SXSWGaming 2019 Indie Highlights
Updated: Mar 22, 2019
This week I won't be publishing a new review but instead my first special feature piece, a highlight on the indie games shown at SXSW Gaming 2019! For those of you who don't know, SXSW (South by Southwest) is an annual 2-week festival of film, music, comedy, interactive, education, and more that takes place in Austin, Texas. SXSW Gaming takes place the second weekend of SXSW and is a gaming festival including esports, arcade gaming, indie games, tabletop games, gaming merchandise, game-related workshops/panels, and more.
This was my first year attending the full 3 days of the convention and I had time to check out every indie game available and play a good bit of them. There were over 30 indie video games available to play on the EXPO floor (including VR and mobile games). That's quite a lot of titles to cover, so today I'm going to highlight the top 10 games that caught my attention at SXSW Gaming, in no specific order.
WHAT THE GOLF?
Release date: 2019
Console: PC, Google Play, App Store
WHAT THE GOLF? calls itself "a game for people who hate golf", so that definitely checked a box for me. It basically takes any weird object or situation and makes that into a game of golf. You can control a "spiderball" that attaches itself to the wall in order to reach the hole. You can drive a car to reach a hole. You can throw a soccer net and score into another soccer net. It's really not golf, but maybe it is? It's the kind of chaotic fun that I'm very into in a game. I can't imagine getting bored of it, with every stage changing the task and controls, some turning out to be quite challenging. It's got a matching aesthetic of colorful cell-shaded characters and objects. I've got this one wishlisted and I'm definitely looking forward to picking it up later this year.
Release date: Spring 2019
Console: PC, Switch
Okay, this game looked extremely trippy and confusing to me at first, too. Rhythm games are definitely a rising genre recently, so it takes more than adding rhythm to your gameplay mechanics to stand out. However, Vectronom appears to be an excellent version of what a rhythm puzzler should play like in 3D. The music is fun, loaded with catchy beats and a heavy bass, and even includes some Tetris tribute tracks. You'll have to move with the beat to survive, but this game doesn't feel super rushed and lets you plan out your musical path. Some levels are just the same as the previous, but with the perspective switched up. It adds an unexpected challenge of understanding your space.
The World Next Door
Developer: Rose City Games
Release date: March 28, 2019
Console: PC, Switch
The World Next Door defines its art style as a combination of classic visual novel and mange style. It's got a very teenager feel, except with monsters from a different dimension. The World Next Door is at least three different genres of games - visual novel, puzzler, and adventure. The characters are teenage monster friends, each with an interesting style and interesting stories of their own. The rune "connect-3" type of mechanic that you use to fight monsters is a little hard to get used to, and involves having to run from monsters while you move tiles on a board. Maybe I just wasn't great at that type of movement, because I got destroyed in one of the first few battles I had to do. I can't say for sure how this combat mechanic develops later on in the game, but as it was, I could see it getting a little annoying and drawn out. I'm curious to see more, especially about where the story goes.
The Gardens Between
Developer: The Voxel Agents
Release date: Out now!
Console: PC, Xbox, PS4, Switch, App Store
The Gardens Between was one of the few games that was already on my Steam wishlist even before SXSW. I was drawn to it for its story and art style, but it turns out I didn't even understand how the mechanics worked until I got to demo it. Instead of controlling the movement of the characters, you control time. You can rewind and fast-forward time, and you can choose what the characters should interact with along their path to make a different effect each time. It's a strange concept to get used to at first, but it's really creative and lets you take your time solving mini-world puzzles. These small worlds seem to be representative of the characters' interests and lives; sometimes you'll have to go back in time to restore a Jenga tower or move a game controller out of the way. I'm very into the story being tied to a friendship between two kids and their dream worlds, and the time manipulation makes for a very different type of adventure game.
