EGX in 2019 is the UK’s biggest games exhibition, comparable in scale to GamesCom in Germany, Tokyo Game Show in Japan or PAX in…well, everywhere. The open plan exhibition space featured several general gaming areas. PlayStation, distinguished with eclectic blue lighting, had a huge presence with many points of interest. Patrons were enjoying a staged area surrounded by chill-out beanbag chairs, several PS VR stations and, of course, playable demos for titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Nioh 2 and Final Fantasy VII Remake. Similarly, the sea of red Nintendo booths attracted many players to playable demos of Luigi’s Mansion 3, Ring Fit Adventure and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening among others. Furthermore, regular competitions on a giant, stadium-worthy display screen kept their presence known throughout the event.
The many other stages scattered around the exhibition meant onlookers were never too far away from a cosplay contest, a Twitch live stream or a video game-themed improv show. The large areas at different ends of the exhibition space (one area dedicated to smaller indie development teams & publishers building interest in new titles, and the other with tables of popular games going from arcade cabinets and Neo Geos all the way to PS3s and Xbox 360s) meant anyone at any time could play something brand new and completely unknown, or an oldie that’s fun and familiar.
EGX provided something for every level of gamer to engage with. And, whether exhibitors were looking to share their game’s progress with the general public, or build interest in their product, or get headhunted by a publisher, it was abundantly clear in speaking to people from different parts of the games industry, from multiple international backgrounds, who have put a varying amount of all or nothing on the line, that everyone just wants to create something fun to play. So here’s the cream of the crop of games from EGX 2019.
Conveying a particular tone and/or a emotion isn’t easy, but some video games have achieved it in a number of ways. The traps concealed in darkness gave Limbo a sense of trepidation, while pressing a dedicated hug button in A Boy and His Blob gave players a heart-warming sense of friendship. Röki [pronounced: Row-key] adeptly achieves both by placing a lone girl Tove [pronounced: Too-vay] in a quiet yet intriguing lore-filled world, filled with many things to poke and prod, and frightful creatures to dispatch. But how they’re dispatched is where Röki finds its emotional maturity.
Röki is the brain-child of former art directors from Guerrilla Games, famous for the Killzone series. The game takes the point and click adventure game, and drags it kicking and screaming into the modern day with full 3D exploration and a nuanced backstory based in Scandinavian folklore. During the demo, I moved the continually wide-eyed Tove around a solemn snowy environment, re-purposing items to solve puzzles in a solitary fashion not too dissimilar from a Metroid game. The demo confronts you with a great troll with a sword stuck in its shoulder. Tove’s dialogue, though initially apprehensive, is quickly filled with a simple desire to help the troll – a naïve charm that I couldn’t help but find endearing. Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou (character artist, animator and founding member of Polygon Treehouse) spoke about creating that sense of concern, yet compassion.
Sometimes the puzzles are, in themselves, monsters. In a lot of games you’ll meet monsters and you’ll try and shoot them and chop their heads off. In our game we really liked the idea of Tove, being a young girl, meeting monsters but being able to look past how they appear, and seeing the humanity underneath. And in helping them solve their problems and what’s troubling with them, she’ll befriend them and they’ll open paths deeper into the Scandinavian world.
With everything that’s going on in the world, we liked the idea of having a game where there was an undercurrent of kindness running through it. Some of the monsters are quite scary, but there will always be a reason for it. It’s your job as the player to uncover the riddles of the world and then work out how to solve them.
The Dark Souls series has unintentionally commandeered the words “souls”, so any video game with the word in the title is immediately compared to From Software’s critically acclaimed, culturally influential and hugely successful line of games. But, does that mean Eldest Souls should automatically be painted with the same brush? Yes. Absolutely. It’s a Souls-like game. But, Fallen Flag Studio have studied those base principles and interpreted them with 2D pixel art visuals, a mix of RPG-esque character building, and a constant onslaught of ferocious monsters, each one bigger and harder to slay than the last. The main campaign of Eldest Souls is a boss rush, where you’ll play as a warrior travelling through an abandoned gothic realm known as the Citadel. They’ll regularly confront a new enemy 5 times their size, who launch attacks that encompass large sections of the screen. And the main weapons in your arsenal is a 2-handed longsword, and rage.
