Welcome back to Teacups & 1UPs, a somewhat-regular column in which I talk about games and pair them with tea. Today is going to be a little bit different from usual, as it’s going to be the first of a three-part PAX Aus special, all about the indie games I picked up and tried out while in Melbourne. Each part will briefly look at a bunch of games I tried and liked, rather than examining one in-depth.
First up: single player games, followed by virtual reality and finally, local multiplayer—because there’s not much I love more than kicking my friends’ asses in ridiculous indie games. Of course, there will also be tea.
So, single player. Leave your friends at home, because it’s time for an adventure.
First up is Abi, the first non-VR game I tried out before the rushing horde was unleashed upon the exhibition hall. A gorgeous little 2D puzzle platformer about two robot friends working together to solve puzzles as they search for a bird, Abi obviously captured my attention from the first time I heard about it. The demo I played wasn’t long, but I was completely entranced by the world created through simple-yet-stunning art and poignant piano. Plus, I’m always here for robots being pals.
The story seems to be about searching for something; for DD, the big robot, that thing is a white bird, for the player, perhaps, it is an answer as to what happened to give the world such a heavy sense of loss and longing. Every part of the world speaks to a disaster of some kind happening prior to the story. There’s rubble on the streets, buildings are abandoned and worn-out, and the other robots you meet along the way question why you abandoned them. Why did we abandon them? I have no clue, but I want to find out.
The only minor issues I had were that the language was sometimes a little off, and that at the time the highlights that make selectable objects obvious were way too subtle for me to pick up. Playing the demo outside of the convention’s lighting, however, I found that wasn’t as much of an issue. I was also pretty useless at some of the puzzles, but I think that says more about me as a player than the game itself. The game does offer hints, I was just too stubborn to take them.
If you want to see some gorgeous post-apocalyptic landscapes with robots, absolutely check out their Twitter or website. Honestly, this was one of the highlights of my PAX Rising adventures. Narrative-heavy platformers are kind of my jam and Abi feels like it has a wonderful story to tell, filled with regret, heartbreak and ultimately, hope.
To pair: A soft peach iced tea, perfect for a hot day spent in a post-apocalypse desert.
OBJECTS IN SPACE
(Flat Earth Games)
Objects in Space is a game I’ve been wanting to play all year since missing out last PAX. It’s a “modempunk stealth space-trading game” (via the website) in which you control your ship, the Ceres, from the bridge as if you would a naval vessel like a submarine (or so I assume, having never piloted anything more than a station wagon). It’s very different to anything I usually play, and that’s part of what drew me to the game.
The other part was the set-up they brought along, a big control console that worked as an alternative controller. Unfortunately, this PAX Aus just gone was likely the final time this console will be brought out to a convention—but that doesn’t detract from the fact that the game itself is very cool. It’s all about micromanagement, but in space. If you like tactical combat, trade, stealth, or just a massive amount of very thought-out lore, Objects is likely a game you’ll want to check out. It’s a dense game with a lot of depth that’s just waiting to suck players in.
The game itself is challenging, as any good tactical game should be. The modempunk visual style calls back to retro-style games as well as older, real-world technology, which helps to settle the player into a world that is hard sci-fi, yet familiar at first glance. At a time where space opera seems to be a popular genre, a truly hard sci-fi that focuses on the nitty-gritty of captaining a spaceship really stands out.
Every part of the outward appearance of the game makes it sound like something I wouldn’t like—I’m not into the look of old tech, and I’m very much not into tactics—and yet, I seriously enjoyed what I did play of Objects, and I’m excited to dig into it more on release. A lot of love has been poured into Objects by its developers, and that love shines through in every aspect of the game.
To pair: A strong, yet sweet green tea, ideal for any space-worthy captain. My personal pick would be longjing—sometimes known as dragon well.
If space shooters were a binary scale, Continuum would be on the polar opposite end to Objects. Where Objects is about thinking ahead, Continuum is all about the now. It caught my eyes with its neon lights and bright chiptune soundtrack, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t replay a couple times to get a high score (which I got, eventually, even if I was the lowest on the list).
Continuum is a super fast-paced shooter that’s a bit of a modern mash-up of Space Invaders and Tetris, except the player can manipulate the speed of the game by changing the ship’s vertical position on the screen. It’s retro arcade games with modern ideals and a fun soundtrack.
