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Co-op Gaming Shines at EGX Rezzed With We Were Here Together, Phogs!, and Cake Bash

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Over the years, jolly co-op gaming has been in decline, especially from AAA developers. Several recent games have been standouts, such as A Way Out, Strange Brigade, and the Far Cry series, though the latest pioneers of co-op gaming will likely come from the indie community.

While exploring EGX Rezzed, the atmosphere was filled with a sense of mutual enjoyment as gamers came together to play a plethora of team-building games. Among these games were some of my personal highlights including We Were Here Together, Cake Bash, and Phogs!

We Were Here Together

We Were Here Together is the latest co-op adventure puzzle game by independent studio Total Mayhem Games.

The title continues on from two previously released projects, We Were Here and We Were Here Too, with the former available on Steam for free. Set amidst a frozen landscape, the first two games centred on exploring a mysterious castle while solving puzzles as part of a two-person team. Players were separated throughout the playthrough until the final moments, which featured a touching scene where the puzzling pals would eventually meet to conquer the remaining conundrums.

We Were Here Together immediately shakes things up by starting the game with both players working together in the same environment. The EGX demo starts off outside of the castle grounds in an expedition outpost where two explorers suddenly receive a distress call from somewhere in the frozen wastes. Players must work together to decipher an incoming transmission and correctly pinpoint the distress beacon.

The location itself is the answer to a series of puzzles, requiring both people to work together. A great example of teamwork is one player adjusting an outside satellite while the other stays inside to alter the radio’s frequency until a voice can be heard. This is where the creative ingenuity from the developers comes into play as solutions are different for each playthrough. The puzzles themselves remain the same, but, by using the same example as before, the voice may only be heard on a different frequency. Similar situations where the outcome changes include changing co-ordinates and figuring out which key may fit a particular door.

Roughly one-third of the game will be set in a shared environment while latter parts will take place back inside the castle in a traditional, separated format. Two paths are laid out later for the players to choose between, providing avenues for replayability. The changing solutions also add to the replay value as it prevents veteran gamers from going back and telling their new partner the answers.

The moments where players are physically apart highlight one of the unique features of the game: the radios. Both characters are equipped with walkie-talkies so players can communicate with each other. Radios are a brilliant immersion tool as the mechanic works exactly as a two-way radio should, with the wielder having to hold down a button to speak and release to hear the other. The radio mechanic is optional, though, as players can simply use a third-party chat. However, the added difficulty and roleplaying add an extra element to an already rather tricky title.

We Were Here Together is a fun shared experience that proves a challenge for even the most seasoned puzzle solvers. The release date and price of the project are unknown at present, but the game will be available on Steam.

Cake Bash

During EGX Rezzed 2019, the Coatsink team had a glorious display full of plush animals, colourful scenery, and even a rather large and comfortable dog bed.

I was lucky enough to go hands-on with Phogs! and play a few rounds of Cake Bash with PR and Events Manager Jack Sanderson. Both games proved to be a real treat to participants, with Cake Bash serving a much-needed helping of raucous fun in a series of mini-games.

Not unlike many beloved party games—such as Mario PartyCake Bash is an up-to-four-player competitive game featuring several rounds of friendship-ending challenges. The design of the title instantly stands out with an adorable and vivid visual style that brings a certain charm to the characters and settings.

Before each round, players choose a character from a selection of delicious desserts as their combatant. During the demo, only two game modes were available, the first of which required players to gather falling pieces of fruit and throw them inside a giant meringue. A single point is awarded for successfully tossing a piece of fruit into the bowl. However, a rare golden fruit, worth ten points, will appear every so often. Competitors must be wary of descending fiery boulders that can briefly daze any dessert. These boulders can also be picked up and lobbed at rivals. Not only can enemies launch these rocks at one another, but they can also punch and beat each other to force someone to drop their fruit.

The second mode available was a race to gather the most jellies to become the tastiest treat. Player avatars run around an arena, gathering multi-coloured jelly beans to cover their chosen dessert, and the sweet with the most treats at the end wins. While the first game mode mainly had the individual focusing on their own points, this round directly pits people against each other as limited jellies can be found, and players can steal them by whacking opponents.

While the game looks stunning, gamers will have to wait until 2020 to get their hands on Cake Bash. The late release has allowed for an increase in scope and additional modes for players to sink their teeth into.

Phogs!

The other title playable at the event was an equally adorable project called Phogs! The game can be played solo or with a friend, as the player controls one or both halves of a two-headed dog. The two heads can be moved independently and are able to stretch, bark, and bite.

Phogs! is set in a dream-like environment where the ground is made up of soft duvet sets and pillows, while the skies are filled with tranquil clouds gently floating in the distance. The level designs are built in a way that eases the player into the various mechanics, offering something new or demonstrating different ways to solve puzzles. Early enigmas would require both sides of the dog to work in unison to pull an object or levers simultaneously. Later levels would add a glowing orb that can be used to remove dark shadowy walls or illuminate pathways to walk across. Even the orbs are based around the idea of working as a team as one side of the dog bites onto the light ball with the other opening their mouth to act as a torch.

