Friday, April 6

PAX East 2018: Day 1 Nindie Summary

My first PAX is about as insanely overwhelming as I’d imagined but it is very much worth it to get the chance to check out so many surprisingly diverse and terrific indies. Rather than drag things out we’ll go with a quick-and-dirty rundown, going over what I saw and my thoughts on each title.

Shrouded Isle from KitFox Games - I was a fan of the very different overall style and elaborate storylines of Moon Hunters and when I was prepping for my interview with the studio I stumbled onto Shrouded Isle and was immediately intrigued. Being essentially in charge of a cult to an angry god who demands sacrifice you’re required to try to manage the populace and 5 families, all while having to consistently sacrifice a member of the community every year. You’ll need to take some chances, try your best to pick advisers from each family who can help you advance your agenda, and then choose one of them to get the axe as well. The art and grim tone immediately bring the likes of Darkest Dungeon to mind, though this style of play is obviously very different. It’s very dark, ultimately very political, and has a nice and almost roguelike strategy vibe as you try to keep multiple plates in the air without it all crashing down on you. There will be blood…

Yoku’s Island Express from Team 17 - As a life-long pinball fan I was on board for this title as soon as I heard about it. If anything, walking into checking it out I was nervous that it wouldn’t live up the high expectations I’d built up for it. My time with it left me far from disappointed though, it is as clever, inventive, and charming as I’d hoped even early on. The pinball-esque elements work out to be a bit like a puzzle game, but there are also secrets peppered about to push you to try to find the way to get to everything. This remains one of my most anticipated games for this year.

Raging Justice from Team 17 - Since I grew up in arcades in the 80s the many classic beat-em-ups that inspired Raging Justice are like old friends to me. Seeing elements of so many of them combined in a loving fashion to make something new is a lot of fun. Not to be taken even remotely seriously the action is pretty varied and brutal. In the time I was checking it out I could see elements of Final Fight, Vendetta, NARC, and even Pit Fighter, and I expect more are likely. The man behind the game is obviously a major fan of all of these classics and is trying to carefully walk that line of channeling the classics without over-borrowing. Looking forward to checking out the full game to see how it turns out.

Blazing Chrome from DotEmu - While modern games can be hard there’s a certain sensibility that has changed somewhat over time, making things like classic arcade and console games feel very different. Blazing Chrome absolutely throws that aside somehow, and very much feels like it’s somehow a lost title from the SNES/Genesis era unearthed and made playable. Expect to die a lot, to have to learn how to survive against formidable bosses, and to pray that the developers decide to include an equivalent of the Konami code to give us mere mortals a fighting chance. While it’s not officially coming to Switch for now it certainly seemed to be on the radar.

PikuNiku from Devolver Digital - While visually quite unassuming there’s a certain playful quality to PikuNiku that’s immediately charming. While not to say the control in it is loose or inaccurate, there’s a quirky quality to movement that is kind of goofy and makes just watching people play it entertaining. In the single-player Adventure you’ll meet people, be sent on weird quests, and generally just explore and discover things for yourself rather than being strictly lead. I’d say that the two player co-op mode may have best been summarized by a person who I watched playing whether it was a PVP or coop game, his answer being: “Yes”. Much like how coop play works in the likes of Snipperclips or something like Overcooked, working together can sometimes look like you’re beating each other up, and perhaps you may be. In this case that quirky movement is multiplied as you have 2 people on-screen trying to do things like move a ball around… and that usually involves a fair degree of people “accidentally” kicking each other as well. Simplistic, creative, and self-paced both modes appear to have potential for relaxed fun.

Last Encounter from Exordium Games - As people may have gathered by reading a few of my reviews I’m a massive fan of roguelikes and twin-stick shooters so it took no more than a few minutes to start digging Last Encounter. Set in procedurally-generated zones you’ll be looking to survive waves of pretty diverse enemies, weird gravity zones that seriously mess with your movement, and tricky things like mines and environmental hazards. You’ll be able to play with up to 3 of your friends, and while that’s a help it also intensifies an action. As you go you’ll gain currency and access to new weapon enhancements that you can then combine to create your own custom blend of lethality, something that was a surprise and extremely cool to see. While I’ve played a few similar games that have been a bit stale Last Encounter, though still in a tuning phase, seemed to be on the right path serving up a challenge while also looking fantastic.

