Sunday, March 1

PAX East 2020 Day 1 Impressions [Nintendo Switch]

Day 1 was chock full of great games of all kinds and pretty well I played something that should suit every taste possible. A note, while most of these games have been confirmed for the Switch there are also games that are either earlier on in their development or that may or may not come to the system for whatever reason. None should be incapable of being on Switch, but I also have no intention of implying that everything on this list will necessarily be on the system, because for several of the games listed it's still not a sure thing for a wide variety of reasons.

The Survivalists [Team 17] - It's very difficult to get much of an impression of a game like this quickly. Targeting a survival experience that has difficulty somewhere in the middle of the pretty varied survival genre, one key difference in The Survivalists will be your trainable monkey companions. That feature will either be a game changer, making the experience unique, or it may somehow feel gimmicky or ineffective. Given the quality of The Escapists, the same team behind this new title, my hopes are high that this will all work out but only time will tell.

Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos [Team 17] - I didn't get a lot of time with this one but what I played was very encouraging. The main thing it reminded me of was the multiplayer classic Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, with top-down puzzling and combat that can scale between 1 and 4 players. The controls were very easy to pick up and work with, the action and puzzles all seemed easy for players of any age or skill level to understand, and what I played was satisfying. If you've been looking for a family-friendly title everyone can enjoy this may be one worth keeping an eye out for.

Neon Abyss [Team 17] - A stylish and pretty challenging roguelike platform shooter, Neon Abyss had personality, insanity, and visual flair to spare. While I've played a load of top-down twin-stick shooters moving to a side-scrolling platform shooter really changes things up, and in many ways presents new challenges. Loads of weapons, cosmetics, and power-ups in some ways reminded me of the Binding of Isaac approach where what you're going to work with on any given run is highly unpredictable and that pretty well immediately makes me a fan. Offering up a hot look and fresh perspective on challenging roguelike shooting this is one I'm very much looking forward to seeing this on the Switch.

Going Under [Team 17] - This roguelike is tackling another genre that could use some of the transformational magic, the beat-em-up. Your goal will be to grab just about anything you can in the environment to whack, slash, stab, or throw at your enemies, and at least in the demo they weren't playing around so you'll need to work your dodging and countering skills to the max. Additional special events and challenges pop up as you go adding to the variety. This should help shake up the traditional brawler genre space with some much needed new takes on how to do things.

Ageless [Team 17] - If you're looking for something a bit more contemplative Ageless may be more your speed. Your character has the power to manipulate the age of flora and fauna, and using those abilities you'll be challenged to use a mixture of smarts and execution skill to overcome your obstacles. Whether growing a rhino from baby to raging teen (who is great for breaking through walls) to chunky adult who is heavier and can break through weaker platforms things start out more simply but pretty quickly get tougher once you also get the power to extract the life from things to allow you to dash. For now the controls feel a little on the tricky side at times but this should be a refreshing change of pace for gamers looking for something that's not so focused on the action.

Greak [Navegante] - In the short time I had to play this side-scrolling adventure I was impressed by both its beauty and what was looking to be an engaging puzzle platformer with its own style. You'll start out only controlling the main character Greak who has your pretty standard jump and slash thing going on. Once you encounter your friend and are able to release her your party will now be able to work together (useful in combat, especially since she has magic bolts to work with) or split up in order to solve puzzles. You'll need to wisely choose who you work with in different situations, whether needing his wall climb or her ability to float. Eager to see what the game's third character adds to the mix as this felt like an adventure full of potential.

Obey Me [Blowfish Studios] - With a visual style that is eye-catching and sort of a classic beat-em-up style it was easy to get drawn to this title. Playing it, however, made me feel like it can still use some work, at least playing solo. Your canine companion can be controlled by a friend and put to better use but what I played of single-player didn't make him feel all that involved. What worried me most was at least in the demo I played there seemed to be a lot going on in terms of systems, things you're wanting to pick up, and upgrades. Yes, people like to enhance their character and feel like they have agency, but when at almost every early stop you've got some other resource to collect or technique thrown at you without much explanation and it can be a bit much. There's a great look and base of gameplay here but something about the experience kept me from being charged up about it.

