Last year I was only able to go to PAX East for two days out of the four so I wrote up each day separately. This year I was able to go all four days and used that time to go to panels, games, and meetups.
I may write about the panels and meet-ups in another post, but this one will exclusively be about the games I played. I got to 18 different games over the 4 day weekend. Is that a lot? I don’t really have a perspective, as I also watched about a dozen other ones without actually having any hands-on. I’ll try not to wax poetic too hard on each and every game as I don’t want this to take forever, but without further ado here’s all the games I played at PAX East this year!
Fuser was the first game I played on the floor (and because I did, I had an extra cool Fuser hat to proudly wear all weekend) and it was absolutely fantastic. It’s the new game from Harmonix (Rock Band developers) and is insanely fun. If you’re familiar with the Dropmix board game, Fuser essentially takes its structure and turns it into a video game. You’re a DJ controlling four tracks and you have a library of songs to drop into a mix. You can use vocals, lead tracks, bass tracks, or drums from each song in any combination you want. Two dueling vocal tracks? Sure! Nothing but bass beats? Hell yeah.
The gamification comes from dropping the tracks on the correct downbeats and fulfilling audience requests (play something from the 90s! give me a rock track! etc.) and your star rating is based on if you accomplish these tasks. And while the game is great, I believe the real fun will lie in the freestyle mode where you can just make whatever mixes you want (and hopefully save their combinations!). The booth person I talked to said that there will be over 100 tracks in the final game and considering the crowd response to this game, I think it’s a safe bet that Harmonix will have another hit on their hands. Especially since this one doesn’t require any extra peripherals.
Foregone reminded me a lot of Dead Cells – the graphical style and action combat actually made me double check that this wasn’t made by the same people. Unlike Dead Cells, though, this is more of a standard exploration story-based game. It has an explorable, static world as opposed to a procedurally generated system and has a loot system with weapon, armor, and accessory upgrades. The combat was slightly slower-paced than Dead Cells but still felt good in my hands. If you looked at Dead Cells and thought “I’d like this, but I don’t like roguelikes” I would keep a close eye on Foregone as it will probably be up your alley.
So Cloudpunk was the first game to play with my emotions on the show floor. It’s a story-based delivery game where you’re a new driver for the totally legitimate Cloudpunk delivery service. You have two rules: don’t miss a delivery and don’t ask what’s in the package. Five minutes in, I’d had my heart broken by the first delivery I made and twenty minutes in the last delivery I made left me with an important decision on whether to break rule #1 on my first night on the job. The game structure is mostly story-based and the gameplay not included in the demo seemed to revolve around making sure your hovercar is filled with gas and buying upgrades and other things for your service vehicle. I’m very interested in seeing where this goes and is a game that’s on my radar for when I’m looking for a chill, story-driven experience.
Trophy is a unique game, built from the ground up as an NES game. It has strong Mega Man vibes from the level selection to shooting and platforming being the primary gameplay. The music was neat and the stage I played was quite the challenge – the controls had the exact same difficulties as old-school Mega Man and it felt both good and bad in the same ways. The game itself is currently on Kickstarter (already backed) if you’re interested in possibly backing this neat little retro-styled gem.
Cloak and Dasher
Cloak and Dasher is a pixel-based game that reminded me a lot of Super Meat Boy, Celeste, and other games in that genre. The demo I played tasked me with beating 23 levels in 10 minutes – each level is a single screen where the primary objective is getting to the exit. Your main movement is dashing and jumping – if you dash into enemy you get a bit of a vertical boost and recharge your jump. Safely navigating each stage involves timing your jumps and dashes correctly to dodge traps and hit enemies. You can get daring and pick up little trinkets that extend your time, or you can just try to make haste to the exit as fast as possible.
There’s some trial and error but dying and restarting each level is basically instantaneous – which the best of these genres do. I was pleasantly surprised by the simple yet engaging mechanics of the game and walked a way with a time of about 5 minutes and 30 seconds left on the clock. The game itself is currently in early access on Steam and itch.io and has 50 levels to check out with more to be added in the future. If you’re looking for a fun and slightly challenging platformer with leaderboards, this could be a great fit for you.
