Right now, thousands of Japanese gamers prepare for their descent onto the show floor of the Tokyo Game Show. Lights, madness, and the sound of a thousand flashing cameras will echo the halls later this week. Afraid that indie games are becoming swallowed in the sea of bodies and lights, TGS set aside some of the greatest games that they could find for an evening that allows you to get your hands on the games while not losing your place in the Skyrim line. Sense of Wonder Night also lets some great games to get into the hands of fans without having to fight the crowds.
Typically, this part of the column would be set aside to regurgitate the games in attendance in a long list with a short description beside them. Now we’re doing things differently. The time for coddling is over. Now we must throw on our big puffy pants of thinking and look at the bigger picture – the festival itself.
Out of thousands of amazing applications, only a handful makes it to the show. From the limited group, we can gain insight in to the thinking process of the committee and what they think is important in the indie scene. Think of it as a thesis about games where you don’t have to write a single word – only play games. Sense of Wonder Night seems to be looking towards the future by broadening the gamer base through novel controls and international appeal.
I Want To See You Move It, Move It
If Strictly Ballroom has taught me anything, it's that the natural motion of the body translates across the world. The second lesson would be that a slick hairstyle and shiny vest can get you into just about anywhere. Four of the games appearing at the show get you on your feet. Two of them even use the Kinect, a relatively new device in the gaming world. LeedMees, which is actually on Xbox Marketplace right now, lets you use your body to protect the Lemmings-minded Mees as they try to move from one point to another. KuraKuraMaze throws you into a dark maze with only sound to guide you. Face the right direction and tap your iPhone to move forward. Oddly enough, there’s not a single Wii game in sight.
Stop rolling your ocular units for a moment. The feverous refusal to put down your controls to play the game is more than well known. But look at Wonder Night as an international festival with people all over the world coming to get their hands on these games. Imagine having to explain something like Bastion to someone who doesn’t understand the language while Solstice, what I like to think of as a nighttime Flower, takes little effort to get into. In addition, sometimes the easiest way to get a player into your game is by making them a part of your game. Reflow does this beautifully by making you aware of the movement and shape of your body by making you apart of the playing field. That direct connection between you and the game gives developers an easy way to keep the gamer playing. Simply - You are the hero because you see yourself in the game.
A Sense of Wander
It takes more than a couple of quests and a few drops to make a world. Ever since the time of Zelda, exploration created story and not just any story, but one that’s personal to the player. Take for instance Inside A Star Filled Sky, a game where you drop Inception-style into enemies and power-ups to manipulate the level above you. Think of is at tinkering with the code by using the game’s own shooter mechanic. What you do will be different than what I do. Even though we’re after the same goal, how we get there creates the different stories that we tell each other around the coffee machine. Again, putting you in charge of the story adds incentive to the player to finish that story.
Sometimes we don’t explore worlds but solutions. One of the greatest lessons we can pick up from videogames is that through failure, we can learn how to succeed. I’m Going to Be God of the Forest gives you a pen and a problem – move grains from one area to the next. While there might be a dozen or so ways to move everything around, there may only be a couple of ways to do it efficiently. QUBE also lets you explore ways to manipulate the world around you but only a couple of ways will get you through to the next room. Without words or text, exploration allows for players to find their own story within the game.
Leave Me Behind
Just as important as understanding the games representing the festival, let’s take a quick look at some of the games not present. From the titles at the show, we don’t see any major story or character driven stories – no sassy robots or wise narrators. Again, we’re looking at a very international-conscious selection of games that most people from around the globe could pick up and enjoy without understanding the language. There’s not much here in the way of multiplayer titles. Surprisingly enough, we’re not seeing a PC dominance over the festival. Indie games fit all formats from console to handheld. It’s encouraging to see developers taking a risk on these new platforms and new technology.
It’s Like Listening to Mom… But in a Sexy Voice.
What You Should Buy: No Time to Explain
If you haven’t been following my love of a little game with the big idea, then listen up. No Time to Explain throws everything from time travel to Sharktopus into a crazy platformer that keeps you guessing what’s coming next at the end of every level. Imagine all the platforming finesse of Super Meat Boy with all the wacky and irreverent humor of… Super Meat Boy. Pick up the game now and you’ll be able to get the next chapter in this time trippy story for free in December.
What You Should Support: Star Command
Mix Dev Story with Star Trek and what do you get? Crack. Or, something like that in the form of Star Command. From designing the ship to picking out your crew, the team over at War Balloon Games seems to have put two tastes into one handheld game. Just watch the trailer. It’s clear that these guys have the right sense of humor and geek flair to make a rather brilliant game. Just take my money now, boys!
You Should Be Playing: The Last Stand – Union City
Stats, quests, a leveling system, and even exploration; you could find these things in just about any good zombie game. The Last Stand just happens to be a good, free flash game. No money to spend. No downloading needed. Hop online and get your hands dirty with a little zombie killing action. Keep it casual or go for hardcore mode which requires you to eat, sleep, and take only headshots. The occupation you pick determines the way you play. Load up on guns or try to get by brains alone. Mmmm…. brains.