I saw so many fantastic and interesting games while at PAX this past weekend, and now that I’m recovered from my travels I want to take some time to call a few of them out:
These first two are kind of cheats, as they’re actually games I first played at Dreamhack earlier this year and have followed since. The World Next Door is a puzzle combat game with some adventure elements. And yes, the gameplay is fun and that art looks gorgeous, but let me tell you now that what keeps me coming back is how charming the writing of all the characters is. I genuinely have laughed at this game several times just in the demos. The World Next Door was already high on my most anticipated list, but the new PAX demo was phenomenal.
I actually hadn’t played much in the way of visual novels in the past, but in the past couple of years I’ve found my appetite for narrative-focused experiences really growing. Arcade Spirits is my current most-anticipated VN, because the only thing more fun in it than the retro-futuristic aesthetic is the cast. That seems to be a recurring theme in games I like: characters I want to be friends with. I’m already on the Patreon for this project, and eagerly looking forward to playing the finished game. I like this one enough that even though they didn’t have a booth at PAX, I sought out one of the developers to play some more on the literal show floor (thanks Aenne!)
Neo Cab was one of the biggest surprises for me at PAX. A ride-sharing sim with great riding is already worth paying attention to. But when you throw a cyberpunk setting on top of that with a great color palette and a noir-ish mystery story? I’m 100% onboard and ready to explore this world. I also want to give a special shout-out to publisher Fellow Traveller‘s booth, which is how I discovered Neo Cab in the first place. Their “Pop-Up Artisanal Games Cafe”, complete with printed menus and booth attendants ready to rattle off each game’s “flavors” is one of the most utterly charming concepts I’ve ever encountered at a convention.
I didn’t get a chance to try out many tabletop games this PAX. Emma Larkins, however, is another game developer I met at Dreamhack, and when I heard Emma was demoing a prototype of a new deck builder game, I knew I had to get in on that. I’m glad I did- not only does this game provide all the excitement I love of building up your deck, but it’s quick to explain and quicker to play. Abandon All Artichokes is the most stripped down game of this type I’ve ever seen, yet still manages to be both fun and true to the genre. Once it’s released, this is going to be a great game to take to coffee shops or into long convention lines.
I came across this game shortly before PAX, and I’m glad I did. It’s a classic JRPG, complete with combat I enjoy but don’t entirely understand. The characters are a lot of fun though- I particularly loved Grace and Valentin’s dynamic. Oh, let’s be real, I liked Grace in general- her attitude, her attacks; everything. The music is fantastic, and you can’t discount the importance of the game’s fantastic LGBTQ+ representation. Also loved the road trip aspect: characters have dialogue with each other while driving down the road together in Valentin’s car, and can be interrupted by combat depending on which lane you drive in.
So I’ve been mildly obsessed with Kingdom: New Lands for the past month or so. A survival city-building rogue-like where you build up defenses to protect a budding kingdom from nightly waves of monsters, there’s just something indelibly addictive about it for me. As soon as I lose a level (due purely to poor placement of resources and certainly not because of any bad decisions on my part), I’m ready to restart. However, when I heard about the next iteration, Two Crowns, I confess I was a little underwhelmed. I’m sure the game is fun co-op, but that’s not a feature I feel like it needed. However, I found out at PAX that Two Crowns is actually a much more involved overhaul of the game, with new mechanics and an entirely different structure. Now instead of building and then discarding settlements, you actually have an ongoing campaign, and might have to travel back and forth between locations. Color me intrigued.
I first checked out Beyond Blue because it seemed similar to a game friends of mine are working on. Once I got my hands on it however, I discovered what a unique and engrossing experience it is! The lighting effects are glorious, and the voice acting is perfect. Exploring this underwater world and scanning aquatic animals to unlock more information, I really felt like an explorer. There’s a fantastic sequence where you stumble into the den of a camouflaged octopus, and I can’t wait for more discoveries like that. Plus it’s by the same people who made the wonderful Never Alone, so that’s a strong point in its favor.
This one’s actually already out- I’d never heard of it before, but I’m looking forward to spending time with it in the near future. It’s a tactical RPG, but what really drew me in were the characters and kingdom management elements. The fully-voiced dialogue was genuinely amusing, and I absolutely want to gather new citizens and set up trade routes. Once again, characters I like = yes from me.
I ended up playing this action platformer by chance, and probably wore out my welcome a little bit at the booth by the time I was done. The platforming gameplay feels great and has terrific variety- every level is built around a different way of using the game’s core grappling mechanic. It put me in mind of Nintendo’s habit of versatile uses of core gameplay actions, explained incredibly well by Mark Brown of Game Maker’s Toolkit in this video. The art is also refreshingly vibrant, and I always appreciate the ability to tackle levels in a nonlinear fashion. This is one to keep an eye on.
How can you not want to know more about a project that bills itself as, “a romantic comedy game about the life of death”? This is a puzzle game about a grim reaper who just can’t stop dancing. In everything- art, animation, dialogue, sound- the game just oozes weird, quirky personality. The puzzles I encountered in the demo were simple, but gave me just enough of a hint of how later ones could be real noodle-cookers. This might be the most unusual game I played at PAX, and I’m ready for more.