The SXSW festival is traditionally a haven for unusual video games, and SXSW 2014 was no exception. A plethora of indie developers and a handful of larger ones showed up to give gamers a taste of what happens when creators deviate from traditional mainstream titles. Action games, puzzle games, racing games and games that defy categorization were present and accounted for.
Read on for a list of games you'll definitely want to keep an eye on.
"Modulate" has a lot in common with Valve's hit game "Portal." The game presents a series of mind-bending puzzles in a first-person perspective, all overseen by a seldom-glimpsed operator with a mechanical, monotone voice. You can control certain forms of matter, phasing them in and out of existence. This is useful when there's a springboard you need to reach a high location, but potentially perilous when you're standing on a high platform. Even early on, the puzzles are mind-bendingly difficult and satisfying to complete.
The rhythm game genre has seen better days, but is hardly dead, as "Zya" hopes to demonstrate. This mobile title gives aspiring DJs control over remixing modern pop hits from artists such as Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Players can create their own voice samples, tap out their own drumbeats and even record the vocal tracks from one song over another. A single-player campaign walks players through the process of becoming an imaginary DJ, but users can also submit their best tracks to win real-life prizes.
"Broforce" is the next-best thing to leaping off a flaming motorcycle to high-five a bald eagle. This 8-bit side-scroller is a throwback to both the video games and action movies of yesteryear. Take control of thinly disguised versions of Mr. T, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger and other '80s and '90s action heroes as you rescue prisoners, hoist American flags and blast your way through terrorists at every checkpoint. Up to four bros can cooperate (or "brooperate," if you prefer) to conquer the difficult, destructible stages.
If you didn't play "Shark Punch" at SXSW 2014, you may never get the chance to do so. The title was a tech demo rather than a full-fledged game, but still presented two interesting ideas: What if PC gamers could use the Oculus Rift VR goggles in conjunction with the Leap Motion peripheral? What if you were stuck at the bottom of the ocean and had to punch sharks into a fine, bloody mist? The game was simple and shallow, but it presents intriguing possibilities for the future of VR gaming.
"Mario Kart 8" was probably the most traditional game on display at SXSW 2014, but it showed why Nintendo's "if it ain't broke" mentality has served the company so well for so long. As in previous entries, players will take control of various characters from the "Super Mario Bros." series while racing across fanciful tracks armed with bizarre weaponry. This time around, gravity gets thrown for a loop in some levels, turning racers upside-down and allowing for some new strategies to antagonize your friends and rivals.
When gamers think about genres that mesh together well, "role-playing game" and "pinball simulator" are probably not foremost on their lists. Nonetheless, "Rollers of the Realm" brings this bizarre idea to fruition, and the results are thoroughly entertaining. Each ball represents a different character in your party, such as a warrior, healer or rogue. You can do battle with foes, explore towns and level-up your party, all with the flip of a paddle (and the occasional machine tilt), and all while experiencing a traditional high-fantasy epic.
"That Dragon, Cancer" was one of the most divisive titles shown at SXSW 2014. There's very little traditional gameplay, and there's nary an actual dragon to be found. Rather, you play as the parents of a young child afflicted with an incurable cancer. You can explore the hospital and see the situation from various perspectives, including those of the child's parents and his attending doctors and nurses. There are no puzzles to solve or enemies to fight, but lots of emotions to experience.