Following last year’s decision to host their wares off-site, Microsoft once more housed their games — and a selection from third-parties — at the Microsoft Theater next door to the convention center. We had some time to check out what they had, and here’s what we were able to see:
Creature in the Well
Any game that melds pinball with some other genre is guaranteed to grab my attention, and Creature in the Well was one such game. Unlike something like Yoku’s Island Express, however, which was unabashedly pinball in every way, Creature in the Well is more pinball-inspired than a direct transplant of the game onto another genre.
You play a robot by the name of Bot-C, the last survivor of an AI collective who’s investigating an abandoned facility that was built to help them weather a coming sandstorm to figure out what happened. The game is played from an isometric perspective. You move through a series of rooms knocking orbs around to build enough energy to unlock doors and power various objects to move forward. Instead of relying on paddles you use whatever strike weapon you have equipped. In the demo, I wielded a steel pipe. I also had a sword I could use to hold the orbs in place so I could aim where I wanted to throw them. It took a bit for me to get the hang of the basics, but it felt good.
Eventually I encountered the titular creature and that’s where things got interesting. Where most of the rooms I’d moved through had been pretty simple challenges, the presence of the creature resulted in utter chaos. Red orbs that could damage me on hit flew in from all sides, while lasers would regularly cover the field leaving me little room to maneuver. It was tough! But exciting as well. Afterward, I ended up in a large room with computer terminals all over the place. Reading them provided some hints at what transpired here, along with some extra flavor text about the world at large. As I began to move deeper, the demo ended.
Creature in the Well is out this summer for Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
Cyber Shadow has a fantastic pedigree. After all, Yacht Club Games’ first release just happens to be Shovel Knight, one of the biggest indie darlings around, so it’s a fair assumption to say that expectations are very high for this one. I got to play some of it, and having beaten one of its two demo levels, I can say for certain it’s a well crafted retro-inspired platformer that like Shovel Knight, plays homage to 8-bit classics quite well — in this case, the NES Ninja Gaiden games.
In it, you control Shadow, a ninja who’s on a quest to discover the reason behind the world’s invasion by synthetic life forms who are bent on taking it over. The action is pretty much what you’d expect from an old style Ninja Gaiden game, that is, side-scrolling with plenty of cheap enemies who you can learn the patterns of.
The level that I played had Shadow traverse an industrial zone with lots of locked passages that required me to do a mini boss fight before going any further. It felt really tight and smooth, just like the old games from which it draws its inspiration.
Indie dev Aarne “MekaSkull” Hunziker has been working on the game for nearly a decade, so it’s exciting to see his work finally see fruition in such epic fashion. Cyber Shadow’s presentation is extremely impressive, and marries well with the fast action gameplay that I enjoy so much in indie releases. The release for Cyber Shadow is still TBD. It’ll be coming out for PC, Xbox One (via Game Pass), PS4, and Switch.
The Wild at Heart
First thing you’re bound to notice about The Wild at Heart is its beautiful art. It’s bright and colorful world is a delight to behold. The Wild at Heart follows Wake, a young boy who finds himself lost in a strange world after running away from home. He eventually finds a fellow named Scraphead and travels around with them. The demo followed them as they were preparing to head back to a central hub of sorts, the way forward being closed, unfortunately. Only way to open it was to find a couple gears that could be used to pull the gate up.
The game’s sort of Pikmin-esque. You recruit creatures called Spritelings and command them to either fight or collect objects, which are then used to build bridges or move obstacles out of the way or simply taken back to camp for crafting. There were two types: a yellow variety that are sort of your jack-of-all-trades type, and a blue variety, which were more resilient and could lift/destroy crystallized rocks.
The first gear was easy enough to find, as it was just lying around in a clearing. The other one, not so much. A large creature had claimed it as part of their hoard and wasn’t particularly willing to give it up easily. It wanted something in exchange — a large meal, specifically. Finding something to satisfy the creature was where things got a bit difficult as while I knew where the item it wanted was, I wasn’t sure how to get to it. Turns out the answer was simple (had to use my blue Spritelings to help). Was smooth sailing from there on.
With the gate open, Wake headed onward, eventually encountering some strange, shadowy figures that slowly began to surround him, the demo ending shortly thereafter. The Wild at Heart currently doesn’t have a release date, but will be launching on Xbox One and PC.
Out of everything shown at Microsoft’s press conference, Spiritfarer is one of the few that really stood out to me. Described as a “cozy management game about dying,” Spirtfarer is about seeking out and helping spirits find peace so that they can move on to the afterlife. If the trailer was anything to go by, it’s probably going to be equal parts heartwarming and bittersweet.
The demo primarily followed a snake person looking for a necklace, which required Stella (the player character) to make a trip into town to seek out info on where to find said necklace. Along the way, she also took on other requests from other passengers on the boat she and the spirits live on, which involved activities like fishing, gardening, and building housing. It is a management game, after all, and it wouldn’t be complete without a bunch of other projects to juggle.
While I didn’t get any hands-on time with it myself, what I watched definitely seemed to live up to the premise of it being a cozy management game. Everything appears very light and easygoing, which, honestly, is always welcome given the litany of games that either demand a lot of you or are intense to varying degrees. Occasionally you need something light and simple, you know? And Spiritfarer definitely looks like it’ll fit the bill.
Spiritfarer is out sometime next year on Xbox One, PS4, Switch, and PC.