Monday, March 2

PAX East 2020 Day 2 Impressions [Nintendo Switch]

Day 2 was a bit less insane so I was able to slow my pace and dig in to enjoy some of these titles a bit more fully. 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.

Danger Scavenger [Star Drifters] - This year I ended up seeing quite a lot of roguelike shooting action of various kinds (not a problem for me) and though this was one of the more straightforward and slower-paced titles I checked out I liked it. You'll be moving floor by floor up a skyscraper, facing robotic foes of various kinds at every stage. What keeps changing is the type of weaponry you'll be dealing with, whether lasers, grenades, or a number of other types. When you're sometimes given an option on which area to go to this puts the power in your hands to either avoid a potentially more lethal area or decide to go all in with the hopes that you'll be able to pick up an appropriately-themed weapon to match the area. It all then culminates in a boss area and battle that brings together everything you've faced at once. Would need to see how diverse runs end up being in the final product and what the ongoing hook is but this was a pretty smart and well-implemented shooter.

Liberated [Atomic Wolf] - There are some games you just glance at and know they're likely going to sell and this is one of them. With a hand-drawn comic book noir vibe, a story involving a dystopian near-future, and some gritty stealth and shoot action it sucks you in pretty easily. The test will be seeing where it all ends up going. Regardless, based on my time with it and the response of pretty well anyone I saw giving it a go this will be a title to keep an eye out for later this year.

Biped [NExT/Tencent] - This was such an incredibly odd title, but not necessarily for the reason you think. First, it is super cute... the two robot main characters walk awkwardly (you control each of their legs independently with the analog sticks) and can also scoot around quickly (though this often got me into trouble) in beautiful and pretty detailed areas. It's a game absolutely made to be played with a friend, and there will no doubt be a fair amount of laughing and shared fun to be had with it. The surprise though? It's actually almost diabolically hard at times... though that isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you don't mind some potential swearing and aggravation this game will require 2 people with both patience and a fair amount of skill to be successful in, but if you're both ready to dig in and do some work it may be one of the best co-op titles out there with that in mind.

Crown Trick [NExT/Tencent] - Since the build I played was still a bit on the early side it's hard to say a great deal about Crown Trick but watering it down I'd say it plays quite a bit like Crypt of the Necrodancer if you removed the music and rhythm element and then added smart use of the environment to help in battle. You and your enemies will move turn by turn over a grid, with your goal being to outmaneuver them, get into position, and do some damage. You'll need to keep an eye out for things like oil on certain floor tiles as well, which may give you an opportunity to use a fire spell to cook and entire group of enemies with one attack. It certainly has potential as well as a nice art style, looking forward to seeing more of it as it progresses.

World of Horror [Ysbryd Games] - While the game itself is absolutely unique and creepy as hell the story behind it is fascinating. Created by a single developer who by day is a dentist, and with art apparently all created in MS Paint, it's among the more crazy indie dev stories I've heard. The game, aside from sporting some crazy spooky art and a number of creepy stories to explore, is all about survival, a little bit of luck, and making smart use of the items you're able to collect. I will say the combat and inventory systems still feel like they need some work towards clarity but there's no doubt this is absolutely a one-of-a-kind horror experience if you've been thirsting for a chill on Switch.

POSTAL 4: No Regrets [Running With Scissors] - Ah, so Postal is back... everyone get excited. Having played the original (reviewing games even way back when) I'll admit it at least amused me at times, in particular when I was able to attack a marching band and then had them come after me and beat me to death with their instruments (truth!). Much as it has always been, this new incarnation is about not just ignoring the reasonable limits of any form of taste, but running by them, stabbing them in the back, and then desecrating their corpses perhaps. The demo played more like a sandbox for showing off a variety of silly and/or offensive means of killing people, and an opportunity to give into your base impulses can be fun sometimes just to see what happens... but once you've done it a few times the question is whether it can remain entertaining. I'm hoping it's early or will get tuned because in particular after pouring gasoline all over a store and the lighting it all on fire the frame rate (this was running on what I'd imagine is a gaming-tuned laptop) dropped to a slide show. I respect that there can and should be games for every audience but at least in the demo all I saw was an emphasis on getting attention, not on keeping it.

