Thanks to duties on the film side of Fantastic Fest, I haven’t been able to get to as much at this year's Fantastic Arcade as I would have liked. Fantastic Arcade is a super great event - unlike many gaming festivals, it’s completely lacking in pomp, and for much of it, it’s essentially a bunch of gamers, developers, and corrupt journalists hanging out in a bar shooting the shit (and sometimes shooting shit). I have managed to catch a couple of events though, one of which was the live, in-theatre tournament of four-person brawler Gang Beasts, MCed by Tim Schafer and Vlambeer’s JW Nijman.
Gang Beasts is a fine example of indie game design: its mechanics are disarmingly simple on paper, yet rich with possibility in execution. Players descend upon trap-laden arenas (meat grinders; moving trucks; flame pits) and hurl their Pillsbury Dough Boy-like avatars at each other, hoping to throw them out of the ring to their horrible deaths. Controls are simple to understand - sticks to move, triggers to punch or grab, a button each for jumping, ducking and raising arms - but difficult to master. Awkwardly running around flapping one’s arms about is part of the joy, and an accidental success is just as satisfying as calculated one.
Gang Beasts is also fucking funny. It’s a perfect party game, a less-polished Super Smash Brothers that’s all the better for it. Because the animations aren’t canned, there’s a lot of opportunity to gyrate your character in unforeseen ways, as one guy whose character just humped the corner of the special Alamo Drafthouse arena demonstrated. Dramatic moments emerge continuously - characters drag each other to their deaths, cling to life by a thread, and pile up on one another often. Even the character designs - which were placeholders until the developers realised players liked them more than the fantasy characters they were originally to be replaced with - lend the (extraordinarily violent) proceedings a cute, wobbly charm.
Best of all, Gang Beasts is a game that rewards failure. I had never played the game before I picked up a controller for the tournament, and I was knocked out pretty rapidly. But it’s fun to fail in this game, which is something that needs to be embraced by more games. The tournament was characterised not by competition but by raucous laughter, and that brought warm feelings to my heart.
If you want to try Gang Beasts yourself, there’s an alpha build on Steam Early Access. Get some friends together (it’s local-only) and have some fun.