As part of this crazy year, The Summer Gamesfest has been a small beacon of light in the darkness. While it’s not been the easiest to keep track of perhaps, there’s been some cool events that have come out of it; all digital showcases from hardware and software publishers that arguably were better presented than the typical E3 pressers, and more of a focus on smaller titles that might have otherwise gotten lost in the shuffle.
On that last point, Microsoft held a Summer Games Demo event this past week. For the first time, demos usually only shown off at in-person events like PAX or E3 were made available to download for a limited time. Over 60 titles were up on the store, covering a broad range of genres. While I didn’t get time to try them all, I can only applaud this approach; giving a big spotlight to smaller developers and allowing people to try these early builds can only be a good thing. I’d like to have seen more of a push on the front end – I saw several people not even realise the event had begun In their region – but here’s hoping they revisit this idea at least once a year, if not more often, going forward.
Below are a few of the titles I tried that stood out to me, and I think are worth keeping your eye on as their release nears closer.
Date: 18th August 2020
Manual Samuel was a short but clever take on the side scrolling platform puzzler. In it, we controlled Samuel’s appendages via dedicated buttons (X for left arm, Y for right, etc) and it offered up not only inventive puzzles, but also plenty of laughs along the way. Perfectly Paranormal’s follow up, Helheim Hassle, takes this same approach and tears it apart – literally. Protagonist Bjørn is a cowardly Viking who in no way shares his fellow villagers desire to fight, and die, in battles against giants to gain entry to Valhalla. As his friends and family charge into the fight, he runs as far away as he can to hide in his trusty spot. However, on the way he slips and falls off of a cliff, landing on a bear and dying in the process. As his spirit comes to, he notices that his limbs were scattered from the impact. He’s not bothered though – he’s dead, after all – and proceeds to wait in line to gain access to Helheim. But entry is denied, due him bravely dying in battle – in this case, killing a mighty bear as his last act.
From here, Helheim Hassle builds upon Manuel Samuel’s control scheme by letting us detach body parts to solve puzzles. The demo only allowed for his head and one arm to be removed, though later on it seems as though we’ll be detaching every other limb too. These early puzzles are simple – roll his head through a small crevice to hit a switch, or throw his limb up to a high ledge before skulking along like Hand out of Addam’s Family to pull a lever – but they offer up a tantalising glimpse of the kind of puzzles we can expect from the full game. It’s also well written too, with some over the top dialogue that might go a little too far in to trying too hard territory later on, but based on their previous title I’m confident Perfectly Paranormal’s will find that balance.
The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild
A fun little puzzle game, Freshly Frosted tasks us with glazing various doughnuts in order to clear its levels. To do this, we need to place a conveyor belt down from doughnut to exit counter, making sure to pass the topping stations along the way, and in the right order. It’s a simple mechanic, but even in this short demo the solutions don’t take long to become challenging. The belts can’t over lap, so it’s a case of planning ahead to make sure there is enough space to double back should we need to. Once multiple doughnut orders are required, there’s a mess of moving conveyors that looks confusing from the outside, but to the player make perfect sense. I imagine down the line we’ll see even more elaborate set ups that will really test our puzzling mind.
A simple concept is all a game needs to really get it’s hooks in, and Freshly Frosted has just that, topped off with some lovely art and music to go with it. Definitely one of the highlights from the showcase.
Kaze and the Wild Masks
This one hit me right in the sweet spot. A 2D side scrolling platformer that has some serious Sonic vibes to it, I had a great time with Kaze. The platforming is tight, with combat and traversal meshed into a smooth flowing gameplay feel. It looks brilliant too, some stunning pixel work that stands out among the plethora of titles that use the art style these days. Playing as the titular Kaze – a light blue-grey coloured rabbit with massive ears – we fight off various evil enemies that take the form of various vegetables by jumping on their heads as we traverse the nicely designed, chunky looking levels.
In the vein of old school platformers, there are plenty of items to collect along the way, each tallied up at the end of a level. From 100 gems, to the four letters K, A, Z, and E as well as a few hidden gems, there’s plenty of replayability in each stage to 100% it. There are also bonus stages hidden within, accessed in a Sonic-style manner; jumping in a circular teleporter. Stages aren’t too long either, so even gems or collectables missed aren’t much of a hassle to go back and get. From the handful of stages on offer in the demo, I have high hopes for Kaze and the Wild Masks upon it’s release.
These were my favourite’s of the handful I got to try out. Honorable mentions go to Cris Tales and Raj: An Ancient Epic. The latter had a wonderful art style for its cinematic’s, presented as they were in a marionette play style, and some good ideas ideas behind it’s isometric traversal and fighting, though it was still early clearly. I found making some of the more intricate moves tricky to pull off, or simply failing to register.
Cris Tales meanwhile was stunning to look at, with a central mechanic that is intriguing enough to get me past my usual misgiving about the turn-based RPG combat mechanics that I’m not a huge fan of. The demo was a bit fetch quest heavy for my liking, with a too much back tracking, but I’d hope that later on it may open up to allow a bit more exploration.
What did you think of the event? Did you get to try any demos that particularly stuck out to you? Let us know in the comments below, or on twitter @xboxtavern.