One of my favourite gaming events each year is BitSummit. Held in Kyoto, it sees developers from all over Japan – and indeed, the world – descend upon the former capital to showcase what they’re working on. This year saw the return of a physical show, and I spent two full days playing games on the show floor. Even so, there was too much for one person to tackle, so what follows is a selection of the games that most jumped out at me, with apologies to the projects I didn’t get to. Oh, and I should also note that I’m not including games that have already been released – upcoming titles only.
Cursed to Golf
Developer: Chuhai Labs | Platforms: PC, Consoles | Release Date: August 18, 2022
This one only just squeaks in, as it’s due to be released on August 18. Coming from a small team at Kyoto-based Chuhai Labs – a brand of Vitei Backroom – it sees the unlikely pairing of the roguelike genre and golf. The twist, however, is that the player is in golf purgatory and must get through 18 increasingly difficult courses in order to escape. You only have a limited number of shots to beat each hole, but there are numerous ways to supercharge your run to the cup, with power-up cards that can be spent to take a mulligan or change the ball’s course in mid-air, as well as the ability to put backspin on the ball in the air to finesse your shot.
Unlike many roguelikes, the levels in Cursed to Golf aren’t procedural – each has been handcrafted for optimal golfing challenge – but the fact that there are 70 overall means that each run will be largely different from the last. With a number of options on the path through the game’s four biomes, as well as having to best utilise power-up cards as you acquire them along the way, there’s a tonne that will make each playthrough feel unique. Lovely pixel art, too.
Developer: Bytten Studio | Platforms: PC, Switch, Xbox | Release Date: TBA
BitSummit was the first hands-on for Cassette Beasts, a game heavily inspired by Pokemon, but with monster collecting and battling gameplay seen through an analogue lens, and a dash of Persona in its character interactions. What does this mean? Well, you capture monsters out in the wild, but they’re cassettes, and instead of sending them out to battle for you, you pop the cassette into your tape deck and transform into said monster. From there, the play button lets you choose a move (which are represented by stickers on the cassette, and can be peeled off and replaced), stop lets you switch cassettes, pause is used to choose an item, fast forward is flee and record lets you try and capture the monster you’re fighting.
It’s a cute overlay, and you’re always fighting alongside a partner, which then ties into what could be Cassette Beasts’ biggest point of difference – the ability to fuse your two monsters into one. This creates a brand new hybrid that has all the moves and abilities of the constituent parts, but charges up for its attacks twice as fast. Given that there are 120 beasts to collect, that adds up to more than 14,000 combinations, each of which will have its own procedurally generated sprite, not to mention the possibility of finding truly busted loadouts.
Cassette Beasts Screens
Cassette Beasts also has a different overall structure from Pokemon. Instead of journeying through a particular region, moving from town to town, Cassette Beasts has one large and somewhat open island setting. This is where your character washes up at the start of the game, and like the other inhabitants of the island, is stuck. It’s a large location, according to the devs, and while some paths are locked off until players learn new abilities, such as how to break rocks or dash to get through gusting wind, I was told that there are almost always other ways around. Exploration is going to be a big part of the experience, then, and will mean different players will take different paths through the game.
Each of the various characters you’re introduced to in the world will have their own story to follow too, and as you quest with them you’ll level up your bond and unlock the ability to fuse during battle. Hopefully Cassette Beasts will deliver on interesting characters that you want to get to know, as well as giving the island the air of a mystery waiting to be solved. I’ve already seen hints of the latter, coming across a truly otherworldly entity in the demo, where the screen suddenly has VCR-style scanlines and I was confronting something that simply didn’t fit with the world around it.
Last Time I Saw You
Developer: Maboroshi Artworks | Platforms: PC | Release Date: TBA
Imagine if Night in the Woods was set in a rural(-ish) late 80s Japanese setting. That should give you a reasonable starting point for Last Time I Saw You, an absolutely gorgeous adventure game that impresses with its attention to detail and lovingly crafted visuals. While I only played a small slice of its opening; exploring a few locations in its somewhat idealised but authentic-feeling recreation of a Japanese town, it certainly left me curious about where the story could potentially go, particularly given the many characters and items there are to interact with, not to mention the overall story set-up, in which lead character Ayumi finds himself dreaming of a mysterious girl who may have put a curse on his town.
