And now here’s my round-up for Sunday! I was unfortunately unable to get a ticket to the floor on Saturday, however I did get to go to the What’s Good Games Podcast meetup which was absolutely amazing. The women from the podcast are as genuine in person as they are on the podcast, and the community is welcoming and very friendly.
But enough about how awesome What’s Good Games is. Let’s talk about PAX East and video games!
So before the THQ Nordic AMA scandal happened, Biomutant was on my radar as an interesting-looking AA game that seemed worth supporting. Especially since the customizable protagonist has a Rocket Raccoon vibe. However I’m more hesitant to support anything THQ Nordic does now, so I decided to stand in line for a bit and check out the Biomutant demo at PAX and see if the game was worth championing at all.
The results came in and it’s…okay. There seems to be a lot going on as there were three different printouts of controls in the demo booth and I think I only used half of them in-game before the demo time was up. It really felt like one of those PS2 era mid-level games that has charm but some baffling design decisions holding it back. As far as I could tell, there was no manual lock-on and when you’re fighting ten enemies at a time it got a little hectic. And when I was finally getting the hang of the regular combat, the demo switched to a mech-piloting segment which had different controls that weren’t clearly explained.
I came away thinking this might be a game worth getting when it’s at a budget price. But with the addition of THQ Nordic problems, I think this may end up being a pass from me.
What the Golf?
I didn’t actually get to play this game, but I did watch other people play for a few minutes and was very entertained. What the Golf reminded me of WarioWare, except everything is golf. You play very bite-sized, quick golf courses where the rules change with each new course. Sometimes you’re a regular golf ball. Sometimes you’re a soccer ball trying to score a goal and kids are running around trying to kick you off the map. Sometimes you’re a bicycle.
It was weird but entertaining. People who were playing ended up laughing at every other course due to the unexpected hilarity of thinking they were about to launch the golf ball, but actually launched the flag instead. You could spend anywhere from five seconds to a minute on a specific course and once you scored you were on to the next one almost instantaneously.
I’m not sure the game has longevity potential, but depending on how many different courses there are total I could see this being a fun party game for laughs.
Creature in the Well
This game was essentially my Game of the Show, if I had to pick a favorite. Described by the developer (or at least the person I assumed was the developer who was talking to people interested in the game) as “hack ‘n slash pinball,” Creature in the Well is a very unique gaming experience. It combines Zelda-esque dungeon exploration with bouncing ball mechanics that allow you to progress.
You start out with a sword that can hit balls into pinball-like bumpers to gain energy, and you use your collected energy to open doors in the dungeon. As you progress, you gain different upgrades to your sword, like being able to charge the balls (to obtain more energy) or getting a guideline to show you where the balls will bounce. It’s a very fun and fluid mechanic that starts to get hectic the more balls end up on-screen. You also aren’t really fighting enemies – while there are traps and turrets and things that can hurt you, it’s much more puzzle-like in practice over actual combat.
I had a blast playing it and am really looking forward to its release on Switch later this year. It was a surprise highlight for me and is a game I probably wouldn’t have even heard of if not for PAX.
So the demo for this game was quite long, and I ended up actually having to consciously stop playing it myself because I was becoming too engrossed and could have sat there for however long it took me to finish the whole demo. Which is a good sign, obviously!
Star Renegades is a turn-based RPG-esque game, where you have a world map to explore but specific actions in the world (like crossing a bridge or searching a chest) use up a “turn” which makes other things happen around the map like enemy movement. The actual combat is also turn-based and attacks are done on a timeline you can see. Some attacks are instantaneous, and others get queued up and once both you and the enemy have queued up all your moves, it goes through them in order. If you time certain actions right and trigger combos, you can delay enemy attacks to the next round and gain an advantage.
The game itself looks to have a lot of potential – the battle system is all about synergy between your party members and managing ability cooldowns so you keep an advantage over your enemy. And while I didn’t have a choice in my three-person party for the demo, there looked to be 10-13 different characters to choose from in the full game.
I’m not sure when this is going to release, but it’s a game that is tentatively on my radar due to it having a fresh twist on turn-based mechanics.
Evergate is a puzzle platformer with an adorable protagonist. There aren’t really any “enemies” in this game either. Instead, you have a beam that has different effects on the environment – from breaking things to swapping places with them. Using the beam to successfully navigate each puzzle area is the key to the game and while the design is cute and charming, some of the puzzles require quick thinking and reflexes.
Thankfully each time you use the beam time slows down so you can aim it, but it’s not completely forgiving as a few times I took my time lining up shots only to find myself out of position despite the slowed down time. Still the demo had quite a few interesting puzzles and left me intrigued over possible later game scenarios that could really ramp up the difficulty.
Evergate had a Kickstarter earlier this year that I almost backed but chose not to – if I’d played it at PAX before the Kickstarter ended I definitely would have helped fund it though. Not sure when it’ll fully release, but it felt like a great fit for Switch and I eagerly anticipate getting to play the full game.
Blaster Master Zero-2
I never really played the original Blaster Master or the Blaster Master Zero remake, but when I walked by their booth there was an open machine so I thought “why not?”
