Tuesday, March 3

PAX East 2020 Day 3 Impressions [Nintendo Switch]

Closing out things on Day 3 was a bit of a roller coaster ride as my long drive home makes it a battle to try to keep it at only a half day but inevitably there are games not on my list I end up checking out before departing. 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.

Helheim Hassle [Perfectly Paranormal] - As the second part of an intended trilogy of quirky games, Helheim Hassle takes a pretty different gameplay direction from its cousin Manual Samuel but shares its odd sense of humor. The gimmick here is that it may be a puzzle platformer, but what quickly sets it apart is your character's ability to drop limbs from his body, which you'll need to do in order to deal with the varied challenges the game throws your way. Combinations like a single leg, arm, and your head hopping along make for some very silly visuals and there seems to be a reasonable potential for finding more than one solution which helps it to feel creative. If you enjoy off-center experiences this is absolutely one to look out for.

Klang 2 [Tinimations] - With an impressive music and rhythm game in each of my previous days I didn't expect that I'd run into yet another one on Day 3. Klang 2 has perhaps taken the least traditional path of the 3, playing out like a slashing action title on-screen but with the combat being driven by hitting the beats successfully and in the correct way. There are times while you're getting up to speed and when things get intense that it can be hard to keep track of which direction you need to be pointing in since they need to be relative to your character, not the position on the screen, but there are at least some cues trying to help you with that if you can keep up. Looking forward to seeing the full story and experience when it is released.

Spirit of the North [Infuse Studio] - Playing out as a sort of spiritual and experiential animal walking simulator Spirit of the North has a unique and quite gorgeous look all its own. You'll play as a fox who'll need to make its way through a number of beautiful outdoor environments, and sometimes avoid its perils. There's a serenity to the mix of strong visuals and soothing sounds that makes playing it almost relaxing, and the portion I played seemed to indicate it's intended for gamers of just about any skill level.

Relic Hunters Zero: Remix [Akupara Games] - While the other Relic Hunters title, Legends, is being developed as a sort of upgraded sequel to the original this is a version coming to consoles that's a conversion of the original Steam hit. While visually it's pretty old school and basic, the quick and tight top-down roguelike shooting gameplay is a blast, especially if you're able to play with a friend. Multiple viable classes with a variety of skins, abilities, and a load of weapons make this title a lot of fun to just drop into and play quickly while also rewarding people who spend more time with it with plenty of content to unlock and enjoy.

Rainbow Billy: The Curse of Leviathan [ManaVoid Entertainment] - With visual elements reminiscent of the likes of Cuphead and moving from black and white to almost painfully colorful and cheery, Rainbow Billy makes a strong impression. The gameplay itself is an unusual combination of platform puzzling, mini games, and strategic turn-based combat with shades of Pokemon. My main thought is that though I was able to sort out how to be successful in the battles it definitely could use some clarification. That's especially the case since the game's visuals and style look like they'll attract a potentially wide audience. It has the elements that could make it a break-out star, it will be fascinating to see where the full experience lands on launch.

Gone Viral [Skullbot Games] - Possibly the funniest thing about this title is that a piece of its elevator pitch inspirational games list was Smash TV and the moment it was mentioned my response was: "I'm already down". This top-down roguelike shooter has quite a lot going on, and in its current state the level of importance of how you fight and play in response to desires of the viewing mob in the arena and at home isn't as clear as it should be. Essentially on each run the fickle audience will want you to change up your style, whether wanting you to be quick, be brutal, focus on specific types of kills, etc. Court their favor and they'll reward you with extra perks, defy them and they may send you a nastygram. With a lot of extremely strong competition in this space on Switch already it was great to check out a title with some new and smart ideas, I'm excited to see how it all plays out and will take on the likes of Nuclear Throne, Enter the Gungeon, and The Binding of Isaac on its release.

