Indie roundup: Alphaset, Bartlow’s Dread Machine & CASE: Animatronics

As we get ready for a ton of indie content coming our way during Gamescom (a lot of it thanks to the virtual Indie Arena Booth), we stop for a second to check out three brand new releases: Alphaset by Lightwood Games, Bartlow’s Dread Machine from Beep Games and Tribetoy, as well as the PS4 release of CASE: Animatronics.

Alphaset by POWGI

As with other POWGI titles from Lightwood, Alphaset is also heading to the Switch, but we’re reviewing the PlayStation Vita version that’s part of a crossbuy package with the PS4 edition of the game.

alphaset2

What’s exciting about Alphaset is that it represents a brand new puzzle type in the (fairly extensive) library of titles that have been released by Lightwood in the past. There is plenty that’s similar (like the visual style, music and excellent puns at the end of each puzzle), but the puzzles themselves are quite unique.

They’re shaped like crossword puzzles and very much resemble them too, but many of the letters have already been filled in. What’s left are all twenty six letters of the alphabet, and it’s your job to place them into the grid in the only logical spot. Sometimes multiple letters will fit into an almost complete word, but you might discover later that you picked the wrong one because you actually needed that letter elsewhere.

alphaset

Most of Lightwood’s POWGI games rely on a combination of logic and wordplay, and Alphaset is no different. It leans more heavily towards wordplay though, and a decent to good knowledge of English is required to make the most out of the experience if you don’t want to regularly get stuck having to resort to guesswork (there’s a handy “fix” option to keep you on the right track by checking for mistakes).

Bartlow’s Dread Machine updates in Early Access

Currently in development, Bartlow’s Dread Machine is one of the coolest approaches to a videogame we’ve seen in recent months. Its premise talks about an inventor who, back in 1907, invented the mechanical equivalent to a modern day videogame. Because people got hurt while playing it, it was lost, and this game – based on archived diagrams, fragments of the game and its creator Bartlow’s journals – is bringing it back.

The story sounded so amazing that we couldn’t help but do a deep dive into the internet to find out more, but since everything we could find relates to the 2020 videogame we assume it’s just fictional – but what a great setup!

bartlow

It’s a backstory that translated to highly original gameplay as well, because while there’s a whole genre of games that’s described as being “on rails” – this one almost literally is, as movement for the characters is restricted by what was conceived as a mechanical game world. One in which you’re a secret agent, trying to retrieve a kidnapped president Teddy Roosevelt across a series of distinctly different locations. The Steam page for the game describes it best and has gameplay videos as well, so check out the store page to get a good feel for it.

Just this week, Bartlow’s Dread Machine received a major update to its Early Access version – which now consists of four out of an eventual six game worlds, and gives players a great early sample of what to expect. If you like side scrolling arcade shooters/run and gun games, then this one has you covered with a highly original take on the genre.

CASE: Animatronics is out now on PS4

The original release of CASE: Animatronics was over four years ago already, as a PC title that was launched through Steam. It has since appeared on almost every platform you can think of, from mobile devices running Android all the way to the Nintendo Switch and the Xbox One. Up to now, however, there was no version out there for the PlayStation 4 – a situation that was just rectified by Sometimes You.

case animatronics2

CASE: Animatronics, very early on, turns out to be a bit of an homage to the Five Nights At Freddy’s games. You’re stuck in a police station all by yourself trying to crack a case, when suddenly you receive a mysterious call and things take a turn for the horrific. The exits are all sealed, the lights are off and you can’t access the security system either.

That’s not all you have to fear though, as you’re also being stalked by giant animatronics that lurk in the shadows. Stealth is your friend, as you slowly make your way through drawers and rooms searching for ways to escape. You have a tablet with you, which allows you to access security cameras and see what’s around the corner, but you’re pretty much defenseless when you get discovered.

case animatronics

Although it’s a scary concept, I never quite fell in love with the stationary nature of Five Nights at Freddy’s – not being able to run away and take my chances always felt like a restriction I didn’t want. CASE: Animatronics might feel like a budget take on the genre, but at least I get to walk around and hide in the shadows for as long as I want. With so many good stealth games on the PS4 this one feels a tad rough around the edges and perhaps a little dated, but I sure liked having the opportunity to finally play the game that got all those positive reviews on Steam.

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