Nindies@ Home

One of Nintendo's earliest E3 announcements may not have drawn the headlines it deserved, but is a promotion that is worthy of praise. The [email protected] promotion has served up nine free eShop demos on the Wii U, featuring some hugely promising games that are on the way to the store. Once you've downloaded the demos you're also entitled to a 15% discount on the games when they're released.

During the past week three of our writers - Jon Wahlgren, Conor McMahon and Thomas Jones - have put the games to the test. Here's what they had to say.

Jon Wahlgren

RIVE
RIVE

Well, this was a pleasant surprise. Two Tribes takes a hard left from the slower-paced cute puzzling of Toki Tori 2 and lets loose with RIVE, a game that combines the best parts of platformers and twin-stick shooters into an explosive package.

The Nindies Event demo of RIVE is pretty much all action, all the time - swarms of enemies fly at you in both free-flying and platform settings, and your job is to blast your way through. Light puzzle elements keep your brain engaged and offer well-placed - if brief - down-tempos to the regular lunacy. The framerate is silky smooth and the engine seems to have no trouble with lots of things happening on screen.

There's a wee bit more to RIVE than just blasting robots, though. Collectable "hacks" appear to play the role of ability upgrades, which can be used on some enemies to alter their behaviour. In this demo, we hacked an enemy medic robot to follow us around and patch us up. Sadly, it got smashed. Rest in pieces, little guy. We're curious to see what other hacks RIVE has in store.

Two Tribes knows exactly what it's doing with RIVE, and it shows - this is one of the better-executed titles among the Nindies on offer during E3. We're very excited to get more time with this one come November.

Soul Axiom
Soul Axiom

Billed as a cyber-thriller with "an intriguing storyline," Soul Axiom is a first-person puzzle game with plenty of ambition. The game is set in Elysia, a digital network where people can upload their memories and explore them at will. And since the memories are digital, they can be manipulated - who really wants to relive the bad stuff, right? - which creates a lot of potential for story and gameplay.

The single stage on show here showcases some of that manipulative power. It is designed to introduce a "phasing" ability, giving the player the power to bring in or remove elements of the cybernetic dream world. The puzzling is dead simple - likely because it doubles as a tutorial - and the demo seems to end before it begins. This is a very small taste of what could be a very big world, so it's a small bummer to not have a larger slice to explore.

At this stage it's tough to pinpoint what Soul Axiom's own identity is because the genre influences feel so overpowering. Stark notes of Tron, Stargate, The Matrix and Total Recall are sure to raise an intrigued eyebrow among sci-fi fans, but it'll take more than genre reductivity to stand as a worthwhile contribution.

Perhaps this Nindies Event demo is catching the game at an awkward time in development - it isn't out for another six-ish months, after all - because it's clear that developer Wales Interactive has plenty of work left to do. The sluggish framerate and movement show a lack of optimization, and the sparse environment comes across as unfinished, even considering the cyber veneer. Soul Axiom has potential, and we hope that the final

forma.8
forma.8

Whereas Soul Axiom purports to be set in an artificial dream world, playing forma.8 feels positively dreamy. This game is relaxing, mildly taxing, and an all-around delight to explore.

Players take control of the small, titular exploration probe stranded on an alien planet, and - well, we're a little short on the why of it all, but that's inconsequential for this demo. Point is, forma.8 has a planet to explore. The deliberately sparse art design is a great fit, creating a sense that this weird alien planet is alive and, yes, decidedly alien. It's quite pretty, and the gameplay's delightfully slow pace lets the art soak in.

In this Nindies Event demo, exploration is limited to a section of caves full of all sorts of alien nasties that are best avoided. forma.8 moves quite slow, requiring deliberate movements to get around unscathed. If push comes to shove, forma.8 can fight back with defensive weaponry - a quick burst around its personal space, and later gaining a small bomb. To succeed, you'll need to master your arsenal by learning all of the different ways to exploit your abilities. For example, the bomb does not move on its own, but by blasting a quick burst it can be launched across the environment. It takes a few tries to blast a bomb accurately, but with practice we found ourselves calling shots like a pool shark.

The demo ends right at what appears to be a boss fight, and we could tell that this particular baddie would've put out our bomb-shot mastery to the test. We're keen to show that sucker what we're made of when forma.8 releases this fall.

Conor McMahon

Runbow
Runbow

As one of the most anticipated Wii U eShop exclusives, Runbow comes with a rainbow sheen of polish and charm that had us eagerly awaiting the chance to dive into some gameplay. With up to nine players able to join in the mayhem at once, it's clear that 13AM Games wants to get as many people playing as possible, to the point where a single nunchuck can operate as its own controller. We're all for this, and thoroughly enjoyed the brief snippet of local multiplayer that the trial provides.

Whether you're breaking out of jail, ducking under a tropical waterfall or hitching a ride on a speeding train, the goal of each level is to make your way to the end as fast as possible. Along the way you can bash your rivals and freely choose multiple paths to get the advantage, so we suggest taking a moment to figure out your abilities. Simplified controls make it easy to play using any method, but the upwards boost is critical at certain points, and you don't want to be left taunting when you should be double jumping!

