On the 27th and the 28th of September 2013, Callum Petch attended the Eurogamer Expo with the intention of playing as many games and attending as many panels as he could stand standing in lines for. The following posts chronicle his adventures…
I am rather unfamiliar with the kind of isometric, dungeon-loot-crawler genre that The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot deals in. Which is to say: I have never played even a second of Diablo in my entire life. With that being said, though, I did rather enjoy my limited time with …Epic Loot. There’s not particularly much to it, at least from what I played. You enter a castle of clearly indicated difficulty and have to make it past the various defences without dying horribly in order to make off with the castle’s loot reserves. The twist being that the castles you’re invading are actually other players’ and they earn extra loot every time you’re felled by their fiendish designs, loot that they can then pump back into their own castle to make it even more fiendish.
Now, for reasons that will be obvious to everyone who has ever attended a videogame expo or a convention of any kind, the ability to edit your own castle was disabled for the Expo, so we had to focus on the actual game-playing side of things. And it’s quite good, in all honesty. The levels that were on display were well constructed with the easy ones being easy and the harder ones being exercises in putting my completely inexperienced arse through a seemingly never-ending humiliation conga. Enemy design, meanwhile, is frequently original and entertaining. Sure, there are skeletons and dragons to battle, but there are also evil chests and a barrel that sprouts tentacles and an eyeball in its free hole, for example. There’s a nice undercurrent of humour and joy that helps it stand out from the overly self-serious presentation that I typically see associated with this genre.
However, there was one major knock I can hand this game regarding its difficulty. An exploit that I inadvertently discovered as I tried to stumble through a more challenging castle on a tiny sliver of health. It’s a tactic that I have dubbed “The Benny Hill”. How it works, is that you encounter an enemy and fire off your available attacks before legging it as fast as the game will let you. Said legging it should involve circling your opponent forever, staying just far enough out of his reach that he can’t start up his attack animation, then, once your attacks have recharged, putting a slight bit of distance between yourself and your opponent and firing all your attacks off again. If they’re not dead, then you repeat the process again and again until they are! It’s a remarkably effective tactic, one that I used to great effect when having to kill a dragon that was separating myself and the level’s exit, only dying a total of two times in the process (compared to the three or four times prior when I tried utilising actual tactics). Upon normal enemies, it more than compensated for my piss-weak attacks and allowed me to breeze through most areas with little care. Some balancing may need to go on in this department, but otherwise The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot was good fun, even to a complete amateur of the genre.
Next, although a preview of this is kind of moot considering that the game is available right now on the App Store, Fist Of Awesome, a side-scrolling beat-em-up for the iOS… no, wait, come back! I know, I know, that was pretty much my first reaction, too. But Fist Of Awesome stands out from the crowd in various key areas. Chief of which: it doesn’t control like absolute shite. Instead of attempting to over-reach in terms of what the iPad is capable of doing, navigation is limited to putting a finger (or thumb) down on the left side of the screen to start walking, whilst changing direction is handled just by moving said finger (or thumb) in the required direction. Fighting, meanwhile, consists of various simplistic combinations of taps and swipes on the right side of the screen. It’s undoubtedly simple, which is a word I keep using because my thesaurus, but it all works excellently; not once did the game fail to register any of my inputs, a rarity for most side-scrolling brawlers I’ve played on an iOS device.
And “a simple side-scrolling beat-em-up” is a rather accurate descriptor of how Fist Of Awesome plays. So, what sets this apart from the hundreds of other side-scrolling beat-em-ups littering the landscape today? Solid writing and a unique feel. The premise is pretty much ripped straight from the developer’s name, I Fight Bears. You play as a lumberjack celebrating a party when, suddenly, you are warped to an alternate reality where bears are the dominant species and hunt humans for some reason. Also, your left fist now talks to you. It’s quite the deranged set-up, but it’s also really funny. Random but, unlike, say, Achtung Arcade, it’s not the kind of randomness that expects you to laugh just because it’s random. These are actual jokes and even character traits. The first time that you have to fight a bear in a flannel shirt that wanders about on two legs instead of four, it’s good for a “wait, what?!” laugh. But the concept of bears almost permanently wandering about on two legs in various people clothes is one that is woven into the game’s universe, so then it actually makes a kind of twisted sense. The writing stays at that kind of level the whole way through and the consistency in its quality is what keeps the chuckles coming, be it from your lumberjack spouting out-dated 80s lingo, the appearance of a uniquely boss bear or from your lumberjack and the titular Fist of Awesome trading barbs with one another.