Built by a 4-5 person team who have been working on it on the side, the start of Last Time I Saw You is fully fleshed out – and the entire script has been written – but the team needs funding to actually build out the full game. You can check out the demo on Steam to get an idea of the promise that this one holds.
Tokyo Underground Killer
Developer: Phoenix Game Productions | Platforms: PC | Release Date: 2023
This first person action game is all clean neon visuals, samurai sword-based combat and punching enemies so hard they explode in a shower of blood. As Kobayashi, the “Shinjuku Vampire,” it’s a lot of fun dashing about Tokyo Underground Killer’s stylised vision of one of the world’s great metropolises, and blood itself informs a lot of the design. Collect enough and you can unleash a powerful one-shot special attack (i.e. “punching enemies so hard they explode,” among others). Overfill the meter, meanwhile, and you’ll get time-limited agility perks that ensure that the blood vials you’ve collected don’t go to waste.
The katana combat works well, allowing you to both slice and dice, and to turn a block into a spinning attack to clear a number of enemies in one fell swing. A dash move helps give the gameplay greater kinetic energy, while you can also pick up an array of guns. These have limited ammo to power through before Kobayashi literally throws it away, hopefully clocking an enemy in the head. Unfortunately, aiming with your gun replaces your ability to block with the sword, so there’s some friction there that I think needs to be resolved as development continues.
The in-game art is stylish, but one of Tokyo Underground Killer’s greatest strengths is its manga-style cutscenes, which are beautifully realised. During my playthrough I was really starting to get a sense of a dark, messed up world through the dialogue too, so I’m looking forward to seeing where the team take it.
Developer: Team KwaKwa | Platforms: PC, Switch | Release Date: TBA
Have you ever dreamed of sailing the seven seas during the age of adventure? Well, Soup Raiders may be just the game for you, albeit with a few minor adjustments. For one, the game’s pirates, adventurers and curious onlookers alike are all anthropomorphic animals. For two, it’s not so much seven seas as one bowl of soup. Why is this world contained within a bowl of soup? I have no idea.
In any case, the first thing that jumps out about Soup Raiders is its charming graphical style using 2D sprites in a 3D world. The characters look great moving around the world, while the limited animation used in cutscenes help give the game a tonne of personality. The demo introduces lead character Peanut, whose family members are being held prisoner across the game’s ten main islands. First to be rescued is his bombastic older sister, Dorothy, via a series of real-time combat encounters against seagulls, bulldogs and finally, The Red Bearon (a bear, naturally).
Soup Raiders Screens
Peanut and his two party members, the fast-attacking cat White Fur and the lumbering, cannon-wielding crocodile Krokoss, stay on one side of a gridded battle arena, while the enemies can move about on the other side. Real-time movement means you can get out of the way of telegraphed attacks (harder for Krokoss, who takes up four squares and moves slowly, but also hits the hardest), while offensive moves recharge after being used. Players can swap between their squad at will, even pulling off combo moves as they do so.
With plenty of charm, not to mention a score by David Wise, who is best known for his work at Rare, and in particular on the Donkey Kong Country series, Soup Raiders is shaping up to be a tasty concoction.
Keylocker | Turn Based Cyberpunk Adventure
Developer: Moonana | Platforms: PC, PlayStation, Switch | Release Date: TBA
Plenty of games let you build out a party, but in Keylocker – which takes place in a world in which music has been prohibited – you build out a band. Here, music is controlled by the powers that be and can create literal electricity, so as singer and guitarist Bobo, alongside your bandmates, it’s time to fight the power.
Keylocker has a lovely 8-bit-inspired presentation and very otherworldly aesthetic, helping it feel distinct from other games with a cyberpunk theme. It also takes inspiration from some interesting sources for its gameplay, with an action command system in its old-school grid-based battles reminiscent of the Mario & Luigi series, as well as a Guitar Hero scrolling fretboard for the band’s performances. Could be a hit.