Infinite: Beyond the Mind [Blowfish Studios] - This is absolutely an old school throwback to the arcades, where you'll jump, slash, and dodge your way through hordes of enemies and some tough bosses. There's not a load of technique or special skills to learn, you just dive in with the skills you've got and kill, kill, kill. In the earlier stages I played nothing felt particularly difficult but I'm sure as it goes on things will crank up in challenge. If you're looking for quick and pretty satisfying arcade play this will be a solid option.

YesterMorrow [Blowfish Studios] - It was a little slow getting going but what I played of YesterMorrow was promising. As your character moves between the ruined present day and the past she'll continue to slowly pick up abilities which she'll need to use to work through a variety of action puzzles. In the scope of my demo your goal was to avoid enemies rather than engage them, though I'm not sure whether at some point you gain an attack. The art style is distinctive and pleasing, the puzzles tended to be satisfyingly tricky, requiring some technique and timing to get through in the case of some of them, and it feels like the story should be an interesting one. For gamers who are looking for an adventure without a typical combat focus this will be worth looking out for more from.

Infliction: Extended Cut [Blowfish Studios] - While this demo ended a bit abruptly for me since the system crashed what I was able to play illustrated the idea. I'd categorize it as a horror walking simulator for the most part, where you'll need to explore the space you're in to try to solve puzzles or simply determine your way out. As with other games of this kind the emphasis is moreso on the overall experience, and both the sound and rumble effects were well utilized to build a sense of unease, which is typically what fans of this genre are looking for. To its credit I'd consider its production values to be above what I've typically played in this genre on the indie side, whether its promises of chills and scares are enough to entice people will remain to be seen.

Circadian City [Way Down Deep] - This title is still very early but for fans of games like Stardew Valley it may be worth keeping an eye on. At least at this point in the development of the game the emphasis seems to be heavily towards exploration and building relationships with the game's pretty extensive list of characters. Whether just chatting them up or taking on quests on their behalf interaction definitely appears to be a key focus. A variety of task-based mini games are planned to flesh things out, though at this stage they haven't been implemented. The visual splendor of the dream world you'll spend time in when asleep is a nice touch, and the fact that your activities there will vary from those you have in the waking world should at least make for variety. Keep an eye out for this if you're a fan of more casual experiences, but it may be a while still.

Fugl [Team Fugl] - While I didn't get to play this particular title it was easy to get sucked in to its very serene and often beautiful presentation. There's not a load of traditional gameplay, instead its focus is really on the soothing feeling of flight, exploration, and variety as you'll take on the form of creatures you encounter. Multiple stages with their own layouts and characteristics will provide some variety but the emphasis here is becoming one with your calm and there's something to be said for that.

Cloudpunk [Merge Games] - There's no doubt this game has a great look, with you piloting around a futuristic city the likes of movies like Bladerunner, and avoiding other flying vehicles commuting around is neat. Taking it "off road" can be done, just expect that you'll have to slalom around, under, and over buildings of all shapes and sizes. The demo I played didn't have much more to offer than a sort of sandbox of trying to learn how to fly, get repairs, find a place to park, and then engage in point-to-point missions. Talking to the developer the emphasis won't be on action (which makes sense) but primarily on the decisions you make while acting as a currier in this futuristic city. It should be interesting to see the final product.

Spin Rhythm XD [Super Spin Division] - I'll just come out and say it, in terms of the games from Day 1 that I would immediately and gladly go back to play more of this is probably at the top of my list. Visually it is impressive, mixing concepts and looks from Guitar Hero and some other series. While I want to go back and understand how everything plays on an analog controller I've got to admit using a DJ turntable controller they had there was incredibly cool. What surprised me is that even as crazy as things could look on screen the controls were intuitive and worked very well, of course having a great soundtrack to compliment the action was icing on the cake. If you're a rhythm game fan this is absolutely a game to be on the look out for!