The charming personality of the game really shines in the various character designs and their functions within the levels. One of the final missions of the demo featured a sleeping giant that dreamed of bridges in floating thought bubbles. Players could then use the camera perspective to align the dream bridge with a section of a missing platform to cross. Other cutesy critters include wailing alarm clocks that can disturb the giants, preventing them from dreaming up a way to progress. The clocks can be led to nearby beds where they will quickly start to drift off and stop ringing.

Despite the levels being fairly linear, additional tasks can be completed to gain collectable dog biscuits. These tasks often require the dog to present characters with a particular item, for example, bringing a storybook to an owl.

The whole experience with Coatsink was a delight, both games offering a mix of controller-clenching competition and jolly cooperation. Like Cake Bash, Phogs! will also be arriving in 2020 on PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, and Xbox One.


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Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is a Baffling Combination of Journey and Dark Souls

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Mixing genres is a fairly common practice in video games. For some titles, the combination works well, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer‘s rhythmic dungeon crawling or Double Cross‘s use of light detective work between 2D platforming sections. Others do not fare so well, such as the out-of-place stealth sections in the Zelda-like Beyond Good and Evil, or the infamous jack-of-all-trades, master of none that Spore turned out to be. Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, unfortunately, falls into the latter category. Trying to combine the floaty exploration of Journey with the brutal combat of Dark Souls, the resulting mixture is a frustrating mess that will not please fans of either game. The first title by French independent developer Redlock Studio, this Early Access game requires a lot of work before it reaches the compelling gameplay experience it is aiming for.

The game begins with the protagonist waking up in Limbo, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. A tiny creature named Yaak takes pity on the player, suggesting that maybe the king Hypnos can help. The problem, however, is that Hypnos is the titular Forgotten King—a godlike figure, who mysteriously disappeared after creating the world. In his absence, demons have taken over the realms. On a journey to reclaim their identity, the protagonist just might be able to save the world along the way to finding the forgotten king.

The frustration begins as soon as the player gains control of the protagonist. Movement in  Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is floaty and imprecise. This annoyance might be minor in a platformer, but the inclusion of the punishing combat of a Souls-like makes it beyond frustrating. Enemy encounters are dangerous in this style of game, with the need to dodge, parry, and circle around combatants to avoid death. However, the controls simply do not have the precision needed for the task. When the game requires frame-perfect timing to parry an enemy’s attack but features a character that moves like molasses, more often than not the player will take a hit. Apart from the initial listless humanoids of Limbo, enemies are much faster and stronger than the protagonist, quickly taking down an unprepared player. The balance is so uneven that the first boss, a hulking creature with an enormous greatsword, feels like a fairer fight than the rooms full of small enemies since his attacks are slower and more clearly telegraphed. Often, the better choice is just to run past the enemies all together.

Should the player manage to defeat some enemies, they will gain essence, which is used in levelling up. Levelling up can only be done in Limbo, often requiring a fair bit of backtracking. Players can improve their vitality, stamina, strength, or mystic, but no explanation is given on what those statistics actually do. Putting one point into strength will result in the character doing one point of extra damage, but since even the smallest enemies have hundreds of health points, a lot of level ups would be required before the player would see any real benefit. 

The platforming aspect of the game fares little better. The player is given no indication of where they have to go or what they have to do, just the general imperative of finding the king. The Frontier D’Imbolt, the first real level in the game, has plains spread out in all directions, encouraging exploration. However, the map is also full of instant death; lava, spiky plants, ledges to be avoided, and, of course, aggressive enemies, making exploration much less inviting. The floaty controls cause problems here, too, with over-shooting a target platform a constant issue. This annoyance could be resolved somewhat with giving the character a shadow to see where they will land. The viewpoint will also randomly change from 3D to 2D, with no real change in gameplay. The change seems to be purely for aesthetics, which does not seem reason enough for including annoying running-towards-the-camera gameplay.

Aesthetics, in general, is a strong point for Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, with interesting character design and a muted colour palette. The enemies have a cool ghostly appearance, all transparent with hard planes. The blockiness of the world has an appealing look but sometimes presents gameplay issues, with a lack of clarity on which blocks can be stood upon and which cannot. Music is a highlight throughout the experience, soft and atmospheric throughout the levels but clashing into something harsh and unfamiliar for the boss fights.

As an Early Access title, bugs are to be expected at this stage of development, and Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has plenty to offer. Despite being set to English, Yaak would occasionally slip into French, along with tooltips and the occasional item description. The English translation in general needs some more work, with quite a few typos and some weird wording, like ‘Strenght’ in the character status screen and ‘Slained’ when defeating the boss Hob. Enemies have buggy AI, sometimes freezing in place if the player wanders slightly too far away. Some instant death obstacles seem misplaced, with death spikes jutting out of a random wall. Most devastating was the game failing to acknowledge that the boss was defeated, with the gate he was guarding refusing to open. Perhaps defeating him again would make the gate work, but few players would be inclined to do so after a tough battle. 

Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has the potential to become an interesting game but is simply not fun to play in its current state. The incompatibility of Journey and Dark Souls is the core of the game’s problem: it needs to lean more heavily on one concept or the other—make the levels more peaceful playgrounds for exploration, or tighten up the combat experience to reach that satisfying balance of hard but fair. Trying to have both leaves the game in this strange middle ground where no one is satisfied.

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