Friday, March 29

PAX East 2019 Day 1 Impressions


What a day! Nothing like hitting the ground not just running, but seemingly sprinting for PAX East Day 1. Tallied up I saw and played 31 games today, and so many of them were promising or outright exciting! Here’s the hot take rundowns on all of them. Many thanks to the developers and PR people who were all very helpful and accomodating!

Demon’s Tilt - While it currently isn’t slated for the Switch, this was a game I’d seen video for a few weeks back and absolutely had to check out. Played out on one giant continuous playfield that you’ll scroll up and down as you go it looks amazing, sounds great, and gets the feel of pinball right while peppering in all sorts of action with bosses and various enemies moving about. The developers even confirmed it can be played in vertical mode so it would be perfect on the Switch with a Flip Grip!


Super Crush KO - The people behind the unique indie shooter Graceful Explosion Machine are back and applying many of those same sensibilities now to a side-scrolling brawler. While what I played was a focused demo and there’s still a long way to go filling the game up with more content and nuances it felt good and you could really see that GEM flair alive and well with the game encouraging you to use different techniques and combos in a variety of ways to get the highest scores.


Super Chrome - While there’s still more to fill in this retro shooter has some decent roots, trying to find a balance between classic arcade action and bullet hell to keep you challenged without necessarily turning into an exercise of memorizing patterns. With a quick boost for trying to keep out of trouble, multiple power-ups you can use to get out of a jam, and a variety of tough bosses even at this point it looks like good retro fun.


Cuphead - Plain and simple I can’t believe this game is on Switch after playing the hell out of it on PC. Challenging and visually brilliant it’s hard to believe that this is a real-time game responding to your every command and not just a vintage cartoon.


Stranger Things 3: The Game - While it was a contained demo to allow you to get into the gameplay and feel the style without spoiling anything about the upcoming season I walked away impressed. Played solo or with a friend you’ll be able to take control of characters from the show, using their special abilities to solve puzzles, craft gear from parts you’re able to scavenge, and beat up on baddies.


Vambrace: Cold Soul - A very narrative-driven roguelike, the developer behind Vambrace said he drew a lot of inspiration from FTL, and overall some of the game’s structure reminded me of Has-Been Heroes as well. You’ll put together a party to help you move through each chapter, having to find a balance between their prowess in battle but possibly more critically outside of combat. There are elements of risk and reward pretty well everywhere as you’ll have options on what paths you take, and can choose to turn back if necessary, but doing so will also slowly build a gauge guaranteeing tougher conflict will find you once it gets high enough. It looked fabulous and seemed like something for fans of a challenge to dig their teeth into.


Fromto - The quickest description would be Ultimate Chicken Horse meets kids’ drawings meets racing. Hand-drawn elements for things like ramps, boosts, and a variety of traps can be placed in a stage that you’ll then compete against your friends trying to race to the goal. Whether you decide to work together to make it a matter of who simply executes better or throw down a gauntlet of pain is up to you.


Dead End Job - Pretty appropriately described as The Binding of Isaac meets Ghostbusters this roguelike shooter is full of personality and some great pop culture references as well (I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to kill Clippy) with a great art style. Move from room, take out enemies, level up and choose from 3 random upgrades, lather, rinse, and repeat. It looks fantastic and plays nicely, can’t wait to spend more time with it.


Heave Ho - Just announced at the show, this cooperative physics-based ball of fun consistently and easily drew crowds with its goofy energy. You and up to 4 friends will take control of your silly character and can only grab onto things with each hand. Whether that’s a surface or each other you’ll then need to work together to move between platforms to get to a goal. Once you throw needing to swing each other over larger distances and it gets to be pretty tense, silly, and fun.


Katana ZERO - The blend of violence, slowdown mechanics, and intensity makes Katana ZERO easily stand out visually but the character interactions and story it tells along the way are also fascinating. Depending on how you respond to people in your dialogue choices you may find yourself taking on additional challenges to be overcome or unexpected help at a time you may really need it. Definintely one to keep an eye on.


Riftbreaker - While still early, the team behind X-Morph: Defense is taking some of those same core concepts with strategy blending with action to create something different. This time around you’ll be working with a mech suit instead of a ship so the action ends up  being reminiscent of Diablo. So as you explore planetary areas and mine their resources you’ll be able to upgrade your passive units and defenses or put the effort into yourself, making you a more efficient killing machine… or something in between. Quite a ways off but I like where the idea is headed.


Mistover - Looks great, is tough, and offers up some vibes of the likes of Darkest Dungeon but with more active strategy and roguelike elements as you try to move through the mist in search of the exit while trying to avoid traps. You’ll have to carefully cycle through your party members, using their abilities to do things like slow down time to put distance between you and monsters you’ll encounter, or perhaps just hide in a bush and hope they didn’t see you. Definitely one to look for later this year.


Roterra - While it’s not currently slated for Switch this puzzler has a visual style that really caught my eye and has some smart play as you try to navigate your character through increasingly complex environments. One set of stages had a visual style reminiscent of an M.C. Escher drawing in particular, and it looks like it would be a great addition to the Switch lineup for puzzle fans.


Moving Out - One of the easiest elevator pitches I’ve played at the show. Think Overcooked but with moving! That’s not to say the play is at all derivative, there’s some great fun to be had busting through windows and moving quickly to load up your truck with the specified items, some of which you’ll need to work together to get out of the house.