Hindsight 20/20 [Triple-I Games] - Conceptually this may have been the most fascinating game I played on Day 1, though that's in no way meant to imply the gameplay isn't rock-solid as well. Moreso than pretty well any other game I've played Hindsight is focused on forcing you to make decisions. That's not just in cut-scenes where you choose your path though, even in combat you have a choice to make, either choosing bloodshed or simply stunning your opponents. One way this increased the effort in development is that both fighting styles have their own feel and flow, effectively doubling the game's combat and upgrade systems and both felt solid and distinct from one another. Put this together and pretty well every choice will have consequences on the flow of the story, and as I played both ways it became clear that there is no "right" answer. The characters in this world aren't cookie cutter archetypes who are clearly black and white, making it feel like repeated playthroughs would present you with very different outcomes depending on the paths you take.

Rolling Hills [Catch & Release] - In terms of elevator pitches this is a pretty easy one, mixing elements of the likes of Animal Crossing with managing a sushi restaurant. While the demo was a bit limited you could get the idea of how it all would work with you interacting with townsfolk, gathering ingredients, and serving up an ever-growing list of sushi dishes in your restaurant. In order to keep up with it all you'll have the option, over time, to build robotic assistants who can tackle the tasks you may not find to be as fun, or perhaps even mechanize it all at some point to be more self sufficient so you can just hang out and chat with people. Will be interested to see how the final product shakes out but I can definitely see the potential.

Dodo Peak [Moving Pieces Interactive] - While in theory puzzle games are usually casual experiences Dodo Peak is one of two action puzzlers I ran into at PAX this year that seem determined to change that perception. Mixing up elements of classic arcade titles like Frogger, Q-Bert, and Flippy it's a game that looks cute and simplistic but that, once you play it, shows you a mean streak where you're going to have to be smart and work for your victories. Retro arcade fans, don't make the mistake of overlooking this one because of its cute appearance, it has a tough core that you'll appreciate.

Panzer Paladin [Tribute Games] - For fans of the swashbuckling roguelike Flinthook (hand raised, and if you're not familiar with it you should check it out) this latest from the folks at Tribute Games may look like a step back as they've decided to go 8-bit with their new title. The thing is, even though the level of fine detail is obviously lower that doesn't make the look any less impressive, they visually own the look so I can respect that. In terms of the gameplay itself it's also a bit of a throwback to slashing platformers that weren't uncommon in the day, but again in the demo I played they really own it. A variety of weapons you can find and pick up to help you out (ranging from impressive to outright silly), spots where you'll want to exit your armor to complete side objectives a bit more exposed, and some tough boss battles are all along for the ride here, making it a retro title to absolutely keep an eye out for.

The Red Lantern [Kowloon Nights] - This is one of those demos where you can see the potential all laid out but it feels like the scope of the variety has been held back so it could go either way. As much as the dog sledding meets survival meets roguelike unpredictability is the obvious hook, what made me audibly laugh several times was the game's dialogue and how some of the choices you can make will play out at times. Encountering a small flock of birds there was an option to let the dogs loose on them and they proceeded to catch and eat them all... which made me laugh, but in practical terms it was great because they now had more full bellies to keep us moving. There was also an extended exchange where I was talking to an owl that had some great dialogue options so I'm hoping there are things like that peppered throughout. At the core is the hard reality that this is a survival game and since you start out with limited ammo you'll need to carefully consider when best to use it, but perhaps the RNG gods on any given run will make it tougher on you too so you may need to take the opportunities you get and try to make the most of them. There's no doubt this is a very different game that has a great look and some charm but I'm very curious to see the whole package to better understand its total depth.