Bake N' Switch [Streamline Games] - A quick look at the trailer for most people will immediately leave the impression that this is some sort of clone or distant cousin of Overcooked. While to some degree there are similarities, spending some time playing it proved that theory is generally false, and in terms of mechanics Bake 'N Switch is quite different and perhaps more accessible as well. Rather than collecting and preparing a variety of ingredients to make dishes to serve to customers here you'll need to deal with little dough-based creatures, working together to combine and then bake them in order to please a grumpy island God who, if not satiated by your baked goods quickly enough, will consume the world instead. This change in focus makes the action pretty different and in many ways I think helps ease cooperation amongst your team since people are more able to take charge of roles that suit their skills. Since most of the activities are so involved in terms of action single-player may be challenging to implement well unless it is set to allow for more of a zone defense approach with AI multi-tasking a bit on its own. Thankfully the plans for online multiplayer should help to make sure you have a fair chance of someone having your back even if there's nobody to play with locally.

Those Who Remain [Wired Productions] - With a base of what's become a bit standard with the walking simulator adventure with creepiness vibe it could be easy to dismiss Those Who Remain but if you give it a little time to reveal all of its mechanics you'll find something new in the mix. Once you gain the ability to effectively shift to a parallel dimension representing the same space (think The Upside Down) the puzzles that would normally walk you through to the next reveal at least become a bit more varied and interesting. The production values are also generally a fair step up from the norm for this subgenre of sorts, so if you enjoy tension and suspense as you try to figure out what to do next over jump scares this may be worth keeping in mind.

AVICII Invector [Wired Productions] - Featuring an absolutely kicking soundtrack with a strong beat Invector also plays quite differently than most any music and rhythm game I've encountered. Mixing up segments that feel more rigidly structured within a triangle and focused on timing with almost Star Fox-like phases where you'll need to fly through gates to more freeform areas with a feel more akin to Guitar Hero it manages to somehow pull it all off. The transitions between modes are generally well-matched to the music, enhancing and reinforcing what you're hearing in a satisfying way. If you're a big music fan this is worth checking out when it launches on Switch.

Aeolis Tournament [Beyond Fun Studios] - Local multiplayer has hit a real resurgence in the indie space, but that has also put the pressure on to find ways to differentiate yourself in the crowded eShop. Aeolis Tournament's take is to throw you and up to 7 friends into a series of some combination of 5 possible events, which are a mix of solo and team efforts, to see who comes out on top. The controls are simple, in every mode you'll only need to concern yourself with a single button which controls an air cannon your character carries with them. Whether in a quick burst or a powered-up blast using this simple skill you'll be trying to knock your enemies out, score goals, or win a snowball fight among other things. As you'd expect there's room for some nuance to reward more serious players but with its simplicity it should be a satisfactory family game that just about anyone could play and enjoy.

Pumpkin Jack [Headup Games] - Looking at everything I checked out on Day 2 at PAX I'd be hard-pressed to come up with any title that was as exciting as Pumpkin Jack. Put together by a single developer (let me pick my jaw back up off the floor) this 3D action platformer, to me, has an essence to it that reminds me of Rare classics like Banjo-Kazooie. Not only are the various worlds you'll be moving through visually impressive and diverse, the inclusion of some surprises like an excellent throwback mine cart sequence are absolutely sure to bring a smile to just about any face. Planned for a launch around Halloween this may be the perfect title to enjoy this Fall.

Rigid Force Redux [com8com1] - If you're a fan of old-school side-scrolling arcade shooters you've likely encountered little-known titles like R-Type or Gradius (among some others) at some point. If those games are your jam you're definitely going to want to check out Rigid Force Redux, which revisits many of those same classic beats while doing plenty of things its own way as well. Aside from looking great, the controls are tight, the action is challenging but fair, and this is a retro love letter arcade shooting fans should eat right up.

