While the floor show at E3 is obviously a significant reason to check out and experience what the world’s biggest gaming tradeshow has to offer, it’s not the only ‘game’ in town in LA for the week. In particular, there’s numerous afterparties and other events worth checking out after the expo’s doors close for the night.
Having been to several E3s at this point, I’ve become particularly fond of The Media Indie Exchange, or The MIX, an indie gaming showcase that took place on the roof of the TenTen Wilshire building in downtown LA. I was sure this year wouldn’t be any difference, and with colleague Nia Bothwell by my side we stopped by to check out what’s new, hobnob with a few rising stars of the indie gaming scene and enjoy a few delicious adult beverages. It’s a tough job, I know, but someone’s gotta do it.
As with previous events, The MIX consisted of a gathering of indie developers in a comfortable setting where press, industry and developer could mingle and interact. This is the place you want to be if you’re interested in getting the hype train rolling for your game; likewise, if you’re looking to launch soon, you can’t go wrong with getting some moderately-inebriated press representatives playing and talking about your work. That’s the situation Nia and I found ourselves in. Did I mention the spread was pretty great? If nothing else, The Mix knows how to wine and dine us media types.
One of the first games we had a chance to look at was Lucah: Born of a Dream, a top-down brawler by melessthanthree. It ended up being one of the first because of its incredibly striking art style. Lucah is presented as a sort of violent chalkboard drawing, something a trouble youth might make. Character models shift and warp, combat causes the entire environment to shudder, and animations are rudimentary at most, giving the game a brutal, minimalist feel.
From a gameplay perspective you’re looking at what is essentially a top-down take on the Dark Souls school of unforgiving resource-managing combat. The main character possesses both a close-range and a long-range combat style and can freely swap between them, allowing for the creation of versatile combos. They can also dodge roll, which is helpful as enemies heavily telegraph their attacks. Lucah will come with both a campaign and an endless battle mode; a tournament to reach the highest possible score in the latter was one of the mini-events that took place during our visit.
Lucah might have ended up being Nia’s game of the show, but for my vote, I think the hottest game at The MIX was Just Shapes & Beats from Berzerk Studio. It’s a sort of cross between a rhythm game and a bullet-hell shooter; up to four players choose a song and then dodge obstacles synched up to the beat. The music really makes this one, as you might expect from a game with rhythm elements – one particularly great moment was when we played through a level set to the classic MORTAL KOMBAT!! theme song. This one’s actually already available on Steam as of May and definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already.
Nia was particularly taken with Foam Sword’s Knights and Bikes, an action-adventure game starring a pair of girls and their goose companion. You can hug the goose. It’s totally a thing. I’m not really sure what else you might need from a game like this, but just in case you’re not convinced, you can also get the heroines to high five whenever you please. Knights and Bikes looks like it’ll be somewhat similar to classic action-adventures like The Legend of Zelda, only with a heaping helping of charm slathered on top.
Desert Child from Akupara Games has been making the rounds lately and was present to check out at The MIX. It’s a bike racer with light RPG elements; the racing segments were reminiscent of similar scenes from Chrono Trigger, while the RPG elements have you running around town making sure your bike stays in good repair and your stomach stays full. As a broke hoverbike racer stuck on a rapidly-declining Earth, you’ll need to manage your life and succeed in racing to earn enough money for a trip to Mars. As a broke hoverbike racer myself, this one really speaks to who I am as a human being, and I think it’ll be worth a look when it drops in August.
Speed Brawl from Double Stallion Games is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a brawler that’s all about getting things done fast. You’ll choose two characters and race through stages as quickly as possible, beating up baddies and doing a bit of platforming along the way. You’re not just trying to survive; victory means going as quickly as possible as well, so you’ll need to hustle both when you’re running from fight to fight and when you’re handing out beatings. Speed Brawl’s got an interesting steampunk aesthetic that helps it stand out, plus the combat feels nice and snappy.
If we were to go into every single great game we saw and awesome developer we met at The MIX, we’d be here for days, so to summarize a few other memorable titles:
Itta from Glass Revolver is a Soulsy shooter with plenty of atmosphere and environmental storytelling.
Richie Bosso’s Epic Tavern uses an advanced procedural generation feature to capture the feel of tabletop role-playing; it’s got a ton of interesting storylines to check out, monsters to fight and party members to get invested in shortly before they die horribly.
The Spectrum Retreat from Dan Smith Studios is a Portalesque first-person puzzler that splits your time between exploring a strange hotel and solving brain-twisting puzzles.
Hamsterdam from Muse Games is possibly the cutest thing ever: a timing-focused brawler for mobile platforms starring a hamster. Seriously, it’s adorbs.
Triband’s What the Golf? is…golf, I suppose. Except it’s not. Sometimes you’re golfing with a car. Sometimes you’re golfing with yourself. Rarely are you ever golfing in the traditional sense of the term. It’s…it’s something.
Unfold Games’ Darq is a psychological-horror-ish puzzle platformer starring a boy capable of lucid dreaming. This allows him to explore the dream world and try to survive an ever-shifting nightmare.
That is, of course, not to downplay the numerous other winners presented to curious journos and other visitors. Long story short, 2018’s The MIX was once again one of the most memorable and enjoyable events surrounding the whole E3 shared-universe, offering both fans and developers of indie delights a chance to interact and show off the next hotness. It’s also a great reminder that every side of the industry is cranking out some truly solid work these days, and there’s no reason they should fall through the cracks.