Having a blast with indie devs at Play NYC

From PAX to E3 to Gamescom, there are numerous gaming conventions where gamers can see and test some of the hottest new titles. But with the creation of Play NYC, a new gaming convention here in the Big Apple, you get an experience unlike any other. Rather than long lines and huge crowds, attendees got a chance to experience three floors of gaming with developers right by their side, chatting them up and helping them explore new titles. Though these games might not have big name recognition, playing them alongside their creators offers a fresh perspective on the game making process and makes the gamer a part of that. There were also far fewer people there than at E3, and I was given a swag bag with food inside of it, so…advantage, Play NYC. Read on for my thoughts on some of my favorite titles from the show!


I got a chance to meet Dean Razavi from Razbury Games and he told me a bit about his RPG title, Vidar. Vidar is a very melancholy type of game, where you play as a stranger visiting the titular village. A terrible Beast lives under the town that kills a villager every night. With only twenty-four villagers remaining in the town and twenty-four days to figure out a path to the Beast, you literally cannot save everyone. The game is random, as well, meaning every time you play the game, different villagers will die at different parts of the story. Even the game’s puzzles will not stay the same. It’s a great concept that I found intriguing, especially since a lot of titles these days don’t really deal with themes of permanent death and loss (something Dean himself told me he was eager to explore in Vidar).

In my time at the festival, I managed to complete a single quest, using an Xbox controller. After talking to a villager and receiving a mission to conquer, I proceeded upwards from the main town into a cave. Immediately upon entering, a ten minute timer started, which ALWAYS gives me great anxiety. This cave was filled with icy structures, which was the basis for its central puzzle. I had a lantern on me that lit the cave up nicely, and I continued onward. I noticed icy blocks in my path that made me slide across them without a way to break my momentum. There were also blocks with arrows on them that made you go in the direction they were facing.


Thus began the long process of me racking my brain to figure out how to conquer each room inside of the cave. I’d slide from block to block, arrow to arrow, going from one room into another. At times, I would have to head in one direction to hit a switch that would change the direction of an arrow in the previous room so I could escape from a different exit. Partway through I met an ice ghost mermaid who I was quite cautious to approach because I thought it would start a battle. She just followed me around and talked to me, though, probably because she didn’t get many visitors. The final puzzle of the cave involved color coded arrows that I could create myself, in the direction I desired. It took a while to figure out and I know Dean was watching me struggle, laughing on the inside (probably). I made it out with time to spare, however, and the demo ended.

From my short time with Vidar, I found a lot to like. The visuals reminded me of FFVI, one of my favorite RPGs. I love how Dean’s game tackles the inevitably of death. The puzzles were tough enough to make you feel like there was no way you could complete them without running out of time, but you manage to succeed, anyway. Random dungeons and puzzles give the game infinite replayability, as well. If you think Vidar sounds worthy of your time, check out the game’s website, and watch the trailer below:

Plunder Kings

The folks over at Goodnight Games showed me a build for their upcoming gambling/shoot-em-up hybrid, Plunder Kings. This game has an interesting gimmick that involved games of chance; if your ship exploded, you rolled a die in order to keep all the money you obtained by destroying enemy ships. If you rolled right, you’d keep everything, but if you rolled wrong, you’d lose money from your savings. If you manage to stay alive but get captured by the enemy, you can then choose whether to gain an extra life and keep going until the next checkpoint or cash out and spend your hard earned currency on ship upgrades and abilities. The longer you played through a stage, the more money you made; however, there was a greater risk of death because the enemies got harder and filled more of the screen.

Plunder Kings has a lot going for it, so far. I loved the balance between risk and reward with the gambles players are forced to take. Being able to move your constantly shooting ship (of which there are three to choose from) anywhere on the screen offered a great sense of maneuverability, since a lot of mobile games adhere to staying in one spot (all of those endless runners, for example). Holding your finger down on the screen keeps you shooting and moving, but letting go of the screen caused your ship to vacuum up any coins from fallen enemy ships.

