and I’m looking forward to its release now, so it won me over, and considering how much it nails what I love about these games (atmosphere and sweet melancholic feelings), I’m excited to play the final product. I do hope the puzzle design lives up to its expectations though.
Little Nightmares 2:
With the first one being such a success, I guess it was only a matter of time for a sequel; I’m not being salty by the way, I’m very excited for the sequel and if anything, this demo made me even more excited. The same creepy vibes and grotesque monsters are here, the puzzles and chase sequences are still great, and the game’s as gothic and gnarly as it is beautiful and appealing. There’s some great sound design as well and haunting imagery scattered around, with this teaser showcasing the team’s improvement in the “trial and error” format of the first, being much more trial rather than error, and it feels a lot better as well. Obviously, this is a game a lot of people are looking forward to and its nice to see that, so far, it doesn’t deviate too much from what made the original a success, but also feels and seems like a meaningful improvement over its predecessor.