All the Reasons Why I Loved Rezzed 2017

All the Reasons Why I Loved Rezzed 2017

Spoiler: They’re all great new video games that I played.
April 3, 2017, 3:00pm

Above and throughout: all Rezzed 2017 photography by Isha Shah

Rezzed is where game makers and players come together to share a thousand worlds of interactive awesomeness. I mean, it's one of many such events that play out across the gaming calendar, but this one's my first of the year, every year. I thoroughly love getting along to the three-day event, seeing the wildest independent creations showcased alongside some comparable big-hitters. This year, both Sega and Nintendo had prominent spots at London's Tobacco Dock, showing off their wares, alongside Xbox's latest ID@Xbox line-up and strong presences for both VR and tabletop gaming.

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I saw a lot of games this year. Shout outs are absolutely necessary to several that stood out enough to remain on my radar for the coming months.

Songbringer is an OG Zelda-like adventure with procedurally generated levels and a psychedelic twist. Tokyo 42 is a wonderfully colorful game of assassination and environment manipulation. Future Unfolding is a surreal and sublime top-down explore 'em up with limited pointers for the player and plenty of lose-yourself potential. Aaero is the luscious-looking love child of Gitaroo Man and Rez and oh boy would I ever love it if you didn't just have bass-thumping cuts to detonate its targets to. Old Man's Journey I've written about already, but it's no less charming at a second blush.

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I also took in Double Kick Heroes, Fear Effect Sedna, Flipping Death, Pocket Rumble, Frozen Synapse 2 and Children of Zodiarcs. Oh, and a small but significant game by the name of Sonic Mania which I had played previously—the build on show was the same that appeared at the London launch for the Nintendo Switch, one of the game's platforms—but I enjoyed much more here, played on a bigger screen rather than limited to the Switch's smaller, handheld setup. It really does have that classic 16-bit feel, with levels that spread out like Sonic 2's did, each one stuffed with secrets and several Easter eggs for the old-timers. It's due this summer and I am now Officially Excited for it.

(I may have seen something else Sonic-related, but I categorically cannot say anything more on that right now, or Sega's heavies will be knocking at my door.)

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But if you were to knock at my door and ask to know about just five absolutely outstanding games that I played for the first time at Rezzed 2017—rather than, y'know, threaten to break my legs for releasing embargoed information—below are the ones I'd immediately rush to spill the beans on. And so, I shall (right after a few more photos from this year's event).


Sundered

Sundered is the new game from Jotun developers Thunder Lotus, based in Montréal, and retains that Viking adventure's appealing hand-drawn aesthetic. Only this time everything feels a lot more animated and urgent, the player avatar's movements more dramatic, as suits a title that's a more about never-ending combat than it is mixing puzzles with occasional boss battles.

Pitched on Kickstarter (where it made over eight times its target figure) as a "replayable Metroidvania" in the action-horror genre, you're cast as Eshe, who's trapped in some sort of demonic world overrun with menacing enemies and corrupting energy. And Eshe will almost certainly die, several times, before she's free of these caverns of chaos—you have to, in order to level up. Eshe can even embrace the darkness around her, becoming more powerful as a result—but, says an on-hand Thunder Lotus representative, this will lead to a less-than-happy ending, of which there are several.

Sundered feels great to play—it's got a fluidity of motion, mixing attacks into dodges and back into offensive moves, that's comparable to the best Platinum productions—and looks just gorgeous, Eshe small on screen but packed with personality. It's my old head talking, but there's something quite Virgin Games' Disney's Aladdin about how she leaps across gaps and slashes and shoots through enemies. (Just with significantly freakier foes before her.) And the way this demo ends, on the awakening of an almighty boss, a biomechanical-looking monstrosity, is such a tease. The full game is out in July, for PC and PlayStation 4.


Rime

No other game of Rezzed left me smiling in quite the same way that Tequila Works' Rime did. The Spanish studio's forthcoming adventure displays definite traces of Team ICO in its DNA, while its cartoony visuals, windswept and widescreen, are akin to the latest Zelda adventure, Breath of the Wild. In many ways it's doing nothing particularly original—here is an obstacle to your progress, and a few clues on how to crack it; follow them, as everything moves so very prettily, and it's onto the next. But the way it's all packaged is special, undeniably so.

With artwork inspired by Giorgio de Chirico and Salvador Dalí, and pull-you-onwards visual cues in the form of a mysterious cloaked figure and a cute little fox that just screams merchandising opportunity, Rime makes an immediate first impression on an aesthetic front. Its music is all drifting and lilting, calming and coaxing, too, perfectly complementing a moment's pause by a Cliffside as you pan the camera around slowly, and drink in the view. But that'd all be for naught if the player-controlled boy controlled as skittishly as, say, Wander from Shadow of the Colossus.

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But "the boy," as Tequila Works' Miguel Paniagua tells me he's called, and nothing else, moves with ease across narrow walkways and through Uncharted-like climbing sections. There's no damage taken if he falls from a great height, the emphasis moved from keeping him alive to getting him out of wherever this place is, mostly through manipulating the environment via physical exertion and vocal explosions—which is, to say, you have to shout a fair bit. Because of the (initially, anyway) no-risk aspect, it's a lot more relaxing than the latest Team ICO production, The Last Guardian, and players who came to that only to be upset by its fidgety camera and punishing difficulty spikes would do well to keep an eye on Rime when it comes out in late May.