Blaster Master Zero-2 was a decently fun platformer. It felt like it was designed to be hard and test your limits in a very NES way. You mostly pilot your exploration vehicle in a 2D platforming space, but can occasionally jump out to explore caves which take on a top-down Zelda feel. I didn’t get too much time with it, but it seemed to be true to what I know of the Blaster Master formula.
It’s not really my cup of tea and didn’t really grab me, but if you’re a fan of the Blaster Master series I’d say you’ll probably enjoy this and it’s out now.
ELO Hell was an interesting, narrative-based game that was labeled as a “esports sitcom.” I played the shorter demo of the two and it seemed somewhat interesting. The storyline was a couple of friends standing in line waiting for the new MOBA game. Conversation ranged from ELO Hell (title drop yo!) to cosplay to all sorts of other gaming lingo. There was a QTE and a few conversation decisions and in general it seems like it’s going to play out similar to the style of Telltale’s games. I also think it’s going to be an episodic release.
You also get to play the e-sports game within the game – Echo Star – although I didn’t get a chance to do it in the demo I played. It seems like an interesting concept that could be executed very well if they lean into the meta discussion around e-sports. It could also easily get too cheesy and wink-wink, although the dialogue in the short section I played wasn’t too bad.
ELO Hell is currently in Early Access on Steam and they’re working on episodes past the first one now I believe. I’m probably not going to play it until it’s complete, but I am going to keep an eye on it as occasionally I do like playing these types of narrative focused games.
Board Games: Shifting Squares, No Regerts
I took a bit of time off from standing in line to play video games to sit around a few tables and play board games with their designers.
The first game I played was called Shifting Squares and it’s a simple, quick game based around 9 tiles that you can shift and flip over. Your goal is to get the tiles to match cards in your hand so you can score them, and you discard cards to adjust the board to be more in your favor. It’s very simple in rules but has a deeper strategy, although there is a little bit of luck based on how the initial tiles play out. It’s also hard to mess with the board and out-think your opponent as you have no idea what matches people are going for. I did like it well enough that I bought a copy right there at PAX, and me and my girlfriend have enjoyed playing quick 2-person matches at night. It’s a very light & fun game to play.
The second game I played was called No Regerts and it’s a game based around tattoos. The object of the game is to get “good tattoos” on your body, but other players can do things like give you “bad advice” and put bad tattoos on you, ranging from “Your Ex’s Name” to a “Tramp Stamp.” Good tattoos are worth positive points while bad tattoos drive you into the negatives. You can also do things like chop off your arm to get rid of bad tattoos and double the points of your remaining arm. I had a lot of fun playing it and I recommend it as a mid-tier game – not quite an easy party game, but not as in-depth on the strategy as something like Catan or Scythe.
Buildings Have Feelings Too
I only played this for a few minutes because I saw a system open and decided why not. I didn’t really have a lot of fun with it as it was a building sim like SimCity and the like, except all the buildings are kind of anthropomorphized. It was late in the day and required a strategical brain that was just not present as PAX was closing out, so I ended up not really enjoying myself. I’m not a big simulation game person anyway, though, so if you’re looking for a quirky building game this could be something to keep your eye on.
The last game I played at PAX East was another great one. Katana Zero is published by Devolver Digital and is a fast-paced action-oriented samurai game. Its gameplay works very similar to a 2D Hotline Miami, where everyone goes down in one hit but so do you, so you have to plan out your attack and not make any mistakes on your assault. It has a neat framing device for the repeated attempts at perfection thought – the samurai you play as has a precognition ability, and every time you die you get a little “No, no, that won’t work.” pop-up indicating this was just your character figuring out the optimal path. It’s a nice, in-universe reason for why you die twenty times before actually moving on to the next room.
I had a blast playing it and got to the third level (not including the prologue) in my time with the demo. There’s an interesting story told through visits to a psychiatrist that frames each mission of blood and mayhem. Depending on how varied the later missions get, this could be another surprise indie hit although it seemed to lack the pulse-pounding soundtrack of Hotline Miami.
Still, Katana Zero comes out next week (April 18th) and is my runner-up to Creature In The Well for Game of the Show. The rhythm to the action is near perfect and the controls are fluid. It’s an action game for people who also like puzzles, as each encounter plays out thoughtfully, though fast-paced.
And that’s it! That’s all the games I played at PAX. I saw a few other interesting ones out of the corner of my eye – Kung Fu Kickball and Heave Ho! looked like fun, multiplayer party games that would be good for Let’s Plays, but I didn’t get the chance to actually sit down with a group and play them. And Dangerous Driving, the spiritual successor to the Burnout series, looked rad as hell and also comes out this week, but I’m a little disappointed that they skimped on the soundtrack and just are telling people to get Spotify Premium and play the Spotify tracklist they’ve created.
Anyway, that’s all I have for impressions from PAX East. I know it’s a week later than everyone else’s, but I really needed a recharge from the chaos of PAX. Look for one or two podcast episodes from me the rest of this week, as well as possibly thoughts and/or a review of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which is what I’ve mainly been playing when I’ve had the chance to video game. Until next time!