Disc Room is insane in the best way – it’s a Devolver game through and through. You play as a scientist that’s investigating rooms filled with deadly discs. Each room has different requirements to pass it, from surviving a certain amount of time to dying to different types of discs. The game is all about survival (except when you’re trying to die) and it’s a really fun, frantic time. If you like dodging in bullet hell games but don’t want to deal with the added gameplay of also shooting, Disc Room is gonna be the perfect game for you.
Tunic was initially revealed at E3 in 2018 at Microsoft’s conference. It’s a game that oozes cuteness in the form of a fox protagonist. The art style is fabulous and the gameplay is very old-school Legend of Zelda-esque. The demo I played was only about ten minutes long and ended before I fought the first big boss, but I did run into a very tough enemy early on that kicked my ass several times before I gave up. It’s a very promising game that could deliver that old-school feel similar to Link’s Awakening.
Sometimes you just need….Raw Men. Okay, that’s not exactly how that meme goes, but it’s all I could think about playing this game. Rawmen is an up-to-8 player multiplayer brawl where everyone is a mostly naked chef slinging ramen at their opponents. The mode I played was king of the hill, where me and four other chefs were fighting over giant pots of ramen and trying to claim them as our own. It was hectic, frantic, and hilarious with weapons like an Untitled Goose Turret, a Matzo Ball whip to swing around, and the ability to turn into a giant meatball and roll around causing destruction. It’s silly and slapstick and great fun if you’re looking for a multiplayer game to not take super seriously.
She Dreams Elsewhere
So in all honesty, She Dreams Elsewhere is probably my Game of the Show. Thursday evening I had the pleasure of hanging out with people from the SDGC podcast as well as the SDGC community and a few people there raved about this game. On Friday I ran into another podcaster from Plus One Player podcast who also said I had to check this out. When I sat down and actually played this on Saturday, I was blown away. It was the second game to make me emotional on the show floor after Cloudpunk.
The game itself reminded me a lot of Earthbound with weird, surreal vibes, turn-based strategic RPG combat and cool, low-fi electronic synth beats for battle music. The combat system clicked almost immediately as it has status effects that actually matter and enemies with weaknesses (a la Shin Megami Tensei) and towards the end of the demo when the boss music kicked in I was just absolutely blown away by the soundtrack.
On top of that the story looks to be phenomenal and touch on themes of anxiety and depression. It also promotes diversity and a non-white perspective which is refreshing in the industry. There is a demo available for download on Steam right now and if you like anything in the Earthbound, Undertale, or Persona spectrum I highly recommend checking this out right now as I doubt you will be disappointed. I will be playing this as soon as it releases, which will hopefully be later this year.
Totally Reliable Delivery Service
Totally Reliable Delivery Service is an up-to-4-player “co-op” game where you are delivery packages across a few islands. There are cars, helicopters, boats, jetpacks, and other miscellaneous transports to get you from point A to point B. In the vein of Gang Beasts or Human Fall Flat, though, each limb is controlled separately and the physics are super wonky, making it very hard to actually deliver said objects or “cooperate” in any way. Instead it becomes a fun game of yelling at the other people you’re playing with as you get in each others’ way and have a ball laughing. I’d say this is a perfect game for a streamer with a few friends who want to just goof around and have fun.
Black Skylands is a top-down twin-stick bullet-hell shooter that seemed pretty standard for that genre. I didn’t really see anything in it that knocked my socks off or added anything to the gameplay, but it was solidly done and a competent game if you like the genre – aside from the fact that halfway through my try in the demo I accidentally glitched out the game and unlocked permanent bullet time. According to the booth person I asked, this is not an intended feature. It did make the game a hell of a lot easier for a few minutes though!
Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon
When Yacht Club announced this game pre-PAX I was like “puzzle roguelike wrapped in a Shovel Knight exterior”? IN! And after playing it, I’m pleased to report I’m still in. The game plays slightly differently than other block-dropping puzzle games in that the different objects fall when you move Shovel Knight around the board. You attack enemies to remove them from the board and enemies of the same type lined up together will be eliminated in a chain. But you have to keep an eye on your health as the enemies attack back each time you bring a shovel down on them, and if you don’t break health potions to recover your run will end fairly quickly.
