Sony is very big and vocal on pushing indie games to the masses on the PlayStation 4, but that doesn't mean that its focus on bringing such games to the PS3 has diminished. One of the more anticipated indie game releases is hitting the PS3 before it makes it to the PC. Sportsfriends may sound like a cheap knock-off of Wii Sports, but nothing could be further from the truth. At PAX Prime 2013, we sampled three of the four games included in the compilation, one of which took the convention circuit by storm and became the best reason yet to use a Move controller.
The first game we tried was BaraBariBall from Noah Sasso. The game plays out like any traditional sports game, where one ball is on the field and the task is to dunk the ball into the opponent's side of the body of water. Having the ball successfully sink to the bottom of the screen scores you one point, but if you fall to the bottom on any side, you lose a point. Opponents can catch the ball once it leaves your hand, but the twist is that your opponent can smack you to make you lose the ball. With no way to mount a counteroffensive while holding on to the ball, your only means of defense is to jump.
As a sports game, it has the basics to be engaging enough for casual fans. The rules are rather simple, and the level designs are varied in layout and size, making for some interesting matchups in 1v1 and 2v2 games. However, the fighting mechanics really set apart this game. The strikes are basic, as we haven't been able to discover any special techniques yet, and the one-button attack system means that it isn't complicated enough to scare off those who aren't into fighting games. There is a dash move, though, and fighting in mid-air is not only encouraged but essential against skilled players. The inability for ball carriers to attack tends to produce lots of situations where players temporarily throw the ball away to get in a few hits and then go after it again to score.
The gameplay depth is what players crave, but it also works well with spectators when both casual and seasoned players are participating. The amount of movement freedom and close hits was mesmerizing, and despite going back to Atari-like graphics, the game was rather easy on the eyes, and it was easy to see what was occurring on-screen. Observing several matches on the show floor, the crowd really got into each bout, and it's pretty easy to see the Super Smash Bros. influence in the chaotic but fun matches.
The second game that we tried was Super Pole Riders, a sequel to the web game by Bennett Foddy. There is a ball attached to a rope that extends from one side of the map to the other, and it ends at goal targets. Using your poles, two players (or two teams of two players) try to get the ball to the goal while preventing their opponents from doing the same. Just like BaraBariBall, the game has a fighting mechanic where you can temporarily take them out of the game by vaulting yourself into them.
As players of the original Pole Riders will tell you, there's a surprising amount of depth to the game, and the addition of two more players brings that into focus. You can push the ball with your poles if you want, but using the pole to launch yourself toward the ball provides an extra push to overcome an opposite pole that's blocking your way. In teams, players who are savvy enough can launch their partner toward the ball for an even more powerful push. Another option is to have both players put up their poles to create an even stronger wall of resistance against their opponents. Other changes include different levels with variable goal distances and ones with portions where vaulting can't be accomplished.
It sounds like the game would be easy until you get your hands on it and realize that it's from the creator of QWOP, the infamous game of physics and coordination where you awkwardly try to control a runner down a track. The right analog stick is dedicated to pole control, and while it is responsive, it isn't immediately intuitive. It takes some time to get the intricacies of which movements translate into which actions, and the inherent fumbling of the controls is part of the fun. The endless flailing around of poles are very humorous to observe, and while skilled players are a marvel to watch, the intentional clumsiness, oddly enough, opens this up to players of all skill levels.
The last game we checked out was Johann Sebastian Joust by Douglas Wilson. While this game is dependent on a PC or PS3 to run, it can't necessarily be called a video game in the traditional sense as all players aren't required to look at a screen. Players are asked to hold a PlayStation Move controller and move along to the variable beat of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Moving faster than the beat of the music results in your elimination from the game, and your objective is forcing other players to move faster by jostling their controllers or getting them to involuntarily jostle their own controllers.
Though the game is meant to be played with a maximum of seven players in solo or team situations, the build at PAX Prime featured three teams of four. It also featured a new traitor mechanic, where one person on each team is marked with eliminating everyone on their own team in addition to helping eliminate the other teams. Both additions were well received, as the crowd got excited at every elimination and the revelation that a traitor was still among the remaining players.
The game is not only a good example of how indie gaming thinks outside of the box for fun experiences, but it also ends up being the best game to make use of the Move controller. That's pretty startling to hear when you consider that this was all created by hacking the Move Bluetooth protocols. It is one case where a game is very accessible to all gamers and remains fun no matter how many times it's played. We heard that future plans include playing along to your own music, and the creator admitted trying it out with the likes of Wu-Tang Clan playing in the background, but this is definitely an experience that feels much more nuanced with Bach's score.
The only issue we had with the compilation was that we never saw Hokra from Ramiro Corbetta. We have seen footage from the game, and it looks intriguing, but every time we passed by the booth, we either saw BaraBariBall or Super Pole Riders being played instead, and interest in both games was very high. We're hoping to check out Hokra before the whole compilation is released.
Sportsfriends is shaping up to be one of the bigger indie games to look out for later this year on both PS3 and PC/Mac/Linux. Even if you don't like all of the games in the compilation, there's enough gameplay in just one of the titles that the price is worth it to anyone looking for a great local multiplayer game. Look for Sportsfriends later this year.
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