The future of indie

Craig Pearson at

Nidhogg

www.messhof.com/nidhogg

Psychedelic backdrops don't distract once you're playing.

You might not have heard of it yet, but Nidhogg is the funniest indie game ever.

It’s not exactly a comedy setup, mind: you and a friend face each other in a swordfight that looks an awful lot like the original Prince of Persia. You can hold your foil high, chestlevel or low down as you attempt to jam those sharp pixels into each other with a series of frantic jabs. If you win the fight, you gain the initiative and can dash to the other side of the screen. By the time you arrive in the next area though, your opponent will have re-spawned in front of you. It’s now his job to kill you and regain the initiative so he can run off in the opposite direction. You’re both striving to travel as far toward your opponent’s side as you can.

It’s a simple game learned in a few seconds, but it inspires frantic panic and glorious, dramatic comebacks in a way that will have you and your friend – who’s sat next to you using the same keyboard – screaming. It’s the constant feeling of not being able to quite believe what just happened.

You can’t believe that your opponent just slid under your legs. They can’t believe that you turned and hurled your sword at them, skewering them in the back. You can’t believe that after impotently nudging your swords into each other a dozen times, your friend won by simply pressing ‘up’ on the keyboard to change his sword’s position. He can’t believe that after getting past him, you mistimed a jump and fell immediately into a hole. You can’t believe that you managed to knock him back into that same hole using that same impotent nudging. Neither of you can believe the end. There is no victory but pyrrhic victory.

Creator Messhof is working at online multiplayer, as well as some singleplayer game modes. But however good those turn out to be, playing with a friend on the same PC is an experience every gamer should have. You’ve never laughed so hard.

Rock of Ages

www.atlus.com/rockofages

Yes. That ball has a big creepy grin. Shudder.

It’s one of the great philosophical what-ifs of our time: what would happen if Sisyphus travelled through important periods of art history and got to meet people like Da Vinci, Aristotle and Plato?

The fact that Sisyphus was condemned to endlessly roll a boulder up a hill should probably have given you a clue. Rock of Ages is a strategy game where you destroy art-inspired buildings by rolling giant rocks.

The physics-based territorial battles are a mixture of bowling and base building, with the buildings and units reflecting the art style of the period.

We’re not usually keen to point out the skybox of a game level, but when one has a 2D representation of the titan Cronus towering over the scenery, it bears commenting on. As does the destruction. The goal is to build the boulder at the top of the hill before the other player constructs his, and build your defences along the slope to stop the other player’s boulder from reaching your castle. Those defences crumble and clog up the ball’s progress, from little 2D humans on sticks to hovering, spiral-bladed helicopters inspired by Da Vinci’s doodles. It’s not all left to chance. When you finally release the ball on its destructive path you get to control its descent through the protective layer of buildings, scouring Rococo and Romanticism inspired blockades from the face of the world. Take that, Goya!

Physics and odd art-styles are staples of indie games, but even after years of abstract, silly and inspired adventures, Rock of Ages stands out as one of the most creative and whimsical games we’ve ever seen.

Monaco

www.monacoismine.com

Monaco's top-down criminal capers.

The big Hollywood pitch for this is Gauntlet meets Ocean’s 11. Monaco is a top-down heist game, where a team of four plan and execute a robbery. A caper simulator, is what it is. The team are made up of criminal classes working together in quickly paced assaults on technological fortresses such as mansions and corporations. We’ve discovered one of the missions is labelled “steal the porn”.

Character classes are built around specific thiefy needs. The Locksmith powers through the level’s locked doors, the Cleaner is able to generate health and knock out guards, the Hacker takes down security systems and the Prowler can speedily rush through levels, plus another four that we don’t know about yet. They’re being kept under wraps, and The Spy refuses to investigate for reasons of professional courtesy.

It sets up a co-operative, speedy jaunt through stylised 8-bit levels, characters overlapping, unlocking doors ahead of each other, peeking around corners. The player’s have a limited field of vision, so it really pays to work as a team to get a clear overview of the trouble they’re facing. You know, as they’re trying to steal porn.

The Swapper

www.facepalmgames.com

Disco lighting can also be completely sinister.

First they fired bullets and rockets, then they fired furniture and portals, and now they spawn clones and fire consciousness. This side-scrolling puzzle platformer takes the next step in the evolution in guns.

Set in space aboard a vast, desolate spaceship, you use these abilities to navigate corridors and trigger switches. The left mouse button lets you place a clone anywhere within a twenty feet radius, while the right hurls your consciousness between them. It doesn’t matter if a clone dies, unless your brain happens to be inside it at the time.

Pretty soon you’re trying to synchronise the movements of four clones at once, and working around different coloured light that stops you from either swapping or cloning.

Upon solving each level you unlock a new piece of po-faced backstory about the ship and your own origins, but for every piece of purple prose, there’s the silly fun of sending infinite clones to their death. Spawn one 20 feet in the air and watch it plummet. Create five of them in a row and jump around to form yourself a bonkers dance troupe.