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The second day of BitSummit has come to a close, so here are the highlights of what we played.
If you aren’t familiar with it, BitSummit is Japan’s leading independent games development expo.
Held in Kyoto each year, the event showcases indie games from Japan and the rest of the world, and this year more than 90 indie titles are available to play.
We’ve already published our first day of coverage – expect coverage of the third day when it ends, as well as developer interviews from the show in the coming days and weeks.
Here’s our hands-on impressions of some of the more interesting titles we’ve come across on day two.
Similar to the excellent Hook and Kaiju (which we covered in the day one article), Shigeru Planet comes from Gyaar Studio, a small indie label within Bandai Namco whose games are made by more junior developers to help nurture their talents.
The idea is to fill a field with as many flowers as possible by piloting a UFO armed with a water cannon. Oh, and the flowers have human faces, just because.
Players can either pour the water on the ground to help grow new flowers and keep existing ones alive, or fire the water in shotgun-like blasts to harm enemies prowling.
The enemies want to destroy your flowers, so the aim is to continually switch between making more flowers and killing enemies, all while levelling up your abilities and getting new items (like a sprinkler which waters the flowers for you for a period of time).
If we had to sum it up with a pun, and why wouldn’t we, we’d say it was part of the ‘flower defence’ genre. It’s wonderfully silly – the highlight is when a man in a giant chicken suit suddenly appears and carnage ensues.
If you fancy playing it for yourself, you can – because Gyaar Studio is based on nurturing development talent, it’s free to download from Steam. It’s only in Japanese but you can figure it out pretty easily.
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk
The spiritual successor to Jet Set Radio is out next month, but we managed to go hands on with it for about 15 minutes at Nintendo’s Indie World booth at BitSummit.
The opening has you breaking out of a jail cell and teaming up with a character called Tryce to escape the building where you’re being held captive.
At first you’re on foot and engage in basic attack moves, but eventually you earn your rollerblades and the thing starts to feel more like Jet Set Radio.
As in that game, you get to spray graffiti tags on walls, and the process to do so is quite straightforward – a five-pointed star appears on the screen and you just point the stick towards whatever point is highlighted, until the tag is complete.
We enjoyed what we played of Bomb Rush Cyberpunk, though the fact the prologue runs at a slow pace combined with the rather strict timing of the demo – a Nintendo show floor assistant literally sat a clock next to us with a 15-minute timer on it – means we didn’t get far enough into it to see how it truly kicks off.
We’re intrigued by what we played so far, though, especially given a rather surprising twist that happens early in the game. But that would be telling.
Yohane the Parhelion: Blaze in the Deepblue
This game, which is based on the anime series Love Live! Sunshine!!, is a fantasy Metroidvania, which by all accounts is an unusual departure for a colourful anime about a schoolgirl idol group.
It’s developed by Inti Creates, the team behind the Blaster Master Zero and Azure Striker Gunvolt series, and feels like a solid action game, even if the section we played was a little easy (which, again, is common in expo demos).
You play as protagonist Yohane as she explores a monster-infected labyrinth while looking for her missing friends.
As she finds and ‘collects’ her friends, they can be summoned to perform her attacks for her. The demo gave us a wolf character that performs a basic chomp, a girl who shoots a fireball and another girl who performs a rolling attack. Yohane herself can’t attack so these support characters act as her weapons.
We had a fun time with this one and managed to defeat its giant fish boss within the allocated demo time. We also played the demo twice – once on PS5 and once on Switch – and it performs perfectly well on both, though naturally the PS5 version had a higher resolution. We’re curious to see the finished game when it’s released in November.
Another upcoming Inti Creates title, Umbraclaw is the latest title from Blaster Master Zero director Satoru Nishizawa and has an interesting gameplay mechanic based around the idea that cats have nine lives.
The protagonist is Kuon, a cat who has to travel through the afterlife and navigate its dangers in order to return home to his master.
Naturally, the afterlife is filled with plenty of dangers, and at first all Kuon can do is a dash dodge. If he can dash enemy attacks at the last minute, he’ll build a gauge which, when full, lets him perform a modest attack.
The twist is that Kuon has practically no health and most things kill him with one touch. Every time he dies and uses up one of his lives, though, he’s reincarnated with a new animal summoning power.
This could be the ability to summon a tiger to slash at enemies for you, to the ability to make an elephant appear and pluck projectiles out of the sky for you, to the ability to briefly turn into an anteater and stop time.
Eventually, if you die a number of times, Kuon becomes this weird sort of cat-human hybrid and suddenly gains access to a huge repertoire of fighting moves, almost as a sort of last resort.
