Recently Nintendo held a promotion on the Wii U eShop that let gamers sample a whole bunch of Indie games. Over the course of 3 weeks, a wave of 3 new games popped up to sample each week. Simply by playing the demo of one of these games, you are granted 15% off their retail price when they come out. Nindies@Home was Nintendo’s way of bringing some of the E3 experience into people’s homes, and helping Indie devs get more exposure. The promotion just finished in Australia and I’ve just finished playing them all. It arrived here later than America and Europe, since ratings are expensive here and demos have to go through certification. I didn’t expect the promotion to arrive here at all so it was a pleasant surprise. Nintendo AU pulled through and I’m very thankful. They have been doing a great job with everything lately. I took the opportunity to play all 9 games and offer my thoughts.
The following are demo event impressions and not representative of my final opinion.
Runbow – Super fun. The controls are simple but I was relieved to find the platforming very clever and engaging. The screen scrolls fast. The gimmick of this game is that platforms disappear, depending on whether or not they blend into the background, and the background is always changing. You’re keeping an eye on what colour is going to envelope the screen next, while the platforms retreat to your peripheral vision. This puts a heap of intensity when coordinating even the most simple jumps, because everything can change. Double jump and upper punch both add height, and this thankfully gives the mechanics a bit of depth and flexibility. I’m excited to play through this and the 9 player mode will be amazing if I can ever get that many people around the Wii U. It’s now one of my life goals. The amount of content and modes locked away looks huge. One problem was the framerate, which chugged a little bit. Hopefully this can be resolved in the full game because I can’t imagine it running 9 people when 1 causes problems. Otherwise I’m very impressed.
Extreme Exorcism – Confusing. The controls are decent but very simple. The graphical style is not very original as you can see. What I did like was the concept. You replay a room about 8 times, and after each time there’s one extra obstacle. That obstacle turns out to be YOU. As in, what you just did in the room to kill a ghost will be replicated in a “replay” on screen, except the replay can kill you. I’m honestly gonna need more levels to tell if this will be fun or not. By the 6th ghost it was very confusing and my instinct failed because I was basically jumping against myself. It feels a bit cheap to be honest, and the whole player mirror aspect means there’s not much design here at all.
forma.8 – Surprising. When I first saw the clear fancy “business-like” logo and the clipart graphics I was not expecting much, but it proved to be a very unique experience. The controls are solid, you just move around and the ball has a bit of momentum to it, but not too much to make it annoying. The great thing is the game doesn’t tell you much, so I discovered that B activates a shield just by pressing the button. What does it do? No idea. Oh cool, it kills small enemies. It repels things. Then you find out you have a bomb, cool! Then I scratched my head for a bit wondering how to kill a mini-boss enemy, and when I figured it out I had a “wow” moment just by using my discovered abilities together. The mechanics aren’t super complex but they are smart, and the game is structured very well for exploring. Music is sort of background ambiance, a bit boring but it’s there to set the mood and the sound effects were very good. Seemed to have a good dynamic where everything sounds a bit different when you go over lava or change the scenery. It ended at a very unfortunate spot though, massive troll from the devs there. Excited to play more and explore this whole game.
Typoman – Clever but not fun. I can see what they’re going for, but everything about this was executed poorly. Firstly it’s a 2D platformer that you control with the analog stick. I thought maybe my GamePad was broken when the dpad didn’t work in the menu, or to control my 2D stick figure character. Then I started moving and found the physics themselves bad. You jump with a bit of lag despite it being such a simple motion, and dragging and grabbing objects feels sloppy. The framerate struggled despite barely anything happening on screen. The idea of the game is to grab and throw letters to solve puzzles and make words to progress. There’s some clever solutions even in the demo, but it should be a crossword puzzle instead of a videogame. This is out in a month, so I’m not super confident they’ll polish up the controls or anything. My friends said this was good when I tweeted a vague response to it, so I tried to play it again. Still not feeling it. Just not my type of game. I can see myself wanting to create words, but the creator having a different idea of the right word for the situation. Too clever for me.
RIVE – Fucking awesome. This is a crazy SHMUP / Platformer / Puzzle hybrid and the demo was full-on action from start to finish. Your ship starts off flying in space like the usual twin stick shooter, but then lands on the ground replacing the flight with double jumps, and suddenly you’re exploring pipes and tunnels. Objects can be hacked and manipulated to solve puzzles, but it still keeps the super fast pace because you just hold X to go into hacking mode and aim the stick at the object while continuing to move with the other stick. While moving you can always shoot freely with the right stick, and the controls feel great like Nano Assault Neo. Visuals seem impressive on the surface BUT the framerate was terrible. The screen completely stopped for a second, in two parts, and had no consistency. I also soft-locked the demo by getting myself stuck in a wall, so it’s lacking technical polish all round. Obviously not my fault for humping the wall. Music was exciting and appropriately techno themed. It sounds like a meaty game so if they fix the framerate and solve the technical issues, it’s a definite buy. That’s a pretty big IF though, because I can’t stomach a full game that runs so poorly.
Lovely Planet – Nope. This game is a first person shooter and it NEEDS gyro. Stick control is just not acceptable on Wii U. I kept moving my GamePad with intuition and nothing happened on the screen. After so many hours of Splatoon I just can’t go back to this. That might sound situational, but Splatoon is about to sell 2 million copies and it’s a big deal for Wii U players. People have moved on from sticks. At least I have, and so this is the only opinion I can give. Level design from what I saw is based around the enemies. It’s structured so you just beat a few enemies, hit a pole, and move on to the next level. The “action” is very fast paced and the Y button restarts the level, which caused me to effectively kill myself dozens of times trying to jump like Splatoon. The music is upbeat but not in a good way, it sounds like one of those cheap sample tunes that comes with Fruity Loops to demo the program. Graphical style is very basic to the point where I almost can’t make out the environment. I like simplistic styles, but having no edges or textures is just going too far. Look at this shit. The enemies also fire homing bullets, which means you are constantly defending and I find that play style very annoying. Because of the graphics, it’s hard to even track them accurately because it always looks like a dot with no edge or trajectory. Bad game and I probably wouldn’t even return to it with gyro, to be quite honest.