This added an element of danger and vulnerability since there are so many enemy ships surrounding you at any given time. Pressing two fingers on the screen unleashed your special attack after you destroyed enough baddies, which was super flashy to see. Goodnight Games looks like they have a unique, fun little shooter on their hands, so check out their website here and a trailer for Plunder Kings below:

Meowximum Catpacity


I was immediately drawn to Meowximum Catpacity because of its terrible pun. I played with two other people using an Xbox controller AND WE WERE ALL COLOR-CODED CRAZY OLD CAT LADIES. The object of the game is to fill your home with as many stray cats as possible. However, doing so wasn’t so simple: a dog would straight up murder any cats it was near, other players could grab cats off of you, and there was also a black demon cat that had teeth for a face. This cat could be picked up and placed into an opponent’s house, where it would rapidly deplete all captured cats (probably because it was eating them all). So, the game became grab the demon cat out of your house and put it in your enemy’s, which led to much screaming and intense matches.

Meowximum Catpacity was a pleasant surprise for me at the show. I stumbled upon it between my appointments and was immediately hooked on it, even though I am more of a dog person. The title supports up to four players for maximum insanity, and there are power-ups that help lure more cats to your home (like cat food). Big fans of multiplayer games that require quick thinking and strategy should check out the game here. Michael Calvert, one of the game’s developers, informed me there are even more puns than just the main title, so I’m definitely gonna spend more time with it at home.

Mama Hawk

Mama Hawk is an addictive adventure that I got to play on a tablet device. The title is a delightful mobile game where you play as Mama Hawk, and your mission is to feed your children every stage. You’d pick up animals like mice and rabbits using your finger to guide Mama in order to feed your eggs which eventually cracked, revealing a baby bird’s face. If you continued to feed your offspring, they’d eventually hatch and go flying off into the sky. Mama Hawk required a bit of strategy: do you feed your kids that are close to hatching to finish the stage quicker or do you prioritize who is the most hungry (shown by a depleting meter under the eggs) and spread the food out among your children for more points? Animals had their own attributes, too: rabbits would try to jump out of harm’s way, skunks would hit you with gas that lowered your health, and deer could get away from you quickly. The most hilarious part of Mama Hawk was seeing her pick up a whole deer and drop it into her baby’s mouth; hell, it’s worth playing for that image ALONE.

The power-ups in this game are ridiculous

I couldn’t get enough of Mama Hawk and dropping gigantic animals into my kids’ mouths. It’s fun to speed around a level, grabbing coins that you could spend on power-ups between stages (gaining more health, being able to hold more animals, quicker flying speed, etc.) while also worrying about your birds dying of hunger. Based on the gameplay shown on the game’s website, things get way harder and more frantic as new enemies and animals are introduced, so I’m definitely looking forward to playing the full release during my morning commute.

Awkward Date

Good God, Awkward Date is a ton of fun. Another pleasant surprise, Awkward Date is a platformer that requires two people to play. The mechanics are deeply unique: each player controls a man (Marlon and Nathan), and these two men go on dates together (getting coffee, using the bathroom after drinking said coffee, etc.). If you are too far apart from one another, you both get lonely and die. However, if you get too close to each other, you both die of embarrassment. Levels are a constant balance of staying close together but giving each other distance (just like a real relationship!). At times, you both would need to reach an exit together, but later levels require you to jump into separate heart rings at the same time in order to advance. Check out the teaser below to get an idea of what I am describing:

I was eager to test out Awkward Date. As luck would have it, the person behind me in line was a super cool, coordinated gamer, and we worked well off each other. We’d scream and laugh as we fell off platforms, got too close or too far away from each other, and mistimed our jumps. However, we were very verbal with one another and came up with great strategies to beat each stage of the demo. We managed to get through every stage of the trial, and we had a blast doing so. At the end of the demo, we got a chance to try out the love tester to see how compatible we were together. We didn’t get that high due to our large volume of deaths by pitfall/embarrassment/loneliness, but what does a machine know about compatibility, anyway?

If you have a partner or friend with which you share wavelengths, give Awkward Date a go. It’s one of the best co-op games I have played in quite some time. Check it out at its Facebook and Twitter page.