Spartan Fist from Glass Bottom Games - While a first-person voxel-based bloody beat-em-up roguelike may be a bit of a mouthful Spartan Fist makes it worth the effort. Set in a classic sort of gladiator arena of death (it is a roguelike, you’ll die often and sometimes quickly) you’ll move from room to room, picking up new fist variants periodically, and then pummeling everyone/everything you see to advance. In particular I enjoyed using the Rat Fist (there are apparently current 8 different fists available) which has a sort of drilling dash special attack but then slashes pretty nicely. Changing stances allows you to shift what level of aggression you want to go with, but strategically a dodge and counter method seemed to be best as your opponents will connect if you’re careless and there weren’t many opportunities to heal. A weirdness highlight is a boss that’s a kitten controlling a giant mech cat suit. While it seems the plan is to launch on PC and then refine a bit before moving to consoles people who wished that ARMS would have a visceral Bloodsport death arena mode (I know I did) will want to keep an eye out for this when it eventually makes its way to Switch.

Sleep Tight from We Are Fuzzy - The first impression from watching people play Sleep Tight was: Monsters Inc, the roguelike twin-stick shooter. While that’s true to a degree it would also fail to note the diverse ways you can choose to play the game. Set in your bedroom every night monsters will be coming for you so you’ll need to arm yourself with one of several weapons, set up some turrets, create a sort of pillow fortress, or most likely some combination of the above to survive the night. Once the day comes you’ll then work with the suns you’ve collected from you kills to use as currency to upgrade, buy new enhancements, and restock your precious ammo. While my tendency was to want to shoot my way out of things I found 2 well-positioned turrets were a great help and would love to experiment with setting up a choke pointed kill box to change things up. Multiple upgraded abilities for yourself and enhancements for your walls, turrets, and weapons leave this game wide open for experimentation and its slowly-increasing intensity should help make it accessible to a pretty wide audience.

Super Daryl Deluxe from Dan and Gary Games - While I’ve already begun playing this to review it was great to talk to the programmer and sound designer on the game while looking at several of the areas and bosses further on into the game. It’s just crazy how much creative effort went into it. There are silly nods everywhere in it from the first boss in the game that pays major service to a certain plumber’s original nemesis to a twisted Victorian-era version of Scrooge’s house from A Christmas Carol. Daryl is possibly the most unlikely-looking hero of all, and yet he has some diverse, utterly ridiculous, and yet devastating attacks you could imagine. To get through some of the boss challenges you’re really going to need to lock down a set of 4 attacks you can use well and that are diversified in effect and purpose because they don’t let up and will make you work to get by them. On top of all of the weird art is equally inspired music, ranging from metal to a more classical rendition of “Daryl of the Bells”... the key always being a focus on the game’s slack-jawed protagonist. This hits the eShop next week and is highly recommended, likely clocking in at over 20 hours and just constantly throwing new and even more bizarre stuff at you.

Fox N Forests from Bonus Level Entertainment - Channeling classic action platformers from the SNES and Genesis era this was fun to play around with. Once you get fully kitted out you’ll have quite an arsenal at your disposal but it’s the clever hidden areas and environmental puzzles that set it apart. You have the ability to change the season from summer to winter and you’ll need to use this mechanic quite often to freeze streams, make leaves you can use as platforms disappear and reappear, or turn a beehive dormant. As you progress new weapons will be unlocked that you can then change out and that you’ll want to take back to previous levels that have colored targets in them, that when hit with the right attack will reveal secrets… a classic design mechanic that is well-implemented here. Pepper in quotes in the game that reference anything from Punch-Out to even the notorious Conker’s Bad Fur Day and the love and reverence the developers have for great games from the past really comes shining through.

