Amazon officially unveiled Amazon Game Studios, its game development and publishing branch, back in the summer of 2012. Since then, the company has been hiring game developers and acquiring studios from the world of traditional console and PC games. For the most part, the company has stayed quiet on what those people are making. Instead, Amazon Game Studios has been working with outside developers to produce games designed to highlight Amazon's Fire Phone.
For a time, those games remained exclusive to the Fire Phone, likely because Amazon wanted to make an argument for the phone as a gaming device. But the Fire Phone was a flop, and earlier this month, during PAX East, the company announced an about-face: It would bring some of its premium-priced mobile games to other Fire devices and to iOS. We had a chance to play three of those titles during PAX East, all of which will be available "soon" on iOS and Kindle Fire tablets.
Lost Within, Human Head Studios
Lost Within (screenshot above) isn't the first mobile game from Prey developer Human Head Studios, but it's the first time the Madison, Wisconsin-based developer has worked with Amazon. Human Head co-founder Chris Rhinehart told Polygon that the company has really enjoyed collaborating with Amazon Game Studios for this project. He said Amazon provided some helpful feedback to the developers, but mostly stayed out of their way and let them make the game they wanted to make. That was a common refrain among the studios we spoke to.
Lost Within is a first-person adventure game with survival horror elements, and Human Head drew on its years of experience making console games to design it. "There's a lot of console trappings in here," said Rhinehart. The game takes place within an abandoned asylum, a setting that Rhinehart said Human Head has always wanted to explore. A serial killer is rumored to be on the loose inside the facility, and as a deputy in the area, you've been sent in for one last sweep to root out the murderer. Unfortunately, it turns out that a boy is calling for help from somewhere inside, and it falls to you to rescue him as you try to track down the killer.
The dilapidated asylum contains a maze of rooms, many of which are initially inaccessible, and monstrous enemies are roaming about. Most of the time, you'll be attempting to distract them so you can get around them rather than fight them. You can use your device's tilt functionality to lean around a corner, and double-tap to speed up actions: sprint down a corridor, close a door behind you. Rhinehart described the encounter design as asking the player to choose between "fight, flight or stealth." Periodically, you get brief flashbacks to the time when the asylum was operational. Those flashbacks plus text in the loading screens convey Lost Within's story, and Rhinehart said the entire game will take six to eight hours.
Til Morning's Light, WayForward Technologies
WayForward had been pitching Til Morning's Light to publishers for years to no avail, said designer and director Adam Tierney. "Publishers never really gravitated to it," he told Polygon, speculating that the game's protagonist — a meek teenage girl named Erica — turned them off.
Til Morning's Light begins with a scene like something out of Mean Girls: Erica and two more popular classmates walk up to an old mansion, and after the other girls tease her, Erica walks in first — only to find herself locked inside by girls whom she thought were her friends. The house is haunted, and Erica has to solve puzzles as she ascends the five floors of the building in order to escape.
You can tap on the screen to have Erica walk to a point, or press down on the screen and move your finger to have her follow as you go. It's smart to avoid the ghostly enemies, but if you get into combat, it's usually rhythm-based, where you have to tap on the screen as concentric circles meet or swipe in a given direction.
Til Morning's Light has an appealing kiddie aesthetic to it, although WayForward didn't explicitly set out to make a kids game. Tierney praised Amazon's working relationship with the studio, saying that "they were the least intrusive publisher" WayForward has worked with. The game, he added, is "pretty much what the pitch was."
To-Fu Fury, HotGen
A demo of HotGen's To-Fu Fury was part of Amazon's reveal event for the Fire Phone last June, with the game being used to show off the device's "dynamic perspective" technology. Now the game is coming to Kindle Fire tablets and iOS. To-Fu Fury is the third entry in HotGen's series of puzzle-platformers, with the studio having self-published the first two titles on Android and iOS.
To-Fu Fury brings the series' world into 3D, although it's still a side-scrolling game. Darren Anderson, senior producer at HotGen, told Polygon that the studio put a lot of effort into its titular spongy character as well as the environments. To-Fu Fury is split into three worlds with more than 70 levels, plus a fourth world full of levels that resemble the ones in the first two games. The work shows: The little playable cube of tofu is pretty charming, with various facial expressions that show off his concentration as he zooms around the world.
It's possible to complete some of the levels without much trouble, but hitting the goals set down by the developers can get really challenging. How the heck do I make it to the end in two moves?, you wonder. That's a big part of To-Fu Fury, and it's those kinds of puzzles that go beyond the simple pleasure of just getting through the game.
Like the other developers, Anderson had nothing but positive words for Amazon. He acknowledged that we might be inclined take his words with a grain of salt, since HotGen has a business relationship with Amazon, but said "they're an absolute joy to work with." Anderson went on to note that he's been working in the game industry for 25 years, and his experience with Amazon as a publisher has been "refreshing."