The very last meeting we had scheduled at PAX South was off the floor in one of the historic San Antonio downtown hotels with Kasedo Games. A digital publishing division of Kalypso (of Tropico and Dungeons fame), Kasedo’s focus is bringing quality games to a wider audience through its publishing expertise. Kasedo’s already published a few games, including Hegemony Rome and Crowntakers, but to PAX South they brought two new titles planned for a release later this year: Excubitor and Upwards, Lonely Robot.
Excubitor is a mixed blend of action-shooter, bullet hell, and tower defense. You play as the pilot of a small defense craft called the Hammerhead, tasked with defending the massive space vessel Antares. Aside from your ship, you also have command of the base’s turret defense system. You’ll have to use both your ship and your towers to defend the ship and keep it from being destroyed.
The Hammerhead is a sleek, kick-ass ship that can be modified cosmetically and upgraded using the game’s primary resource. There are multiple stages of upgrades, each of which affects the ship’s appearance. You can also choose your weapon loadout from a selection of weapons that includes a rail gun, machine gun, missile launcher, and tesla gun.
The game is played isometrically. Although your ship is not capable of changing altitudes, it can shoot up or down depending on aerial or ground targets. Each mission takes place on a large map with multiple areas to build turrets and multiple ‘lanes.’ You’re limited on how many turrets you can have up at a time (based on energy), and enemies will attack different parts of your base, making it necessary from time to time to sell off your old turrets to place new ones elsewhere. Your turrets can be upgraded as well to make them more powerful in fighting off the hordes of enemy ships that will come your way.
Each mission map may also have world objects. These range from simple destructible items that contain currency or can set off explosive chain reactions to controllable mines that allow you to gather more resources for your upgrades. World objects may also include traps and additional weapons to use against the enemy – especially bosses. And bosses might be some of the most awesome we’ve seen in a game of this type. These bosses are the kind of huge mofos that take up the entire screen and unleash a real bullet hell barrage you’ll be lucky to escape unscathed, not to mention the scores of smaller ships they send out to attack you as well. Each boss has certain criteria to accomplish before it can take damage from your weapons too, from damaging its turrets, to breaking its shields with well timed depth charges from a nearby tower.
As a single-player campaign game, Excubitor has 18 missions available to play on multiple difficulties. Sorry, no co-op, though we agree it’d be bad ass! You can find it on Steam later this year.
Upwards, Lonely Robot
Upwards, Lonely Robot is a deceptively simple platformer that places you in the role of an unknown robot ascending a tower for some unknown purpose. Throughout the game’s 75 levels, the story unfolds and tells you exactly what has happened. The controls are impressively responsive for a platformer, and the game itself is quite easy to get into after very little practice. While it starts out simple enough, things ramp up quickly with the addition of larger towers, enemies to impede your path, and stages where you start with less energy than normal. Collecting fruit (yes, fruit – the story explains that too) scattered across the tower will help replenish your energy, so always be on the lookout. There is also a mode that allows you to go through the story mode without the story segments to practice levels you might have problems with or to challenge yourself further.
In addition to the fully fleshed-out story mode, ULR also offers an infinite mode to try and reach as high as possible, complete with leaderboards. Thankfully, to place on the leaderboard, you have to start with a minimum and specific set of parameters to ensure fair placement. The level building options are also quite impressive, ranging from the size and width of the tower, to what enemies you’ll have to deal with, to the dreaded “purple death” which rises from the base of the tower at a decent rate. The latter forces you to always focus on upwards movement, and punishes any mistakes you make with instant failure. There are also options to enable special platforms: illusion and collapsing. Illusion platforms are easily recognized by their hazy outline, but during the heat of climbing, can be very easy to miss. Collapsing platforms can only be landed on once, before collapsing like their namesake suggests. Interesting to note, too, is that collapsing platforms can be gone through from underneath as well, so they’re not always a hindrance to a skilled player.
Finally, the game offers a duel mode to challenge your friends. This split-screen mode provides the same level building tools as infinite, but the challenge here is the player who loses all energy first loses the match, regardless of how high up the tower they make it. This makes it a perfect party challenge game, as you and your friends seek to see who’s the best platformer of the bunch. It’s also interesting to note that while both players have the same tower to climb, they can not interact with each other — no sabotaging your friends here, folks!
All in all, for such a simple seeming game, Upwards, Lonely Robot has an incredible amount of depth to it. Having such a long, developed story mode is impressive enough, but the addition of the infinite tower mode as well as local competitive play really seals the deal. If you’re looking for an entertaining puzzle platformer that caters to both single- and multi-player options, you may want to consider checking out the game when it launches.