Runbow from Headup Games - While I’d heard good things about this title it was one that I’d missed the last generation, but it didn’t take long to see what people were so excited about. Think of the gameplay as a crazy race where you’ll need to be mindful of platforms and elements that shift on and off based on their color and the changing color of the background layered on top of people punching and using power-ups to try to make sure they’re the ones to get to the trophy at the finish line first. Rounds are pretty quick and generally brutal and since each run is procedurally-generated there’s really no getting into a comfort zone. The big win for this one will be online support for up to 9 racers fighting it out combined with a load of fan service in the form of characters you can choose to run as that include many indie darlings like Rusty from the SteamWorld series. Definitely worth keeping an eye out for.

Windscape from Headup Games - Given the success of both Breath of the Wild and Skyrim on the Switch Windscape may find an eager audience on the platform. Created by a single developer it plays like a first-person blend of the two set in a charming mid-poly environment. Exploration is a big emphasis and I was pleased with the combat I got into that expected you to block with your shield and then counterattack and felt very natural. While I can’t comment on where it goes over the course of the estimated 10 hours or more of content what I was able to check out felt good and like it would match well with even a more casual audience with its moderate pacing.

Toby: The Secret Mine from Headup Games - Another indie made by a lone developer it is obvious Toby is heavily inspired by Limbo but nobody would argue it’s not a game worth channeling. With its artistic style, grim tone, and potential for violent death at all times I was almost expecting a giant spider to appear but thankfully it branches off on a path of its own short of that happening. A slow and deliberate puzzle platformer you’ll need to ponder your situation and then work out how to proceed without meeting a grisly demise. Excited to see more of this and where it goes from the point I played through to.

Super Treasure Arena from Headup Games - While not really having a single-player experience to speak of Super Treasure Arena showed great promise as a fun time with some friends. Working with a base as a twin-stick shooter any thoughts of it having a more slow and deliberate pace were thrown out the window. Instead, expect intensity as you maneuver around a dungeon and try to shoot your friends to steal their coins. In order to vary things up some more NPC monsters are also lurking about and drop their own health and power-ups, meaning that someone who is crafty could stay away from conflict initially, power up, and then come at people who’ve been fighting when they’re in a weakened state. Looks great and eager to play more.

Super Blackjack Battle II Turbo Edition from Headup Games - This is one of those titles that you could never anticipate but that simply works by being so silly and bizarre. Truly a reverent homage to everything about the classic Street Fighter you’ll pick your “fighter” and then travel the world to compete with your rivals… in high stakes Blackjack. Bid smart, watch the house, and try to best your competitor over to rounds and if you defeat them you not only progress to the next match but then get to see what weird thing you’ll say to your foe in classic Street Fighter II style. There are even endings for each fighter! An odd idea that made me laugh and plays well, it’s just a lot of silly fun.

Projection from Blowfish Studios - This is just an incredible-looking title that demands attention, period. In the game you’ll try to advance your marionette girl through environments based on cultures and environments based on locales all over the world. The trick is that you’re only able to jump and then control a ball of light that can cast shadows from any element in the environment. The trick is that you’re able to treat those shadows as solid and use them to advance. Clever use of objects that you can move around to create the potential for creating shadows where you need them is where the game goes to the next level. While the few stages I played felt great the game is still likely almost a year away. Nevertheless, this is absolutely a title you should keep in mind, the intricate cut-out art that truly makes your character look like a marionette playing through the levels is incredible and the creative uses and manipulation of light to keep you moving are inspired.

I Hate Running Backwards by Devolver Digital - The moment I saw footage of this game I knew it was something I had to check out. Fast, intense, and typically with rounds coming to an end pretty quickly it is sort of an inverted classic arcade shooter. Rather than mowing through hordes of enemies as you advance your enemies are instead chasing you while you’re trying to take them out and stay alive. The levels are procedurally-generated so you’ll need to wing it as you move around to collect power-ups and secondary weapons. Only being able to shoot straight back took some getting used to (for whatever reason I’d envisioned it as a twin-stick shooter), and that forces you to be very careful about how you move and then make smart use of your melee attack when you can’t take out everything from a distance. A nice touch was that a handful of favorite indie characters fleshed out the roster of heros you can choose from, and each have their own benefits and weaknesses. A nice, and challenging, shooter variant I can’t wait to play more of.

Many thanks to all of the incredibly accommodating devs and reps who made this a great first day experience for me with something at this scale and am looking forward to Day 2!