As we come into our last round up of games from this year’s EGX Rezzed, we’re not exactly scraping the bottom of the barrel. There are some really nice ideas at play in Mekazoo and Shadowhand, while The Dwarves was one of the best looking games at the show. So while we might be talking about them a few weeks after Rezzed finished now, these are certainly games still worthy of your attention.
Mekazoo | PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, Windows | The Good Mood Creators | 2016
It’d be fair to say that the platformer genre has fallen far since its peak days of popularity. While the stalwarts like Mario have hung on, there’s not much else out there, particularly in terms of games that make good use of modern game visuals. Most of the indie platformers that are being released are 2D, with many using a pixel-art style. Although I’ve got nothing against either of these elements, it doesn’t really make for a lot of variety in the genre.
Against this backdrop, Mekazoo feels like a breath of fresh air. It’s very much a 2.5D title, with action taking place on a single plane that twists and turns through the game’s 3D world. That world is incredibly well realised, with familiar, natural environments given a nice twist with a neon makeover. The levels really pop off the screen, feeling very lively.
As you may have guessed from the title, the game takes place in a zoo, but one filled with robotic versions of animals. Much like the environment, these too have a neon glow with a slightly cartoonish look to everything.
As you’d expect, each of the animals have their own abilities. The frog, for example, has a tongue that allows you to swing from certain elements and flying enemies, while the armadillo can curl into a ball and do a Sonic-like speed dash to assist you when going around curves. You always have two animals available to you as you play, with the bumpers being used to switch between them.
This swapping mechanic ties nicely into the game’s local co-op, as each player is assigned one of the two characters to play as. While there is an initial bump as you learn that swapping to the other player before immediately swapping back isn’t going to get your anywhere, you quickly learn to work together to navigate the world and defeat enemies.
The only other potential issue with this mechanic is that the character each player controls switches when you die, which can be somewhat confusing, particularly in boss battles. On the other hand, it’s nice that the game lets each player try the different characters, and I’m sure that after more time with the game, this swapping concept would become second nature.
Despite the minor issues in the game’s switching mechanics, this really is a game built for local co-op. While I’m sure it’d be enjoyable single player, it’s a lot more fun to work with a friend, and with fluid movement and tight controls, Mekazoo is well worth keeping an eye out for.
The Dwarves | King Art Games | Windows, PS4, XBO | 2016
Dwarves might tough as old boots, great with an axe and excel in bending metal to their will, but they’re so often relegated to being the sidekicks. But with a title like The Dwarves, it would be quite surprising if they weren’t the stars of this real time tactical RPG.
And it looks lovely. Amidst a swarm of low fidelity or heavily stylised indie titles, The Dwarves was perhaps the most conventional looking game at Rezzed, but it looks great, with the opening section featuring dozens of characters on screen at a time and a handful of cutscenes that show off the models close up. The slightly stereotypical Scottish voice acting, as well.
That opening battle is something of a showcase, as green skinned enemies attack across a bridge and besiege the huge doors into the mountain and a small number of Dwarves stand in their way, sheltering some sickly elves within their kingdom. The two sides whittle each other down, but you have the hero characters at your disposal to turn the tide, with grander attacks that let you smash a warhammer down, swing in an arc with your axe or leap half a dozen metres and stun all those around you. Be careful though, as you can deal damage to friendly characters as well.
It’s relatively traditional with mouse-based set of controls to issue your commands, and it keeps you busy as well, which will be interesting to see when making the jump to PS4 and XBO. Action points are spent when performing these abilities, but are earned with every hit on an enemy, meaning that even with two characters under your control, you’ll never be short of powerful attacks to unleash. You do still need to be wary of getting outnumbered and split up, as you’re far from invulnerable and can, with time, be worn down until you die.
But this is just the grandiose prologue, with an interesting twist of the knife at its end before the game skips in time and to your main character in the game, who’s busying himself deep in the mountains with a little metalwork.
Shadowhand | Windows, Mac | Grey Alien Games | 2016
Shadowhand is a rather interesting title, taking a simple card game and adding tension to it. The card game at the core of the title is, effectively, solitaire, which doesn’t sound all the interesting. Fortunately the developers, Grey Alien Games, have brought over their same spin on that core gameplay from their previous title, Regency Solitaire.
Beyond a wide variety of layout for the cards you have to try and remove from play, there’s also elements like locked cards that you’ll have to work harder to remove. These might be cards with keys on that match the locks, or contextual locks that require you to finish certain objectives to unlock them.
The real selling point of Regency Solitaire, however, were the RPG elements it wrapped up its simple card game in, and Shadowhand takes that to whole new level. While Regency Solitaire had a variety of items you could unlock to decorate your character or her ballroom, earning perks as you used them, Shadowhand adds more items, representing them in a classic collectible card game format. While CCG elements seem to be all the rage, it’s nice to have a game where they gel so easily with the core concepts.
On top of this, Shadowhand adds combat. That might sound somewhat confusing for a game that’s based around solitaire, but it works in much the same way as something like puzzle fighter does. Each playing card you remove charges up your weapon card, while attacking your opponent or being forced to draw from the deck signifies the end of your turn.
It’s fair to say that the combat is the main element that sets Shadowhand apart from its spiritual predecessor, Regency Solitaire. While I’ve actually enjoyed what I’ve played of Grey Alien’s previous title, what little I’ve seen of the game’s story is much stronger, and the combat adds a real tension to the levels of Shadowhand it features in. It’s also a smart move not to have combat on every single level, leaving the game feeling more varied.