It’s always a blast to go to any gaming event, really. That’s even more true when one takes place half an hour away from where I live and it happens to be as great as BIG Festival. This year’s edition was especially good, full of incredibly inventive indie games on the ballot for BIG’s top game awards, as well as a handful of student and in development projects that I had the pleasure of trying out and speaking with their creators.
Covering BIG Festival is always a fun but incredibly busy time, even more so considering it takes place only a week or so after the chaos that is E3. This year, I took it easy and tried to spread my time at the show along a few days, and it mostly worked out okay. That gave me the opportunity to really dive into the games that caught my eye, and in turn, get to know others that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Among these games, I saw plenty that have already gotten exhaustive coverage, so I’ll refrain from talking about them too much.
BIG Festival 2018 featured over 50 indie games from all over the world, along with a number of others that weren’t in the running for the competition. The venue where BIG takes place in, Centro Cultural São Paulo, is a spacious public space that’s used for a variety of events all throughout the year. The upper floor held the booths for the games that I previously mentioned were not competing, while the lower section was used to display the runners for the prize. BIG is almost completely free to attend, and outside of a few panels that required a fee, pretty much the entirety of its demo space was open to whoever wanted to try the games out, meaning that literally all sorts of people could be seen playing, which is a really cool to see in person — games actually being for everyone, in practice.
Among my favorites were a number of the titles that were competing, but I was surprised at just how great some of the still in development games were as well.
Patuanu (from Andurá Estúdio, Brazil) plays a lot like the old Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance dungeon crawlers that came out during the PlayStation 2 era and deals with Brazilian folklore, specifically the legends and myths from the native tribes from the Amazon. You’re tasked with recovering the ancient powers of the elements and use them to defeat the evil spirit god Anhangá, who’s taken over the forest. Although it was relatively early on in development, it already played well and had tight controls.
Grand Shooter (from Grumpy Panda Studios, Brazil) is pretty honest about its inspirations, taking cues from the arcade shooters of old like Time Crisis and Virtua Cop and serving a decent shooting gallery on the go. The demo that was on display had a light gun prototype that the devs mentioned would eventually help pave the way for a PC port of the game that could even make use of Wii remotes via Bluetooth. So just in case you were thinking of tossing those, you might want to reconsider. Grand Shooter is already available on the Google Android store and according to Grumpy Panda, it’ll be updated with mission packs for free throughout the year.
Hexarmonic (from 6 Side Studios, Brazil) is a really neat puzzle game that makes use of colors, rhythmic patterns and of course, hexagons. I had a heck of a time understanding how the game worked at first, but it all few into place pretty quickly, and I eventually tore through about seven or so levels before moving on to the next demo. The gist is quite simple: you have to match the beat and color of the connected hexagons with little colored balls of energy. To each move you make there’s a beat to the rhythm, so you have to be precise as to when the ball connects to the node. I’m sure this sounds weird in text, but in practice it’s pretty damn fun.
Keyboard Sports: Saving QWERTY (from Triband, Denmark) was one of the games during the show that really got me to laugh while playing. It makes use of the entire keyboard as you try to guide the blumbling protagonist through all sorts of dangers, from sports events to simply crossing the streets. Hey, those are actually way more dangerous than they sound, trust me.
Relic Hunters Legacy (from Rogue Snail, Brazil) caught my eye thanks to its great art style, and after spending a few minutes playing it and chatting with one of its developers, Marcos, it turned out to be one of my favorites from the show. It’s basically a multiplayer isometric adventure game in the vein of Hyper Light Drifter (you’ll see this comparison made to a few of the other games I’ll be mentioning), with an emphasis on shooting, dodging and killing a bunch of enemies.
Semblance (from Nyamakop, South Africa) is an old friend of mine from last year’s E3, when Callum and I spent an hour or so chatting with its creator and giving the game a shot. From then til now, it seems like it got quite a lot of additions, and from the bit that I played and watched attendees try out, the sheer charm and creativity of its gameplay is ever present in its current form. You control a little blot creature who can manipulate the topography of the world by pushing, bumping into or smashing it in order to collect orbs that are used to unlock more areas and puzzles. It’s a really cool concept that works extremely well as a game. It’s coming out in a few weeks!
Vector Race (from Mirror Blocks, Brazil) is a nostalgic punch to the gut to anyone who has played with slot cars as a kid. It’s an incredibly simple and fun one button top-down perspective game. You basically control your slot car’s gas pedal as it screams through colorful 2D tracks. It makes brilliant use of the iPad’s multi-touch capabilities, allowing for tense multiplayer sessions as everyone frantically use the same device and try to win. There was also an AR prototype of Mirror Blocks’ follow-up project, using 3D tracks for your slot cars to tear through, and it worked surprisingly well in the venue’s straight halls. Neat stuff for sure.