It’s a Wrap
Developer: Chanko Studios | Platforms: PC | Release Date: TBA
This puzzle game has a truly standout central idea. In It’s a Wrap, you are both the star in and the director of a series of B-grade action movies. You’re presented with a sequencing timeline that shows when certain things will happen on set. One may represent a series of platforms toppling over, another might be the trigger for a giant boulder to start rolling through a tunnel. The idea is that you make changes to the events in the scene (although some will be locked) then call “action!” and try to run the gauntlet of the scene yourself, invariably needing to go back to edit mode to make more changes. It’s a great concept, and it will be interesting to see how the team plays to the various genre tropes and attempts to keep the idea fresh through new puzzle ideas.
Ninja or Die
Developer: Nao Games | Platforms: Mobile, PC | Release Date: TBA
It’s all very well for Ninja or Die to tell you to ninja or die, but this game’s ninja is not your ordinary black clad killer. No, this ninja gets around entirely by leaping. Leap through an enemy and you’ll automatically attack. Leap to a wall and you can quickly aim and then leap off it. This control method adds up to fast-paced gameplay, in which avoiding projectiles and the like becomes a pretty interesting puzzle that ties into the overall roguelike design. I’ve only played a little of this one to date, but I like the idea, love the stylish presentation, and am looking forward to ninja-ing more. There’s a demo you can try on the developer’s website.
Developer: Jason Newman | Platforms: PC | Release Date: TBA
I absolutely love the look of this one. Think the original Legend of Zelda – 8bit, top-down graphics, screen by screen exploration, but there’s no combat, only puzzles to solve. From the BitSummit demo and various gameplay videos out there, these are all quite clever, playing to the theme of each biome, and utilising a number of straightforward but complementary mechanics to gradually access all the keys, chimes and interactive elements on each screen. And best of all, if you get stuck there’ll almost always be other areas to explore, allowing you to come back later. Pretty amazing stuff from a solo dev.
Fashion Police Squad
Developer: Mopeful Games | Platforms: PC | Release Date: August 16, 2022
Most throwback FPS games tend to be more in the Doom school of visual design, where the gore is front and centre. Fashion Police Squad, on the other hand, swaps out gore for couture, and the only thing that’s front and centre is the parade of newly fabulous citizens on the game’s end of level catwalk. Yes, as the name suggests, in this game you play as an officer of the fashion police, out to take down crimes against style with an array of attire-enhancing equipment.
It’s a hilarious premise made all the more likeable by the charming characters and booming voice-over announcing each makeover. The weapons I’ve tried so far all feel pretty familiar for an FPS, however, and while the ability to swing from point to point using your belt is a nice touch, I’m not sure there’s enough to set the traversal elements apart. Indeed, my biggest question going into the full version of Fashion Police Squad (available in a few days according to Steam!) is whether it can find the gameplay to back up the premise. Fingers crossed. And if you’re curious, there’s a demo on Steam.
Pixeljunk Scrappers Deluxe
Developer: Q-Games | Platforms: PC | Release Date: Coming soon
This is a bit of a cheeky one to include, as Scrappers was actually originally released as an Apple Arcade game, but hey, this is the Deluxe edition and I think the move to PC is a pretty big deal. What’s it all about? Well, you’re a robot garbo in a city overrun with trash, so on the one hand you’re picking up rubbish and chucking it into the back of the garbage truck. On the other, rival gangs are also trying to make bank by collecting the (somehow valuable) refuse, so you’re also fighting all manner of thugs and bosses with a wide variety of weapons. Streets of (Ga)r(b)age, basically. It’s the four player co-op that really makes Pixeljunk Scrappers Deluxe a winner though, allowing you to toss towering stacks of garbage to a waiting ally who then hoicks it into the truck.
