One of the areas of the gaming world I am most interested in is the preservation of video game history. This leads me to pursue physical copies of games that did not receive the traditional retail treatment, which is what initially drew me to scheduling a meeting with Merge Games. Merge Games are probably most known for taking some of the best indie games around and giving them the ultimate physical release in what they call the Signature Edition. Merge loves to take the indie game and put it through the entire process, starting with digital release and going clear into the Signature Edition. However, Merge was also showing off two new games being taken through the process, which I was able to play and discuss extensively.
Merge Games is a company that will probably resonate deeply with collectors, especially those looking to fill their shelves with interesting, premium pieces. These awesome boxes usually have either a soundtrack or some sort of artbook, even including the signatures of the developers on the cover. Most of the games Merge is offering through Signature Editions are awesome games too, many of which have gotten great reception from critics and fans alike. All for an affordable price that’s well below the industry’s average $90 plus for collector’s editions.
Three of these games were available to check out or buy at Merge Games: Aragami, Sublevel Zero Redux, and Slain: Back from Hell. Aragami is an action based stealth game, allowing players to bend the shadows around them to take out foes. Players can either stick to the stealth elements or battle as an undead warrior, its their choice. Sublevel Zero Redux was pitched to me as a love letter to the classic game Descent, giving pilots the ability to move in any direction in a 3D space. Filled with neon visuals, a catchy soundtrack, and roguelike elements, playing Sublevel Zero Redux at a high level just looks damn impressive. For fans of something a little more retro, Slain: Back from Hell is the way to go, building on the tropes and style of Castlevania to make for a heavy metal romp.
Each of these games were represented in their Signature Edition at PAX, but even though these games were proven awesome enough to warrant such a release, they couldn’t quite steal the show from the two new games from the publisher.
Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure is a quirky 3D platformer cut from the same cloth of Banjo Kazooie or Conker’s Bad Fur Day, holding all the charm that made players fall in love with the works of Rareware years ago. However, this is a platformer with its own unique set of mechanics, as the player actually plays as a little cardboard box. Rolling around as a box may not sound like something players have been searching for, but the ability to Unbox makes a world of difference. By Unboxing, players can leap in mid air at any point, either to reach new heights or save themselves from a treacherous fall. Players do have a limited use of Unboxing though, as its also the way lives are tracked. This gives the mechanic a risk/reward system that I found incredibly intriguing. Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure features a full collectathon adventure, complete with secrets, boss battles, and a mysterious story.
Yet, Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure has even more clever surprise beneath its brown paper shell. PAX attenders also got to check out the game’s multiplayer and the several modes being offered. These modes reminded me of the creativity of Conker’s Bad Fur Day‘s Multiplayer games. One had us firing off power-ups in a deathmatch style arena, while another was a straight race. These modes were great to play with the other attenders and created a ton of laughs.
Surprisingly, one of the deepest games I had seen at PAX was being shown off at Merge. I saw its listing before scheduling the appointment, kind of ignoring it as not my type of game, but after hearing about the game’s origins and context, I was blown away. Riot: Civil Unrest is a strategy game based on actual riots throughout history and was even inspired by the developer’s experiences during a riot. Players will play as either the protesters or the police in this pixelated crowd-control strategy game. Yet, even though its clear how to play with the simple point and click commands, there’s more depth to be had.
Each character in this mob of confusion has their own set of goals. Issuing the protesters to be less violent doesn’t always work, as a rogue could toss a Molotov cocktail if provoked. This is the same for the police, one officer could swoop in to arrest someone, sparking mass panic and a chain reaction of events that the player must try to maintain. Not only do players get to see the riot through the eyes of both sides, but they can also choose how they want to go about completing the level. Their choices even carry over in the campaign. For instance, a violent player will find that the police prepare for that violence in the next level, jumping to arrests sooner. Really, Riot: Civil Unrest is a game about finding balance in these tense situations.
What was so cool about hearing all of this about Riot was the fact that a player who was incredibly well versed in the game was actually the one providing the information for my appointment. The developer was away at the time, but here was this fan giving all of this detail and context to me and another journalist. We talked for quite some time, later finding out that he was actually a bystander in a major riot, which is why he was so interested in the game. He told me that this game actually helped him understand a bit more about riots, as he explained there’s no telling what could happen in the chaos. He actually watched all of the violence from afar and above, looking down on the two masses trying to find a solution among disarray. Riot: Civil Unrest is played from this perspective, being able to see everything, but not really knowing what’s happening between individuals. It was an enlightening moment about such a darker part of history. It will be interesting to see how other players react to playing Riot, as its a game that does so much more than being a fun interactive experience. This is education using video games in such a subtle, yet brilliant matter.
Luckily, most of these game are available already on Steam, with the exception being Riot: Civil Unrest, which is releasing later this year. Aragami is also available on Xbox One, PS4, Linux, and Mac OS X. Slain: Back from Hell is on PS4 and Xbox One as well as the PSVita. Sublevel Zero Redux is on Xbox One and PS4. Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure is making its way to Xbox One, PS4, and Switch soon!
What started as a pursuit of learning more on how publishers approach physical releases lead to me learning of two great games to keep an eye on. Merge Games definitely surprised me and I feel silly not knowing about them prior to PAX as there are some excellent experiences to enjoy under their care. I really do want to pick up one of those Signature Editions though, those would look fantastic on my shelf!
For more information about Merge Games, check out their website.
Those looking for more on the Signature Editions, should look into this dedicated site.