Drake Hollow [The Molasses Flood] - At a glance there's no doubt many gamers will immediately get heavy Fortnite vibes, though that's the original intended core game of Fortnite and not the Battle Royale flavor that took over the gaming landscape. You and potentially your fellow players, have been put on a series of small islands, and your goal is to find and then protect some very cute little dudes. To do so you'll need to explore, collect resources, and then craft barriers and other elements around your central camp. You'll need to work quickly though as periodically some nasty customers are going to be on the attack, and while you'll want to show up and help fight them off there will be many more of them so whatever edge you can get through what you build will be a great help. While the quick demo didn't leave much time to appreciate all aspects of the gameplay it looks gorgeous, has online multiplayer support, and seems set to entertain when it launches later this year.

Later Daters [Bloom Digital Media] - While I wasn't able to get time playing this retiree relationship simulator, spending some time watching someone else play through it certainly allowed me to take in the game's "quirky" (sorry to the dev who seemed bummed at my use of the word, but I do mean it as a compliment) humor. Having played several games in this style from the predictable teen era through even the afterlife, moving the timeline to the elderly seems ripe for unique situations, laughs, and even some more somber reflections at times. Whether you want to play the game just looking for friends or trying to woo your way into something more is up to you, the game seems to be geared up for pursuing relationships of all types and flavors. If the genre has seemed stale with school-aged romances dominating the scene this may be your chance to break out into territory that's more unexpected and likely far more entertaining as well.

A Fold Apart [Lightning Rod Games] - Pairing up smart and engaging puzzles with a touching narrative has evolved into being a rock solid strategy, and some of my favorite Switch titles have had that pairing. What I was able to play of A Fold Apart was very encouraging in that regard, telling the tale of 2 people (that you're able to choose their respective genders at the start is a great inclusive touch) in love but with physical distance between them. The puzzle-based hook is the manipulation of the paper-like environments, whether flipping them over, folding, or otherwise changing them in a way that completes your path to continue your progress. Even in the short demo you could see how this could lead to creative solutions and the loving nature of the story playing out with your success was just the icing on the cake.

Foregone [Big Blue Bubble Inc] - With a look and a high-level feel that almost immediately screamed Dead Cells to me I'll admit I stepped up to the Foregone plate with a nervous feeling. What's quickly obvious getting time to play it is that thankfully though it has some visual and feel elements in common it is very much its own animal in terms of the experience. Rather than go the roguelike route this is more of a traditional side-scrolling action adventure with plenty of combat. A mix of melee and ranged attacks are available, providing you with options in combat for your approach which can then be further refined through an upgrade system. Take that base and throw in some big bosses who look very cool and crank up the challenge and I'm ready for more when this gets released later this year.

The Wild At Heart [Moonlight Kids] - Blending a unique hand-drawn look with a puzzle adventure and a dash of Pikmin, The Wild at Heart feels like it has a lot of positives going for it. The demo was great at illustrating what you could expect in terms of the overall style of play but I'll be curious to see how everything else falls into place and what unique gameplay challenges it is able to muster with that solid foundational formula. With no Pikmin titles on the horizon currently from the Big N this has the potential to be a sleeper hit in the making if it can pull everything together the right way.

Bite the Bullet [Mega Cat Studios] - Possibly one of the most unusual titles I was able to sample at PAX this year, Bite the Bullet has a familiar run and gun core but then throws on a layer of unexpected weirdness. It's more than a mere shoot-em-up, it's a shoot-and-eat-em-up, and how this change influences your gameplay is bizarre, a bit gross at times, and certainly amusing. Since you are what you eat if you're not careful, and chomp down on too many meaty enemies, you can expect to put on some extra pounds and this will predictably slow you down. How the dynamics of the added layer of strategy will play out fully in the final product will remain to be seen but credit to the weirdos behind this title for throwing a hand grenade into a familiar genre style.

Get to the Orange Door [Hitcents] - What I got to check out of this title last year looked really cool and seemed to play pretty well in the sandbox it was in but this year the demo appeared to be a bit more fleshed out with more of an emphasis on traversal than outright gunplay. The intention for the game is to have a story mode to work through and in addition to provide opportunities for speed runners to work out optimum routes to pull off some impressive times. It will be interesting to see how the final product tackles finding the balance in movement, gunplay, and substance, at least for now it remains very exciting to jump into or even just watch.

