5 Must-Play Games From Chucklefish - EGX 2018 Hands-On
Chucklefish is best known for creating Starbound and publishing cute life sim Stardew Valley, but at EGX 2018 they showcased a fistful of titles to get excited about over the coming year. We caught up with the crew at their stand and had a hands-on with all five of their games, including their second developed in-house.
First up is Inmost, a pixel platform game which can best be described as bleak. We covered its announcement a few months back, but after getting a proper hands-on at the show we're impressed with the atmosphere that two-person studio Hidden Layer Games has created. From the muted, often monochrome colours to the mournful orchestra punctuating each step of your brutal journey, the claustrophobic environments only make each surprise instadeath more terrifying.
Each of the protagonists you control across the multiple storylines feels distinct — a small child, a grizzled miner, an old man — but the threat remains constant. Pulsating, shifting puddles of black goo reach out to claw you, drop on your head, or morph into a more humanoid but equally deadly terror.
We're not sure where the different story elements are going to take us, but we're already steeling ourselves ready for a 2019 PC release.
Pathway is a more relaxed affair, at least while you're guiding your team of two across a desert landscape in search of your final objective: rescuing your friend Morton from the clutches of occult-hungry Nazis.
Each tile you hop to provides a new encounter, be it an abandoned mine for which you need a specific skill to access, a friendly nomad’s hut, another recruit for your team, or a German supply station. Choosing the next tile location is as important as getting to your friend; your jeep has limited fuel so scavenging more is the only way to keep your quest going. The eponymous pathways branch and could take you on fruitless endeavours, so plotting your route to take advantage of likely resource pit stops is essential.
Should you encounter a Nazi ambush, the action switches immediately to an XCOM-style 2D turn-based strategy which utilises your environment. Walls block your enemy's line of site and flammable barrels are ripe for shooting when they're in range… assuming your party has a gun. If not, you'll have to get down and dirty with some knife tactics or other weapons. Each runthrough is procedurally generated and there are a lot more stats, encounters and tactics fleshing out the strategy. This is an accessible, engaging title from indie studio Robotality with a Raiders of the Lost Ark vibe we're big fans of. Look out for it on PC later this year.
One game you won't need to wait long for is Timespinner, an homage to 16-bit Metroidvania titles which is out on September 25th. Created by Lunar Ray Games, a one-man development studio founded by Bodie Lee, the standard dungeon-delving action is given a temporal twist thanks to the ability to freeze time. Cue lots of frantic action peppered with huge boss fights where you can briefly turn them rigid before leaping over them and assailing them from behind. There are also puzzle elements where collapsing bridges can be held in place and enemies turned into stepping stones.
The movement is crisp and responsive, and while the initial map may have a familiar feel to it, it's tempered by a challenging series of foes and a lovely aesthetic; it's been in development for five years, and that effort and polish is clear to see. Releasing on PC, PS4 and Vita, this could do very well indeed.
Wargroove is the first game developed by Chucklefish since 2016's Starbound and it's a doozy. Anyone who remembers and enjoyed Advance Wars when it hit the Game Boy Advance — and if you played it, you'll almost certainly have fallen in love — will find a lot to admire here. The industrialised weaponry of tanks and mechanics has given way to a fantasy setting, but there's a juicy addition: you can create your own full campaigns with the exact same tools the development team used to make the main game.
Turn-based strategy is alive and well as games such as Fire Emblem have shown, but when you have the ability to create your own maps and even dialogue, the potential longevity of the game is incredibly impressive. The game itself is also a lot of fun to play. You're given specific objectives to fulfil and by taking advantage of the landscape to make best use of your units, you can manoeuvre them to attack more vulnerable enemies. Your commander is vital too, lose them and you lose the game, but they have their own special ability — or groove — which can be triggered when they've damaged or destroyed enough enemy troops. It's coming to PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch and is currently scheduled for 2018, but that isn't set in stone. Accessible and engaging, it looks like Chucklefish has another potential hit on its hands here.
Finally, we have Eastward — an RPG which feels like it's been ripped from the SNES's heyday. Developer Pixpil has mined the 90s for glorious inspiration and come up trumps with a unique story couched in the comforting feel of an aesthetic that would have been right at home on the shelf next to Secret of Mana (or Soleil, for you Sega fans).
As the world falls apart around them, a miner and a young girl he discovers in an underground facility embark on a journey which will change both of their lives. It's a single-player game where you switch between both characters to progress, and it works seamlessly. Monsters, puzzles and emotions will be hurled at the pixel-art cast of characters as well as the player, and while there's no release date yet, we do know it will be coming to PC. With Joel Corelitz (of the wonderful Gorogoa) providing the retro soundtrack, Eastward is shaping up to be the Squaresoft RPG that never happened... until now.
With five games in the pipeline spread over the next year, a lesser publisher might be tempted to include some chaff amongst the golden wheat, just to bring in the revenue. Chucklefish seems to genuinely care about the titles they pick for release though — a position no doubt provided by the financial security Stardew Valley's success brought them, but one which they seem determined to maintain. After getting our hands on all of these at EGX, we can honestly say that we can't wait to play the full release of every one of them... something we'd struggle to say about any other indie publisher at the moment.