Neon Wasteland

Artist Rob Shields showed off his punk motorcycle action racer, Neon Wasteland. There was a small comic you could buy at his booth that filled in some of Neon Wasteland‘s backstory, and the plot sounded fairly involved: it contained hacking, missing identities, and corrupt corporations; so it wasn’t that far off from real life. The title combines racing, puzzles, shooting, and hack ‘n’ slash gameplay. The aesthetic reminded me of Hyper Light Drifter while the gameplay brought to mind Rez and Panzer Dragoon. It’s pretty to look at in motion, so check out the reveal trailer below:

Gameplay-wise, Neon Wasteland was all over the place in the short demo I played, but that’s what I loved about it. The player had to think quickly on their feet: one second you’d be jumping over obstacles, the next you’d be using a shield to protect yourself from barriers, and then you’d be shooting your way through blocks. There were checkpoints peppered throughout the stage I played, as well as videotapes that rewound time if you crashed; these gave you a do-over of whatever section you messed up on instead of pushing you back to a faraway checkpoint you passed minutes ago. I enjoyed this reaction-based, quick reflex approach to Neon‘s gameplay. However, the game was quite unfair at certain points: pathways would fall away with no prior warning, forcing you to make a decision whether to jump left or right, with only one of those paths being the only viable way forward. This led to a lot of trial and error and being pushed back again and again to a prior checkpoint until you memorized the correct route to advance. Having no context clues about these disappearing paths hurt Neon Wasteland and caused unnecessary frustration.

Complaints aside, I think Neon Wasteland has the potential to be a great title. If better visual cues are implemented into the game’s final build that give the player a heads-up that the path they are on is about to disintegrate, then Neon will turn out just fine. The mix of gaming genres makes the title highly unique and tough to put down. Check out Neon Wasteland‘s website if you are hungry for more.

Cutthroat Gunboat

I only had about three minutes to spend with Cutthroat Gunboat due to its multiplayer nature and the line that formed behind me to play it, but those were three minutes well spent. The game is basically a “choose a pirate ship and sink all the opposing boats to win” kind of game. Along with a group of three other people, I sat down and chose my pirate ship. Each ship had its own strengths and weaknesses; some were faster, some had more durability, etc. Maneuvering my ship was easy enough, and holding down the A button on my Xbox controller kept me at max speed. Using the left and right bumpers caused you to unload cannons on the respective side of your ship. You could also drop powder kegs to lay traps for your foes. I died pretty quick on my first round, while I destroyed the last remaining ship on my second; however, I crashed into a mountain at the same time, so that round was a draw.

There was also booty to be had! The coins were chocolate, though, which I only found out after leaving it in the sun for a few days

Cutthroat Gunboat felt like a good time to have with a group of friends. If I had more time learning the game’s controls and played a few more rounds, I’m sure it would have become my second favorite game involving pirate ships (sorry Gunboat, my fave is still Black Flag). Check out its Steam page if it sounds up your alley!

Crystal Rescue

It looks cute, but it’s tricky as all hell!

Creator Jason Khabra was nice enough to lend me his phone to check out his game, Crystal Rescue, since all the tablets playing the title were occupied when I visited his booth. A cute little puzzle game that required serious strategy skills to overcome each stage, Crystal Rescue tasks your red, big-eyed, teardrop protagonist with draining all the crystals in a given stage. The game has a great learning curve, starting you out with moving in squares to drain each crystal. Crystals drain quickly after you occupy their space, so if you need to move back to a space with a crystal you already drained, you’d better do it quick; spaces with drained crystals will trap your avatar there, and you’ll be forced to start the level over. This element became clear in later stages since objects like green crystals explode after draining, leaving the space they occupied inaccessible; Crystal Rescue requires a chess-like level of strategy and foresight, forcing you to plan your route carefully to achieve success. As I neared the end of my time with Crystal Rescue, it was evident that Jason loved adding new elements to later levels to throw players off, while also reminding them of rules he’d established early on (I almost threw his phone in frustration during one tough stage before I remembered I could jump across gaps and didn’t need to move in a straight line).

I don’t even want to know what those skull crystals do

I am eager to play more of Crystal Rescue after meeting with Jason and playing his demo. I can’t wait to see what new elements later levels hold, and how tough the puzzles become. Jason has been working on his baby for six years, and from what little I saw of his creation, he should be quite proud. Check out a trailer for Crystal Rescue below, as well as its website.

Play NYC was a fantastic event. I got to meet the creators behind many different videogames and see their eyes light up with enthusiasm when I played their titles. Indie developers have so many creative ideas for the gaming medium, and having an event showcase their talents like Play NYC really helped them connect with gamers one on one. I hope more events like Play NYC become the norm in other parts of the world, and I can’t wait to check it out again next year!