There’s a reason why there are three Adult Swim Games titles on our list of top upcoming indie games. The indie publisher has one of the most visually striking lineups out there. From a game about the boozy end of the world to the last human head in the universe to a visceral cartoon side-scrolling shooter that might remind one of Contra, there is a far-out experience waiting for everyone.
We spent a morning at the Adult Swim Games booth at PAX East 2016, where we played many of their upcoming titles. Some of these are old favorites from last year’s show that are headed our way in 2016, while others are brand new surprises waiting to be explored by players who like things that are a bit outside of the box.
Clearly, we’ve embraced a certain flavor in our indie games this year: the weird, ridiculous, mad titles that make you double-take and maybe even giggle, and there’s plenty to both look at and laugh at with Adult Swim Games’ upcoming titles.
Here are our thoughts on the seven games we spent time with at PAX:
Summer 2016 | Mr. Podunkian | PC
Wasted is a twisted pastiche of postapocalyptic RPGs such as Fallout and Borderlands with vicious roguelike stages and a thirst for radioactive booze. The characters you’ll find in Wasted have clearly given up on life, spending their days murdering each other with revolvers and phasers (yes, phasers!) and drinking themselves into oblivion to gain powerful — or sometimes detrimental — abilities in order to survive another day. Yes, it’s depressing stuff, but its delivered so tongue in cheek in a package so drunk with humor that it’s impossible not too enjoy.
Much of the demo we played involved making our way through twisting corridors full of enemies who were eternally stuck in “Big Head Mode” — the kind of joke bonus mode you might get in a serious shooter. Enemies vary from postapocalyptic raiders to killer robots to weird poison globule-spewing plant monsters. There is madness waiting for you in the randomly generated stages, which always prove a challenge. In fact, Wasted is a pretty hard game, but the true reward is in the replay. Going through new, unexpected obstacles and letting Wasted find new ways to make you laugh is truly the new of the game.
2016 | The Foregone Syndicate | PC
Speaking of challenges, Desync is a neon-tinged trial by fire that looks great while it’s beating you down. This first-person shooter roguelike is a return to the polygons of the 90s, a mix of a retro art style with sleek animations. The presentation walks a perfect balance between nostalgia and the neon surrealism of games like Hotline Miami and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.
The goal in Desync is to fight your way through closed-off areas, eliminating the punishing robot-like enemies that populate each area in order to progress to the next. Each type of enemy, from sword-wielding assassins to hammer-bashing hulks, demands a different strategy. Some baddies can be easily dispatched by your pistol, which is the only weapon with infinite ammo, while others require a heavier weapon, like the shotgun, which you don’t acquire until facing your first big fight in the game. We died a lot during our time with the game, but when we finally made it to the next area (where we died some more until we gave up), it felt good.
2016 | Double Fine | PC
Every title in Adult Swim Games’ lineup has a visual hook. Whether it’s the stunning moodiness of Ghost Song, which we’ll get to in a second, or Desync‘s neon madness. And Headlander, a game about the last human head left in the universe, might be the most eyecatching of them all. Inspired by 70s science fiction, Double Fine’s latest offering is a trippy puzzle-platformer with a unique body-hacking twist. The titular Headlander has the ability to detach himself from one body and then land on the neck of another. The affair would actually be a bit gruesome, especially when it comes to pulling robotic enemies’ heads out of their sockets in order to hack into their bodies, if it weren’t for the great humor found throughout the environment.
Double Fine has a unique spin on the puzzle-platformer on its hands, as the “headlanding” mechanic is used to make things more complex than your average “Point A to B” stages. Each type of body — mostly differentiated by color — the head lands on has its own weapons and unique access to locked areas. Red bodies can only unlock red doors, etc. The ability to quickly rocket off one body and onto another also allows Headlander to acquire better weapons on the fly. In fact, things can get very hectic, as more enemies and tougher areas are introduced into firefights. Players are forced to use a mix of combat, strategy, and puzzle-solving to survive the world of Headlander, and it’s a lot of fun.