Like the Souls games, your attacks are slow, weighty and deliberate. Normal swings of the hefty blade will take away small chips of health, but holding down the attack button and releasing it will cause the protagonist to dash in a direction and land a much more powerful slash. Following that, for a short time, the protagonist glows with rage energy which raises the damage of normal attacks as well. Survival also requires evasive dashing, of which a stamina meter limits you to three dodges in quick succession. So finding the balance of monitoring enemy attacks, dashing out of range, and building a charge attack ready to strike as soon as the coast becomes clear, is the key to success in Eldest Souls. That is the challenge that will keep you invested. Although Francesco Barsotti, programmer on Eldest Souls and Co-Founder of Fallen Flag Studio, discussed a few more ways he believes players may remain engaged with the game.
A lot of the mechanics are-, you can really better your damage with different tricks. But they’re kind of emergent so you don’t know until you try it out. And we don’t want to tell it straight up like in tutorials, so you kind of get to know them as you play and you’re like, “oh, how can I squeeze in another attack”, “how can I use the talents together with this item”.
For me the best thing is getting to really master the boss fights. Getting the perfect build for one particular boss. Or maybe playing, trying to for example kill the boss without even losing 1 HP or try to kill every boss in the first go. So that kind of stuff we really love because we love speedrunners as well. We really love that time-challenge kind of thing.
Eldest Souls is currently set to release on PC.
Geek culture has been the new norm for several years now. In fact, video games are so mainstream, developers like Milan-based Digital Tales seemingly cannot stay to within one fandom, having to bound into other geek interests to create an obscure niche experience that’ll have every early adopter propping their glasses up the bridge of their nose with a sense of pride. You see, Bookbound Brigade takes a progressive Metroidvania, and rams it full of legendary historical and literary characters. You play as a squad of myths and legends including Robin Hood, King Arthur & Queen Victoria. But. When I say the squad, I mean the whole squad. In this game you control 8 characters at the same time, re-arranging their formation on the fly to solve puzzles, navigate the levels, and tactically position yourself for battle. Stand tall like a totem to reach high places, or line up flat on the ground to creep into small gaps, or bundle together in a box to totally mob enemies. Think, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, but there’s eight of them and one of them is the Monkey King.
Aside from your paperback posse, Bookbound Brigade features over 50 literary characters scattered throughout the lands who must be collected and returned to the central library. Although these are well-known people like the Mad Hatter and Moriarty, each character has an entertaining, more secret funny side that you never quite knew before. The game’s ultra-enthusiastic producer and marketing manager, Alessandra Tomasina, spoke about how they gave the characters their personality and who they hope to appeal to.
…We managed to miraculously bring Dean Wilkinson on board, and he’s actually the writer behind MediaMolecule’s Little Big Planet. And he did a great job in characterising brigade members…for example, Dracula doesn’t drink blood anymore, he drinks tomato juice now. He’s a vegetarian and he’s afraid of anything. He’s even afraid of Dorothy Gale. And Dorothy Gale is all cute and feminine, but all of a sudden she bursts out and she becomes an animal, a blood-thirsty animal. All the characters, even the NPCs have gone completely nuts in the game. Julius Caeser doesn’t want to have anything to do with politics anymore. He wants to be successful in the restaurant business…the dialogues are a nonsense but they are really witty and funny. I think they add a lot of personality to the game.
…You are free to explore optional areas too, which are intended to pose a bigger challenge to hardcore gamers. But we actually wanted to widen the target audience a little bit because we thought that the subject matter of the game, which is literary and historical characters, and the artstyle may attract a more diverse audience including female gamers or mature gamers, kids y’know. So, this is not only a metroidvania game, for metroidvania fans, but it wants to be an action adventure, an action platform game, targeting a wider audience.
