EGX Rezzed was wonderful, wasn’t it? Tim Schafer of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango fame came to shoot the breeze with editor Oli Welsh on stage, the teams behind Two Point Hospital and Phoenix Point delved into their upcoming creations, and Digital Foundry explained how Sony might get on the road to its next console, the PlayStation 5.
There were plenty of things to play, too, and it was arguably the strongest year yet – with studios big and small showcasing fascinating new games, and some truly innovative things to play them with in the Leftfield Collection, RPS area and elsewhere.
As with previous years, this isn’t a definitive list, but a personal selection from the team at Eurogamer as we roamed the show, and will hopefully serve as something to keep an eye out for in the coming months.
It is enormously refreshing to play a game that has a great idea, and just does that idea well. Bad North is a tower defence game, played on one gorgeous, minimalist little Nordic island at a time. The towers are your houses, the enemies come from the mist, sailing in ominously on threatening longboats towards your quaint little Scandi shores, and if you don’t get your strategy right they’ll burn everything down. That, in essence, is all there is to it.
But as you’ll hear so often about great games, its simple surface belies chin-stroking depth. There are different types of enemy, different types of units – little squads of men with spears, bows, or swords and shields – which form a nice little game of rock-paper-scissors for you to navigate.
Leaving your spearmen in sight of encroaching archers will see them minced before they even know it, for instance, but get a handle on the mechanics – a very real-time strategy element in what is normally a very static type of tactics game – and you’ll be able to juggle your squads’ positioning and flank those archers as they land. There are some small, but crucially still properly impactful skill trees for each squad, and permadeath if you lose them. You’ll be chuffed if you survive a hectic wave and you’ll be furious with yourself if you don’t.
In brief, Bad North is looking to just be a wonderfully elegant execution of singular, well-focused concept. Everything is in service of a core idea – stop the enemy, defend your island – and that is exactly as games should be. – CT
I absolutely adore the bespoke, one-off games that you’re only ever going to get to experience at shows like EGX Rezzed, and in the Leftfield section there’s a couple of absolute treats. First up is Bitsy Boutique, which is easy to overlook; nestled within all the full-size PC monitors displaying various games, there’s a small, tawdry looking jewellery box.
Open it up and there, beneath a pair of drawn curtains that give it all a little theatrical flourish, is a small 480×272 screen paired up with a set of well-beaten directional keys. And that is all you need for a window into some 200 bite-sized games, all created in Bitsy.
I didn’t get to play them all, but everyone that I did sample was an offbeat delight, featuring such wistful and evocative titles as ‘The Games We Have Shared’ and ‘Moth: We Are Cursed’. It’s all nothing short of magical. – Martin R
Previously known as No Truce with the Furies, Disco Elysium begins with an argument between the player and your character’s reptilian brain about whether to wake up or die in your sleep. I’m honestly not sure what to add, other than that this game very much isn’t a) the gamboling nostalgia fest the title might lead you to expect, or b) your average spin on “golden age” CRPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Fallout.
A sci-fantasy murder mystery of sorts, it eschews traditional levelling and combat in favour of honing your character’s intellectual faculties or grislier urges while gathering clues and interrogating witnesses. The top-down environments are at once dreary and gaudy, like PS1-era Silent Hill recoloured using Sharpies, and the humour is as dark and sweet as treacle. I can’t wait to spend more time with it. – EET
FAR: Lone Sail
Another Playdead-style work of wintry, post-industrial monochrome in which a small but tenacious child must journey ever further to the right. The twist here is that you’re travelling across a dried-up ocean bed in an enormous landship, scavenging parts and supplies as you go to keep your ponderous craft in motion.
There are no active threats to worry about – no marauding zombies or robots – so it’s just you versus terrain obstacles and the elements. I haven’t had a chance to play much, but the details really sell it. There’s a touch of Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime to how the vehicle fades into glorious cross-section as you hop between rooms and levers. – EET
Sadly only planned for tablets right now, this is a beautiful, ever so slightly macabre puzzler that turns the human body into a factory, made up of sparky analog contraptions run by tiny people in labcoats and overalls. Players tap and drag mechanisms to perform various vital operations, from identifying the smell of breakfast to chopping up food in the mouth.
