A decade ago, summer was a dead zone for video games. Publishers ignored the season while preparing to launch of their big-budget fall releases.
But that’s changed. Now indie developers are capitalizing on the quiet period to spotlight their work.
Earlier, Microsoft nurtured this idea with Summer of Arcade, which helped popularize indie titles such as “Braid,” “Limbo” and “Bastion.” More recently, Psyonix released “Rocket League” during the lull, and it became an eSports phenomenon.
This season, “No Man’s Sky” drew the most attention, but other indie titles are worth of a look. Here are four:
“Abzu”: Developed by Giant Squid, this seafaring exploration game draws comparisons to “Journey.” And that’s no surprise, since some of the team members behind that legendary title ventured out to create “Abzu.”
Players take on the role of the Diver, who awakes in the ocean and delves beneath the surface. Though grounded in reality, this world will seem alien to most players, as the Diver comes across goblin sharks, orcas, giant squids plus sea life from millions of years ago.
“Abzu” is mostly about exploring. As players find drones that open up closed areas, they can unlock more of the story by paying attention to subtle hints in the environment. The Giant Squid creators have packed a lot into the short but sweet “Abzu.”
“Headlander”: San Francisco-based Double Fine Productions eschews video game conventions, as this sci-fi Metroidvania-style title clearly demonstrates.
In it, players take on the role of a disembodied head encased in a high-tech helmet. Weird, I know, but in the game’s bizarre version of the future, humans have uploaded their awareness and intellect to the cloud, and downloaded robot bodies.
Everything is hunky-dory until Methuselah, the artificial intelligence that powers the system’s space station, goes berserk.
Players step into the role of the last flesh-and-blood human, who must bring Methuselah under control.
Thankfully, being a disembodied head enables a player to access ventilation ducts and take over headless robots. He or she will do a lot of body switching while exploring the expansive station and fending off Methuselah’s guards.
As they open up new areas and venture deeper into the station, “Headlander” players feel a sense of accomplishment. Pervading the single-player adventure are a 1970s sci-fi vibe and quirky humor.
“Road to Ballhalla”: Imagine “Marble Madness” but with a snarky, sadistic twist, and you get a feel for this puzzle title by Torched Hill.
The premise is simple: Players control a ball that they must roll it from point A to point B. Predictably, that’s way easier said than done as they encounter laser traps, obstacles and invisible paths.
Through each game stage, Torched Hill mercilessly offers bad advice and tempts players with paths on which the ball will be destroyed.
Once in a while, a hint on how to negotiate a puzzle proves useful, but most of the time players will feel as if the creative team is taunting them.
Though challenging, “Road to Ballhalla” is more enjoyable than some comparable games.
“Strike Vector EX”: For fans of “Gundam” and other Japanese mech anime, Ragequit Corporation’s latest release is a dream-come-true.
“Strike Vector EX” is part “Air Combat” and part “Virtua On.” Players pilot agile ships that can switch from high-speed flight to hovering attack mode with the press of a button, though adjusting to the unique control system may take a while.
The pace is fast as players switch from dogfights to mech combat and anything in between. They can get their feet wet with a campaign that teaches the basics of piloting ships, but the meat of “Strike Vector EX” is found in multiplayer mode.
Though “Strike Vector Ex” could use more mech-to-mech combat refinement, the game pretty much nails what it’s like to pilot a flying robot.
©2016 East Bay Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
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