2016 | Old Moon Games | PC
The Super Metroid influence is immediately apparent when you first start playing Ghost Song, but the moody sci-fi sidescroller looks to introduce a few different aspects that might take seasoned Metroidvania players by surprise. An enigmatic story is slowly revealed through NPC encounters, side characters who happen to be your injured or endangered crewmates. In the challenging PAX East demo, we learned that encountering these crewmates in the world either results in learning a new ability or battling a mutated form of the NPC in a frightening boss fight.
Which brings us to the gunplay: it feels absolutely fantastic. A perfect use of sound effects and a weighty vibration as the bullets sink into enemy flesh makes firing off rounds oh so satisfying. We couldn’t get enough of it. We also couldn’t get enough of the world, which is absolutely littered with secrets, like hidden areas nestled above cracked ceilings, and the eerie soundtrack adds an appropriate level of tension that makes the sci-fi atmosphere and story all the more unnerving. It’s a feat that’s all the more impressive once you learn the whole thing is being made by a one-person development team.
Rise & Shine
Summer 2016 | Super Mega Team | PC
At first, we mistook the colorful hand drawn graphics of Rise & Shine to mean a light-hearted side-scrolling shooter. But as we took our first steps in the demo, young hooded Rise was absolutely massacred by a turret. We didn’t stand a chance. Only then it became clear that this was a different kind of game: something with the forward-thinking brutality of Contra, but one that demanded a more careful and thought-out approach.
The true hero in the game is arguably Shine, a snarky gun that Rise finds, whose different bullet types form the bulk of the gameplay twists and turns. One of the biggest focal points of the demo was a self-guided bullet that players could maneuver around suspended hover points in order to bypass environmental obstacles and land the perfect headshot. And once we did land that first perfect headshot, we were delightfully shocked at how bloody and visceral the resulting animations were. Seriously, the guy’s head just exploded in a frenzy of blood. This balance between cartoony presentation and precise, punishing gameplay gives Rise & Shine a sharp and menacing bite, and we can’t wait to sink our teeth into it again.
2016 | White Rabbit | PC
Death’s Gambit doesn’t hide the fact that it praises the sun and functions as a 16-bit side-scrolling love letter to Dark Souls. There are references to the notorious From Software series infused in every pixel of the game’s being, from the stats and equipment menus, straight down to the overly familiar “Feather Regained” dialogue that pops up on the screen if you manage to reach the location where you last died.
We played Death’s Gambit at last year’s PAX East show as well, where we were promptly destroyed time and again by the demo’s ghastly boss, so it was definitely a moment of redemption for us as we grew more accustomed to the pitch-perfect dance between shield blocks and weapon hits needed to progress through each gorgeously detailed area. Although the influences are strong in Death’s Gambit, the rewardingly difficult combat and meticulously constructed shortcuts and secrets within the world give this challenging game a strong and deadly identity of its own.
2016 | Videocult | PC
Den of Geek had never vacationed in Rain World before, but it turns out that it’s a pretty despairing place, especially if you happen to be a half cat, half slug creature just trying to get by when the system is against you. The gloomy, industrial environments of this sidescrolling platformer reminded us of those seen in Super Meat Boy, and similar to that game, death comes swiftly at the slightest misstep.
The gameplay in Rain World involves maneuvering your slugcat around each dark and stormy area and slithering through labyrinthine drainpipes to either traverse to the next screen or gain the upper hand against a prowling predator, like a big purple-headed alligator thing. That big purple-headed alligator thing snacked on our slugcat many, many times along our journey through Rain World. There is a heavy emphasis on stealth amidst the platforming segments that will help you to avoid such undesirable fates, and the slugcat’s slippery movements, from jumping to higher ledges to slinking up hanging vines, work in perfect harmony with the game’s intriguing and desolate premise.