Blindness, Nikola Tesla and chicken detectives: The most interesting indie games in Italy right now

What we discovered at the Italian gaming booth at Gamescom 2017.

Everything Italy had to offer at Gamescom 2017AESVI

Events like Gamescom and GDC are invaluable for emerging video game industries such as Italy's. At trade shows like these they can spread the good word, showing off the inventive works of their best and brightest developers.

Fourteen of Italy's 120+ development firms were showcased at Gamescom in Germany courtesy of the Italian government and trade body AESVI, and they brought with them a litany of indie games showing the breadth and depth of what Italy has to offer.

While big hitters like MotoGP and Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle were developed in Italy and are sure to succeed, we wanted to cast a spotlight on a few of the smaller games being made in Italy right now.

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Bookbound Brigade (Digital Tales)

In Digital Tales' Bookbound Brigade, players control a group of famous faces from history and literature as they try to find the missing Book of Books and save the literary world. Controlled as one unit, the group consists of Count Dracula, Nikola Tesla, Monkey King, Dorothy, Queen Victoria, Robin Hood, King Arthur and Cassandra.

The distinctly cartoonish style is striking and the Metroidvania formula seems a good fit as you move through a world rich with references and more than 50 other characters to meet and battle.

Players can shuffle the group into different formations (stacked rows of four, all eight on top of each other, a big circle) which will come in handy for certain situations. In our demo, we needed a tall stack to attack an enemy, sending it up along the stack and then up and other an obstacle.

With Dean Wilkinson, the writer behind LittleBigPlanet, on board, the game also has a strong sense of humour to match the visual panache.

Currently the game is looking for a publishing deal, with Digital Tales targeting a release next year on PS4, Xbox One and PC. At Gamescom, the team told me they were also eager to get the game on Nintendo Switch, which seems like a natural fit.

Bookbound Brigade's heroes stack themselves to take on enemies.Digital Tales
Close to the Sun boasts a creepy atmosphere aided by some great lighting.Storm in a Teacup

Close to the Sun (Storm in a Teacup)

The Italians like Nikola Tesla apparently, because he's a core part of Storm in a Teacup's atmospheric horror Close to the Sun.

In this story-driven game, players are cast as a journalist called Rose, who is looking for her sister on a huge ship complex designed by Tesla in an alternate history at the turn of the 20th century. Called The Helios, the ship was built for scientific endeavour, but its shiny surfaces belie a rusty, bloody underbelly. Something has gone horribly wrong.

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The developers may not like it being mentioned, but the BioShock influences are clear to see. Clear, but by no means a negative. The art deco design, the futurism, the supernatural element, Close to the Sun does enough to pull these off without feeling like a pale imitation.

Blind (Tiny Bull Studios)

The most striking of the games I played was Blind, a virtual reality title rooted in a great concept. It's the same concept at the heart of Perception, released earlier this year on consoles and developed at the same time as Blind.

What works for Blind is the intimacy and immersion of VR, which sells the feeling of blindness in a way games played in a standard way cannot.

Blind is a psychological thriller in which a young woman crashes her car and wakes up blind in a mysterious house. She "sees" and the player actually sees through a visual representation of echolocation: the means of mapping a space by using or creating sound.

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In the game this can be done with objects you can pick up then throw or bash against surfaces. You also get a cane you can tap in front of you for the same effect.

When you do, a visible burst of sound emits, highlighting objects and surface detail in white against the blackness of your blindness. It creates a strange sensation in VR that's not nearly as effective out of it.

Virtual reality needs more games like Blind, which is targeting an early 2018 release on PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

How players see the world as a blind character using echolocation.Tiny Bull Studios
Detective Gallo's office needs a bit of a tidy.Footprints Games

Detective Gallo (Footprints Games)

Detective Gallo is a point-and-click adventure game inspired by classics of the genre from LucasArts and DoubleFine. In it you play as the title a character, a private investigator who takes his work seriously and wears a Dick Tracy-style yellow overcoat.

Gallo is also a chicken solving the murder of a plant with a mute cactus sidekick called Thorn, who he regular consults for advice. It's a silly game inspired by the best, from Day of the Tentacle's off-kilter proportions to the character design of Disney's DuckTales.

The game has been entirely hand-illustrated and hand-animated by its core pair of developers: brothers Francesco and Maurizio De Angelis. It shows, giving the game an authentic cartoon style to complement its offbeat sense of humour

Insidia (Bad Seed)

Currently in early access, Insidia is a free-to-play, turn-based strategy game with a cast of unique heroes to play as. Unlike most turn-based games, Bad Seed's game isn't 'turn-based' in the traditional sense.

Time pauses and unpauses to allow you to plan out moves, but all sides of each battle do this at the same time, setting up an action phase during which all the moves play out. So if you aim for one character, they may not be there by the time a move is made.

It creates a need to think several steps ahead rather than just considering what to do in the immediate future.

Insidia has a big cast of champions with some great designs among them and fun skins to unlock or buy. Importantly for a free-to-play game, it also looks like a bigger budget title than it really is, and that'll be important as it looks to find an audience on PC.

A screenshot from Insidia.Bad Seed
A screenshot from All-Star Fruit Racing.3D Clouds

All-Star Fruit Racing (3D Clouds)

When it comes to karting games, the original is still the best. Mario Kart started it all 25 years ago and earlier this year released its best ever iteration. No karting game has topped the series, and no karting game is ever likely to.

That said, pretty much all karters are great fun to play, so how do you make one stand out? 3D Clouds' solution is to introduce a greater level of strategy, but without losing the family-friendly charm that is the genre's best fit.

In All-Star Fruit Racing you select a racer based on a variety of fruits (sadly the all-conquering blueberry is not represented) and race around a variety of colourful worlds. Picking up fruit around each track, players can mix these together to create cocktails that offer different weapons and abilities, many of which are best used during specific situations.

The system requires more forethought and cunning when compared to the use of items in conventional kart racers, and its this that helps the game stand apart. The game is out now on PC.

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