The game is based on the German infographics pioneer Fritz Kahn’s “Man as Industrial Palace”, published in 1926, which makes it as much a historical study as a tour of human anatomy. I’m especially intrigued by the overarching plot, which sees you getting the body ready for a hot date. Will sex be involved? Because if there’s one thing I haven’t done in a game – well, not literally, anyway – it’s operating a penis from the inside. – EET
Ever wonder what’s squeezed in the nooks and crannies around your home? Metamorphosis answers that question, transporting you into many legs of a house spider that explores the dusty, mucky world beyond the walls and floorboards.
A first-person view offers a delightfully squeamish perspective, with legs that patter and squelch run over bridges made of forgotten matchboxes, scurry through canyons formed from of rotten wood and mould, or over dusty books to reach higher vantage points.
What makes Metamorphosis particularly interesting, however, is when you emerge into a bedroom, a human drama plays out between towering humans pacing around, with both your plight and theirs based on the works of Franz Kafka. It’s a strange drama played out at an unusual scale, but a most captivating one. – Matt R
Onrush is not a racing game. Well, it kind of is -. but it also isn’t. You see, Onrush is a game inspired by so many different genres it’s hard to classify it just as one. There’s shades of beat-em-ups in there with the whole Rush system and the different classes of vehicles and teamplay give it a bit of an Overwatch-vibe. It even has a game mode inspired by Call of Duty’s Gun Game, which makes up for the fact that its tracks don’t have a start or finish line.
Some fans of Driveclub were disappointed that the first game created by the ex-Evolution Studios team wasn’t a pure, sim-like racing game, which is why it was so nice to see people at EGX Rezzed actually getting the time to sit down with Onrush and experience its unique take on arcade racing for themselves.
The combination of lashing of boosts, exciting tracks with jumps aplenty, deadly wipeouts and a thumping soundtrack make Onrush a genuinely exciting game to play. The stampede system means that you’re never far away from epic moments of car-on-car combat and the lack of ‘positions’ means inexperienced racers are never left trailing the pack.
Yes, it’s not your typical racing game – but if you dismiss it without giving it a go, you’re doing yourself a disservice. I think that’s something anyone who took the time to play it at the show can agree with. – IH
Two heads are better than one, the saying goes, although controlling both in Phogs can be tricky. This attractive cartoon-like puzzler gifts you a dog with two heads, one either end of its sausage-like body, each of which needs to be controlled independently. It’s a mix of the trippy Noby Noby Boy and the control scheme of weepy adventure Brothers – and you can play controlling each head with the corresponding side of one controller, or share control with another player across two game pads.
Together, or by yourself, you must direct your multi-directional dog around cute little levels until you can, of course, slide down the mouth of a giant worm at the end. There are traps and obstacles to collectively avoid or which require co-operation – for example, grabbing onto nearby objects to swing, head by head, across a ravine. It’s light, bright stuff, and when you do mess up you’ll want to get straight back to giving it another go. – TP
Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption
If you love fighting enormous grotesques in Dark Souls, but can’t stand roving that labyrinthine world in search of them, Sinner might be the game for you. It’s a series of Soulsy boss encounters, one for each of the major sins, plus a mysterious extra. I’ve sampled two so far: a crow wizard who’s overfond of homing projectiles and a headless giantess in an armour-plated ballgown.
Your tools include a shield, two swords, firebombs, javelins, a healing spell with a dangerously long casting time and that most precious of things, an evasive roll. It lacks the finesse and grandeur of From’s best work but it’s pleasantly merciless and quite easy on the eyes. It’s coming to Switch, too, and I suspect that the bossrun premise will lend itself well to on-the-go play. – EET
The best ideas are often are the simplest. Sloppy Forgeries has two players recreate a classic painting – think Whistler’s Mother, The Starry Night, Girl with a Pearl Earring – using only a mouse and a basic set of brush sizes and colours. The results are crude takes on the originals, but ultimately it doesn’t matter how slapdash they look – the painting that’s the closest match, pixel-for-pixel, will be declared the winner.
