It's an open secret that despite the ease of working with Nintendo, the Wii U's lackluster sales numbers have limited growth in that area. With the coming of Nintendo's big guns like Smash and Mario Kart last year and the hope of Zelda and Star Fox titles this year, it's possible that Wii U sales will tick up. Either way, there are several promising indies coming for those who have the console already. At PAX East 2015, I had a few minutes with Developers KnapNok and 13AM Games, who showed off their respective hopefuls for your Wii U game time this year. Each of them showed an innovative, interesting game that takes advantage of Wii U's hardware in an interesting way. Knapnok's Affordable Space Adventures takes a weird tack on flying a ship, while 13AM's Runbow is a racing platformer with odd twists and an upper limit of nine players. NINE.
Runbow lets players take on racing challenges, near impossible levels, and fast-paced jumping segments in the company of all their friends. Here's the basics: You can run, double jump, and do a variety of punching and pounding moves in various directions - much like the heroes of any number of recent platformers. The catch, though, is that you've got to be the first of the varicolored heroes to make it across the map to the end goal of the level. If you spend too much time slowing down other characters, you might not make it to the goal. It's a frenetic, frenzied environment that's immediately understandable to any player of platformers ever.
Okay, here's the twist: Platforms in each level are colored. Periodically, the background color of the level changes, and when a platform matches the color of the background, it ceases to exist. Add to that chaos varied powerups - like super punches, or something that randomly swaps you with another player - and you get the kind of glorious madness that party games thrive off of. Meanwhile, the game's default mode takes place over 16 maps, so even if you get screwed on one go around, you'll have another chance to pull into the lead. "Our level designers are completely sadistic," I overheard a 13AM Games developer say, "there are some of these maps that only they can actually complete."
Sounds good to me!
Runbow will also feature several other modes, like one that allows a "Color Master" to use the Gamepad to take away and add features to the level while the other players cooperatively try to survive to the end. It has a battle arena mode, as well, with randomly changing objectives and environments where the last player standing wins. If Runbow's final development this year goes as well as the build the developers were showing off indicates, then I fully expect it to become the Wii U's equivalent of Towerfall.
Affordable Space Adventures
On the other end of the gaming spectrum is cooperative game Affordable Space Adventures from Danish developer Knapnok. It takes a few players and puts them in a cute twist on the stealth puzzle game, where you have to work together to pilot your malfunctioning ship through a beautiful abandoned world inhabited only by the highly advanced robots built by its prior citizens. It's a wonderfully atmospheric experience alternated with frantic moments of panic as you attempt to change your gauges, gears, and thrusters to do what you need them to.
Let me explain, though, I'm getting ahead of myself: One player takes the GamePad and is the engineer, in charge of activating generators, diverting power to different systems, and choosing which equipment is working at any given time. Another has a Wii Remote and serves as pilot, guiding the ship around the environment. A third is the science officer, using a Wii Remote to do targeted scans on environmental objects and discover how the ship can bypass them. That information gets relayed to the engineer, who must fiddle with the ship's heat, noise, and power systems to get within a certain tolerance - then the pilot can fly through the obstacle. Changing around those settings, though, makes the ship fly and scan differently, so the others' jobs get harder or easier the better players are at figuring out. The game also scales down to one player, though that person suddenly has all three jobs to worry about, increasing the game's difficulty significantly.
It's one of the most interesting puzzle games I've ever played, simply because it requires such close cooperation and a good dose of twitch skills on one player's part, macromanagement on another's, and micromanagement on a third's - not to mention how often you'll discuss what a good solution to your current predicament is! Paired off with a few random convention-goers, I had a ball of a time switching between our fuel engine and electric power while shuffling energy between systems - often forgetting to warn the pilot that the stabilizers or antigravity were about to go out and sending us plummeting to our death.
Runbow is scheduled to release later this year. Afforable Space Adventures has a release date of April 9th.