The funny thing about the news cycle is how easily cool things can be totally forgotten as other (newer) cool things pop up. And though I, too, can often get caught up in that ever cycling news stream, I still find myself dwelling on interesting developments that seem to have temporarily fallen out of the limelight.
With so many new games popping up all the time, I find that indie arcade games are often the first to get lost in the shuffle. Because of this, I decided it was time to reinvigorate the interest. The indie arcade games all still exist—so why not recap while we wait for their full releases?
Some of these games have been pretty incognito for a long time. I sincerely hope that, by the time you've finished this article, your hype levels will be off the charts.
Though the announcement of Rashlander occurred rather recently (November of 2017, in fact), it’s still worth bringing it back up, because I haven’t heard anyone talking about it since. Rashlander, as many of you may already know, is the second game developed for Griffin Aerotech’s Airframe arcade kit system, following the phenomenon that was Skycurser. Developed by Ryan Davis of Ryguygames, Rashlander is a gravity-based, Lunar Lander-esque title billed as the first in a trilogy of space landing arcade games. From the brief gameplay footage we’ve seen so far, it definitely looks fun. I’m a firm believer that the promise of “…deep gameplay and rewarding difficulty” will totally be fulfilled. The unique-looking maps, fuel management system, and scoring system all seem to be proof of that.
Unfortunately for us arcade gamers, it’s been a few months since we’ve heard anything more about Rashlander. The kit version game was made available for preorder back in November, and there was a tentative release date of January 2018. Now, in April, there’s still no word of any locations picking up the Rashlander kit. There also hasn’t been word of a dedicated cabinet version, which Davis was hoping to release alongside the kit.
While Rashlander may not be totally on its way yet, I have no doubt in my mind that it’ll find its way to release eventually. The Griffin Aerotech guys made it very clear from day one that all prospective Airframe releases would be vetted for quality. And seeing how perfectly the Skycurser release ensued, I think we’ll see a similar scenario with Rashlander. Besides, Ryan Davis seems like a really solid fella; he’s definitely got some passion for making games. Perhaps the game just needed to cook a bit longer. As long as Rashlander is still a guaranteed thing, I’m happy.
Speaking of Airframe, there’s another neat-looking game that we’ve been waiting on for quite a while: Founding Force from Clever Machine Studios. Promised very early on as one of the first three Airframe titles (along with Skycurser and a Windjammers-esque basketball game), Founding Force is a United States history-based beat-em-up where you beat the snot out of British troops. I’ve always been partial to beat-em-ups, but something about Founding Force seemed particularly diverting. Unfortunately, good ol’ Founding Force seems to have dropped off the face of the earth.
It’s so fun dig through the Founding Force Twitter and Instagram pages, because there’s clearly a huge wealth of creativity behind the game. However, it is a bit troublesome to find that both accounts haven’t been updated since September of 2017. But like I said, Griffin Aerotech has a really good track record so far (despite only having released one game). Perhaps Founding Force just needed some more time in the oven; maybe it’s slated for a later date to leave room for Skycurser and Rashlander.
Of course, this is all speculation. No matter how dearly I want Founding Force to drop as soon as possible, there’s no denying that it’s disappeared for the time being. We’ve sure got to do ourselves a lot of finger-crossing.
Nex Machina: Death Machine
When Nex Machina was announced for arcades way back in June of 2017, my mind was totally blown. And why wouldn’t my mind be blown? While the idea of indie studio Housemarque and arcade legend Eugene Jarvis teaming up for a new twin-stick shooter on the PlayStation 4 was exciting enough on its own, the fact that it was receiving a subsequent arcade released infected me with excruciating levels of hype. So for a while, we all waited patiently while Raw Thrills did their thing.
