PLAY Expo Manchester 2017 was a fantastic weekend, packed to the rafters with everything gaming. From an almost exhausting amount of arcade cabinets, through to the next big indie hits. The show benefited from an embarrassment of indie riches, but I would like to highlight seven of these indies which stood out for me.
Balance of Kingdoms – WoksOn Studios
Balance of Kingdoms is a multiplayer indie game where you seek to build your kingdom on top of a balance beam. Castles, towers, cannons, and villager dwellings are all required, and must be carefully placed to avoid toppling your own settlement. Once the building phase is done, you start attacking your opponent in order to knock them off-balance.
The quick-yet-versatile building mechanics bring a tactical element to Balance of Kingdoms. The battle portion of each round is sensationally satisfying when it goes your way, and entertainingly enraging when it doesn’t.
With plans for a single-player campaign, and multiple factions to play as, Balance of Kingdoms is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Ersatz – All iN
Ersatz takes the basic mechanics of the action platformer and throws in a rewarding difficulty challenge. On top of this, this indie game pulsates with an outstanding electronic soundtrack. As your speed increases, and you progress, the music dynamically shifts and builds.
The environment and enemies move to the beat as well, really emphasising the backing music. This also helps you to pace your way through the levels. In partnership with a tight control set, Ersatz positively stands out.
Perhaps most impressively, the game is the creation of sole developer Paris Stalker. Everything is created by Paris with a clear, tangible passion. Expect to see Ersatz perform on the indie scene.
Razed – Warpfish
Razed is what happens when you cross time-attack runner games with the premise of Speed. Your character is gifted with sentient shoes which offer special abilities, with the price of them exploding if you run out of speed or power. Cue frantic, indie platforming.
The levels of Razed are designed to be toyed with. Everything you see is a physical entity, and the developers want you to find quicker and quicker routes through the levels. Thankfully, replaying a section never feels like a chore.
The respawn button is addictively easy to hit. Razed gave me a full blown case of One-More-Try Syndrome. Even now, I am desperate to get the game in my hands (and would be ideal on Switch).
Sigma Theory – Mi-Clos Studio
Sigma Theory is the tactical espionage indie I have been waiting for. The game takes you through each stage of international spying: Recruitment, information gathering, resource acquisition, extraction, and self-preservation. Each stage plays differently, offering a continual refreshment of styles.
Parts of the game have you reading biographies so you know how to entice spies to work with you; others have you guiding agents through the acquisition of scientists and resources. You are never in one play-style long enough for it to dull, but long enough that you can appreciate the depth. Despite this, the wonderfully secretive aesthetic flows through all of these stages.
Sigma Theory has so many working parts that it is certainly the riskiest work-in-progress title on this list. However, based on my demo experience, when Sigma Theory gets them balanced, it leaves a lasting impression.
Space Toads: Mayhem – LimeVibe Games
Space Toads: Mayhem is a wonderful indie homage to 1980’s bullet-hell space shooters. There is an inherent difficulty to this style of gameplay which may deter some players, but any with a passing interest in this genre should be pleased with this entry.
There’s a gleefulness to the contrasting-neon graphic design which time-warps you into an arcade environment. Learning the impact of each pickup is essential, as Space Toads: Mayhem revels in throwing beneficial and malevolent collectables at you.
Space Toads: Mayhem is another title which almost demands you play it again to best your score. I got through 7 of the 10 enemy waves in my demo time, and I can’t wait to try (and probably fail) to complete this entire level. Love or hate this type of experience, you have to admire the game’s will to challenge you.
Super Lumi Live – Gemi Games
Super Lumi Live certainly lives up to the billing of an indie, hardcore platformer. Deceptively simple, both in control scheme and graphics, it would be easy to overlook this title. It would be a mistake to miss out on this entry from Gemi Games.
Guiding your blobbish character through the labyrinth of pits, opponents, and traps requires careful control of pace and jumping. Like several games on this list, Super Lumi Live will eat up hours of your day thanks to the insidiously-easy-to-press retry button. You never feel unfairly done out of a speedrun attempt, and it is always clear how you can improve (even if it’s not easy to actually make that correction).
Do not be surprised to see Super Lumi Live gain a massive following on streaming services. There is a ludicrous joy in not only acing your own attempt, but also in viewing somebody else smash their time. Perfect playing, and watching, material.
Wulverblade – Fully Illustrated
What if Golden Axe was designed today, in a post Dark Souls world? Wulverblade is the indie answer. It absolutely relishes the co-operative multiplayer aspect of the game, while maintaining a tight and responsive control scheme.
Graphically, Wulverblade pops with the combination of Viking violence and cartoonish characteristics. Do not be fooled by this. Give Wulverblade an inch, and you’ll find it is more than happy to beat you back into your place. You have to earn respect in this gladiatorial arena.
Perhaps the best part of Wulverblade is that it is already available on Nintendo Switch, and will be coming to all major platforms. This will certainly be turning up on your YouTube gaming highlights feed.