Boston is a pretty sweet city. It has weapons-grade weed, strong beer and PAX East, a giant exhibition center crammed with video games.
All of this was very much on-brand for VG247, so we spent five days soaking it all up, rampaging around the streets, sweating out gin as we lined up to play our fourth retro-styled metroidvania of the day.
We sat in the Borderlands presentation in front of an actual real-life human who screeched "what about PC? It's unacceptable! 60 FPS!" from his Doritos speckled-lips. I didn't think people existed like that in real-life but apparently they do.
We hosted a panel about how to write an RPG, which some critics called "alright". We trounced US Gamer at Dreamcast classics Crazy Taxi and SoulCalibur in front of a heaving audience of 11 lovely nerds. We ate breakfast with Remedy (eggwhite omelette with mushrooms, thanks) and played mind-bending hopeful Control. We laughed like twats at Obsidian's The Outer Worlds panel.
And we also played and saw a bunch of games that gave us hope in a year where triple-A releases are on their arse. According to VG247's handsome boys Matt Martin and Kirk McKeand, these are they.
What could be more indie than a metroidvania about a cat in a mech suit, played in a retro chunky black and white art style? Not much, unless that cat had a moustache and smoked a pipe.
This is Gato Roboto, a fast little shooter/puzzler where you must rescue your ship's captain by blasting frogs with rockets, back-tracking around awkward platforms and occasionally hopping out of your suit to slink up walls and through tight confines where a fat robot just can't reach. Weapon upgrades? Gato Roboto has 'em, as well as secrets, respawning enemies and the kind of slick, easy-to-play vibe that comes from frequentative game design. Yeah, I used frequentivite in a sentence. Clearly, I've been hanging with the indie crowd for too long. MM
Close to the Sun
BioShock, is that you? Close to the Sun feels like a direct homage to Irrational's classic, but its indie origins lend it a different vibe.
Where BioShock had you shooting your way through the story, Close to the Sun takes its cues from SOMA and its ilk, making you vulnerable and asking you to run and hide. The focus here is on exploration, puzzle solving, and soaking up the incredible atmosphere. Set in the late 1980s, you play as a journalist exploring the Helios, a huge, roaming vessel owned by Nikola Tesla. It's soon apparent that something went wrong in these art-deco halls, and it's up to you to find what that something is. One of the things that stands out most for Close to the Sun is how bloody good it looks - every inch of the world is painstakingly detailed and it has the same aesthetic pull as Rapture. KM
The myth of indie games is that they're the last bastion of creativity in a world of derivative, greedy Triple A franchises. The reality is that the indie scene is just as swamped with eye-rolling pixel art, chiptunes, and 90s-influenced side scrollers as the Megadrive was back in the 16-bit days. But being an old fart myself, I'm all for it. So it's just as well that I sat down to play Kunai, a side-scrolling beat 'em up, and yes, part metroidvania, in which you play a robot hero on a quest for… something that involves lots of fighting.
Movement is central to Kunai, so your use of the two grappling ropes (the Kunai of the title, for those of you who are untrained ninja) to help you climb and swing past danger and into the face of enemies, before offing them with a swift chop of the blade. Double pistols spit death, but can also be used to levitate our hero across gaps, and combined with a downward stab on an enemies' head soon set this game apart as a bouncing, fluid killathon - so much more than the usual slog around seemingly endless levels. It looks pretty too, with a subdued colour palette enhancing the less-is-more art style. Also, the hero's head looks like a giant Apple Macintosh II in cape, and that's just cool. Sometimes that's all it takes. MM
The speedy hyperviolence of Hotline Miami mixed with the clean animation style of Samurai Jack? That's Bloodroots.
In motion, Bloodroots is like a deadly dance. You speed through its levels inflicting pain on anyone who crosses your path, only moving on to the next area when everyone stops moving. If you hesitate for a second, you die. Then you instantly try again. Everything in the environment is a weapon, allowing you to creatively carve the fastest path through each area. You can ride on barrels, spin ladders over your head like a helicopter blade, cut people down with a cutlass, and bludgeon enemies with a carrot. By the time your dance is done, all that's left are smears where people used to be. KM
My Friend Pedro
My Friend Pedro is a game in which a talking banana convinces you to murder people.
It's a side-on shooter where you flip and roll through its levels, occasionally twisting between sprays of bullets and triggering bullet-time before peppering loads of gangbangers as stylishly as you can. You shoot dudes while hanging from zipwires, you shoot dudes while riding a skateboard, you flip tables and shoot dudes, you cross your arms over and shoot dudes either side of you. It's relentless, fun, and it's going to have the speedrunning community in a stupor. It's like Trials with guns, which is as brilliant as it sounds. KM
Streets of Rage 4
When I was a teenager I was fairly realistic in my life goals, but one impossible thing I secretly hoped for was a mad-passionate relationship with Blaze Fielding, in which she would kick me around the bedroom.
But now I'm much older, my libido no longer like a dog with two dicks, I understand the value of Blaze as a feminist icon, able to front all four Streets of Rage games in a world where gamers shit a brick if there's not a white muscle boy on the cover of their army games. Thank fuck she's back, then, because the time is right for crying pissbabies to get smacked upside the head once again. Don't like the art style? I wish someone would hug you. Women in games not realistic? It must be lonely, feeling overlooked. Someone spoiling your childhood? I'm real sorry about whatever happened to you.
All of which is a preamble to me saying, hey, Streets of Rage 4 still looks mint. That's it. MM
The next game from Alan Wake developer Remedy, Control was one of the biggest games on the PAX East showfloor. It was also one of the most impressive.
PAX East was the first place in the world where the game was playable and it didn't disappoint. The short demo showed off the game's more open areas, allowing us to explore the lobbies and halls of The Oldest House, a dimensionally impossible skyscraper where people are being mind-controlled by some alien entity. It's a third-person shooter with focus on telekinetic powers, allowing you to float, shoot, and fling inanimate objects at enemies. The level of destruction is one of the game's most impressive aspects, letting you blow apart rooms with waves of energy, sending hundreds of props flying with every action. Though we didn't get much of a taste of the story, you can read our full Control preview here. KM