Most of Tokyo Game Show 2018’s big AAA announcements — like the reveal of Sony’s PlayStation Classic — happened ahead of the show. With few new demos from the big-name publishers, the show’s indie games have rightfully grabbed the spotlight. We rounded up eight of our favorite demos from smaller developers.
The list includes shoot-’em-ups, text adventures, physics simulators and throwbacks, along with a handful of genre jumbles. Many of the games will be released by the end of the year, and some demos (like the preview of the stomach-churning World of Horror) are playable right now — no expensive flight to Tokyo required!
Rival Megagun is the most fun we had at Tokyo Game Show 2018 — even though it wasn’t technically on the show floor. Shown at this year’s BitSummit Roadshow, Rival Megagun is a competitive, one-on-one fighting shoot-’em-up.
Is it easier to understand if I just say it’s a lot like Twinkle Star Sprites? No?
OK, let me break this down. Two players (or one player and an AI) select from a collection of ships, each with their own unique pattern of bullets, bombs and special moves. The two players then play the same vertical shoot-’em-up stage on split-screen.
Destroying enemies fills a power meter. Chunks of the meter can be spent to send extra enemies to the other player’s screen. Or a full meter can be exchanged to temporarily transform into a boss. When this special move is unleashed, the two sides of the screen merge, with one player unleashing swarms of projectiles while the other players dodges the bullets and does their best to survive. When a player is killed by projectiles, they lose that round. The goal is to win two of three rounds.
Even when played on a tiny single Nintendo Switch Joy-Con, the ships control fantastically, making the Switch a perfect home for this extremely promising local multiplayer game. Rival Megagun is scheduled for release on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Switch and Xbox One later this year.
The elevator pitch is simple enough: classic 1980s dungeon-crawling spliced with Punch-Out style combat. But a tight summary neglects the many little details that make Fight Knight so appealing: Its art looks like an animated NES menu screen; its movement is quick and buoyant; and its sound effects are crunchy and tinny in the best possible way, like they’re coming through the busted speakers of your childhood boombox. Fight Knight is the sort of game that will live and die on how it feels. Needless to say, months ahead of release, it feels very good. It’s set to hit PC, PS4 and Switch later this year.
Inspired by the Thunder Force series, Devil’s Engine appears at first to be another competent but safe love letter to the side-scrolling shoot’-em-ups of the 16-bit era. But Devil’s Engine doesn’t fit neatly into a quick demo. Its trailer shows the twists and tweaks the team has sewn into the game’s later stages. As the difficulty increases, the player must dodge streams of bullets, along with flames, lasers, orbs and huge teleporting blades. We didn’t make it that far in person. In our demo, we zipped through a relatively easy early stage only to be obliterated by the first boss. From a throwback shoot’-em-up, we’d expect nothing less. Devil’s Engine is coming to PS4, PC and Switch.
Black Future 88 is the roughest demo on this list and probably the game furthest from release. But the preview for the self-described “synth-punk roguelike 2D action shooter” showed hints of a great action co-op game. Black Future 88’s creators seem to have read and memorized the playbook of fellow indie developer Vlambeer (Nuclear Throne, Luftrausers). Guns spew used bullet shells, slain enemies crumple like crushed beer cans, and the screen shakes violently with each big hit. The violence has a musculature to it that many creators ape, but few nail quite this well. That said, at this stage, the controls still feel a little too loose for a game this challenging. Hopefully the final version will share the greatest trait of every Vlambeer game: polish.
Years ago, we saw a surge of 2D physics sandboxes that allowed anybody with a browser to experiment with the physics of different materials. With a stroke of a mouse, the player could fill a screen with water, then add oil, then flame, and watch the results. Agartha’s creators have grafted a platformer-adventure into one of these physics simulations. As a tiny character, the player uses four different powers to safely reach each stage’s exit. The environments must be solved like puzzles. For example, I crossed a pond by turning it into ice, and I snuck through dripping lava by by building a concrete tunnel. Like the physics sandboxes that inspired it, Agartha has rough edges but lots of charm.
Battle Princess Madelyn made headlines with the news that it’s been co-created with its 7-year-old namesake. Judging from the demo, the young designer has a knack for development. Inspired by the Ghouls ’n Ghosts series, the game follows a young knight who must slash, dice and spear her way through cartoonishly grim fantasy environments. It may be more forgiving than the series from which it takes inspiration, but Battle Princess Madelyn is no less beautiful. Its pixel world is enlivened by colorful lighting that gives the moody setting a warm glow, like a chill Halloween party thrown by friends. The game is coming soon to Switch and PC.
“There isn’t anything like this” is one of those cliches we’re loath to use, but in this case, there truly isn’t anything like this. Tarotica Voo Doo borrows from the text adventures of the Apple II era, but its hand-drawn animation and strange pacing feel like snooping through your goth sibling’s art book. It feels truly indie, the sort of game that is made simply because its creator needed to make it.
Tarotica Voo Doo was one of the best games I played last fall as judges for the Indie Games Festival. I missed its release late last year, and I was thrilled to revisit the game on the TGS show floor and find it to be just as lovely and original as I remembered it.
The demo for World of Horror has been floating around for a couple years. We won’t see the official release until next year, but the game’s appearance on the TGS show floor is an encouraging sign that development is progressing as planned. With art inspired by classic Macintosh adventures and the works of Junji Ito, World of Horror has a bit in common with fellow entry Tarotica Voo Doo. But its slightly more traditional storytelling and cheeky tone make it more accessible. Well, comparably speaking. We continue to love this demo, but we do hope this time next year we’ll be playing the full game.