Then, things seemed to suddenly take a turn for the worst. After a few months of anxious idleness, Housemarque sent out an update: “Arcade is Dead”. In what now feels like one of the silliest, most clickbait-y online articles ever, Housemarque went on to calmly explain that, despite “…critical success and numerous awards,” their games just weren’t selling. Because of that, they proclaimed the need to “move on to new genres” and perhaps even “bring [their] longstanding commitment to the arcade genre to an end.” At a time when we had been promised an actual, physical arcade version of Nex Machina, this article was woefully disheartening.
However, despite Housemarque boldly proclaiming the end of the “Arcade Era”, I’ve been hearing good things as of late. Though Housemarque will never respond to me on Twitter (I pester them every now and then), Mr. Andrew Eloff of Raw Thrills did recently reach out to me through e-mail and stated that Nex Machina was, in fact, “still in the pipeline.” We may not have a release date or much of anything tangible beyond a preliminary cabinet design, but at least we have hope to hold on to. I know that I personally will not ever forget Nex Machina. I want it so, so badly—and I’m sure you all do, too. Nex Machina is a game with a lot of depth, and our arcades deserve its utter brilliance. Also, the music is just plain awesome.
Seriously...it’s, like, amazing.
Believe it or not, Dark Presence has been a thing since way, way back in 2008—no kidding! But before you dismiss it as vaporware, allow me to enlighten you on just how wildly ambitious Dark Presence really is (in case you missed my article back in August, heh-heh).
For the completely uninitiated, Dark Presence is an upcoming fighting game developed by Doc Mack’s Galloping Ghost Productions, the game development portion of the world-renowned Galloping Ghost Arcade. While the mere idea of bringing fighting games back to American arcades is exciting on its, Dark Presence is attempting to go the extra mile in every way possible. Like the original Mortal Kombat trilogy before it, Dark Presence utilizes digitized human actors for character sprites and takes it up to 11. To avoid sprite-flipping, each actor was filmed performing their moves from both sides. Furthermore, to increase the sense of realism, each actor was also filmed performing their moves against every other character. There are literally thousands of frames of animation, and the game is expected to clock in at over a terabyte of data.
The ambition of Dark Presence seems almost believable, and for much of the early development period, there were plenty of doubters calling it an investment scam. Luckily for us, some solid proof of the game’s existence was made much more tangible in August of 2017. In a two-hour Galloping Ghost Facebook live video, the developers unveiled a real, playable demo and two cabinet designs. It was, in a word, spectacular. Unfortunately, none of that gameplay is available anymore.
Dark Presence has been a very elusive game.
Fortunately, what we did we was solid enough to give me hope, and I truly believe that Doc Mack’s creation will someday come to light. When it does—believe me—the arcade industry will explode.
When I first discovered that Black Emperor existed back in August, I was pretty darned excited. So excited, in fact, that I wrote an article about it as soon as I possibly could. I was quite proud of myself for seemingly beat Arcade Heroes to the punch on a big news item. However, I must admit that, in the back of my mind, I had always wondered to myself, “Why didn’t Adam Pratt write about Black Emperor first?” Now, as we fast-forward to April 2018, it’s much clearer why Adam Pratt hasn’t run a story on Black Emperor yet: quite frankly, nothing’s happening.
From BumbleBear Games, the marvelous studio that brought us Killer Queen Arcade, Black Emperor is a brand-new arcade game described as “…Flappy Bird crossed with teenage motorcycle racing in postwar Japan.” It’s a high-speed, ultra-twitchy, side-scrolling “freerunner” of sorts, heavily inspired by “…Japanese psychedelic music and bosozoku motorcycle culture.” It’s very clear that Black Emperor wants to nail that classic “Easy to play; difficult to master” mantra, because the controls are limited to a single large scroll wheel. And yes, high scores seem to be a big focus.
Like I said, I was definitely hooked on this game when I first found out it existed. There is certainly something to be said for a classic-style endless arcade game that A) doesn’t rely on ticket redemption and B) places such a strong emphasis on having a killer soundtrack. Unfortunately, it’s been very, very hard to dig up information on Black Emperor. Despite all the hype that went in to Killer Queen’s release, it seems that very little hype had gone into the release of Black Emperor.