Adventure mode changes the objective sometimes, with a bit of coin hunting or enemy bashing to mix things up, but there's never any real benefit to taking your time here. "Run" is in the title, after all! It's a concept that's easy to explain to a large group, with everyone playing on a single screen and quickly getting invested in the competition. The trial provides a decent handful of races and missions to complete in either single player or with a group, with the former simply requiring you to beat a set time to earn medals.

Of course we would be remiss not to mention the stylish visuals, and there's a surprising amount of variety on display here. The ever-changing colour palette can be altered to your liking, with a few costumes unlocked for good measure as well. It's a very striking aesthetic that keeps you focused on the task at hand, but there are certainly moments where little environmental touches catch your eye, showing off an attention to detail.

Runbow's trial lends itself well to repeat playthroughs, especially if you get the chance to play with a group, but also confidently proves that this is an eShop title worth your attention. With extra gameplay modes and more characters to be included in the full release, there's a pot of gold waiting at the end of this Runbow.

Lovely Planet
Lovely Planet

Lovely Planet is a curious new title from tinybuild and QUICKTEQUILA, which takes the form of a sort of…cutesy first-person shooter. Instead of focusing on duck and cover confrontations, this title drops you into an incredibly simple, abstract and downright bizarre world, where our first impressions left us wondering what on earth we were meant to be doing. In reality though, the objective couldn't be simpler - clear the level of baddies, and progress on to the next.

Wielding a gun that could double as a fancy magic wand, you move and shoot your way through a series of very brief stages, with a force of angular red enemies out to stop you at every corner. They're initially pretty stoic, but get more aggressive as you progress, firing back with a vengeance and keeping you on your toes before too long. There's a real sense of speed and agility to your movement as you learn their patterns and take them down, but we couldn't help but notice how imprecise the aiming was throughout. It was particularly noticeable when coming off the back of Splatoon's smooth gyroscope control, but using the right stick to aim shots doesn't normally feel quite this stiff.

Besides that though, we'd almost compare certain moments to a kind of bizarre dance. Jumping and weaving between bullets while racing to the end is a rewarding way to play, and this feeling of momentum is a key factor in the madcap ride that is Lonely Planet. The music and aesthetic are bouncy and joyful, prompting you to play the same way as you bound through levels at a blistering pace. The selection featured in this trial can be beaten within a matter of minutes, but it remains to be seen just how complex the final 100 levels can get.

Ideally, we'd like to see the GamePad gyroscope incorporated into aiming for the final release, and a far greater variety when it comes to level design. Our biggest complaint is in relation to off-screen play though, as the game doesn't play audio through the GamePad speakers at all. This means that you miss out on the excellent soundtrack if you aren't using the TV, which is absolutely half the fun of the whole experience.

Basically, Lovely Planet does for the FPS what Katamari Damacy did for the 3D platformer, and it's a unique spin that's absolutely worth a test run.

Extreme Exorcism
Extreme Exorcism

Right off the bat, Extreme Exorcism conveys a beautifully eerie atmosphere by setting a looming mansion as the title screen backdrop. With off-key piano chords ringing out and a dark purple mist crawling across the sky, it's enough to set a spooky tone for sure, so we jumped straight in expecting a ghoulishly good time. This unique 2D shooter certainly didn't disappoint, but it's a lot more twitch than terror, so there's no need to shiver!

Stepping into the boots of a hardened - but tiny - exorcist, you're tasked with clearing that aforementioned mansion of its undead inhabitants. It's a simple premise, and this trial allows you to play the standard arcade mode, with additional challenges and death match options available upon release. Extreme Exorcism really nails that arcade feeling by offering up an ever-escalating challenge that encourages you to try for a high score, but this shooter comes with a fiendish twist…

Every round requires you to defeat the crowned ghost, which seems pretty easy until you realize that a new ghost pops up every time you win. Not only that, but their movement actually mirrors the exact steps you took during the previous round, so it can get very hectic very quickly. Confident players can find themselves overwhelmed by sheer numbers, while those who take their time can end up second-guessing their own movements, for fear that it'll result in a trickier battle during the next round. The longer you play, the tougher it gets.

A brief (and optional) tutorial gets you moving, with 1-4 players supported and a different exorcist character available for each if you so choose. It's purely a cosmetic change though, as your real power comes from an arsenal of weapons waiting to be collected within the levels themselves. Ranging from simple pistols and swords to rocket launchers, high flying karate kicks and harpoon guns, everything packs a significant and satisfying punch. You can hold up to three at once, which all fire simultaneously, so it's really fun to combine your favourites and unleash fury onto your spectral foes. Mutliplayer is co-op only for the purposes of this trial, though we're curious to see how PvP can play out when you've got ghosts to deal with at the same time.

Nicely detailed pixel art is accompanied by a fast-paced soundtrack, but unfortunately we frequently encountered a strange glitch where music would actually cut out when any other sound effect played. It happened nearly every time we launched the game, so we hope this jarring effect is well and truly exorcised for the full release. Audio issues aside, we recommend checking this one out if you're ready for an arcade shooter with a side order of ghost. BOO!