SiNKR2 - An intuitive puzzler where you’ll need to use your hook to move elements into place in the proper sequence to progress its visually quite simple but smart. I don’t believe it’s currently lined up for Switch but would be a good fit for people looking for a different kind of challenge.


Atomicrops - If the elevator pitch doesn’t sound like fun I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Think Stardew Valley meets a twin-stick shooter. Work frantically to try to plant and cultivate your crops which fighting off all manner of enemies and dreaded weeds to build your farm and your arsenal. Weird, tough, and full of chaotic fun this game may just be weird enough to work.


Castle Crashers - The multi-player classic feels absolutely at home on the Switch and played great in handheld mode. Since the Switch release will include all DLC it will be chock full of action with the trademark weirdo sense of humor the title is revered for.


Windjammers 2 - As the developer told me as we checked out this visually-overhauled sequel to the arcade classic “You don’t mess with perfection”. With new characters and some great new moves like a jumping throw the game continues to 100% retain the feel of the original with the additions simply complimenting and further enhancing the gameplay.


Streets of Rage 4 - Looking fabulous and playing very smoothly this return to the classic beat-em-up franchise felt great to play through with another character. Each having their own moves, the feel of the core play was absolutely authentic and tight. Retro arcade action fans should have a great time reliving the classics with style when this title arrives later this year.


Kunai - While the demo for Kunai wasn’t terribly long what it offered felt pretty great. Working with your sword to dispatch enemies and your 2 kunai for grappling and pulling yourself around the action felt very fluid and intuitive. Eager to see more once the game is released.


My Friend Pedro - Undoubtedly one of the titles that has had my eye since the first video for it was released, Pedro is as weird and violent as promised. That said, the almost ballet-like grace you see in the footage, while obviously possible, is a lot harder to pull off when you’re the one at the controls. Graceful death and destruction will await, but there’s definitely a learning curve.


Gato Roboto - Black and white Metroid meets Kiki the cat pretty much says it all. Smart level designs and certainly some humor from the overall situation should make this title a lot of fun to play when it’s released later this year.


Dead Cells DLC - The new areas, enemies, and boss with the Dead Cells DLC just continue to make what was already an outstanding game even better and more challenging. I only got a pretty quick run so I couldn’t explore all of the new goodness but more Dead Cells and any excuse to return to its satisfying play are always welcome. The DLC is mostly ready to go for Switch, it should just be a matter of working through the process, so hopefully fans won’t have too much longer to wait for it.


Alt-Frequencies - From the makers of both of the unique Lost Phone titles comes a new angle that uses the radio to throw the challenge at you. You’ll need to scan around the dial to understand the situation and then record and play back snippets from one station to play in another to move the narrative along. Creative and very different, looking forward to catching more of this once it gets on Switch.


Little Friends Dogs and Cats - OK, Nintendogs fans… though Nintendo has left you feeling neglected like a sad puppy in the corner the folks behind this abundantly cute title are here to help. You’ll be able to care for, dress up, and play with your puppies and kittens in most of the ways you’ll remember from the original, with some differences in interpretation changing things up in spots. Utterly adorable it should be a hit for its target audience when it arrives on Switch.


Radical Rabbit Stew - Though this was more of a proof of concept with multiple levels and a boss fight that shows promise, this puzzler is still likely quite a ways off from release. While the rabbits you’re knocking into pots for stew with your weaponized wooden spoon may look cute when the first one bites and kills you you’ll learn to be careful around them. This cute and creative puzzler should be coming likely sometime in 2020.


Double Kick Heroes - Just like when I played it last year, the game is rocking, just now on Switch hardware. Motion controls still haven’t been implemented, so I couldn’t check that out. Since the rhythms are pretty tough people will have an option to use the analog stick for notes, though I like to be precise and that was a bit too inaccurate for my tastes. Setting it up to use the buttons is a big improvement and the plan is to have some versatility with multiple control profiles supported so you’re able to rock out as you please.


Swimsanity - Though the only demo I got to play was for local 4-player and that has some power-up based fun what I’m looking forward to are the other multiple modes including some that are cooperative to see this game stretch its legs. It has a great and polished look, and offers up quite a number of ways to enjoy it, but will have to wait and see what all it has in store when it hits later this year.


Super Crate Box - The original Vlambeer (the people behind the hot roguelike shooter Nuclear Throne) title, Super Crate Box is both very simple and incredibly tough. This shooting platformer challenges you to collect as many crates as you can while holding off enemies and trying not to die. What’s tricky is that each time you get a crate you’ll be assigned a new random weapon, with all of them having different pros and cons and some of them like the disc gun potentially being lethal to you as well. An addictive quick pick up and play game for people who want a challenge and some silly fun.


Ultra Bugs - Another simple and yet challenging game from Vlambeer, this will be the first entry in their Vlambeer Arcade series that was announced last week at GDC. With relatively simple controls you’ll try to survive as long as you can while destroying bugs that continue to multiply. Different ships have different strengths and weaknesses and to get further you’ll need to destroy explosive bugs near you to wipe out increasingly intense enemy fire. Playthoughs are quick and fun, it’ll be fascinating to see where they go with these titles as they move forward.

Will be working to get up my thoughts on Day 2 soon as well!