Bookbound Brigade is aiming to release before the end of 2019 on PC, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
It’s a platform game that’s not a platform game. And it’s a rhythm action game that’s not a rhythm action game…
Those two sentences from Jonny Merritt, Developer Relations Manager at Green Man Gaming (the publisher), is the most accurate description for the high-octane, kinetic blast that is Skybolt Zack. You control a young man who looks like Mega Man Volnutt gelled his hair up and customised an Attack on Titan scouts uniform. You travel across the screen, punching whomever you choose out of the way with giant rocket-powered fists. However, the three types of enemies you can target directly corresponds with the buttons on your controller. For example, during my demo I was using a PlayStation 4 controller with enemies coloured pink, green and red. Pressing square at the right time sends Zack hurtling towards a pink enemy fist first, the feel of which was very reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog’s homing attack. Triangle was for green, and circle was for red. Colours can be reset and remapped in the options, which is a benefit to those with a degree of colour blindness, and also a benefit to those who weren’t looking to purchase a PlayStation 4 any time soon.
There’s two to three exits on each level, so the top exit will be the hardest, the middle will be the middle ground…and if you keep falling to the bottom, you will end up in the easiest exit. And then that’s how the map unlocks, so there’s lots of replayability ‘cause then you can unlock all the different paths.
My favourite element is how visceral it feels. When you’re really mashing the buttons and everything is zipping around really fast and really crazy, the music starts building…it gets faster, and then it layers…you see the wind flowing and it just builds and builds and builds. Until…you just smash that final gate. There’s something really satisfying about it.
This is a game about reactions. Developer DEVS MUST DIE have placed enemies in such a way that, with quick timing, you can destroy robots guiding Zack higher and higher towards the top end-gate. This leads to a more difficult route on the overworld map, and is how the game gets a built-in ‘choose your own adventure’ and ‘choose your own difficulty’ attributes. Skybolt Zack may sound like it got its name after pulling several pieces of paper out of a “cool sounding words” bag, but the game is tactile, responsive, and attention-grabbing. This is one to chase down.
And at the minute we have a demo on Steam and that demo is counting up all the points that everyone gets on through the levels, all the scores. And those scores are being tallied. And there’s different milestones being hit. Basically, it unlocks discounts for day one launch of the title…so get in now. Get on the demo on Steam and get those scores up.
From Chinese developer Pixpil, Eastward is an action adventure game with bright 2D pixel art and character animation rammed absolutely full of charm and artistic talent. The demo that was shown at EGX, I was told, was built exclusively for the exhibition; constructed to show a nice vertical slice of character interaction, puzzle solving and combat. It’s the character design and animation however, that deserves the high praise, with enemies and NPCs ambling around and emoting like an unrestrained playable Disney cartoon. I asked programmer on the game, Tommo Zhou, about the game’s influences and animation, to which he said:
Mainly the Zelda series, and the Mother* series and some of the old Japanese animations like Ghibli and Cowboy Bebop. The golden age. We want to make it feel like an animation…our animation frame count is over 70,000. Yeah, that’s a lot.
*Known as Earthbound outside of Japan.
You’ll control two characters. One of them is a bubbly young girl who bounces around the screen with a joyful innocence. She has access to a magic spell that freezes enemies in place and dispels fantastical overgrown mushrooms that block pathways. The other was a man with a frying pan, and a gun.
In the demo I wandered through a few streets of a city (a locale that promises to house some interesting characters upon full release) before receiving a quest to rid the local forest of a big bad monster. Within the forest I was taught to swap control between the two characters, activate their primary actions (a la magic spells and frying pans), and get them to separate and regroup – all of which were essential requirements for tackling the upcoming obstacles that were tailor-made for this particular pair’s specific skillset. The challenges faced showed little variety in this demo, mainly featuring dispelling large mushrooms, river-top sliding block puzzles and fighting small enemies. While I’m confident the full game will have more variety, the main selling point is the appeal and cuteness of the animation and admiring this unlikely duo. Although the young girl looks like the artist behind the Shin Chan manga reimagined Hermione Granger via Habbo Hotel, and the man looks…homeless, they offer a great blend of youthful, energetic, magically charm, and hitting things with a frying pan, that I never knew I wanted.