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16 Features

Hands-On with PS4's next big indie games: N++, Binding of Isaac Rebirth, Metrico and The Witness

By Lucas Sullivan on Thursday 1st May 2014 at 1:00 PM UTC

From the moment Sony unveiled PlayStation 4, the company has pushed hard to convince the world that small, independent developers really matter. And it's right: indies are capable of delivering the kind of creative, innovative passion projects that often take risks where triple-A games won't.

Between the Pub Fund program and the efforts of its Third Party Publishing team, PlayStation has put its money where its mouth is in regards to supporting indies. And, at face value, it's a win-win situation: small developers get much-needed exposure on consoles and handhelds, while gamers get a wildly diverse array of unique titles.

This week Sony invited CVG to play a host of upcoming indie games headed for the PS3, PS4, and PS Vita. The four examples below are, for us, the titles that really stood out.

N++

MetaNet Software / PS4

Before Super Meat Boy, N+ was the hottest hardcore 2D platformer in town. N++ is the new and improved version, with hundreds of additional levels and a new twist: up to four-player co-op.

N++ has a no-frills aesthetic, with players controlling a nimble stick figure ninja that must run, jump, bounce between walls, and avoid missile launchers to reach each level's exit. Stages are compact, fit to a single screen and usually no more than 30 seconds long (provided you don't die repeatedly, which you will).

Co-op in N++ is a chaotic, collaborative affair. Of the ten co-op stages we played, the majority of them required teamwork and coordinated timing. These levels often split the players up into two criss-crossing paths, encouraging you to think about your progression before you leap.

But speed is also essential, because the slowly ticking timer can only be kept at bay by collecting power-ups strewn around precarious, mine-covered platforms. In co-op, one player dying can often doom the whole group, since their segment of the level might be inaccessible to everyone else.

This division also creates some excellent hero moments. If the exit's in sight, with three players already dead on the ground, with you as the lone survivor facing a dozen missile turrets, the pressure can be immense. Co-op partners may cheer on their new all-star, or heckle them for clumsily jumping head-first into an errant mine.

It's a great, frantic kind of fun, and if you somehow manage to plow through all the new co-op levels, the single-player content accommodates multiplayer just fine. If you've experienced the delights of N+ before, now might be a good opportunity to fire it back up. You're going to need brush up on those skills.

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

Nicalis / Vita, PS4 and PC

This is no mere port to PS Vita. Binding of Isaac: Rebirth takes a beloved roguelike and makes it feel new again, with a fresh, pixelated art style and even more items, enemies and boss fights this time around.

If you haven't led poor Isaac on his horrific, basement-diving odyssey, this indie plays like a mix of The Legend of Zelda and Smash TV. Players must explore a randomly generated dungeon, collecting power-ups and desperately trying to stay alive.

Zoom

Isaac's eight-way running and four-way tear shooting feels excellent on the Vita. You can play twin-stick style, firing with the right analog, or use the face buttons to determine your aim (our preference).

We were lucky enough to find a new item within seconds of starting our demo: an attack modifier that turns Isaac's eyes into empty sockets and colours his tears pitch black. Hitting enemies causes them to freeze in time, letting us pelt them to death with ease. Overpowered? Maybe. Unstoppable fun? Certainly.

Rebirth art assets have been redrawn to look crisp on Vita's screen, and allow for some extra little details. If you look closely, you can spot harmless vermin occupying some rooms, and the gore has been refined with some gorgeous sprites of guts and entrails to complement the pools of blood.

We also encountered some objects that were only present in the Wrath of the Lamb expansion on PC, like the damaging toothed doorways and lumps of golden poop filled with coins. If you've been looking to reacquaint yourself with Isaac's miserable adventure and addictive top-down-shooting action, Rebirth on Vita should be just the thing.

Metrico

Digital Dreams / PS4, PS Vita

Imagine if Prince of Persia was set entirely in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. What you're picturing right now is probably close to Metrico, a puzzle platformer on PS Vita that uses bar graphs and pie charts as its backdrop.

The concept might sound boring on paper, but Metrico's abstract art style is captivating in motion. Little details enhance the stark landscape and bold colour choice, like rising and falling percentage values on graphs, or your X value increasing as your side-scroll through the level.

Metrico is a platformer you play at your own pace. Death is never a factor, nor are there scores or time limits to pile on the stress. Instead, all the gameplay comes from figuring out what inputs will help you move forward. From puzzle to puzzle, levels will react differently to your movements.

Perhaps jumping will increase the height of the bar graph you're standing on. Maybe you need to run from right to left to set up the perfect timing for a long jump. Since you never know quite what to expect from each new puzzle, Metrico is constantly forcing you to rethink your movements, and challenging your assumptions about the correct way to play a platformer.

The Witness

Number None / PS4, PC

Last time Jonathan Blow shipped a game, he revolutionized the entire indie gaming scene on consoles. The Witness is his latest project: a first-person puzzle game set on a serene, picturesque island.

Exploring the world of The Witness shakes loose old memories of playing Myst: moving with a playful curiosity of the environment, taking in the scenery and tackling puzzles at a leisurely pace. There are no tutorials, no button prompts, no dialogue scenes, no forms of guidance when you first jump in. You wander into a wide-open, exotic island and try to decide what to do next.

Visually, The Witness can be intoxicating, resplendent with bright and bold colours, coupled with an aesthetic that feels familiar yet paradoxically also otherworldly. It's the variety of environments that continues to impress; one moment we were in a lush garden amidst overgrown ruins, and next, inspecting a pyramid on a sandy beach.

The puzzles we encountered in The Witness were all variants of mazes, displayed on one of the many mysterious monitors strewn across the ghostly island. Interfacing with one puts you in control of a point on a plain grid. "Beating" a puzzle means figuring out the correct line to draw that'll power up the next monitor.

It sounds simple, but we could already see how The Witness can create a mental tangle. None of the puzzles come with instructions, and an immense wave of pride comes when each solution is figured out.

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