Black the Fall

A very short demo gave little away about this Inside-ish puzzler by Romanian studio Sand Sailor, but was enough to get me eager to see more. (Which is, I guess, the point of these events.) What began as an art project back in 2014, an attempt to express its makers' feelings about the communism rife within their home country for so long, has blossomed into a violent, visceral side-on affair that should have fans of Playdead's output salivating.

Black the Fall is all about control—freeing yourself of someone else's, and then using tools, futuristic hardware, to manipulate non-player characters to do your bidding, and thus proceed through each screen of hazards. In that respect, there's a little Oddworld-ness to the game—but Abe and company never had things as grim as this, Black the Fall's industrial environments grimy with oil and blood, their air thick with an uncommonly palpable malevolence.

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You'll instruct drone-like humans, those still in the grasp of a dystopian dictatorship, to activate switches and more, keeping yourself safe as you move them past sentry guns and patrolling guards. The game's press information tells of a lonely robot that you'll meet and befriend, but there's no time for that in my Rezzed demo, only death, followed by success, followed by death, and success, repeated across a series of brain-tickling teasers of macabre design. A taste is all I have, then, and it's bitter yet so very sweet and moreish, too. Black the Fall is due out in June for PC and consoles, supported by Square Enix Collective.


Knights and Bikes

Two-man British studio Foam Sword's forthcoming pedal 'em up—which doesn't actually have its two lil' girl characters, Nessa and Demelza, riding lil' cutesy push bikes the whole time—is one of those games that you really have to see in motion to truly appreciate. I mean, even better, play it—but my point is that no screenshot will do justice to just how wonderfully alive this game is, how there's always some kind of movement on screen, from the characters' hair catching the wind to the rustle of hedges or the sparks that crackle and pop from a fiery sword enemy. There's just such brilliant elan to it that you want to, I dunno, maybe eat it all up with a big spoon.

At Rezzed, the game's makers insist that players sit on Actual Children's Bikes while they've a pad in their hands—which, while no doubt a good idea when discussed in the days before the show, is a quite literal pain in the backside in practice. Nevertheless, a throbbing butt is a small price to pay for previewing what is shaping up to be a terrific co-operative game.

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One player is Nessa, the other Demelza, and these roles can be filled either locally or online. (There's a single-player mode, too, where AI takes over.) Together, you can combine abilities to take out imaginative enemies—the puddle from a water balloon attack can subsequently be splashed in for extra damage, for example—and unlock secret areas full of "treasure." Treasure for kids, that is, so expect handfuls of dead things, basically.

Our demo—I play beside developer Moo Yu (who later guested on a bonus Waypoint Podcast, with his Foam Sword colleague Rex Crowle and Gang Beasts makers Boneloaf's James Brown)—leads us through a battered old amusement park to "the librarian", one of several islanders that need saving by our two heroes. On the way there's simple combat, gentle exploration and bucket loads of the most shiny, happy pleasure that video games can provide. Not through challenge, or achievement particularly; but just through putting a person somewhere amazing, and letting them play around there for a while

There's no release date beyond sometime in 2017 for Knights and Bikes just yet, but pencil it in for a best-of-the-year spot now, I reckon. As already, months from release, playing an old-to-its-makers build, it sparkles with the kind of singular gaiety that can't fail to enrapture.


EXO ONE

Tucked away in Rezzed's always-worth-visiting Leftfield Collection was perhaps the most visually striking of any of the games I saw this year. EXO ONE puts you in control of a shape-shifting probe, sent out from Earth through a wormhole to wherever it is that you're exploring now, far, far-distant worlds. These planets reveal themselves using procedural generation, their undulating landscapes and rolling clouds leading to a departure point—a laser pointed out at the stars, other stars, who-knows-where stars.

There's narration as you play, relaying information on the mission of the probe, of EXO ONE. How its data was corrupted, here and there. The time it took for it to even reach Earth again, and what may have happened in the interim. This is occasional, but welcome when it comes, adding substance to what's already a great game to play just in terms of its hugely rewarding momentum and stunning sense of place.

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You shift the gravity of the probe to send it hurtling to the ground, hitting a downslope to build energy before launching into the air—at which point you can switch into a disc form and glide, passing through thunderclouds to gain more energy to continue your airborne passage. It's a simple case of balancing natural forces with the capabilities of your craft, always pressing onwards to the horizon and wherever the game sends you next. A little like a relaxation-mode Impossible Road shot through the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey, only also nothing like that. Every little "it's a bit like" parallel sort of falls apart, really.

It's meditative, totally engrossing, and really quite extraordinary. I don't know what the end goal is yet, but the journey right now is more than enough. And it's all the work—well, save for subtle strains of ambient music, and a great little poster that's on the board above its Rezzed station, of one man, Australian developer Jay Weston, working under the name Exbleative. He can't give me a release date yet, more's the pity. Nevertheless, I told anyone I could at Rezzed this year to check it out after I had, and I'll say the same here, too—if you have the chance at a future event, slip on the headphones and dive in, because this is something quite special.

Follow Mike on Twitter.

Check out some more photographs from this year's Rezzed below.