That’s how I met my demise multiple times – caught up in the chain puzzle mechanics I completely forgot to keep my eye on Shovel Knight’s health and I ended up digging my own grave (ha HA!). It was a very addicting gameplay loop, though, and with practice and more time I can see this becoming a favorite game of mine to play on the Switch. It has “just one more try”-itis written all over it. I’m looking forward to seeing what Yacht Club does beyond Shovel Knight, but I truly appreciate them expanding their character into multiple genres and trying weirdly unique things like this game.
Phantom Bridge is a tactics-based mech game. Unlike Battletech (the only other mech strategy game I really have any familiarity with) instead of taking separate turns, both you and the enemy act at the same time. You can see how they’re going to move (a prediction mechanic similar to Frozen Synapse/Frozen Cortex) and can plan your own movement and attacks accordingly. Then when you hit go you get to watch the action all play out at once, resulting in some pretty realistic mech battles that feel like you’re watching them in real-time as opposed to trading volleys. It was difficult and I didn’t feel like I had a true grasp on being good at combat by the time the demo ended, but it has intrigued me enough to keep an eye on it – although it also partly just made me want to play Battletech more.
Neon Abyss is a roguelike where you explore the depths of a club. It’s a 2D platformer and action-heavy, mostly involving shooting and running around different screens while avoiding enemies. I accidentally ran into a boss room without getting any upgrades to my starting equipment and got smoked fairly quickly, so I’m not sure how I feel about the game as a whole. The visuals were pretty neat and carried the aesthetic that the game’s title suggests. If you’re into roguelikes and platformers, you could do a lot worse.
Russian Subway Dogs
This game is basically what it says on the tin. You’re a dog in a Russian subway. You bark to scare food out of subway-goers hands and then you can bark to bounce it back into the air before you eat it to score more points. Be careful of vodka, though, because it’s explosive and will hurt you, but will also make your food taste better and score you more points if you combo its explosive nature into flying food. There’s also competing dogs who will try and steal the food you rightfully barked out. And also sometimes there’s a bear. Why? I’m not sure.
There was a campaign mode but I only played the endless mode trying to rack up a high score. I didn’t do very well, but this is definitely a game that requires you to play it over and over to master your good dog spirit. Russian Subway Dogs has apparently been out since 2018 on Steam and is coming to PS4 and XBox One soon (maybe?). It’s a cute little game that, dare I say it, would be perfect for shorter Switch playthroughs if it ever comes to that platform.
Metamorphosis, vaguely based on Kafka’s story of the same name, is a first-person bug puzzle platformer. You play as a man who wakes up and has, for some reason, turned into a bug. This makes your perspective change drastically and is an interesting take on the first-person genre. In addition to the mystery of why this happened, the platforming is tight and presents interesting challenges on having to get from point A to point B as a bug. It’s quirky and surreal and is absolutely on my radar now as a game that stands out in a crowd.
The Day We Fought Space
So this was the only specifically mobile game I played at PAX and it was very frenetic. You basically choose a ship (and you have a ton of options) – each ship has its own abilities and specializations, from melee and ranged attacks to special moves, etc. Then you proceed to go buck wild trying to destroy all the ships attacking you in a bullet-hell-like action. It’s completely touch-screen and the only downside was you have to use both hands to maneuver your ship and aim your guns, so I was sometimes blocking my own view of the action. It also could be hard to play if you don’t have a stand to set your phone/tablet on. It’s only for iOS right now and you can join their Discord to test out the beta if this seems up your alley mobile-wise.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake
I got on the show floor as soon as possible, got a ticket for three hours later, sat in line for an hour at my designated time, and got to play this glorious 10-minute demo of Final Fantasy 7 Remake only for Square Enix to release a much longer, better demo on PSN a day later. It’s okay though, I got to close out the show playing one of my most anticipated titles (if not THE most anticipated) of 2020.
What can I say? The combat feels good to me – a great mix of action and turn-based strategy. Square has updated the ATB gauge to fit in a more action-oriented play style and I had a grand time switching between Cloud and Barret to wail on the Scorpion Sentinel. Also the music was phenomenal. I’ll try not to gush too much because I’ll likely talk more about the longer, much more interesting PSN demo later. But let me tell you – if the entire game is remade in this quality, the wait is gonna be completely worth it.
And that’s all of the games I played at PAX! I hope you enjoyed my impressions and hopefully I’ll get back into writing more regularly soon!