The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters [Devespresso Games] - While the survival horror visual novel adventure has certainly become a niche thing, it hasn't always been a favorite flavor of mine. Though I could appreciate the appeal of the original Coma title I felt like the being pursued gimmick was leaned into a bit too heavily and just ended up being more of an annoyance than a thrill as the game went on. This new chapter in the series feels like it has a better balance, managing to use the same disturbing imagery and general feeling of creep as you enter every new room but not allowing itself to feel like it's going to the "cheap scares" well too often. The result I think should make for a more accessible experience, hopefully luring in classic adventure fans who may not mind a dash of horror thrown into their mix as long as it isn't overbearing.

Lonely Mountains: Downhill [Megagon Industries] - Having played and loved this one quite a bit on the PC before even picking this up I was already a fan, but happy to report that it plays very well on the Switch as well. For those unfamiliar this is a title focused on riding your bike down treacherous mountain trails in search of short cuts that are just about everywhere... if you've got the skills and patience to pull of taking them. Challenging, gorgeous with its somewhat tilt shift visual look, and absolutely unlike just about anything on the system this is a sports title well worth picking up when it arrives on the system later this year.

Curious Expedition [Thunderful] - While I didn't get much time to really dive into the complexity of the experience this game offers, what I walked away with was an impression that it should appeal to an audience looking for a different sort of strategy RPG experience than the Switch currently offers. Setting out with one of many explorers you'll ultimately have to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, your goal is to embark on a journey of discovery. On any given trip you won't be able to predict what riches or perils may await and that's part of the joy in the experience. While it may not be exciting enough for a broad audience people who enjoy the potential promise of the unexpected should keep it in mind.

Wunderling [Retroid] - While Wunderling has the appearance of a cute and innocent casual sort of experience don't believe its LIES! Playing as a former evil game boss who has been given a new lease on life by a witch you'll look to complete a long series of puzzle platforming levels to exact your revenge on the protagonist who stomped on you so callously. The real evil is in all of the game's secrets though, and the lengths you'll need to go to testing both your mind and dexterous abilities to get it all. Loads of cosmetic upgrades help incentivize you to try to get them all but be prepared to be challenged. When a game gets the "simple controls in a tough game" formula right it can be aggravatingly glorious and Wunderling seems to have nailed the landing when it comes to that goal.

MisBits [3BlackDot] - This somewhat unusual budget-friendly title is one of those ripe with potential but that is very hard to predict in terms of how it will be received. The trick here is that the bulk of the effort in development for the game has been put into making accessible tools to allow the community to make its own games from that people can then play with other people online. Intended to launch with 4 pre-made modes which vary pretty wildly the basics of action are controlling your head, plunking it onto a body that you're able to find, and then working towards the objective whether that's shooting a ball into a goal ala soccer, simply pummeling your opponents into submission, or perhaps a mix of all the above. If the community embraces the pretty friendly tools and is able to come up with some unexpected surprises it could be a hit, but if creativity or discovery in the opening weeks have issues it risks having interest pass quickly.

Fuser [Harmonix] - When you have a pedigree of the Rock Band and Dance Central franchises in your portfolio there's a mix of security in knowing how to make great games but no doubt also some unease when you venture into new territory. Fuser has some very general DNA from other music titles out there but I can't say that I've ever seen a title that handles music tracks and experimenting with combining them in quite this way before. Using a very eclectic library of music from many genres and eras you'll need to mix tracks in new and exciting ways to create new music and in the demo I played I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the results. Ultimately I think Fuser's success is going to rest heavily on the final library of songs they're able to allow you to work with as variety and not being allowed to fall into comfortable patterns will be what makes or breaks the longevity of the game experience. That said, I can't wait to get back into it to again play with music in a way I've never been able to before.