Developer: Skeleton Crew Studio | Platforms: PC | Release Date: TBA
This has to be one of the most stylish 2D representations of martial arts combat in a game yet, and it’s backed by some strong design ideas too. Chief among them is the “foresight” mechanic, which allows you to practice fights in advance, working out how to most efficiently take down enemies as quickly as possible and make the most of your limited pool of dodges. There are tonnes of small but neat touches in the moment to moment combat, from punching an enemy, sending them spinning up into the air, and back down to knock out an ally, through to disarming enemies then catching the weapon yourself. Forestrike has a roguelite structure, so after each battle you’re given a choice of three upgrades, allowing you to hone your own brand of kick-ass kung-fu as you go along.
Developer: Ahmin Hafidi | Platforms: PC | Release Date: 2022
Grappin is a game about traversal. It drops you into a mysterious mountain landscape, and gives you a grappling hook that can target any of the wooden boards that dot the world, allowing you to fire it out and then reel yourself in, with the goal to ascend the mountain, bit by bit. Mechanically, there’s a satisfying rhythm here, helped along by immersive music and sound design.
The demo I played was just the start of the climb, and after getting a feel for the basic Grip (the grappling hook), it evolved in a way I wasn’t expecting, giving me a super-powered version of the device capable of grappling onto far distant targets, yanking me across huge stretches of landscape in search of Relics – hidden collectables I needed to open the way forward. It was a fun twist; the very deliberate, step by step climbing of the base Grip, shifting into a super-powered version that let me explore the full scope of the area I’d just climbed through.
This seems likely to become a familiar pattern across Grappin, and the solo developer Ahmin Hafidi told me that the variety will come from the level design itself, as opposed to piling on more player abilities. This one is very promising and has a demo on Steam if you’re interested.
Hunt the Night
Developer: Moonlight Games | Platforms: PC | Release Date: TBA
This stylish dark fantasy action RPG takes the mood and challenge of games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and distils it into a top-down 16-bit world. Lead character Vesper feels nice and versatile right from the get-go, able to switch between melee and ranged attacks and dash to avoid damage or to reposition. It’s fast-paced, skill-testing combat, made all the more enjoyable by the menacing world design that makes great use of lighting (or lack thereof) to build atmosphere. While I’ve only had a small taste so far, Hunt the Night looks to have pretty involved upgrade and equipment systems, as well as a heap of different locations and bosses.
Kitsune: The Journey of Adashino
Developer: Rias | Platforms: PC | Release Date: TBA
Kitsune is the project of the Japanese artist Rias, who was inspired to create an adventure game fleshing out some of his – absolutely beautiful – illustrations. The result to date is an alluring world steeped in Japanese traditions, in which a fox girl and her frog friend try to unravel the mystery of the island upon which they find themselves stranded.
Developer: X-Plus Games, Sonzai Games | Platforms: PC, PlayStation, Switch, Xbox | Release Date: TBA
This 8-bit action platformer has a lot of fun with its sports-based theme, with a lead character (Bat Boy, naturally) who wields a bat that can bowl enemies over, whack back balls they throw his way, and ties into traversal too. With a villain called Lord Vicious who wants to host “sinister athletic events for his own amusement” it’s clear this game doesn’t take itself too seriously, but from the small amount I’ve played, it has a good mechanical foundation for fun gameplay, and the trailer (below) shows off some of the moves Bat Boy will learn along the way. It’s on Kickstarter.
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge
Developer: Inti Creates | Platforms: PC, PlayStation, Switch, Xbox | Release Date: TBA
With what appears to be a classic Castlevania-inspired backbone (and soundtrack), this new project from Inti Creates stands out thanks to its tight mechanical feel, crisp 2D presentation and dual character gameplay. The characters in question are sisters: Shinobu, who wields a submachine gun, and Maya, who slices enemies in two with her halberd-like weapon at close range. Both have a number of sub-weapons to choose from, but it’s Maya who really stands out thematically for me, as all her skills are origami-based, from her paper figures she can summon to shield herself through to tossing out a paper crane to use as a platform, or her basic attack combo which sends out spinning origami shurikens. Played solo, you can alternate between the two at will, but the real fun is playing with a friend and having both on-screen at once, able to boost off each other’s heads to reach high platforms or revive one another if a sister falls.
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge Screenshots
Cam Shea has worked at IGN since before the before times, and has played more Breath of the Wild than just about any other game. When he’s not playing games he’s mixing records.