Mana Spark (from Behemutt in association with Kishimoto Studios, Brazil) is the other Hyper Light Drifter-like game I played, and to all intents and purposes, it’s a game that really puts the emphasis on being skilled and precise. You can pick from three different classes, a ranger, a knight, and a thief, and they actually play pretty differently. I started with the thief, who’s nimble and can shoot with a crossbow for moderate damage. I managed to get pretty far in the multi-leveled dungeon before I died to a dumb skeleton with a huge shield. As with tradition with this sort of retro indie game, Mana Spark pits you back at the beginning of the level every time you die, and the layout changes with each play. You’re able to hop back to town and upgrade your skills, so not all is lost between runs, sorta like Rogue Legacy. I did absolutely terrible with the knight, so I won’t even bore you with the details, safe to say he’s probably the class that the really good players are gonna go with, since his defense is by far the best of the bunch. Looking forward to giving this another go soon.
Sword of Yohh (from UNDEVS, Brazil) was one of Brazil’s darlings at GDC last year, and with good reason. It’s a one-on-one combat game where the objective isn’t to kill each other, but rather to destroy your enemy’s totem. It can only take a few hits, so the matches tend to end in minutes. Depending on the stage you play at, you’re able to control some of the obstacles you can use to hamper your opponent’s progress. Its minimalist zoomed out look is really effective in conveying the sheer size of the ridiculous weapons you pick up along the way, like the sword that gives Sword of Yohh its name, a giant blade that you can chuck around and do lots of damage with. Really neat jump in, jump out game.
IIN (from Epopéia Games) is yet another minimalist game, but it managed to instill me with some emotions during my time playing it at BIG. You’re tasked with taking a box from side of the screen to the other. How you do it depends on the stage. Sometimes you’re given another boxes to manipulate and use to carry the actual level objective over, and during the process of doing that I started to jokingly (or not) dread the darn little box I had to deliver, because it simply insisted on sinking to its doom every time it fell on water, while the other, more reliant, independent box, would float and be incredibly useful. There, I got that out of my system. And I think want to play more. Good thing the game’s already out on Steam, I can keep it in my wishlist forever. Just kidding, it’s really good!
Tiny Little Bastards (from Overlord Game Studio, Brazil) makes use of the heavy metal in a neat way. Its protagonist, a stalky, bearded metalhead uses a horn of grog to heal himself, and an axe to crack the skulls of, well, anything he runs into. The platforming in this game is perhaps its coolest aspect, given how you make use of some enemies as platforms by hitting them while jumping. The cartoony aesthetics helps the game be extra memorable, and from the look of things gameplay-wise, there’s going to be a lot of exploring to do and plenty of fools to take care of along the way.
Chuchel (from Amanita Design, Czech Republic) just oozes with personality. I had never played it or really seen any footage of it before trying it out at big, and man, I really came out impressed. I’m already a fan of the studios’ previous works like Machinarium and the Samarost series, and Chuchel really made me laugh while playing. It’s no surprise it’s been getting so much buzz online. The gist is that you have to help the little puff ball protagonist get through all sorts of situations by clicking things and interacting with them. It’s what happens when you click those things that really makes this game fun. I won’t spoil anything. The game’s already available on Steam.
No Heroes Here (from Mad Mimic, Brazil) pretty much does what the Switch has been built for, with tight and positively bustling multiplayer that puts up to four people locally against waves of enemies that are trying to destroy their castle. You have to craft cannonballs, gunpowder and all sorts of defense measures in order to kick these invaders back, all the while having to get out of the way of your co-defenders, which is, believe me, not as easy as it sounds, because there’s only so many ladders you can climb and only one person can use them at a time. That sound chaotic to you? Well, it is. The game’s been out for a little while on PC and is just now hitting the Switch, so keep an eye out for coverage of No Heroes Here soon… here. Pun intended.
Areia (from Gilp, Brazil) derives its name from the word that means ‘sand’ in Portuguese. It has a lot in common with Journey since it’s a game about exploration and interacting with sandy environments in interesting ways. You’re given the power to protrude columns of sand and use them to traverse the sparse levels in order to reach objectives that are conveniently pointed to you by the camera at the start. Your power is merely limited by how much liquid you’re carrying, and is refilled each time you dip into a body of water. There wasn’t much else to the game, really, but it still managed to grab my attention. I want to see what else it has to show once the official demo gets released later this year.
And Corona Black (from OTA IMON, Brazil) was the very last game I tried out at BIG Festival, and it really left an impression on me. Not sure if it was its black and white anime visuals or the turn-based mech combat that did it, but it sure hit the mark, even though I got creamed by the computer. But hey, all signs pointed to one of those trademark impossible fights we all know and love in J-RPGs, so I didn’t feel too bad about getting my mech suit totalled. I got a really cool Cowboy Beebop vibe out of this game, and if the talks I heard during the show are any indication, it looks like we’ll be seeing more of this really soon and just about everywhere, be it consoles or PC. And when that happens, I’ll be there to write more about it. In the meantime, you can grab Corona Black’s alpha demo here and let me know if you agree with me or not.
Year in, year out, BIG Festival manages to be one of the highlights of my gaming year. I hope to see more of these and other games I enjoyed playing at the show in the coming months, and I hope I got some of you interested in checking them out yourselves.
The indie scene is positively boiling with new creations coming from just about every corner of the world. And even though BIG itself tends to focus on Latin America (and good on them for doing so), the few games that did come from outside that bubble proved to be incredibly impressive and fun to play. Here’s to more events like this!