What’s interesting is the more you play, the more your strategy changes to create the best image in the shortest amount of time. You ignore working on precise outlines to instead work on layers that cover the canvas much as possible, before focusing on the details – perhaps much like actual painting itself. – Matt R
When is a motorbike not a motorbike? When it’s a chainsaw. In Tate Multimedia’s blend of Trials and Inside you drive a spluttering, weaponised Harley through a side-scrolling post-apocalypse, flying off ramps, tail-whipping bug-like robots and grinding up larger threats with your serrated front tyre.
Unlike its obvious inspirations, Steel Rats allows a degree of 3D movement, and lining yourself up with enemies or the terrain can be a bit fiddly, but the bikes are an absolute delight to throw around. – EET
Another one-shot wonder residing in the Leftfield section, you’re not all that likely to miss Stereopolis. The work of artist Ben Vedrenne, it’s all played out on a large, frosted glass screen onto which the game is projected. The game itself is simple enough – navigate 3D spaces that are presented in overstated hemispherical style, manipulating them until you find the pattern that’s embedded within – but it’s really all about the delivery.
The projector behind the glass is blinding, the glass itself textured and mottled while the colours of each space you explore are brilliantly lurid. The end result feels like playing on a stained glass window, and being immersed in your own bespoke Douglas Trumbull trip-out animation – so it’s no surprise that, after just a few minutes playing the brilliant Stereopolis, it all feels almost spiritual. – Martin R
Tenya Wanya Teens
I’ve always found myself drawn towards games that require bespoke controllers to play. There’s something quite joyful about prodding and poking at unfamiliar buttons and mechanisms to accomplish a set goal, whether it’s playing “Tubthumping” on the bongos, fumbling through Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames” on a plastic guitar, or playing through the entirety of Resident Evil 4 on a giant unwieldy chainsaw.
I think that’s why I love Tenya Wanya Teens, the competitive party game from Katamary Damacy creator Keita Takahashi, which I spotted in the Rock, Paper, Shotgun-curated area of the show. It’s a game that literally could not be played on any controller other than the bespoke 16-button light-up arcade stick, which collaborators Wild Rumpus and Venus Patrol have put together, and that makes it a very unique experience indeed.
Anyone familiar with Takahashi’s work will likely not be surprised to hear that the game plays out in a very absurd and wacky manner. Each player takes control of an awkward teen boy who is thrown into specific scenarios, using a bespoke 16-button light-up arcade stick (created with collaborators Wild Rumpus and Venus Patrol) to button presses to on-screen instructions – which are, of course, called out by a giant parrot.
Instructions range from posing and punching, to farting and taking a shower, and as more instructions are thrown in, the game devolves into a hilarious scramble to see which player can embarrass themselves the least. Tanya Wanya Teens is absurd all the way through, from it’s mad arcade stick interface to the charmingly cute characters and the way the game reacts to your screw-ups. – PW
West of Loathing
More than a decade before South Park: The Stick of Truth mixed lo-fi graphics with turn-based role-playing, I was clicking around Kingdom of Loathing, the ultra-simplistic browser game for PC. Its core remains in West of Loathing, a cowboy-themed spiritual successor with the same text-based storytelling, the same bizarre sense of humour, the same unsettling fascination with collecting meat.
While already available on PC, West of Loathing feels perfect for Switch – its world is small, simple, and yet its warm dialogue and often hilarious questing are far more engrossing than any game which looks like it was drawn in Microsoft Paint should be. Oh, and while playing I was shown an Easter egg which makes you do silly walks for the entire game which I don’t think you can ever turn off. Brilliant. – TP
Written by Matthew Reynolds, Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, Paul Watson, Martin Robinson, Ian Higton and Tom Phillips.