Thomas Jones

Typoman
Typoman

Headup Games' Typoman is an extremely interesting 2D platformer/puzzler that is sure to test your brain even more than it will test your reflexes. Set in a gritty, achromatic world full of letters, you must traverse the landscape and master the linguistic puzzles which stand in your way.

Unfortunately, the platforming takes somewhat of a back seat to the puzzling elements present, making the actual progression through the levels seem rather drab. Thankfully, the wordplay conundrums make up for the rather simplistic gameplay - sure to leave you setting down your controller and simply staring at a jumble of letters for minutes at a time, scratching your head as you try to rearrange a particularly awkward anagram or figure out a rather perplexing paradox.

What is more impressive about the platforming, however, is that solving conundrums can effect and alter the environment around Typoman. For example, an impassable lake of water can be overcome by swinging on a vine bearing the letter "D" into the word "rain" - transforming what was a cloud dropping a deluge of rainfall into a sinkhole in the lake itself, opening the way through. The use of wordplay in Typoman is incredibly witty and well thought out, and certainly the most impressive and enjoyable aspect of the title.

From a visual point of view, Typoman isn't the most unique looking platformer, bearing a striking resemblance to the likes of Limbo, LAD, Renoir and a Walk in the Dark to name just a few. Although it's dark, grungey, silhouetted visuals are far from original - they certainly suit the overall atmosphere of the game, with Typoman (the game's protagonist) and a host of enemies, traps and obstacles all presented in the form of gritty serif fonts.

While Typoman certainly won't appeal to everyone's tastes - requiring a steady, logical and patient approach - fans of platformers and puzzles will surely be overjoyed playing Typoman, and are sure to find it a match made in heaven.

Mutant Mudds Super Challenge
Mutant Mudds Super Challenge

By this point in time, Renegade Kid's Mutant Mudds has already established itself as one of the most beloved and successful indie titles available on the Nintendo 3DS. The original was a great success, eventually finding its way to a host of other platforms including the Wii U. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that we're seeing the franchise making its way to the Wii U again in the form of Mutant Mudds Super Challenge, an all new addition into the series

It's clear early on that Mutant Mudds is certainly a platformer best suited to the 3DS. With the series' famed stages having a background and foreground playing host to the gameplay, the 3DS's stereoscopic 3D is unrivalled as the perfect home for Mutant Mudds and, unfortunately, the ability to jump between the layers isn't quite as impressive on the Wii U.

However, the game certainly isn't out of place on the Wii U. Where the title misses out on the lack of perspective present through the stereoscopic 3D, it makes up for on the Wii U in the form of its big, chunky gorgeous sprites, which look better on a television screen than they ever did on the 3DS. Coupled with its usually sound chiptune backing, Mutant Mudds Super Challenge looks and sounds as good as ever.

As far as the "Super Challenge" goes, from early impressions Mutant Mudds seems to be extremely challenging - "Super" challenging in fact, with even the demo stages sure to rack up your number of deaths. Coupled with new bosses to overcome, Mutant Mudds Super Challenge looks to be a testing experience to say the least, even sure to provide fans of the original with a worthy test.

Overall, it's clear to see from two stages (and one boss battle) available in the demo that Super Mutant Mudds Challenge is set to become one of the standout Indie titles available on the Wii U, as well as the 3DS, and is sure to satisfy veterans of the original and newcomers alike.

Freedom Planet
Freedom Planet

GalaxyTrail's Freedom Planet started its life as a Sonic the Hedgehog fan-project, before eventually becoming its own entity. It's clear from the get go that the title was once centred around the blue blur. The game is Sonic through and through, and while the designer - Stephen DiDuro - ultimately abandoned the idea of using the blue Hedgehog because he found it "derivative", the title certainly still uses a whole host of mechanics and characteristics from the classic SEGA titles. Not that this is a point of objection, as Freedom Planet manages to take the formula, adapt and (in some cases) even improve upon the Blue Blur's original outings.

With the rare luxury of 25 or so years of hindsight, Freedom Planet even manages to address the faults the classic Sonic games often find themselves receiving. Most notably, while your main character runs at some speed, they don't quite reach "blast processing" levels of velocity - all but removing that rather annoying trait of hurtling head first into your enemies found all too often in Sonic titles. Freedom Planet even manages to add in some decent combat mechanics to the classic Sonic formula which more than accommodates for the lack of a Spin-Dash attack (which you're bound to find yourself trying to perform).

Aesthetically, Freedom Planet manages to do what few retro-themed indie games often achieve - to give the illusion they're the genuine vintage article. The title's glorious visuals and catchy grooves appear to have come straight from the Sega CD and it's difficult to believe that the title was developed within the last few years.

All in all, Freedom Planet looks to be the most faithful "Sonic" game in years and will leave fans of the classic Sega platformers delighted, and while you will find yourself counting similarities to the Sonic games on your fingers (and toes), Freedom Planet still manages to be a wonderful and individual platformer.


Have you played the [email protected] demos yet? Which is your favourite?