DogFight [Petricore, Inc] - There's no doubt that this game has the cute factor going for it, puppers pitted against each other piloting planes and firing projectiles at one another has some appeal. Choose your mutt, select your two weapons you'll deal damage with, and work to shoot your enemies down... pretty straightforward. The fact that there aren't many multiplayer dogfighting games out there to compete with should also help. That said, the question would be whether or not there's enough here to keep a sustained interest going since a variety of stages can only do so much to maintain a fresh feel.

Relic Hunters Legend [Rogue Snail] - The Relic Hunters situation (there's another Remix title I'll get to another day) is a bit confusing but the main thing to know here is that this is an online multiplayer roguelike shooter that's essentially the new and improved version of the franchise. I like its look, each character has their own play style, and the action comes at you pretty consistently so it provides a challenge. This is still a bit on the earlier side and won't be coming until after the Remix version that represents an upgrade to the current version (and has a retro pixel look by comparison) but even so it looked great, felt responsive, and the pop-in multiplayer felt promising for delivering something a bit different than other roguelike shooters out there already.

Sky Racket [Double Dash Studios] - Elevator pitch time... what do you get when you combine Breakout mechanics with a shoot-em-up? It turns out a unique, clever, and legitimately challenging (at times) experience you'll even be able to enjoy with a friend. Don't let the somewhat Saturday Morning cartoon look fool you, minding bullets and the projectiles you need to use to knock out blocks (or bosses) can get quite involved. A very fresh idea that has been well-implemented.

REZ PLZ [Graffiti Games] - This is a title I saw early on two years ago at PAX and was already pretty excited about, with it now getting close to release the oddball sense of humor (in order to progress you're often going to need to sacrifice yourself in some grisly way) has been matched by smart level design. Played solo or with a friend you'll need to work together to work out puzzles, do some platforming, and occasionally pick up parts of your friend's mangled corpse to activate triggers... you know, like you always do. Looking forward to the full release to entertain my sick sense of humor while making me think too.

Cyber Hook [Graffiti Games] - Think of it as an endless runner meets grappling hook meets neon-lit futuristic landscape and you'll have the idea. This is a game all about traversal, seeing the environment and being able to pick your best route, and then using your various skills to execute the plan. This will no doubt be popular with speed runners and should be fun to match up against your friends with, but if you just love a challenge you're free to take your time and work your way through its action puzzles at your own pace as well.

Disjunction [Sold Out] - In this futuristic noir style title you'll be working as a man for hire completing missions that will challenge your stealth as well as puzzle-solving skills. Working through a few rooms of guards and robots on patrol, while trying desperately not to draw attention to yourself, can be a challenge. Luckily you have some nice tricks and tools at your disposal for the job. Taking more lethal steps to survive can bring consequences so the more cleanly you're able to complete missions the better as the larger narrative will be influenced by how you perform in missions and work through dialogue. It shows promise and should please old school stealth fans.

Gestalt: Steam and Cinder [Sold Out] - While overall this felt a little on the earlier side (though it could just be the way the demo was set up as well) there's no doubt that the pixel art is quite gorgeous. Working with a steampunk look you'll work your way through a variety of environments from the lush outdoors to far more industrial settings, slashing and shooting your way through enemies in a very old school side-scrolling sort of fashion.

Metal Unit [Neowiz] - This cybernetic roguelike shooter / slasher has a lot of old school charm mixed with a great look without a doubt. With a wide array of potential weapons you may encounter on any given run it should be able to stay fresh and challenging as well. I'll be interested to see it fully fleshed out in its final release but walked away from the demo feeling like it was promising.

Skul: The Hero Slayer [Neowiz] - Sharing a bit of a common theme with the recently-release Skellboy, Skul is a side-scrolling action platformer where you'll have a core ability to grab a variety of heads that will imbue you with different abilities. The action can get intense but as you continue to find more powerful noggins to make use of you'll find you're up to the challenge. I love the look and feel of it and am looking forward to checking out the final version when it is released.