As you fly through space, more and more enemies come in waves to kill you. Enemies you don’t shoot down end up sitting at the bottom of the screen, and can be lined up like the blocks in Tetris, but they also cut off those parts of the screen—whacking your ship’s body into them hurts you, too. There’s a lot happening in this game at once, but it’s such an adrenaline-filled rush that it’s easy to fall the flow of it. What looks overwhelming and chaotic from the outside works really well when you’re playing, which I think is largely because of the time mechanics. Also, it’s just straight-up fun.
You can find out more about Continuum at its website, which is filled with pretty screenshots and gifs that kind of reinforce how chaotic it looks.
To pair: A shaken iced blueberry tea. Refreshing, invigorating, and a little bit bubbly.
Okay, bear with me, this is a weird one. I’m gonna give you the elevator pitch from the site, because I can’t explain it any better in my own words:
Paradigm is a surreal point-and-click adventure game set in the strange and post apocalyptic world of Krusz; a land inspired by a mix of Eastern Europe and the 70’s and 80’s.
You play as the unattractive yet over-confident mutated Paradigm; who must prevail through inconvenient trials to overcome the insecure yet tyrannical sloth antagonist, Olof!
Yeah, it’s an interesting one, but it got a few good laughs out of me when I played it. The intro is hilarious, and the game is surreal enough that it all just kind of makes sense once you’re playing. The art is stunning and utterly disturbing, only aided by the way the character’s mouths move as they talk in close-ups. Apparently there’s romance in the game, too? The trailer looping at the booth showed a toaster getting turned on—if you know what I mean.
I honestly have no clue what to make of Paradigm, except that it looks like a really solid adventure game that completely owns its dark humour and surreal aesthetic. While playing, I found myself at once distressed and excited, disturbed and enthralled.
You can go play the demo now. Warning for lewd and coarse language.
To pair: Instant powdered chai latte. The taste is familiar, but why does it feel so wrong? Why can’t I stop drinking it?
THE ARTFUL ESCAPE OF FRANCIS VENDETTI
(Beethoven & Dinosaur)
Finally, at last, we reach my favourite game of PAX Australia, the game I can’t stop gushing about: The Artful Escape of Francis Vendetti. Whew, what a mouthful! But the name perfectly prepares you for the drama and the majesty of Francis Vendetti’s adventure. It’s a heavily narrative-driven platformer/adventure game where you explore gorgeous landscapes, jamming with monsters and deities and helping Francis escape his uncle’s musical legacy so that he can create his own art, his own persona.
The art design of the demo shown at PAX was breathtaking—glittering pink snow, a massive skywhale with a city on its back, strange, space opera-esque vistas that remind me of those weird, experimental old-school sci-fi novels. I still can’t get over how pink and sparkly the world was. That’s just not something you see in a lot of games, and it worked so perfectly in tandem with the purple-ish prose and the music to really capture the feeling of being elsewhere, of being in a dream-fueled rock opera where you can be anyone.
And, wow, the sound design. I’m not generally one to pick up on music in games more than I need to, but while the game sounded good through the speakers, it was a whole new world when I put the headphones on to play the demo. It’s enthralling, awe-inspiring, and Francis plays along at times, too. Remember how Red would hum with the background music in Transistor? Yeah. The entire world is part of the ever-growing soundtrack, as creatures light up around you they also add to the song. Everything is linked through music, from the narrative themes to the gigantic floating jellyfish that offers Francis life advice.
The only real issue I had was some parts of the platforming, but that’s something that the devs are aware of and will be working on, so it’s not really that big of a problem for me. And even if it was, the rest of the game more than makes up for some iffy jumps. Also, the dialogue is branching, and apparently the narrative will be too, as if The Artful Escape wasn’t already something I wanted on my computer right now.
Go forth, look at the website, revel in the beautiful art. Join me in mourning the fact this game isn’t out yet aaahhHHHHHHH.
To pair: T2’s Shimmer Punch, only partly because of the name. Apple, liquorice, chicory and blueberry, with sunflower blossoms and cornflower petals, this drink is about as much of a wonderful experience as The Artful Escape.
I’m a sucker for narrative platformers, but that’s no surprise. Seeing the amount of talent and hard work on display at PAX was inspiring as both a gamer and a game developer. There really is such a diverse range of indie games out there and I was surprised by how much I ended up loving some games I wouldn’t have normally tried otherwise. If you ever get a chance to check out PAX Aus, go wander the PAX Rising area and give the Aus and NZ games there a go, even if they don’t seem your thing. You might just fall in love.