The Fantastic Arcade is a growing part of Fantastic Fest, a tribute to hard-working indie game developers and the incredible work they do. Normally out of the way at the Highball near the South Lamar Drafthouse, it was right in the middle of the action this year at the Alamo Lakeline. It was impossible to miss - to get to your screenings you generally lined up next to the dozen or so arcade cabinets and groups of gamers playing. The mad geniuses of the fest created custom cabinets to feature the finest in indie gaming, along with some computers and Playstation Vita stations set up for anyone to try.
Having it be right in the middle of everything was a joy. The death of the arcade has really crippled gamers and I don’t know how many people realize it - no one plays videogames with their friends in person anymore and as amazing as online gaming is there’s nothing like playing next to someone you can scream and laugh with. I didn’t get a chance to go to any of the many panels and parties for the Arcade because I wasn’t staying for the whole week and there were so many movies I wanted to see, but I won’t be missing next year’s.
Here are my highlights from their amazing selection of games.
This game won Best in Show at the Fantastic Awards and there’s no doubt that the best game won. I kept going back to this cabinet to play and once almost missed a screening because of a pitched battle against three other players.
It’s an incredibly fast-paced game where you’re dueling up to three other Samurai. The title being what it is, the samurai are armed with both swords and pistols, the latter of which only contains three bullets. You can bound around the single-screen environment, running and jumping and walljumping around while trying to strike down your foes. One hit is one kill, although you can parry swords and bullets with your own sword. Get a kill and the game pauses with a slash across the screen to show the bloody, pixelated carnage.
11 kills makes for a win but if anyone ends up with a tie it triggers a showdown. (A Samurai showdown, I suppose.) In typical samurai fashion this takes place on a barren plain with the sun setting in the background, with both competitors standing across from each other.. or three, during the rare three-way tie. You’ll run at each other and attack and whoever still stands is the victor. The game is incredibly fun, a perfect mix of retro graphics and bloody mayhem and twitchy gameplay. Samurai Gunn is coming out for the PS4 and I quite honestly can’t think of another game I’m more excited about for the system- four player matches will be incredible. (It will also be hitting the PC and Vita.)
It is what it says. You’re a guy trying to park a car with no brakes. Yes, it’s just as ridiculous as it sounds.
Each car comes flying in from the side of a screen and you've got a few seconds to figure out what spot you can put them in. Some cars require specific spots, like the Prime Minister who has his own VIP space, or a handicapped spot. The screen will get increasingly cluttered with cars and it gets harder and harder to find room for them all as they keep coming in. Fun as hell, this game is actually a Ouya exclusive for the time being, so hope it gets to a real platform soon.
By far the trippiest game of the Arcade, Panoramical allowed you to create musical landscapes. It utilized an insane custom controller provided by Mickey Delp of Delptronics, full of switches and knobs and what-have-yous. Strapping on the headphones and fiddling with things immersed you in a musical world like nothing else.
My short time with this wasn’t nearly enough, and I really wish I could have gotten some more time in this one, especially because of that incredible controller. It's coming out for PC and Mac and there will be a free app for iPad and Android tablets that will allow you to control the game. Most MIDI music controllers will work too.
Sandbox breakdancing. This game confused many people because there’s really no aim or goal to it besides being awesome. You’ll flop around your sausage-looking character by rotating the analog stick and can grab items or the environment with either of your hands. Flopping in certain ways lets you perform tricks. The game’s got a fun visual style reminiscent of Katamari Damacy and is just pure ridiculous entertainment. Finding different ways of traversing the environment is a blast, as well as discovering new moves.
Festival sponsor Playstation had a ton of Vita stations set up alongside the Indie stuff, with a nice mix of both recently released and upcoming games, games like Metrico and Fez and Hohokum. I’m not going to lie- I’ve been really rough on the Vita in the past and initially didn’t give a single thought about owning one- until seeing their initiative for indie games, which made me do a 180. See, I could care less about playing Uncharted on the thing, just give me my portable Hotline Miami. The same goes for the new consoles as well- the indie lineup is way more exciting! Getting my hands on a bunch of titles here convinced me that I need one ASAP, and the latest title from MediaMolecule (LittleBigPlanet) did a large portion of the convincing. Tearaway is a great 3d platformer which uses every trick up the Vita’s sleeve. The rear touchpad, the touchscreen, even the camera - all were utilized in this clever little platformer. It uses these features so well and intuitively that it reminded me of first playing the Nintendo DS and thinking of all the potential the system had for new gameplay experiences. Let's hope more developers take advantage of its features. Tearaway hits November 22nd and it seems like a must-buy for the system.
(Note - this game was known as Wasteland Kings but they decided to change the name to avoid confusion with the other Wasteland game out there.)
I love Vlambeer’s Ridiculous Fishing so I was really excited to check out this game, which they said is the culmination of everything they’ve worked on so far. You choose from a huge amount of characters, all of which have different abilities and attributes, and all of which want to become the Wasteland king. It’s a roguelike shooter where you have to kill all the enemies on a stage to get to the next one. In between levels you utilize the powers of the wasteland (radiation that you've picked up) to mutate new limbs and gain new powers. I played a sentient Little Shop of Horrors-esque killer plant and loved every minute of it.
Nuclear Throne is newly available through Steam Early Access and will hit PS4 and Playstation Vita soon.