Soul Axiom – Nope again. Twin stick FPS with no gyro, instant fail. Bad framerate. Awful cursor. I’ve taken two steps in this game and I don’t like it. Like Lovely Planet, this just doesn’t belong on Wii U without gyro controls. It feels even worse than a regular shooter as the sensitivity is so low, it takes a full 5 seconds to spin around 360 degrees. Audio cuts out, graphics glitch. Boring, empty game. I’m sick of pixels and wire mesh being treated like real objects. It’s not a style. Finish your textures please.
Mutant Mudds Super Challenge – It’s nice to be reminded this game exists, I had a good time with Mutant Mudds on 3DS. Very basic but fun platformer. Unfortunately in the last few years, the developer Renegade Kid stopped releasing games in PAL regions entirely, and in an exchange of apathy I also stopped giving a fuck about them. Europe is “too hard” even though smaller devs have somehow figured out the market without complaining. Anyway, back to the game. I’m surprised how good it looks on Wii U, it’s sharp and colourful while somehow avoiding the overblown cheap style so many “modern” platformers suffer from. The screenshot I found doesn’t do it justice, it looks quite stylish and organic on the TV. It’s pretty much the same game I’ve played though, with seemingly bigger levels. Mechanics are a basic jump, shoot and hover. I’m not super excited about this because it’s the kind of game where the difficulty comes from the level design adding more spikes and enemies. It’s a satisfying challenge but it comes down to pure memorisation when the core mechanics are so basic. I feel like I’m over it, but it’s a great pickup if you haven’t played Mutant Mudds before.
Freedom Planet – This game is surreal. I’ve heard the Sonic comparisons but I wasn’t prepared for the nostalgic chills I received while running through loops and bouncing off springs. As a child who grew up with the original Sonics this game feels like the first thing that has come close to that kind of gameplay. It started off as a Sonic fan-game and eventually became it’s own thing with slightly different mechanics. I kept trying to spin dash out of habit, but this game has a kick attack instead. I don’t like that, because it takes out some platforming skill when you can just kick enemies from any angle, but at least it’s trying not to be a direct clone. You can still dash by pressing Y, but it throws you forward in the air instead of sticking on the ground. Hills work the same as Sonic with very similar momentum mechanics when trying to walk up and down slopes, and your legs turn into mince when you gain speed. The demo was so short it’s hard to get a feel for the level design. Mostly fast, with one place you have to stop to push an object, one short mini-boss enemy blocking the way, and a real boss that goes down with a few simple kicks. The game feels good but not perfect, as collision feels a bit weird, jumps are floaty, the character design doesn’t resonate with me, and the graphics are almost too simple with its attempt to copy the Mega Drive style. Music is great however, brand new compositions that capture that Sonic magic aren’t easy to come by and the demo has two really great songs. The presentation is good as the game just throws you straight into the action. It takes a somewhat retro approach with the character taking up a large amount of the screen, this makes it seem faster than it is which is a good thing for this particular game. Has huge potential and I want to love it, but not 100% sold yet. Excited to see the rest of the game.
Final Word – Some good games here. However if this is the best Indies have to offer, the industry is in trouble. I remember things looked so bright at the Wii U launch, with Nano Assault Neo and Mighty Switch Force HD blowing me away. Not everyone can be technical geniuses like Shin’en, or have an established reputation like Wayforward, but there’s hardly been anything on that level in almost 3 years. FAST Racing Neo looks absolutely amazing, but overall the consistency is not looking good to me. The best games have taken years to develop through kickstarters and I can’t even call them Indie with a straight face. It’s almost unfair to compare anyone to Nintendo, but between playing recent Yoshi and Kirby games, the lack of polish and innovation in other games is incredibly obvious. It feels like Indie devs are just copying old ideas, and dragging games over from other systems. I had such high hopes for Indies above all else when it comes to Wii U, simply because of the unique controller giving them this opportunity. I will keep an eye on the above games and future Indie games and urge any devs not to take criticism to heart. Just use it as fuel to make the product you want and I’ll respect you. I made a simple tweet about the first 3 demos in this promotion, and 2 different developers came out of nowhere and responded to my tweet. It’s crazy how connected we are, but almost to a fault I would argue. Similar to big publishers being buddies with trash sites like Gamespot, Indie devs I feel are being let off really easy because nobody wants to offend their “buddies”. Makes it a bit awkward when I don’t like a game and know all the Indie devs are reading. I know some are reading this and might not be happy, but I want to be supportive in the most constructive way I can. I want all of these games to be good in the eyes of a gamer. I also want to urge everyone to try demos when they can, because opinions vary and you might find something that speaks to you. At the very least, you can offer a different kind of criticism. I still see this community as one big productive whole.
One final thing I want to mention is I’m not a fan of these Humble Bundles or mega Indie discounts that are becoming a trend. I think it devalues games, and you only have to look at the PS+ userbase to see why. Nobody cares about anything unless it’s free. I don’t want Nintendo to ever do a service like that because we need to fight apathy instead of catering to it. If Indie devs can make amazing games, I will play them and rave about them. That’s the only healthy way we can build this scene.