Many Summer Game Fest titles are sure to focus on triple-A reveals and Geoff Keighley’s pocket-sized world premiere trailer, but make no mistake – Summer Game Fest is a collaborative celebration of gaming across the board. Part of that collaborative spirit comes from Day of the Devs, the annual independent celebration event led by Double Fine and iam8bit who have pooled their resources to bring Summer Game Fest – Play Days to life in person.
A selection of eight indie games featured in the Day of the Devs 2022 digital stream hung in the Play Days warehouse, alongside Street Fighter 6 kiosks and Bandai Namco demos. Some are autobiographical, some are organizational, and one was about teaching a fly to play guitar (sort of). They all rocked, but here are a few of my favorites.
Animal Well is a game about natural curiosity and organic discovery – if minimalist indie darlings like Fez and Tunic make it to your top ten list, then Animal Well will find a spot on that list before you know it. In its first moments, the game isn’t taxing or complicated enough to warrant a pen and paper or a notepad on your phone, but what is immediately present is the feeling of being in a world whose you know nothing.
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Your pixelated protagonist explores metroidvania environments comprised of moody neon blues and noir nature backdrops – but dig deeper into the world and as you continue to explore you’ll encounter hostile entities and statue obelisks in the form of creatures. uncomfortably detailed animals. The figures. Animal Well isn’t a horror game, but the sense of tension and unfamiliarity you get from these 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 diary revealed thoughts of loneliness and uncertainty about being a new person in a new place, hitting far 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 game’s aesthetic.
This isn’t the part where you collect fractured pieces of a reassembled monster spine or encounter townspeople with floating animal skulls for heads (I’ve never been to Chicago, so I could be wrong) , but rather the row of apartment buildings you click through to visit new levels, or the quaint, pastel cafes and lounges that hide inside those buildings.
Each room you explore has an initial sense of familiarity and an immediate “wait-wait-what?” when you notice the macabre characters and indefinable elements that populate the screen. Each of these environments is also home to a different type of puzzle – and like any great emotional puzzle adventure, these moments serve as clever drops of interaction and peeling back layers of narrative. Birth is a look into a person’s life, but it’s a life story in which it’s all too easy to see yourself.
Desta: the memories between
The creators of Monument Valley and Assemble With Care ustwo games have always been mobile-first with their games. The latest, Desta, is no exception – before a PC version arrives, this dream-fueled tactical roguelike lives exclusively on the new mobile games service Netflix. Don’t expect another simple puzzle game that changes perspective. Desta is an ambitious console-quality game.
Stages see you dive into a dreamlike realm filled with Desta’s memories, both good and bad. Close friends, old exes, bitter acquaintances and unforgettable teachers are not only your group of allies, but also the enemies you fight against. Don’t expect swords, guns, or fireballs in Desta, though – the turn-based tactical gameplay is fueled by non-lethal abilities and light-up sport balls that you hook and stab to deal damage to your enemies.
Desta’s pastel illustrations and character drama were enough to keep me invested, but the icing on the cake is really how the grid-style movement combines with physics-based ball throws and character abilities to creating combat moments that were way more dynamic than I expected. I can’t wait to see how this all plays out in the full game.
A day before I could sit down and play Time Flies, I walked past the TV the demo was on and saw nothing but a white background and pixelated black text that said “You are in Italy. Your life expectancy is 83 seconds. I burst out laughing, 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 not accidental humor out of context. In Time Flies, you control a housefly and have only a few seconds of life in front of you to tackle a huge log of tasks: getting rich, making friends, reading a book, etc. The mere sight of a small cluster of pixels floating around a black and white house as I guide it with the left stick was pretty funny – but every interaction I discovered that led to a task completed m brought a smile from start to finish.
Land on a guitar string and learn to play the guitar, land on a spilled drop of wine and get drunk, then collapse to the ground after your life minute is up. I was addicted to reloading the level and looking for all the interactions I could find. At one point, I knocked a loose book off a shelf with my little fly body. The book was in Braille, and crawling through 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.
It was really just scratching the surface, though. Be sure to check out all the games featured in the Day of the Devs 2022 digital stream.
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