The Boston Festival of Indie Games Overview 2018, Part 1

Every year the Boston Festival of Indie Games takes over MIT’s Johnson Athletic Center to showcase talent from New England and beyond. It’s a less high-pressure show than something like PAX and games ranging from top-tier indie to student project hang out side by side. Four aisles of booths cover a good percentage of the indoor track on the top floor of the center, with the rest of space taken up by an artist’s alley and a free-play area for the non-digital games that have their showcase on the first floor. The show is a lot of fun, busy but without the incredible volume that makes PAX or E3 difficult to hold an actual conversation in. This is the third year I’ve gone and, just like the previous shows, the result is a series of three features going over every single game I got to play. PC, console, mobile, professional developer or student, it doesn’t matter. It’s all here and the only disclaimer is I wish I’d had the time to play more than this.  There’s a lot to cover, so-

Super Crome: Bullet Purgatory– Bullet hell is an overhwhelming place to visit, but bullet purgatory is much more… inviting?  Less stressful?  Something like that.  Super Crome is a pure arcade shooter that’s probably got some kind of reason behind the alien attack, but the important part is there’s lots of them and they spray bullets everywhere.  The aliens attack in waves, a small handful of ships at a time, and even the easiest enemies take a pile of shots to go down.  Unlike a shooter like Mushihimesama you aren’t death incarnate fighting off dense waves of attackers that spawn thicker clouds of bullets, but rather a standard rocket with a gun that will, with enough firing, eventually wear down the enemy defenses.  The difference in feel is that each enemy on the screen needs your full attention, because while it may take a bit to destroy one they’re going to keep firing all the while.  Thankfully the ship comes with a dash that lets you zip through clouds of bullets, plus a strong charge shot to put the hurt on the tougher baddies.  The definition of “tougher baddies” changes as the game progresses, though, because sometimes enemies drop a powerup and, while a single one doesn’t do much, eventually they stack up enough to turn the starting pop-gun into a multi-stream death laser.  Sure, the enemies get tougher and the bullets denser to make up the difference, but it always feels nice when what had been a serious effort turns into a light distraction from the newer, tougher challenges ahead.

Alike– A relatively simple puzzle game that gets rapidly more complicated.  There’s a maze on a grid with multiple colored dots that all move together when you hit an arrow key, which is great for the dot near an open space but not so hot for the one right near a red circle that will erase it from the board.  The challenge is to get each colored dot into a while circle, which is impossible to do when you’ve accidentally destroyed one of your pieces.  Eventually the game introduces yellow spots on the grid that turn red after a piece moves over it, blue teleporter circles that disappear after a single use, and black walls that disappear after all the little black dots on the board have been collected.  It’s a clever little thing but only a few levels long right now, and you can probably beat it in 20 minutes of pleasant puzzling.  Seeing as the entire game that was available on the show floor is available to play in your web browser at Github (available here) there’s no reason to take my word for it.  Head on over and give it a look.

Trino–  Being a dinosaur is generally a good thing, other than that whole “extinction” problem.  Duggi’s problem, though, is that he’s a stuffed dino in a puzzly world patrolled by real thunder lizards, which makes getting to the level exit a bit trickier than it would otherwise be.  While Duggi is more fragile than the average dino, falling apart at a touch, he does have a few tricks up his sleeve in that he can turn into one of three different forms, each with its own ability.  The standard dino form can drop a small doll of itself, which can be used as a decoy to catch a t-rex’s attention or as a weight to hold open the level exit.  The brontosaurus can eat shrubs blocking off paths or tear off the leaves and dump them on his back to use as camouflage, plus go swimming.  Finally there’s a t-rex transformation that, while still as fragile as the other forms, can eat a stunned dinosaur to remove it from the playfield.  Any one dino-form can turn into the others but they need to earn the ability by eating three of a different item- flowers for the base form, meat for the t-rex, and trees for the brontosaurus.  While not particularly difficult, at least in the early levels I played, it was super-cute.  You play as a small dinosaur who carries around a smaller doll of itself and there’s no way not to find that adorable.  You can check this one out at its web site.

FireFlight–  This one is a mobile game featuring a bird, possibly made of fire, zipping along from one point to another lighting up lanterns as it goes.  Each level is comprised of tap-points, sometimes small birds and others being the smaller lanterns it needs to light on the way to the big end-point lantern. The only control over the bird’s flight you get is by tapping on one of the items, which the bird will then zip straight towards unless, of course, it’s a moving target.  Which is an interesting challenge in timing when there’s a rock between the bird and it’s goal.  The firebird never stops moving, so when it reaches one point it will  either glide into a wall or eventually descend in an arc off the bottom of the screen.  The levels are designed so that you’re constantly tapping from point to point at speed, broken up by moments when you need to use that glide to arc over or under (depending on the direction you came from) part of the scenery.  It doesn’t take long for the difficulty to ramp up, requiring speed and precision to avoid cratering the poor bird, but the levels are short enough and reload time nonexistent so it’s easy to try again, as many times as necessary, until the big level-end lantern is finally lit up.

Squatbot-  Simple but evil little platformer starring a hopping robot collecting coins.  Getting through a level is all about controlling momentum, and it’s helped immeasurably by the controls being super-simple.  Tap the left side of the screen to jump left, the right side to jump right, and that’s everything.  Except for spikes, ice platforms, pits, and other standard platformer hazards, of course.  While it’s fairly paint-by-numbers on the surface Squatbot gets away with it by having precise controls that make movement feel good, even when you’re in mid-air just knowing that you’ve got too much speed to avoid the coming spike ball and it’s too late to stop now.  While the game is designed to be played by tapping the screen, the demo unit at Boston FIG was running off a custom controller shaped like an SNES pad except with only two buttons, one per side.  An alternate control method had it playable with Donkey Konga bongos, but sadly they were out of commission at the time.  If any lesson can be learned from Donkey Kong’s Jungle Beat it’s that platformers are always better when played with bongos.  The regular version can be played right now in either a free version (which is fairly kind with the way it spaces out its ad interruptions) or an ad-free paid version, iOS or Android.

Runaway-  This one was early in production but has a lot of potential.  You’re a street punk in a hoodie running across rooftops, wall-jumping and dash-rolling through the environment in search of areas to tag with your handy can of spray paint.  Honestly, this one is too early to talk about much, seeing as it only had a tutorial section plus a playground to put the moves to the test in, but I liked the feel of it both in terms of the character handling and the game’s style.  The mechanics and tone are there and now it’s just a matter of building a 2D parkour platforming action game around it.

And that’s part one of three.  Fairly obviously this is only going to be a small cross-section of everything there, seeing as not only was time limited but there were a ton of games to see.  I didn’t even manage to get to Boyfriend Dungeon, which I’ll admit that maybe I misjudged after watching other people get to play.  Boston FIG may not be one of the larger gaming shows, but there’s still far more on display than one person can play.