Believe it or not, you can preorder Black Emperor on BumbleBear’s website right now for only $5,000. The only problem? The page promises that “Preorders will be delivered by the Fall of 2017.” Has that happened already? Did BumbleBear just forget to change the details on their preorder page? Is the game in a state of development turmoil? It’s been pretty hard for me to nail down the details, because once again, Black Emperor has had a fairly quiet existence. However, from what I can tell, the game does certainly exist and will be here someday. BumbleBear has taken Black Emperor to quite a few tradeshows, and I believe you can even find it in a select few arcades (like the Up-Down in Minneapolis). I will probably remain just the slightest bit skeptical until we get more solid information, but hey—there’s at least hope.
Also, I’m pretty sure everyone who works for BumbleBear Games is a total hipster.
Just an observation.
Strike Harbinger/Flight Armor Project
And now, the game I’ve been waiting for for what feels like forever (that’s a lotta “fors”). A game that I’ve wanted to write about since the very day I started my blog. A game entitled: Strike Harbinger. Or, um…Flight Armor Project. Whatever they’re calling it now.
All Semantics aside, Strike Harbinger is an upcoming third-person rail shooter from HitSparks Games slated for a 2018 release in arcades, on consoles, and on PCs. It’s essentially a modern-day Space Harrier, though it does take influences from Star Wars (the Atari arcade game), Blaster, Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom, Galaxy Force, and Night Striker. It’s always awesome when an indie studio creates a new game as homage to a classic genre, but HitSparks is planning to take things even further. In an attempt to completely modernize third-person rail shooters, Strike Harbinger will feature aiming ability, close-range weapon attacks, an energy resource system, boost-dashing, and Impacting Deflecting (or parrying for us laypeople). HitSparks promises that “Each of these maneuvers are meant to simple-to-learn and satisfying to master, so as not to detract from the fun blast-and-dodge action at the game’s core.” There will also be quite a bit of depth to the game's lore.
And it’s not just game design that Hitsparks wants to modernize. No, they’re going the whole proverbial nine-yards. The arcade and PC versions will target a steady 120 frames-per-second on 1440p 120hz monitors. More recently, it was revealed that a deluxe motion cabinet (a la Space Harrier) will be available in arcades. As you can now probably see, I had a lot of good reasons to be excited for Strike Harbinger. It may be “just” an indie game, but it’s doing so, so much more than the big three (Raw Thrills, Namco, and SEGA) have ever dared to do.
In 2016, Strike Harbinger blew my mind. When I saw all that precious gameplay footage on SEGA Bits, I was pretty danged hype. It just looked so…cool, ya know? But alas, it is 2018, and we haven’t heard anything about Strike Harbinger since its appearance at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo in October 2017. Like Dark Presence, it’s been clear since day one that Strike Harbinger is a ridiculously ambitious project. In 2016, we were told that the game was only at 5 to 10 percent completion. I only wish we could get more information at some point. I’d rather not get this hype only to find that maybe—just maybe—Strike Harbinger was too ambitious.
Just kidding! I have faith in HitsSparks. I sure can’t wait to play Strike Harbinger!
It’s been a long time since we’ve talked about all the games on this list, but I’m so glad we did. There are so many incredible things happening in the arcade industry that it’s easy for indies to slip under the radar every now and then. All I know is that, no matter how long I have to wait, I want to play every single game on this list—SO BADLY. And when we do get more information (or if I get to play them, hee-hee), I’ll be sure to share it with you here on Wilcox Arcade.
Thanks for reading. Keep it real, baby chicklets.
If you want to read about another indie arcade game I covered two weeks ago, click here. I figure I might as well plug it, am I right?
Also, remind me to write that article about Kyle Ward's new StepManiaX game. I've been putting that off for like a month.