This year’s MAGFest featured a truly impressive collection of classic arcades, console games and vintage home computers; the indie game selection, while smaller by comparison, was equally as impressive. Although not all the games are new and although I didn’t get to play all of them, below are a few games that stuck out to me at the show:
EarthNight by Cleaversoft is a beautiful, hand-painted runner that seamlessly blended between what appeared to be skydiving scenes and side-scrolling areas where the player runs along the undulating back of a dragon. I didn’t get a chance to play but the game but was impressed at how smooth the visuals looked and how weird the premise was (the main character appeared to be a bald, bearded man, although the website indicate that there are in fact two characters to choose between).
Trace Vector by Vexel Games is a super simple vector-style action-puzzle game with a bumpin’ soundtrack from Flexstyle that really keeps the energy level up. In each level, the player chooses whether to go up or down at successive forks in the road and he/she must choose quickly! Some paths contain valuable fuel cells, others warps, and still others devastating dead ends. In the case of the latter, the player is armed both with an abort button which warps the player back to the beginning of the level at the expense of some fuel while the focus button slows the action temporarily to allow for wiser choices. It seems simple, but the complex level design and fast pace make for a experience that ramps up in difficulty nicely and had me repeatedly begging waiting players for another chance to conquer a particularly difficult level; and from what I could see, there looked to be many more available. While it would have been amazing to see the game on a true vector monitor a la VEC-9, the presentation was crisp. The game was also housed in a nicely built DIY cabinet, which is always of interest to me, for obvious reasons. Available on Steam.
Star Versus by Studio Dustmop is a homebrew NES game – a 1v1 versus space SHMUP. Wow, I can’t wait for this one. The play has a balanced ‘rock-paper-sicsors’ gameplay mechanic that rewards a player for adapting to an opponent’s strategy through the use of different weapons. The most memorable for me was a giant sword that emerged from a player’s ship and batted back the other player’s projectiles. Also of note is ‘Boss mode’ in which one player plays as a giant, classic SHMUP boss that takes up half of the screen. Under development is a one player mode.
Aerobat by Thew bills itself as an ‘absurdly high-speed arcade shump’ which sounds about right, except that I’d almost say that it undersells the unique game mechanic and beautifully implemented visuals. I really haven’t seen a self-styled SHMUP or a game that is played with a mouse that uses the same control mechanic that Aerobat does, and it works really well. The player holds the mouse button to gain speed along the planet’s surface. Once enough speed is gathered, the player lets go of the button and flicks the mouse upward to send the player’s ship cartwheeling upwards, automatically shooting enemies for as long as it is in the air. Just before the ship hits the ground, the player clicks and holds the button to save himself/herself from smashing into the surface. The catch is learning that while all this is happening, you still control the movement of your ship with your mouse movements and must be careful not to crash into enemies or into the bounds of the screen. It’s hard to describe, but it’s nice and challenging to get the hang of, and truly addicting once you do. The visuals really do create the impression of speeding along the dusty face of a planet, on a Chuck Yager-styled speed record run crossed with Luke Skywalker buzzing toward Mos Eisley in the landspeeder. Aerobat was a highlight.
Super Galaxy Squadron by Psyche Studios was a game I didn’t get to play, but couldn’t help but be drawn in by. Given my recent fascination with SHMUPS new and old, SGS struck me as a Dreamcast-era SHMUP turbocharged. The pixel art was so crisp and the game extremely fast-moving; I’m not sure if the gameplay presents anything substantially different from the legendary SHMUP formula, but I don’t care! Looking forward to trying this one.
Pixel Noir by SWDTech games looks like a super stylish point and click adventure with elements of RPG combat. I didn’t get to play for very long, but I liked the look and feel of it. It brought me back to the days of the LucasArts point-and-click adventure Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis or the mystery game Deja Vu, by Kemco.
Zarvot by SnowHydra Games is a 4-player top-down local multiplayer game where players play as cubes shooting missiles and an array of other weapons at each other. I’ve seen it a few times now, but still haven’t played it for any length of time, so I can’t comment on a lot of the game modes. Still, I really enjoy the chunky look and movement of the cubes and the fact that the players can destroy their environment in addition to each other.