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Beta’d: 5 Must-Play Games at IndieCade 2012

Welcome to another exciting edition of Beta’d, dear reader. L.A.’s Culver City Fire Station was home to a media preview event for the finalists of IndieCade 2012, the independent gaming expo that invades Los Angeles this weekend. All work and no play makes Dan a dull boy, so I will cut to the chase and present you with the five best games I got my hands on.

5) A Closed World (Mac/PC)

Developed in 8 weeks by MIT’s GAMBIT Game Lab, the JRPG-esque A Closed World is a unique adventure RPG that, according to developer Todd Harper, is “inspired by games like Earthbound.” The game follows a teenager who is so fed up with her surroundings that she up and leaves, winding up in a mysterious village adjacent to a demon-filled forest from which no one can escape. Determined to reach the other side of the forest – a feat which has never been accomplished before – the hero sallies forth and does righteous combat with the forest’s many denizens. Eschewing traditional RPG staples like melee attacks, spells and items, ACW‘s combat system uses the power of conversation – namely Logic, Passion and Ethics – to outwit and out-reason the Studio Ghibli-meets-pixel-art monsters. Fans of oddball RPGs and gameplay elements like L.A. Noir‘s interrogations or Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s conversation battles will find plenty to like from this free-to-play offering.

4) Super Space ____ (PC)

Developed by DigiPen’s David Scamehorn and Alexander Baard, the confusingly-named Super Space ____ (pronounced “Super Space Blank”) is a “a couch co-op arcade shooter about competition, cooperation, communication and the democracy of physics.” If that description didn’t hook you, then the frantic competitive but team-based co-op multiplayer will. Each player controls a turret on a spaceship whose steering is based on recoil from shooting, and you all compete for points and power-ups. The rub, however, is that you must work together to destroy asteroids aplenty and escape from other environmental hazards. Thus, the team is put into a prisoner’s dilemma: do you screw over your teammates for immediate gain and risk everyone’s death in the cold, unforgiving vacuum of space? Or do you take one for the team and sacrifice your high score so you can bank the ship starboard to avoid a fiery death? Either way, it’s addictive and we’re coming back for more.

3) International Racing Squirrels (iOS/Mac/PC)

Don’t let the title fool you; this is a surprisingly deep racing management simulator that would give FIFA’s Manager mode a run for its money. Currently available for iOS (and soon for Android), UK developer Playniac’s International Racing Squirrels puts you in the shoes of a manager/breeder in the high-stakes world of, well, squirrel racing. From training your squirrels to increase their stats to upgrading their digs to micromanaging the race itself through judicious use of power-ups, this management simulator is fun, flashy and proves to be a more compelling play than its title would suggest. Fans of titles like Monster Rancher, Pokemon, and sports games’ manager modes will definitely find something to love here.

2) Splice (Mac/PC on Steam)

With lush graphics and a stellar soundtrack, Cipher Prime’s Splice is entrancing to watch, let alone play. The puzzle game puts you in a microbial microverse in which you must sequence, mutate and shift cell structures to fit a predetermined pattern. With a limited number of moves – or “splices” – to complete the sequence, Splice puts your brain to the test, often surprising the player with the way in which the binary cell structures react to their poking and prodding. Add in the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack in the background and you have the building blocks for one incredibly fun-filled organism.

1) Guacamelee (PS3/Vita)

First things first: stop reading this and go play GuacameleeYou will thank me later. The inventive co-op platformer from Drinkbox Studios is equal parts Castlevania, Metroid, and Nacho Libre. Drawing from traditional Mexican culture, the action-platformer puts you in the shoes of musclebound luchador Juan Aguacate, who is tasked with saving the world when El Presidente’s Daughter is kidnapped by evil skeletons. What follows is a case study in classic gameplay that has you battling all manner of colorful baddies, running from Chupacabras and shifting through alternate dimensions like “The World of the Dead” and “The World of Nightmares.”

Even more exciting is the cross-play functionality between the PS Vita and PS3 versions. Not only can you play co-op simultaneously across both systems, but if you prefer to go the single-player route, your saved game is preserved on both systems, so you can pick up and play exactly where you left off on the gaming device of your choice. Indie game? Hell, there are plenty of “mainstream” games that can’t pull that feat off. Whatever you do this IndieCade, just make sure to suplex, pile drive, and/or give a little sweet chin music to any and all who stand between you and the chance to play Guacamelee. NOTE: Please don’t actually engage in physical combat with other IndieCade attendees unless you’re both hooked up to some weird virtual reality device.

Will you be at IndieCade this weekend? What games are you excited for? Quemment below and let us know.

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