If you’re anything like me, as soon as a game loads and starts rolling title screens, that’s your cue to start beating the escape key like the proverbial red-headed step child. This too was my MO for quite a long while, that is until a few years back when I began caring more and more about where my games were coming from, and who exactly is responsible for creating them. It’s fascinating how just a publisher’s or developer’s logo can immediately instill feelings of joy and anticipation, such as Square Enix, Blizzard, and Bethesda. Conversely, some names fill you with trepidation and dread; looking at you Data Design Interactive and 505 Games.
As of late, I’ve been noticing some unfamiliar title cards popping up with an intriguing amount of frequency. In an industry obsessed with sequels, reboots, and remakes; there are a few companies putting themselves out there by publishing innovative titles from upstart developers that stray far from convention. Let’s take a minute to get to know the current target for my awkward man-on-corporation love crush, Devolver Digital.
This Austin, TX based studio sprung up in 2009 with little notoriety. The only titles they released for their first few years were the HD remakes and sequels to the cult FPS Serious Sam series; an excellent choice if you like no nonsense classic Doom run-and-gun style game-play. They popped up on my radar in 2012 when they released the phenomenal Hotline Miami to critical acclaim. This release set the tone for the future of the company as they began to emphasize building relationships with indie developers to become the premier source for innovative new gaming experiences. If you’ll humor me, I’d like to spend a few minutes trumpeting my favorite Devolver releases that wormed their way into my heart and, more importantly, onto my hard drive.
Sir, yes you sir! Do you miss the days gone by when men were men, women were women, and all life’s problems could be sorted out with a rousing bout of fisticuffs? Do you yearn for the adventure and excitement of pitting your wits against those hazards inherent in searching the ruins of the ancient world for treasure and glory? Do you have the courage to laugh in the face of ancient pharaohs, horrible bug monsters, and rough and tumble bootlegging gangsters? Then you’re in luck sir cause I’ve got just the game for you. Take a gander at the wonder and spectacle that is Foul Play, the most rip roaring 2D beat em up adventure since Castle Crashers. Developed by Mediatonic and released in 2013, Foul Play puts you in the shoes of Baron Dashforth, the most debonair brawler to sport a top hat since ole honest Abe Lincoln went through his peculiar gator wrestling phase. No need to go it alone though, as a second player can take on the role of the Baron’s faithful ward Scampwick, the sharp-tongued lovable rogue. With Foul Play you get to enjoy a 1920s Broadway aesthetic, a deep rewarding combat system, and more quality music then you can shake a stick at. Well then, don your bowler hat, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to give some villains a shiner right in the eye!
This title shouldn’t come as a surprise to you, and if so, for shame. Releasing in 2012 from Dennaton Games, Hotline Miami is a top down twin stick action combat shooter. It tells the story of masked hit-man working his way through the neon tinged coke fueled playground of 1980’s Miami. Each level will test your reflexes with unrelenting mobs of leisure suit clad psychos waiting around every corner to earn a little extra scratch by taking your head back to their bosses. Hotline Miami is punishingly difficult and will make you regret every mistake you make. Completing a level is more than just being quicker than your enemies though. You will need to observe the layout of the building, prioritize targets, plan your route, and then flawlessly execute. Sometimes you will have to improvise as circumstances can change on the fly and you’ll have to think on your feet. Hotline Miami always seems to reward playing smart much more than just rushing in guns blazing. To accompany you on your death filled acid trip adventure is a simply brilliant synth-pop/trance/trip-hop soundtrack from multiple notable composers including Ben Prunty, Scattle, and M.O.O.N. If you’re interested in learning more about the excellent music, RockPaperShotgun did an excellent article on the subject here. This is the game that signaled the beginning of Devolver’s commitment to promoting indie games and a shining example of the fun you can have by stepping off the well-traveled path of conventional game design.
It’s monarchy via Tinder. When you’re king, every decision matters. You must satisfy the needs of the people, placate the clergy, keep your military strong, service the economy, and try to keep your royal coffers full. Reign does an amazing job of distilling all the responsibility of running a kingdom down to simple yes or no questions. Agree with your general that wants to build a new fort? Just swipe right. Beware though as all things comes with a cost, fortifications aren’t free after all, and not all debts can be paid with coin alone. Despite Reigns’ simplistic mechanics, it does an incredible job of belaying what it really means to be the propped up leader of a nation. You can’t allow any single faction to gain too much power or it will spell your immediate demise. Simultaneously, let any faction become overly discontent, and you will be ousted from power by bloodthirsty revolutionaries tired of your negligent rule. Unfortunately no matter how benign your rule, you will fail as monarch. Don’t be afraid though, as you will get to continue playing by taking on the role of your successor as the cycle continues. Nerial, the games developer, did an impressive job making such a compelling experience with such a simplistic interface. Furthermore, as you can play with a single finger, Reign feels like it was built from the ground up to be played on your smartphone. At last check, Reigns is available for just $2.99 on the Play Store, and even less on Steam, go buy it and start ruining a kingdom of your very own.
Mother Russia Bleeds
Comrades, this game is hard. Excluding the From Software catalogue, I can’t remember the last time a game repeatedly beat me into the dirt like MRB does. Releasing in late 2016 from developer Le Cartel Studios on multiple platforms; Mother Russia Bleeds is a dark twisted romp through the seedy underbelly of Soviet Russia. This pixel art side scroller is dripping with personality and that special kind of ultra violence that could make even Tarantino gag. Your Adidas clad protagonists will bash, beat, choke, stab, gouge, and shoot their way through everything from secret labs to warehouse raves. All the while you’ll be treated to a pounding electronic industrial soundtrack that will lull you into an extremely satisfying digital murder trance. I recommend dragging a friend down into this Communist nightmarescape to help you try to survive, because as I said comrades, this game is hard.
Have you had the chance to enjoy these gems? Am I an asshole that forgot to mention your favorite Devolver game? Feel free to comment below.