A few weeks ago, Troy had the opportunity to cover the PAX West convention. Over on my side of the country, I had the pleasure of attending the DreamHack convention in Atlanta, Georgia. This 3-day-long festival of gaming includes an expo, a massive LAN party, esports tournaments, live performances, and demo kiosks for new games. As someone who's a bit of an outsider to the world of competitive multiplayer gaming, many of these events were impressive to watch but also sailed a bit over my head. Regardless, it was certainly still mesmerizing to watch the sheer speed and cunning of folks playing games like StarCraft 2 and Super Smash Bros at a very high level.
However, the esports tournament wasn't the part of DreamHack that most piqued my interest. I was there to see indie game creators show off their latest works at the DreamHack Indie Playground! As a collection of small developers (even by indie standards) and student projects, the Indie Playground allowed me to delve into the world of the obscure. While what was on display wasn't as slick and polished as what you would see from bigger indie studios like Devolver or WayForward, there were plenty of quirky original ideas on display.
I was able to demo quite a few games, so here's a quick overview of each:
An ambitious blend of visual novel, platformer, and RPG, Seneca 7 has a lot going on. During my brief time with it on the show floor, I got a taste of the game's snarky sci-fi writing and exploration platforming. It was clearly very early but had some interesting ideas. If the game can manage to juggle its different gameplay styles, it could end up being something quite special. Currently, there's a demo on Steam that breaks each of the Seneca 7‘s genre influences into separate episodes.
With a minimalist pixel art style and clever puzzles, Slider is one of the games at DreamHack that pulled me in the most. In this puzzle adventure game, the world is comprised of slider puzzle tiles that can be moved around to rearrange the landscape. By changing the locations of NPCs, people, and geographic features, you can change the way you traverse the world and solve puzzles. If you enjoyed games like Carto and Minit, Slider will be right up your alley.
This musical puzzle game looked interesting but was tough to play on the chaotic Dreamhack show floor. LightBreak features an emotional story that unfolds as the player solves audio-based puzzles that involve matching notes. I might revisit it when I can try it in a quieter setting.
Urchins and Ink
I didn't get a chance to go hands-on with this one, but from what I was able to see, Urchins & Ink is a twin-stick shoot 'em up that helps you learn Japanese. Enemies are marked with various Japanese characters and players must blast the ones that correspond with the appropriate sounds. Who needs Duolingo when you can have danmaku?
5 Force Fighters
This 2D fighter looks great and was easy to pick up and play. I played an intensely close match against a fellow DreamHack guest and had a blast doing it. With character designs reminiscent of The Boondocks, easy-flowing combos, and rollback net code, fighting game fans should add 5 Force Fighters to their wishlists.
Fright Knight Legend
While this one is a fairly straightforward beat 'em up, I still had a good time playing this co-op with two other con-goers. To me, the features that stood out most were its tricky stage hazards and bumping EDM soundtrack (which was an odd choice for a game set in the middle ages, but I was into it).
As a sucker for 16-bit Zelda and its various clones, Willow caught my eye immediately due to its pixel art. It's a very challenging twin-stick shooter Roguelike that I was terrible at but felt compelled to keep trying. As it was in the very early stages of development, this game doesn't have a Steam or Itch.io page yet, but it's definitely something to keep an eye out for.
The Gardener and the Wild Vines
In this 2D platformer, a gardener climbs a vine-covered tower by snipping the vines to create new ledges and springboards. The gameplay is quite simple, but it's fast and snappy in a way I found quite satisfying. I also loved the cute and colorful art. Unlike most of the indie games at DreamHack, this game has already gotten a full release on PC and consoles, so you can pick it up today if it strikes your fancy.
As the newest game in this roundup, Void Sols exists as a proof of concept. It's a hyper-minimalist take on the Souls genre, with simple geometric shapes for characters and a dimly-lit 2D maze for a world. Imagine presenting Dark Souls in the style of Adventure for the Atari 2600 and then adding some mood lighting. It sounds like it shouldn't work, but it was actually oddly compelling. You can check out the game prologue on Steam now to get a feel for what it's all about.
Forget Me Not
Itch.io Page: https://luzoko.itch.io/forget-me-not
While the gameplay of Forget Me Not is fairly simple hack-and-slash action, the unsettling-looking mixed media art really stuck with me. Combining traditional animation, photography, and striking effects, you're unlikely to see many games that look quite like this. You can take the game for a spin for free on its Itch.io page, so be sure to give it a look!
While the Indie Playground was primarily focused on video games, there were also a few board games nestled in there. The one I got to try was Dino Dodge. In this game, each player is a dinosaur attempting to be the last one standing by avoiding incoming meteorites and pushing other dinos into lava. The game progresses quickly as each meteor impact site becomes a new lava pit to avoid. This would make a great party game thanks to the snappy and streamlined gameplay.
Acknowledgment: Most of the screenshots in this article were taken directly from the Steam pages of the games featured.