The Best of EGLX

Photos by Christopher Demelo

The Enthusiast Gaming Live Expo – better known as EGLX – is quickly becoming one of the biggest gaming events in Toronto. Now in its third year, the 2018 EGLX took place at the International Centre from March 9-11, and the rapidly expanding convention offered something for everyone, from classic arcade cabinets to old timey game swaps, panels, indie games, esports, art, concerts, and VR. Here are some of the interactive highlights that we saw throughout the weekend.

Wolf Gang

Wolf Gang is an isometric tactical game in the vein of Fire Emblem. Lyon Beckers, one half of the Calgary-based Nylon Blonde, explained the concept.

“I wanted to design a tactical game for people who really haven’t played tactical games,” said Beckers. “I wanted to simplify things by removing the resource management part of it.”

In Wolf Gang, you control a wolf trying to climb a mountain to eat all the animals. Along the way, you recruit black sheep, wolves in sheep’s clothing, frogs, and other allies to aid you in your quest. Every character has the same base stats, but each class has a unique ability that sets them apart. For instance, a frog doesn’t lose health in water, while a wolf does. To play the game, you need to have a sense of your environment and position your wolf gang properly.

The levels I played incorporated a basic rock-paper-scissors design for combat, forcing you to alternate your attacks depending on the strengths and weaknesses of your enemy. It’s simple, but it’s also colourful and it began to open up the more I played (Becker also said that they’d like to get a level editor and online multiplayer up at some point). Wolf Gang is currently on Steam in Early Access and should officially launch in about a year.

Spectrum Break

Moving from the methodical to the chaotic, I next tried out Jason Hein’s Spectrum Break. The side-scroller has a bright look and a gameplay feel similar to the N series that makes it both frenetic and engrossing. The objective is the game is to touch every geometric shape on screen (you can also touch a shape that will touch another shape to get there indirectly). The catch is that shapes will slowly start to sink as soon as you touch them, forcing you to slide, wall jump, and perform some truly stylish maneuvers reminiscent of the best parts of an infinite runner.

The rainbow-coloured shapes stand out against the stark black background and create a stunning visual effect that matches the synth-heavy soundtrack. I was completely hooked (and probably played a lot longer than I should have given the length of the line). Aside from the music, Hein is the sole developer on the project and describes the game as a bit of a happy accident.

“I actually ended up coming up with this game on my laptop by trying to make a regular platformer,” said Hein. “I had a couple of physics platforms lying around and got really bored. I started to apply scripts to everything and I kinda broke everything and that became the game.”

Spectrum Break even has a puzzle element, since you usually start in the middle of room and need to figure out which direction to proceed in order to complete a stage. The full game will be release on Steam on April 29.

King of the Hat

2018 is indeed the year of the Hat. Mario Odyssey and A Hat in Time are joined by one more hat focused video game, a brawler called King of the Hat that plays a bit like Towerfall. You have to throw your hat to hit another player and knock their hat off their head. Then you have to touch the hat while it’s on the ground to kill them.

The fun and engaging 4-player chaos machine has a wide variety of characters with a wide variety of hats (and power-ups). My personal favourite was Washing Machine, whose hat is a basket of laundry and who moves with the slow but steady speed of a laundry machine. Washing Machine is blessed with a devastating triple jump and can throw its weight around to hit other players. I never knew I wanted a washing machine as a playable character, but some gimmicks just work.

Socrates Sotos is one of the developers at the Montreal-based Hyroglyphik, the developer of King of the Hat. His pitch adequately conveyed the life-and-death importance of the proper hat.

“It’s a game that takes place in a world where everyone is born with a hat. The hat contains your soul and if anyone jumps on your hat, you die,” said Sotos.

King of the Hat is in Beta after a successful Kickstarter raised over $13,000. They plan to release for PC, PS4, XBOX1 and Switch by next February.

Kojiki 54%

My next game at EGLX was a unique fighting game that relied more on resource management and gambling than combos and perfect coordination. Kojiki 54% is made by (soon-to-be) Sheridan college grads that created the game as part of their year-end Capstone program.

“You are gambling with your HP,” said, Ana Carpio, a fourth year student and the artist on the game. “You are using your HP as a resource. You need blue HP to do blue attacks and red HP to do red attacks. At the same time, your opponent can go in and kill you and balance between the two.”

My fight became less about knowing moves and more about predicting my opponent’s action, trying to trick them into overextending so I could finish them in one blow. It was a little complicated at first, but developer Atom Spacefrogs provided a helpful handout sheet that reminded me of the move sets you’d find out arcade cabinets back in the day. It added a great physical element to a neat game idea.

Super Random Heroes and Arrow Heads

Super Random Heroes by Oddbird Games is another Capstone project from Sheridan students. Set in a world of joke superpowers, you battle your way up a superpower-dispensing building to get a refund on the powers you are unhappy with. As you wander each stage you pick up different abilities that can be either primary or secondary. For instance, making your primary ability a hammer will turn your character’s head into a hammer that crushes all enemies. On the other hand, making it your secondary power will turn your entire body into a hammer that is invulnerable, but will limit your movement because you’re literally a hammer flopping about.

Every level introduces unique powers that change the way you deal with enemies, include scientists that were turned into monkeys who throw bananas like boomerangs. I definitely want to see Oddbird expand on the idea to see how weird the power combinations can get!

Shae Humphries, the artist for Oddbird Games, was also showing off Arrow Heads, another game that the team made two years back. In Arrow Heads, you are in an arena where you shoot arrows at enemies and need to gauge the distance of your bow. Arrow Heads was playable on a giant custom arcade cabinet that had one stick for movement and another bow-shaped one for firing arrows.

“[Arrow Heads] won a lot of shows, so we decided to naively make a studio. That was a learning experience,” said Humphries. “We released it on Steam in September. We are also doing Capstone and trying to find funding. We are juggling a lot of balls right now.”

Luna: The Shadow Dust

The last but by far the most polished game I played at the show is Luna: The Shadow Dust, developed by the international team at Lantern Studios (the studio has devs in London, Toronto and Shanghai).

Luna is an gorgeous looking game in which you play as a kid teaming up with some sort of moon cat to solve puzzles. The side-scroller has deliciously simple yet sneaky design that tests your awareness and problem solving abilities. One of the early puzzles asks you to follow the gaze of certain portraits while accounting for the proper moon symbols. Others played with seasons to change the game world.

Wang Qian, the composer and instrumentalist for Luna, put together a soundscape like something out of Journey. She told me that the music wasn’t just background but a gameplay component that lets the player know how they are progressing.

“We have adaptive music. Each progression I composed new music to help the player finish the level,” said Qian.

When executed well, using music as a signpost is a subtle and clever way to guide players, and Luna nailed in the demo. The studio ran a successful Kickstarter that raised for 17,000 euros and is hoping to release on Steam within the next year or two.

_________________________

Those games barely scratch the surface at EGLX, which also featured excellent panel talks (including a Cuphead retrospective), well-preserved classic titles, and a ton of Smash Bros. EGLX is fast becoming one of the premiere events on the Toronto calendar, and I look forward to seeing what the organizers have in store for 2019.

 


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