As for the original feel I previously mentioned, the game’s graphics are done in an 8-bit style, but much rougher and messier than the beat-em-ups that Fist Of Awesome is heavily inspired by (Streets Of Rage, Final Fight, etc.). Character proportions are all over the place, animations are stiff and limited and colours are relatively muddy; but instead of being off-putting, this home-made aesthetic actually came off as more charming, than anything else. Along a similar vein are the sound effects which, and I made certain to ask Nicoll Hunt, the creator and sole developer of the game and incidentally a really nice guy, about this after I finished playing, are all done by Hunt himself. All of them. Death sounds, hit effects, punches, kicks, strong attacks, being knocked to the ground; every single one is the sound of one man making these noises himself and, no, it never stopped being really funny.
The demo was rather unchallenging, and the extremely simplistic fighting system, though it works great for iOS, may run the risk of growing repetitive and stale if the full game runs for too long, but the strong writing and home-made feel of Fist Of Awesome makes it one of the more unique side-scrolling beat-em-ups I’ve played in a while. And, again, if you’re interested in the game, it’s available now on the App Store!
Finally, and speaking of games that felt complete when I got my hands on them, Droid Assault, a top-down tactical-action shooter that felt completely finished and ready to go when I tried it at the Expo about a month ago, now. The game is simple, neutralise all droids in a level. You begin the game with one small and rather ineffective droid, but you can obtain more for your own personal droid army by hacking them with a right mouse-click, consequently turning them to your side and shirking the need to just blow them to pieces. You can recruit a total of 10 and they gain experience and level up in usefulness after each round, but you can only control one at a time with the rest being handled by the game’s AI, and once a droid is inevitably blown to smithereens they’re gone for good.
There are three types of controllable droids. The slow and bumbling kind that carry pea-shooters and will just amble their way around a level at their own pace, only engaging other droids as they find them. There’s also the slow but loyal kind that will stick with you as you hunt down other droids and prove themselves half-decent in combat but are only capable of rudimentary tactics. And finally there’s the fast and dangerous droid who comes equipped with two guns, actively seek out enemies and are capable of springing ambushes by hiding just outside of your limited field-of-view, but are limited in number because, as you’d probably expect, you’ll almost immediately go for the hack instead of the kill. It’s a very well-balanced system that provides ample challenge and opportunities for strategy whether you’re outnumbered or commanding a small army. Computer AI, also, is strong enough to look after itself without ever just automatically clearing rooms without your input, as if developers Puppygames (who I also got to have a short chat with) realised that nobody particularly feels fulfilled with a game that, effectively, plays itself.
Like most Indie games I played at the Expo, Droid Assault is very simple in its design, but is still very fun regardless. The game knows when to make you feel like a god in control of the world with your amazing droid army and when to put you right back in your place by siccing an un-hack-able boss droid on you and watching as you, in a blind panic, switch to your most powerful and favourite droid because you’ll be damned before you lose Ingrid to that unworthy piece of scrap metal! Like I said, it already felt finished and ready to be sent out into the wild… suspicions that were all but confirmed when I was given a download code for the full game as I left the booth. I haven’t played it yet, I’m waiting on getting a computer that can run programs more complex than Word without coughing up a lung first, but I’m quite certain that when I do it’ll be one of those games that I start up “…just to clear just a couple more levels, honest!” until I next check the clock and see that dinner time has come and gone.
The Expo adventures will conclude tomorrow here on GameSparked!
Callum Petch’s friends are all nuts and possibly drunks. Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch), listen to the Pupcast (iTunes link) and read his weekly gaming column Petchulant every Friday here on GameSparked!