Indie roundup: Pile Up! Box By Box, Whiskey Mafia & Road 96

We’ll certainly see plenty of big reveals next week during Gamescom, but it’s the indie scene that keeps surprising us with creative new games. Join us as we check out Pile Up! Box By Box, Whiskey Mafia: Frank’s Story and Road 96.

Pile Up! Box By Box review (PS4)

It’s a prolific summer for publisher HandyGames, who recently launched the excellent Skydrift Infinity and is now bringing Pile Up! Box By Box to consoles as well, after an earlier PC release.

Visually reminiscent of 2016’s Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure (I mean, it’s a platformer with paper boxes, so you can’t go in too many different directions), it’s a cooperative 3D puzzle platformer with papercraft-like visuals that can be played in single player or as a local co-op experience. There’s no combat so it’s a family-friendly affair as well – one that can be played by four players at once and even has special mini-games dedicated to multiplayer sessions.

There’s no tightly directed narrative or gameplay objective either, so things aren’t likely to frustrate younger or less experienced players. The controls are fairly simple too, and it’s easy to just jump and slide around. Special abilities (which you’ll need to overcome challenges or solve puzzles) are gained by simply stacking yourself on top of another box that can provide that ability. For instance, if you need to jump a little higher, just stack with a jetpack box.

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There’s no strict time limit either, so figuring out how to get to a certain part in the level can be solved by talking things out together and taking your time. The puzzles scale with the number of players currently playing (you can jump in and out at any time), meaning that you can just rely on spare boxes if there aren’t any “live” boxes playing with you. It’s all very seamless, though your ability to work together does get tested.

But before this all sounds like a massive sandbox full of boxes, it’s worth pointing out that every level has its own theme and objective. There’s a LittleBigPlanet-like charm to them, further aided by the collectibles contained in them. Pile Up! runs on the short side though, as you can complete all of its levels within three to four hours. There’s a few multiplayer minigames to enjoy after that though, which are fun and frantic takes on familiar concepts like soccer and basketball. If you enjoy local co-op play, then we highly recommend this one.

Whiskey Mafia: Frank’s Story review (PS4)

Originally launched as “Game of Mafia” on Steam in an earlier version, the expanded Whiskey Mafia: Frank’s Story is a bit like a 2D pixel art version of the Mafia games. It was developed by FastGame and is now being launched on consoles thanks to ChiliDog Interactive.

As with any good Mafia game/movie/story, this one’s set in the 1920s during the prohibition era. As you run into an old friend who just returned from the war, you realize that a successful underground bar is a promising career path. It doesn’t come without its own obstacles though, as competing entrepreneurs don’t take too kindly to your plans, leading to fights, raids and plenty of nods to the gangster/mafia genre.

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This can also be seen in the game’s visual department, which manages to capture all this in a pixel art style rather nicely. For a short game (clocking in at well under three hours) there’s a good amount of diversity to the gameplay as well, with fistfights, gunfights and even some actual bar management – showing it’s not just a narrative backdrop. Most of it is quite basic in how it’s implemented and you’ll find a ton of better indie/pixel action games out there, but what’s here is functional and keeps the narrative moving forward.

Now that there’s no new Mafia game on the horizon, this one is a nice indie nod to the series. It won’t last you more than an afternoon or evening and there’s little reason to go back after that, but it feels like a well-made fan game that is worth playing.

Road 96 review (PC)

We don’t cover a whole lot of PC titles, but every now and then there’s one that really stands out – Road 96 is one such game, and Digixart’s procedurally generated road trip adventure is one worth remembering for tons of good reasons.

road 96

The game is set inside a fictional country called Petria, which means you can forget about any real life preconceptions you might have. Part of the fun in Road 96 is seeing your knowledge on Petria unfold through the stories and experiences you have along the way. Diverse characters will share their world views with you, dialogue choices can determine how (and even if) your journey goes on, and no two trips are the same as you traverse the country as one of the game’s teenagers trying to get out.

You quickly discover that these are missing kids, and who you choose to play as determines part of the story as some will have money to spend while others have to rely on their wits to get anywhere, just to name an example. Health’s also a factor, and you’ll need to rest and eat – which of course costs money as well, and you can choose to invest in this or save your money for something else, which is risky. Certain game mechanics result in perks that carry over in between journeys as well, and feel meaningful in the new branches that they open up.

road 96a

Through your journeys, the central narrative slowly unfolds for you and you’ll run into a few recurring characters as well. You’ll also begin to see how your various “runs”, which play like short stories, start to overlap and intersect, but the game also doesn’t shy away from larger social and political topics. This is where, despite taking place in a fictional environment, Road 96 also becomes thought-provoking, giving you the opportunity to make your own voice heard at times as you make moral judgments of your own and take a stance as one of the characters.

Road 96 is also audiovisually brilliant, with a lovely soundtrack, memorable characters and a vibrant art style. With so much to do and so many ways to play, a single playthrough is memorable but it’s almost guaranteed to make you want to jump in again and see how the story could have also unfolded. If this doesn’t come to consoles, it’s a good reason to fire up Steam, as it’s one of the best indie adventure games in a long time.

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