Recompile [Dear Villagers] - There's no doubt that in terms of visuals this cyber-adventure has me in its corner. At least with the build I played at PAX (and it was apparently a pretty early one) there are elements in place that look cool and work well but it's a situation where it's still hard to judge how well everything will work in the final product. I'm hopeful as it obviously has some positives on its side, but without a clear picture to the overall final game narrative and experience it's too early to tell how things will shake out.

Young Souls [The Arcade Crew] - I love its look, and all of the gear you'll be able to find to customize and make your character more powerful are great, but it was hard to tell how the final overall experience may play out. Roguelike dungeons by night mixed with story beats and shopping by day should prove to make this distinctive, with the ability to play it with a friend being a nice bonus. That said, whether it has the oomph to stand apart from the crowd will remain to be seen.

Streets of Rage 4 [DotEmu] - What I played last year already looked and played spectacularly but this year's demo seemed to be highly polished and absolutely ready for prime time. The stations for this were pretty consistently packed with people eager to enjoy some retro play or just watch the gloriously animated action. Throw in the new character just announced last week and this is shaping up to be the beat-em-up to beat this year.

Disc Room [Devolver Digital] - The pick up and play nature of the Switch seems perfectly suited to the sort of intense, challenging, and deliciously bloody action Disc Room brings to the table. Appropriately billed as a "dodge-em-up" you don't have much choice but to work to avoid a wide variety of lethal blades and some tough bosses as they ricochet around the room. Whether you're just down for the challenge of beating the game, completing all of the room-based challenges, or working to survive longer than anyone else on the leaderboards it may be a relatively simple concept but its tough and it works well.

Carrion [Devolver Digital] - Imagine playing a game based around a property like the classic 80s horror movie The Thing. Now imagine that rather than playing as one of the people trying to survive you're instead going to be the monster instead. You'll need to be careful as the facility and the people in it won't go down without a fight, but with the right timing and some skill you'll be able to grab, smash, and eat your enemies to help yourself continue to grow and become more fearsome. It's unclear where this is in development, and I'm curious to know what the gameplay would be like a few hours in, but I'll happily admit the thrill of throwing around and eating some people who were in my way made me smile.

Neon City Riders [Mecha Studios] - This game was definitely a case where the overall structure of the demo available really didn't do it many favors. In order to get through action puzzles in any given direction you needed to essentially stumble onto the right path to get the abilities you needed to complete them. This made the game seem harder than it needed to be up-front as with the proper powers some of the tougher areas were much more reasonable. I like the old school visual style and the action was reasonably good, but very curious how the final game's story and progression will be laid out given the way the demo was set up.

Orbital Bullet [SmokeStab] - While this seemed to be a pretty early version of the game even with as many roguelike shooters as I've played this one caught my attention by changing things up a little. You'll work your way around a cylindrical tower, trying to take out enemies and pick up new gear but the way your bullets bend around the shape of the level is a cool touch. With more than one layer that you can jump between how you approach your enemies is also vital, as environmental threats can demand that you clear one layer before the other. It will be interesting to see how the game continues to progress but if you're looking for a roguelike shooter with some new ideas this is one well worth checking out.

Swimsanity [Decoy Games] - I'd gotten the opportunity to check out this colorful multiplayer game at last year's show, but only the Deathmatch mode. This year I also got to sample the cooperative adventure mode and that has raised my level of excitement for the title since it helps to further differentiate the game from a crowded pack of generally average multiplayer shooters on the system. There's no doubt that the pretty silly nature of over-the-top attacks like the summonable Shark will help make this a hit with families and with a fair amount of variety in the game's modes it should prove to have far more longevity than the average competition in this space currently on Switch. Throw in online multiplayer with hopes for multi-platform support and this may be a big winner when it gets released later this year.