Plenty of the Summer Game Fest headlines are sure to focus on the triple-A reveals and trailer from Geoff Keighley’s Santa-like pockets of World Premieres, but don’t be fooled – Summer Game Fest is a collaborative celebration of gaming at every level. Part of that collaborative spirit comes from Day of the Devs, the Double Fine and iam8bit led yearly indie celebration event that pooled their resources to bring the in-person Summer Game Fest – Play Days to life.
Strung about the warehouse venue of Play Days alongside Street Fighter 6 kiosks and Bandai Namco demos were a selection of eight indie games featured in the 2022 digital Day of the Devs stream. Some are auto-biographical, some are organisational, and one was about teaching a fly how to play guitar (kind of). They all rocked, but here were some of my favourites.
Animal Well is a game about natural curiosity and organic discovery – if minimalist indie darlings like Fez and Tunic are in your top ten list, then Animal Well will be finding a spot on that list before you know it. In it’s opening moments, the game isn’t taxing or complicated enough to warrant a pen & paper or a notes tab on your phone, but what’s immediately present is the feeling of being in a world that you know nothing about.
Your pixelated protagonist explores metroidvania environments made up of moody neon blues and pitch black nature backdrops – but dig deeper into the world and as you keep exploring, you’ll encounter hostile entities and statue-esque obelisks in the form of uncomfortably detailed animal-like figures. Animal Well isn’t a horror game, but the sense of tension and unfamiliarity you get from those games is here in spades, and only promises to be a bigger part of the full version.
I could already feel how extremely autobiographical Birth was before its solo developer Madison Karrh revealed it to me. A peeled open journal revealed thoughts of loneliness and uncertainty about being a new person in a new place, hitting way too close to home to be pure fiction. The game is based on Karrh’s initial experience of moving to Chicago, and you can see that reflected in the aesthetic of the game.
It’s not the part where you collect fractured pieces of a re-assembled monster spine or meet townsfolk with floating animal skulls for heads (I’ve never been to Chicago though so I could be wrong), but rather the the line of apartment buildings you click through to visit new levels, or the quaint and pastel coffee shops and parlours hiding inside those buildings.
Each room you explore has an initial sense of familiarity, and an immediate smack of “wait-hold-on-what?” as you notice the macabre characters and undefinable items populating the screen. Each of these environments houses a different kind of puzzle, too – and like any great emotional puzzle-adventure, these moments serve as clever drops of interaction and peeling layers of narrative. Birth is a look at one person’s life, but it’s a life story that feels way too easy to see myself in.
Desta: The Memories Between
Monument Valley and Assemble With Care creators ustwo games have always been mobile first with their games. The latest one, Desta, is no exception – before a PC version arrives, this dream-fueled tactical roguelike is living exclusively on the new Netflix mobile games service. Don’t anticipate another simple perspective-shifting puzzle game, though. Desta is a game full of console-quality ambition.
Stages see you diving into a dreamlike realm filled with Desta’s memories, both good and bad. Close friends, old exes, bitter acquaintances and unforgettable teachers make up not just your cast of allies, but the enemies you do battle against. Don’t expect swords or guns or fireballs in Desta, though – the turn-based tactical gameplay is fuelled by non-lethal abilities and luminous sports balls that you snag and spike to deal damage to your foes.
The pastel artwork and character drama of Desta were enough to keep me invested, but the icing on the cake is really how the grid-style movement combines with precisely-aimed physics-based ball-throws and character abilities to create combat moments that were way more dynamic than I was expecting. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together in the full game.
A day before I actually got to sit down and play Time Flies, I passed by the television it was being demoed on and saw nothing but a blank white background and pixelated black text that read “You are in Italy. Your life expectancy is 83 seconds.” I laughed my ass off, took a picture, and couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the day.
The next day, when I finally got to play the game, it was clear that the screen I saw was no out-of-context accidental humor. In Time Flies, you control a house fly and have mere seconds of life ahead of you to tackle a massive journal of tasks: get rich, make friends, read a book, and so on. Just the sight of a tiny clump of pixels fluttering around a black-and-white home as I guide it with the left stick was funny enough – but each interaction I discovered that led to a completed task had me grinning from end to end.
Landing on a guitar string and learning to play guitar, landing on a spilled droplet of wine and getting drunk, and then collapsing to the ground after your minute of life is up. I was addicted to reloading the level and searching for every interaction I could find. At one point, I knocked a loose book off a shelf with my tiny fly body. The book was in braille, and crawling across it revealed a passage about surrounding yourself with people who make you happy. I smiled, took a picture, and couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the day.
This was really just scratching the surface, though. Make sure to check out all the games featured in the 2022 digital Day of the Devs stream.