June 15, 2011 at 8:40 PM ET
If you think today's video games are all bombastic shooters put together by big development teams with even bigger budgets ... think again.
At last week's Electronic Entertainment Expo, small games based on unique ideas were generating some of the biggest buzz.
Amidst the enormous, glitzy exhibits for games like "Battlefield 3" and "Modern Warfare 3," these games — often created by tiny teams and independent studios — drew long lines to their modest displays.
Here are five of these gaming underdogs to keep an eye on.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
Take a look at the screenshots from the forthcoming Xbox Live Arcade game "Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet" and you might think you should hang them on your wall. Yeah, they're arty — in the coolest sense of the word.
Created by Fuelcell Games in collaboration with animator Michel Gagne ("The Iron Giant," "Ratatouille"), "Insanely Twisted" is certainly breathtaking to behold. Like some kind of divine combination of art and gaming, players navigate a tiny ship as they traverse this strange world drawn from Gagne's mind. With various tools at your disposal, you'll find yourself exploring, shooting and puzzle-solving — that is, if you can tear your eyes away from simply watching the thing unfold.
"Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet" was inspired by a set of creepy-cool animated interstitials that Gagne created for Nickelodeon. You can check them out here.
This bright, imaginative action/role-playing game from the small team that calls itself Supergiant Games dazzled both my eyes and my ears when I got a look at it at E3.
The game has players traversing a world that has been shattered into a series of floating islands. You'll have to search for survivors and fight strange beasts, customizing weapons and building your powers along the way.
But what really makes this game pop are the gorgeous hand-painted environments that you explore as well as the gripping, distinctive narration that tells you the story of your game as you play it. Take a listen to that narration in the trailer below.
Yeah, it may sounds like a story told by a 50-year-old cowboy. But that voice comes from 27-year-old actor Logan Cunningham. He says they recorded a whopping 3,000 lines of narration for this game that plays out over 10 hours.
"Bastion" will be available for download through Xbox Live this summer and will then make its way to the PC.
Papo & Yo
At first glance this puzzle game — in the works for the PlayStation Network — appears to be a game about a boy, his robot and his monster. But there's a whole lot more going on here under the surface.
Created by the development company Minority, "Papo & Yo" is based on the real life of founder Vander Caballero, a game designer who grew up in Colombia with an alcoholic father. After working on big games like "Army of Two" and "Need for Speed" at Electronic Arts, he left the company to tell his very personal story through his own game.
In "Papo & Yo," we find a young boy named Quico in a dream-like world of favellas. A giant, toothy creature named Monster is his best friend but also his biggest enemy. That's because the monster is addicted to poisonous frogs and flies into dangerous rages when he eats them.
Here the player must help young Quico navigate a surreal landscape as he tries to find a cure for Monster. The game challenges players to solve unusual puzzles by using Monster's emotions — both the good ones and the bad ones. And unlike many video games, there is no easy-to-define good and bad, or black and white, here.
The game, says Caballero, "is about a kid becoming an adult and learning to cope with the gray areas of life."
ThatGameCompany has developed something of a cult following thanks to games like "Flower" and "flOw" — games that challenge the very notion of what gameplay is all about. And their latest project — "Journey" — not only continues but grows this fine tradition.
"Journey" — coming to the PlayStation Network this fall — puts players into a strange sand-dune-filled world on a journey toward a mysterious mountain. As you explore this spare, elegant place you will grow abilities to float and fly and you will come across unusual creatures and objects.
But most interestingly, the game will be played online with others. But the catch is — you will only ever play with one other person at a time and you will never get to know who that other player is. You will not be able to chat with them or email with them, instead you will explore this world wordlessly and anonymously together. And though you can explore all by yourself, exploring together does give you enhanced powers.
"We wanted to challenge the assumptions about what a multiplayer game can be," "Journey" producer, Robin Hunicke, told me.
I, for one, look forward to the challenge.
Speaking of games that dazzled our eyes, "From Dust" (created by indie designer Eric Chahi) drops players into a gorgeous living breathing virtual world and gives them all the powers of a god. But playing god isn't exactly easy.
In this game — coming to Xbox Live in July — you'll have to mold and manipulate a living, breathing landscape with your mighty powers to help a tribe of human-like creatures grow and thrive and survive various natural disasters such as volcano eruptions and tsunamis.
What's initially most impressive about the game is the dynamic environmental simulation. The landscape looks incredibly real and players will be able to interact with the terrain manipulating water, earth, lava and vegetation.
Check out the above trailer to get a look at what playing god is like.
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