It’s a very cool idea with a unique art style, and we’re eager to see more of it. No release date has been confirmed, however, so this PC and Switch game may be a while off yet.
Devolver Digital was present at BitSummit, and the game it dedicated the most floor space to was KarmaZoo, a co-op platformer where you aren’t supposed to know who your partners are.
Players choose from a selection of 50 random characters, each with their own abilities, and are then matched up online with up to nine other complete strangers.
Your newly-formed team, then, has to make its way through a selection of increasingly challenging stages, working together to help each other through.
It seems that French developer Pastagames is going for the 2D retro platformer equivalent of what Journey achieved, with players helping complete strangers and being unable to verbally communicate with each other.
At BitSummit the game obviously wasn’t online so instead four TVs were set up a reasonable distance from each other and players could just turn up and play with random other show attendees.
Given that we only speak English and were teamed up with a Japanese couple and a Japanese child, the game’s main premise of not being able to communicate with your teammates actually played out and we really did feel like we bonded with our new friends without sharing a single world, resulting in us all sharing friendly smiles and acknowledging waves when the session was over.
Devil Engine Ignition
Devil Engine was released in 2019 and was met with positive reviews, but after announcing later that year that it would be getting a DLC expansion called Ignition, it became embroiled in a legal argument.
Developer Protoculture Games claimed in 2020 that it had never received payment for the game from its publisher, then after this was seemingly resolved in 2021 the game’s musician and artist then came out and said their work was being used without permission.
It would appear that the whole sorry mess has finally been resolved because, nearly four years after it was originally announced, Devil Engine’s new Ignition expansion is back on track.
The DLC adds a new Ignition mode which offers the player six new and “heavily remixed” stages, a new arranged soundtrack and three unique ships, each with their own playstyles.
We really liked what we played of Ignition and, assuming its behind-the-scenes drama has indeed been resolved, shoot ‘em up fans should keep an eye out for it.
Aojuji Hospital: Tokyo Eidolic Anatomy Division
Earlier this month Japanese media company Sankei Digital announced that it was launching a new indie games label called Hyper Real, and that its first three games would be on display at BitSummit.
We played one of these, Aojuji Hospital, which is a paranormal visual novel set in Japan in 1999.
You play as a member of Aojuji Hospital, a secret police department that specialises in investigating crimes that have a paranormal element to them, performing autopsies to try to determine what actually happened.
The visual novel genre isn’t really best suited for short demos at games conventions, so it was hard to get a grasp on how well Aojuji Hospital will go as its story develops.
That said, the art style was appealing, the dialogue was well-written and the soundtrack was wonderful, so this is one we’re going to watch closely as it prepares for 2024 release on PC and Switch.
Nour: Play With Your Food
This one was on display at the PlayStation booth and basically caused a lot of confusion, both for the players attending the event and the booth staff employed to assist players.
The game is an “interactive exploration into the aesthetics of food”, which apparently seems to mean you have to, as the title suggests, play with your food.
We chose a gumball machine and were able to take the lid off, throw coins at it, create a sort of tornado thing that whirled all the contents around and generally just mess around with things.
There’s no real apparent goal, which is why a number of attendees later told us that they, like us, were met with confused shrugs from the staff when asked what we actually had to do.
It looks brilliantly detailed, and there will no doubt be an audience there who appreciates a ‘game’ with no goals that simply allows for experimentation. There’s a free demo on Steam if you want to see whether it does anything for you.
The last of our day two games was this wonderful platformer which will almost certainly find itself in SEO hell when people can’t find it for all the Shin Megami Tensei games out there.
Tensei is in development at Neuron Age, an Osaka-based studio which usually works on smaller elements of larger games (previous titles include Monster Hunter Rise, Resident Evil Village and Paper Mario: The Origami King).
The game is a vertical jumper where the player controls a small creature which has the ability to triple-jump.
The aim is to jump continually upwards, from platform to platform, using a downward slam attack to take out pieces of corrupt material which are on some platforms.
It’s a deliberately floaty, slow-paced game created with a beautiful traditional Japanese art style, and we absolutely loved it. The studio has yet to release official screenshots for the game, but this teaser should give you an idea of the art style.
Its developer says the aim is to have players “slowly ascending into the sky like a brush stroke on a piece of paper,” which sounds about right.
It also and hopes that the game “offers you a moment to leave your busy daily life and be at peace”. We’re keen to see if the final game manages this.
We’ll have more indie coverage from BitSummit following day three of the event. Read our BitSummit day one coverage if you missed it.