PAX Indies

The independent gaming section at PAX Australia has nearly tripled in size in two years

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PAX Indies
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Blockpocalypse

[developer] Dime Studios

[release] Late 2016

[price] $15-20

[website] blockpocalypse.com

I love apocalyptic content, from the bleakness of The Walking Dead to arthouse movies like Melancholia, where the question is posed, “How might someone who is severely depressed understand the ending of the world?” One thing I hadn’t previously imagined, however, was how fun planetary annihilation might be. When your perfectly lovely city is suddenly and outrageously exploded by an inexplicable red ball, hilariously leap on stuff. Upwards.

I played Blockpocalypse at PAX with three other players. No-one is safe, not the Buddhist monk, the woman in the red dress or the left shark. I was the skeleton. I mean, the fact I was still fighting for “life” shows commitment, right? You’d think those guys would have waited for me. I mean, some of them had to. It’s a strange mix of co-operative play and, “Get out of my way,” that is required to throw televisions and pipes into an ascendant structure.

And, a surprising amount of play doesn’t actually rely on survival at all. Yes, you must hide when it starts raining fire, and the main aim is to outrun rising lava, but you can also just chill out and shoot some hoops or capture and hold the crown. Make no mistake, this is a party game, and these would be standard multiplayer modes in any other. In Blockpocalypse, they are defiance, a middle finger to inevitable death.

Prototyped during a game jam titled, “What do we do next?” Creative Director, Dan Clayton, tells us, “We got really excited about the prospect of a co-op building game that would, at some point, pit players against each other.” The best thing about Blockpocalypse, in its pre-release state, is that I am not sure if there is a happy ending for, specifically, my skeleton and, frankly, that’s very disturbing. (Which makes for a suitable apocalyptic content, in my book.)

Armed with Wings: Rearmed

[developer] Sun-Studios

[release] In Early Access

[price] $8

[website] www.armedwithwings.com

There’s something quite evocative about a setting that’s only black and white. As a result of early technology, the first sidescrolling spaceship I ever commanded was a tiny, bright triangle against the nothingness of space. Games don’t have the same historical timeframe as film, however, and aesthetic conventions never became tied to technology in the same way. My first impression of Armed with Wings: Rearmed was that it would probably be bleak and Limbo-esque.

Interestingly, the combination of frosty mountains in the background and gorgeous animations creates a dramatic feel to combat without any negative connotation. My character is whirly and graceful, but so powerful. It is a joy to play because timing and skill is learned alongside a visual feast of movement, enhanced by the strong silhouettes. Combat begins simply but soon relies on reflexes, observation and use of surrounding terrain features.

What begins as, seemingly, an action platformer quickly becomes increasingly puzzle focused. Yes, you can engage enemies directly, but a smarter way might be to smash boulders and launch the resulting rocks with your katana, like an expert ice hockey player, from a safe distance. I absolutely love how the level design challenged me. Initially thinking, “Surely this is a bug. This is impossible,” always gives way to, “Oh, I see. That’s really clever.”

Puzzling also uses a little bird who you can send a limited distance from you. I would tell you the kinds of things it can do, but that would spoil the way experimentation leads to understanding of the puzzle elements. Designer, Daniel Sun, tells us, “Armed with Wings: Rearmed is designed to make players feel like an epic samurai warrior, despite skill level.” Certainly, if I was expecting sadness, I left feeling uplifted by the cleverness of the design and the beauty of the world.

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