There’s a shed load of cash ploughed into videogames in order to create blockbuster multi-million pound franchises that deliver epic encounters and blur the lines between fantasy and reality, but Indie developers have long been creating games that are just as much fun to play as those big-budget titles with all the marketing clout behind them.
UK publisher Ripstone, who recently backed the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita title Pure Chess, has recently put its weight behind a handful of Indie titles for PlayStation platforms - the games where it sees potential for success based on entertainment value and good old fashioned gameplay - and is now collaborating with Sony to bring a trio of games to PS3, PS Vita and PlayStation Mobile.
At Gamescom, we met up with three Indie developers who have poured their hearts and souls into their latest projects for PlayStation platforms, and we were lucky enough to spend time in their company and get an exclusive hands-on look at the games that they hope will make an impact.
Indie devs taking Vita by storm. From left to right: Nicklas Nygren (Nifflas), Nicolas Marinus (Thumbs Up), and James Whitehead (Boss Baddie.)
Big Sky Infinity – by James Whitehead, Boss Baddie
Big Sky Infinity is a side-scrolling twin-stick shooter due for release on PS3 and PS Vita via digital download in late 2012/early 2013. In a collaboration with Voofoo Studios, Whitehead has built upon his previous games for PC, Big Sky and Really Big Sky, to create his first ever game on console and handheld.
Big Sky Infinity immediately impresses visually on Vita’s 5-inch screen with vibrant backgrounds and bursts of colour filling the screen from the space-based explosions as players control a ship and seek to destroy the alien forces that are intent on invading the planet.
Though the premise is familiar, the gameplay is absorbing and feels remarkably fresh with many different enemy types, weapons and game mechanics to juggle and contend with. Cleverly, Whitehead has ensured that Big Sky Infinity is both accessible and challenging, creating missions that adapt dynamically to your skill level. If you’re struggling to get past a wave of enemies, the A.I. adapts to give you more of a fighting chance and as you improve the difficulty level ramps up.
Like many games of this ilk, Big Sky Infinity is a fast-paced shooter, requiring players to think on their feet and move around screen tactically to avoid obstacles and gun-fire and get into the best positions for taking down the enemy. We were given a look at one of the alternate fire modes that will be available as our ship turned into a drilling machine capable of blasting through planets.
Based on our brief hands-on time with Big Sky Infinity, it’s clear to see why Really Big Sky was nominated for an Indie Arcade Game of the Year Award in 2011. This latest iteration is fast-paced, gameplay is challenging and the art design visually exciting. The ship is intuitive to control, the boss battles are intense, and the A.I. reacts cleverly ensuring that you’re totally absorbed in the action, unable to take your eyes off the screen for one second.
Like previous games in the series, Big Sky Infinity will include a comprehensive upgrade system and will seek to encourage competition with online leaderboards. 2-4 players are catered for in local co-op play on PS3 and they’ll be support for asynchronous multiplayer on Vita. If the upgrade system and variety of weapon-types and enemies live up to what we’ve already seen, we’re in for a real treat when Big Sky Infinity lands later this year.
Knytt Underground - by Nicklas Nygren of Nifflas
Knytt and Knytt stories have already received critical acclaim among PC gamers having been downloaded over one million times. This latest adventure, in which Nifflas has teamed up with Green Hill Studios, is the biggest and most ambitious game to date and is sure to thrill existing fans and anyone new to the series.
Due to be released on PS3, PS Vita, PC, Mac and Linux, Knytt Underground is a platform adventure set in an strange alien world where players have to escape by searching for pieces of a crashed spaceship. Though many platformers are linear in nature, Knytt Underground has a heavy focus on adventure and exploration with a huge gameworld that puts freedom right into the hands of players.
In our hands-on time with Knytt Underground we were lost and absorbed within its beautiful hand-drawn world which shows-off Nifflas' expertise and passion for level design, as well as Nygren's skills as an artist. Our brief bout of gameplay showcased some traditional platforming mechanics, such as swinging, running and jumping as we navigated its maze-like caverns and mysterious passageways in the hunt for collectibles and quests.
Splashes of colour light up the dark backdrops to create a visually engaging experience complimented by its ambient soundtrack and smooth platform-hopping. Environment-based puzzle solving comes into play and we spent some of our time switching between human form and a ball to bounce around and access new areas. There’s a story to tell too and Nifflas promises that quests will provide focus between bouts of exploration, though we found it particularly hard to focus on following any sort of linear path when there’s so much freedom at hand.
The hand-drawn art style and music adds to the atmosphere. No room we entered was the same and there was a real feeling of unpredictability as we explored every nook and cranny. The basic platfoming mechanics make it intuitive to control, yet level design ensures there’s many challenging moments on the long road ahead.
The Knytt series is a perfect fit for Vita and Nifflas has already created quite a fanbase following its previous games. Knytt Underground is really an extension of everything Nygren has done before; a world that should be absorbing to explore and many secrets yet to be discovered.
Panic! – by Nicolas Marinus, Thumbs Up Games
Panic! is a top-down, pick-up-and-play action puzzler that will be a launch title for PlayStation Mobile, which will be compatible with a range of smartphones and PlayStation Vita.
The concept of Panic! is totally unique as players are challenged to defend a city from a monster by creating blockades and destroying the attacker as it rampages through the streets. This alien entity manifests as green slime that flows through the streets causing panic among its residents. If the slime comes into contact with a civilian then the level is over and has to be replayed.
We played Panic! on Vita, tilting the handheld vertically. Gameplay consists of a number of short levels that gain in challenge and require fast reflexes and quick thinking to complete. As slime flows down the screen through the streets and around houses, we were challenged to swipe our fingers across the touchscreen to create blockades, causing the slime to re-route and avoid citizens. We could also crush houses with a tap of the finger to let the slime flow across the remaining debris, creating both pathways through the town and blockades in order to keep the people safe.
As players progress through the levels, the action gets more frantic and you have to react quickly to the slime’s movements. While the gameplay starts off relatively simple, levels gain in complexity and pace creating a fun pick-up-and-play challenge that we found both amusing and entertaining. New moves come into play, such as being able to unleash air-strikes and throw buoys to citizens to save them from being swallowed by the slime, and it’s clear it’s going to be one hell of a challenge to complete all the levels.
Panic! is shaping up to be an addictive bite-sized offering on Vita and PlayStation Mobile. Thumbs Up's motto is: "If a game isn't fun, it's not worth playing. If it isn't meaningful, it's not worth remembering." Panic! is most certainly fun to play and should cater nicely for all those looking for an entertaining puzzle game to play on the move when it launches later this year.
For more on Big Sky Infinity, Knytt Underground and Panic! visit Ripstone.