Shing! [Mass Creation] - The classic side-scrolling beat-em-up has been a staple genre in the arcades and on home consoles since the early days. In order to stand out from the crowd in such a genre it takes some effort to find some way to change things up. Shing absolutely does that, though perhaps not in the way you'd expect. Rather than using the face buttons on the right to execute your attacks Shing makes use of the right analog controller. While it could feel like a gimmick, in execution I actually found that it worked quite well, and lended a sort of flow to the demo area I played. While you can go it solo seeing it played both ways it looks like one where working with some other people would be preferred, so thankfully online multiplayer support is coming along for the ride.

Depths of Sanity [Bomb Shelter Games] - You don't tend to see many titles set under the sea so when they do pop up they typically offer something that controls and feels a bit different. That's certainly the case with Depths of Sanity, with your first fundamental challenge revolving around simply getting comfortable controlling your mini sub. You're going to need to be sure you've at least got a handle on those controls as the threats you'll face, whether in the form of menacing creatures or falling rocks, will demand some maneuvering if you don't want to end up wrecking your craft. Smart use of light mixing with a variety of puzzles will help compliment the action to hopefully keep this underwater journey an engaging one throughout.

Rising Hell [Toge Productions] - With a play style set vertically, in the easiest way my brain wants to think about Rising Hell as Downwell but played moving up. That's not terribly true but since the hook is pretty unique it was the best I could muster. Depending on the character you pick you'll need to punch, grapple, or shoot your way through enemies while always trying to keep on the move upwards, or the rising lava will consume you. Of course knocking out some enemies on the way will score you more loot, which will be useful when you hit the shop and want to think about upgrades. There's a great feel to the action and the constant threat keeping you on your toes means plenty to consider as you continue moving higher. I liked the challenge and am looking forward to the final version arriving on Switch.

When the Past was Around [Toge Productions] - Though the prologue demo for this wasn't terribly long it was more than able to communicate the creative variety in puzzles, unique artwork, and pleasant overall experience. This is a game meant to take you on a relaxing and meaningful journey, tickling your brain as it goes as you try to work out the nature of and the solutions to the varied puzzles you'll be faced with. In particular I was impressed with the use of music and other themes that kept it engaging and not falling into familiar patterns you often see.

Raji: An Ancient Epic [Nodding Heads Games] - If you want a great example of what can happen when you continue to bring new cultures and traditions into the gaming mix, Raji should be at the top of the list. Visually stunning and steeped in symbolism and religious figures from Indian culture, there's a unique essence to it that's refreshing. To top it off the movement and combat are surprisingly fluid and in many ways unique, with a variety of creative opportunities being offered for people to change up typical fights with opportunistic use of the environment. If you've been looking for a title that can throw you some curveballs to defy your normal expectations the looks, sounds, and feel of Raji should already deliver, the fact that the action also feels fresh makes it a pretty compelling package.

Alkimya: Memories of the Last Alchemist [Bad Minions] - I'm not sure whether the build I saw was a bit early or whether my issues were just a matter of not having enough time to slowly digest what it is trying to do but my impression of the demo I got for Alkimya was a bit of a hot mess. I appreciate the emphasis on alchemy and the wide variety of potions you'll be able to discover through experimentation to help me on my journey. However, at least the way the interfaces are implemented currently, trying to navigate and manage it all was not simple or intuitive. At this point I'm worried the game may be trying to bite off more than it can chew but it will be interesting to see whether the final product is able to resolve my issues before launch.

30XX [Batterystaple Games] - If you're a big fan of the classic Mega Man series or titles like it and haven't yet checked out the roguelike take on those classics in the form of 20XX I'll encourage you go do so now. If, however, you'd like to instead wait for the release of this new iteration on that idea you can certainly choose to do that as well. Based on the build I played it may be a while away still as it sounded like there's plenty more content to be created and tested, but what was there looked great, played well, and offered up solid co-op play that feels very different whether you use the melee-focused Ace or the arm-blasting Nina. Procedurally-generated stages will keep you from getting too comfortable while all sorts of random power-ups you're able to work with should help keep boss fights feeling more fresh. Looking forward to seeing how this upgrade to an already solid title shapes up.