Since the dawn of video games, there have been sports games. Even Pong, the first video game to receive any notable amount of mainstream attention, was essentially a digital simulation of table tennis. Since then, there have been a grand host of sports games, all ranging differently in the way of faithfulness to their more athletic counterparts. But never have I seen a “sports” video game quite as outlandish as this year’s “Make Something Unreal” contest winner, Epigenesis.
If you’re trying to get an idea of what Epigenesis is, imagining a mixture of the upcoming Sportsfriends‘ BariBariBall and traditional Basketball would be a pretty good place to start. Toss in a bit of Plants vs Zombies and Unreal Tournament, and you’ve got the game’s basic mechanics covered. An average match of Epigenesis takes place on a playfield made up of a dozen or so floating platforms. To score, players must bound across these suspended platforms, get the game ball that spawns in the middle of the field, and throw it through their opponents’ hexagonal goal that is situated on a platform at the far side of the arena. Those who are not carrying the ball are equipped with both a pulse-rifle and a precision-beam that can be used to knock their opponents off of platforms, down to their ultimate elimination — until respawn, that is. While that in itself seems simple enough, a few of the game’s key components make this “sport” a great deal more interesting.
To start, my likening the game to Sportsfriend‘s BariBariBall was because in Epigenesis, your character can double-jump. This ability affords you a great deal of freedom to move about the arena, but it can also be your downfall. Literally. Once you expend your two jumps, you have to stay planted on the ground for a short while (to recharge your jumping ability), before you can recommence hopping around the map. In the hectic act of running a ball to the goal, it’s easy to forget about managing your jumps, and end up falling to your doom. On top of that, you are instantly spawned back to your team’s goal platform with a Seed in-hand each time you score. This Seed can be planted on certain, specified platforms and will sprout aid for your team. That aid may be a simple boost in movement speed, or an advantageous path to your opponents’ goal formed by a quartet of woven green branches. Once you plant a seed on a platform, that platform becomes your team’s property. But be wary, your enemy can plant a seed in the same spot at any time and take it over. A match can be won in one of two ways: have the game’s timer run out while your team has the highest score, or plant a seed on the platform on which your opponent’s goal resides.
The game is further spiced by occurrences that happen mid-game. The only one that I experienced, though, was a tornado spawning in the middle of the arena. The twister carried myself (and a number of my fellow players) quite a ways, proving rather difficult to get out of. The experience of unexpectedly seeing the tornado rise from the center of the map (on the platform that holds the ball) was an entertaining one to say the least. My friends and I were pretty shocked to see the event unfold and quickly burst into laughter while being carried by the tornado before continuing to play the game.
While the game’s visuals aren’t particularly interesting and some of its mechanics didn’t feel particularly polished, it’s important to remember that the game is still in the very early alpha stage. My look at Epigenesis was a promising, but early one, to say the least. I look forward to seeing further development of the project, as well as its final release when it comes some time next year.