Release Date: 2019
Mythic Ocean is back for its second year at SXSW Gaming, and this time they had the most interactive booth of any I saw for any indie game. They gave out cute character buttons not only for playing the demo, but for submitting mini fan art or fan theories, and so they endd up with a wall of fan submissions in their booth. Mythic Ocean is a first-person underwater exploration and adventure game where you make friends with sea creatures (some of which are gods) and make choices that influence the outcome of the world that is created. It's got adorable characters and a peaceful, relaxing world to explore - but also an ominous hinting that there is something dark looming in the waters. Since a new world is created depending on your actions, you can replay and get various different outcomes when you choose to act differently when influencing the gods.
Felix the Reaper
Developer: Kong Orange
Release date: 2019
Console: PC, Xbox, Switch, PS4
Felix the Reaper is a strange combination of adorable, heart-warming humor and mild morbidness. You play as Felix, a reaper, who does reaper things, such as influencing people's bloody deaths. However, Felix also loves dancing and has a hardcore crush on a non-reaper. He's always dancing on the job, even as you move him around. You have to stay in the shadows as you carry out your tasks and move in a precise order. It's definitely a weird little puzzle game and I'm interested to see more. The only thing that might push me away from playing this is too many bloody scenes, but otherwise I really want to see more of Felix and his romantic comedy play out.
Release date: Out now on Switch, 2019 for PC
Console: PC, Switch
Is it just me, or is there a lot of games with cubes lately? Regardless, Zarvot calls itself an "emotional cube arcade" which is pretty encompassing of all this game brings to the table. During the convention, 4-player mode was on the screen, where everyone is playing a colorful cube shooting lasers at other cubes. This game was packed every time I came around, with players excited and shouting, so I didn't get to give this one a shot. However, what I'm really interested in is this Zarvot's single-player story mode. It appears that you play as a cube living their regular life, finding love, and overcoming very human challenges. I'm all for a story with these very-realistic looking, but emotional little cubes.
Release date: TBA
Groove Catcher is a dancing VR game, basically the natural evolution of a game like Just Dance to VR. There was a long line to play a fun VR game like this, but it was really entertaining just watching other people play. They're dancing in a room full of people, but in such precise ways where you can tell they're trying to move at the exact right time. You move your arms to follow the directions shown on screen, sometimes involving swaying and sometime hitting a beat. For now, it seems to be a game in beta, exclusive to conferences and events, as I couldn't find any release information on the website. This would be a really fun party game, assuming VR becomes more reasonable and affordable as a home console.
Developer: Space Mace
Release date: Out now!
Console: PC, Switch
Joggernauts is a couch co-op platformer that has been out for a decent bit now has been fairly popular on the Switch. I finally go to try this out and did 2-player co-op mode. It's surprisingly challenging at first and involves accurate timing from you and your teammates. You and your teammates are running through monster obstacles, which you can only defeat by running at them with the same color character. Therefore, if you're not first in line, you'll have to switch in just in time when it's your turn to take out the next enemy. I could see this game causing Overcooked-level of friend yelling and rivalry, since you're completely depending on each other's good timing and cooperation to complete each level. I definitely would play this game with a good group of friends who could laugh off errors made, because I was definitely not perfect in my playthrough of this. I really enjoy couch co-op games that anyone can jump into (or basically I can get my non-gamer friends to play), and despite this one being a little harder, you can change the settings to slow down the pace a little.
Release date: April 18, 2019
Consoles: PC, Switch
Katana Zero is a high-speed slasher platformer where you play as an agile ninja, manipulating time and speeding across maps to take down enemies. I should mention this is probably a game I wouldn't play - I'm just not into bloody/violent slasher games. However, despite that, I really liked the highly-detailed but retro style of this game. It seems like the movement is powerful, fast, and very satisfying. It also includes cinematic sequences in which the protagonist is resting (after a long day of killing?) and the story carries out. This game gives you space to be creative in your attack modes, and I think caters well to fans of this genre.
Some of the games mentioned above were nominated for the annual Gamer's Voice Award, check out the list of nominees here. Thanks to SXSW Gaming for putting on a great event and inviting me to come and get my fill of indie games!
Now, enjoy some of my photos from SXSW Gaming: