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Three of E3’s Hidden Indie Gems that Shouldn’t Get Lost in the Noise

E3 brings more than big multi-million dollar games to LA, if you know where to look.

Most of the video game industry’s largest show of the year takes place on the Los Angeles Convention Center show floor and in various meeting rooms. But every year, the gravity of the show also draws many smaller indie developers and their games to downtown LA. One annual show that gives these efforts their place to shine is the Media Indie Exchange (MIX). There, indie devs get put in the spotlight and you never know what you’ll find.

I was lucky enough to see many interesting games at this year’s MIX. A lot of them were good, some of them were great, but three of them stood out. These three games displayed an evolution of styles and gameplay that once again proved how vital the indie scene is in keeping video game creativity thriving. These should not get lost in the E3 shuffle.

Knights and Bikes

Developer Foam Swords is bringing something disarmingly delightful to gamers with the studio’s first game “Knights and Bikes.” Set in Cornwall, England, in 1987, “Knights and Bikes” tells the story of two girls, Demelza and Nessa, setting off on a coming of age adventure. It’s a co-op action adventure RPG game that blends together whimsy and reality in an incredibly charming world.

The developers describe the game as a cross between “The Goonies” and “Earthbound,” which is a very good analogy for what it offers. You pedal around on bikes, kick dirt at enemies, throw water balloons, solve puzzles, and explore a land that’s made all the more magical by Demelza and Nessa’s imaginations.

Foam Swords was formed by two former Media Molecule staffers and the game certainly has that level of detailed pleasantry. It’s most reminiscent of “Tearaway,” with plenty of digital paper craft making up the landscape. The game also feels a little like “Tearaway,” with purposefully jerky animations to give everything a handmade, bespoke appearance.

“Knights and Bikes” was first announced in 2016, and then Kickstarted last year before being picked up by Double Fine as a publisher. “Knights and Bikes” developers are planning for a 2019 release on Steam and PS4 at launch.

Itta

Every level of “Itta” made me more and more excited to play this single person-developed game.

I was first drawn to it by the wonderful art style and character animations. They reminded me of “Sword & Sorcery,” and the developer Jacob Williams confirmed that he was indeed inspired by that game. Then, as I approached, he told me it was a boss rush game in the style of “Titan Souls” or “Shadow of the Colossus,” which I very much enjoy. Then I found out it was a bullet hell game, one of my favorite subgenres. Finally, I played it and discovered that it’s basically a twin-stick shooter and I was totally sold.

Itta wakes up surrounded by the bodies of her family and has no choice but to pick up her father’s gun and go seek her revenge. Oh, also the ghost of her cat tags along. In much the same style of Titan Souls, large bosses lie in waiting around the world. Some are hidden and some are right out in the open. In my brief time with the game, the shooting and dodging felt very good and it is clear “Itta” will be a difficult game to master. I only attempted to beat two of the bosses. I managed to die several times, while only defeating one of them.

I found the small bit of the world and surrounding lore that I was able to see extremely compelling. Williams assured me that the mythology upon which the game rests goes very deep and is uncovered with further exploration. Simply experiencing the art and boss designs would give me enough reason to jump in, but I’m thrilled that so many layers of “Itta” seem to work so well.

Williams said “Itta” is his and studio Glass Revolver’s first game. He hopes to have it out in 2019 on Steam for PC and Mac.

Ooblets

In a show full of games glorifying violence and mayhem, “Ooblets” felt like a breath of fresh mountain air.

The incredibly chipper and colorful game is a mashup of several different beloved titles. There’s a dash of “Harvest Moon,” a sprinkle of “Animal Crossing,” and heaping spoonful of “Pokémon.”

In “Ooblets,” you’re the new person in a small town. You are shown your new house by your friendly neighbors, but told you shouldn’t go exploring without an ooblet of your very own. What’s an ooblet? They are adorable little beings that you can grow from seeds or find in the forest. They will then follow you around and do battle with other ooblets. How do they battle? By dancing. Basically, I didn’t stop smiling the entire time I played “Ooblets.”

My first little tagalong ooblet was a mushroom-like creature named Shrumbo. It didn’t take long before me and Shrumbo were besting fools out in the forest with our sick dance moves and capturing other ooblets to join our posse. It also didn’t take long for me to deck out Shrumbo in a tiny, jaunty top hat and some personable sunglasses. I hoed my garden, planted some other seeds, met some new friends, and was very sad when I had to put down the controller so others could experience this joy.

“Ooblets” is being created by the two-person studio Glumberland. Rebecca Cordingley is the brilliant brain behind the art and the programming. Ben Wasser handles the game design and the writing. They have announced a release sometime in 2018 for the game, launching on PC and Xbox One.

The demo area was empty when I picked up “Ooblets” to play. By the time I passed on the controller, a small grouping of people had been drawn to the game, mesmerized just as I was by the glee that emanated out of that colorful world. There is something truly special about “Ooblets.” I cannot wait to play more.

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