As someone who has never been to E3 (and might never go at this point), PAX was always the “dream” when it came to a convention tailored to my specific interests. A combination video game/tabletop convention with panels has been a yearly pilgrimage for me. First ALL the way in Bellevue and after the first few years into Seattle proper, it has been a constant for me since 2004. Over the years, my focus on the conference has changed somewhat, with the last several years being almost exclusively focused on playing as many “indie” titles as possible. The introduction of the Indie Megabooth has made this ridiculously easy to do, as the high concentration of titles in a small space means jumping between titles is even easier. There were a bunch of games I tried this year, but here are a few themes that stuck out in my mind.
Nintendo is Back!
As someone who pre-ordered SEVERAL Switch consoles (all of which found a good home), I was extremely optimistic that perhaps The Big N had finally made a console that would be embraced by developers. Turns out that 6 months in, the console is turning into the “go to” platform for independent developers. Last year alone the most common observation for indie games was “coming to PC & PS4” as the flagship platforms. This year the most common thread I heard for these games was “coming to PC & Switch” which is astounding in just a year. Some of the best things I saw included:
Hey, do you like Advance Wars? Well developer Area 35 also liked that game and got tired of waiting for Nintendo to make a new one and decided to try it themselves. I was on board from the jump, even pledging to their failed Kickstarter campaign in hopes of a new game in this style. Well, it turns out other shared my view and decided to help the game get finished anyways, and it’s coming out this year. Not much to say about the game other than this is LITERALLY Advance Wars brought to a new platform with 3D models as opposed to 2D sprites. It plays just like those games did, and I couldn’t be more excited for this.
I have an affinity for all things cyberpunk & dystopian, so when I saw this game in the Nindies Arcade I was pretty much sold already. When the developer I talked to said the game was “what you pictured the future would be like in the 80’s” this became an instant buy for me. What I played showed a cool co-op side scrolling shooter with a great soundtrack and art style that evokes all the old 80’s movies I watched way too many times on cable growing up. Just watch that trailer above and tell me you aren’t excited?
This was one that most people seemed excited about when it was announced last week during the last Nintendo Direct. Chris got a chance to play this before I did at another event and was very enthusiastic in his praise of this game. Having finally had a chance to play this, I couldn’t agree more. It’s a rhythm game in the same vein as Bust a Move (Groove) from the original Playstation with a very hand drawn art style that I can’t get enough of. It’s going to be a fun one to play once it’s out on the Switch for sure.
Poland’s The Next Big Developer/Publisher
Who knew that aside from CD Projekt RED there was a blossoming game development culture in that country as well as a large publishing push? Apparently PAX West 2017 was their introduction, as I saw several booths from developers and publishers showcasing a variety of titles, several of which I’m excited to play sometime soon.
I had a chance to look at this last year in the Indie Minibooth, and was impressed with the visual style, but had my apprehensions about the gameplay and controls not being as responsive or engaging as I would like. Luckily this year the game is much improved and a lot more fun to play. The visual style is still stunning, and the little bit of co-op I played makes me look forward to delving into the dungeons with friends once this one is released.
In a similar vein as Recettear, this game casts you in the role of an aspiring shopkeeper who goes on dungeon crawls to replenish the wares for his shop. This results in 2 different games, one a Zelda style dungeon crawler and the other a shop management sim. It’s got a lot of charm in the little bit I played but I’m interested to see if there is more to the game than it’s initial hook. It’s definitely piqued my interest more than the anime-inspired Recettear ever did.
The next game from the developers of This War of Mine, this game takes an equally grim look at people just trying to survive. In this case you are managing a community huddled around a giant generator that is the only thing keeping them safe from the frozen world around them. This game seems a bit more “macro” in terms of management, assigning workers to specific resources and building structures around the generator. It’s got a few odd quirks in the interface that take a bit of getting used to but I’m still intrigued about what kind of story beats the game might have built in.
There Are Too Many Good Games
As I walked around the floor, I began to realize that there are so many good games to play, and the time I have to play them has been dwindling. Granted, a lot of this is based on the fact that PUBG has enveloped my gaming life recently. But honestly there is too much good stuff out there and not enough hours in the day. It’s the same problem with TV shows really, for every great show I do end up watching there are at least 3 others that I could be watching and enjoying just as much. The same thing is coming with these indie games. It’s a good problem to have for sure.
The PAX 10 almost always has a few titles that piques my interest, and in some cases includes games I’ve seen previously (Wandersong graduated to this tier after being in the Megabooth last year). The art style piqued my interest immediately, but this game was actually running on both PC & tablet, so I decided to give the tablet version a try. A simple interface and a few missions into the game I realized I finally have another mobile game I can enjoy when I’m watching yet another Netflix series my friends all say I “have to watch.”
The best game I played last year was a farming management game with some dating/relationship stuff thrown in. It’s easy to see how I would be drawn to a similar game, although this one has a more morbid/dire setting. The little I played showed a decent sense of humor as well as some interesting gameplay mechanics like performing autopsies on corpses for materials. I enjoyed the studio’s first game Punch Club enough so I’m hopeful this will be an entertaining game in the same style as Stardew Valley.
Look, who doesn’t like mechs? If you answered yes, I’m sorry but you’re wrong. As someone who came to tactics style games late, I missed out on several of the more “seminal” series like Front Mission, Mech Commander, and Ring of Red, but I’m definitely intrigued by what the developers had to show off in the Minibooth this year. I wasn’t alone either, as there were a bunch of people walking up asking the developer questions about the game as I waited for my turn to test out the game. I’m super looking forward to tailoring my mech in an obsessive way, and even downloading mods to make my Gundam battle dreams finally come true.
Do you have fond memories of Pirates of Dark Water? Are you sad they never finished the story? Well I have good news, the folks at Klei seem to be making a world that reminds me heavily of this classic 90’s cartoon (I’ll fight you on this if you disagree, but only with words). The game is essentially a turn based RPG, but the art style is so striking and from what I played a lot of the encounters have a non-lethal option to resolve. It reminds me of the Fallout games ability to resolve conflict without violence, but when you do get into combat it’s reminiscent of Darkest Dungeon when it comes to tactics. Also, from the two times I played through it, neither resulted in any duplicated content, other than one character who showed up in both games but with completely different motivations.
With so many games coming down the line, including the odd AAA title I’m most certainly going to play, I just need to figure out a way to either clone myself or exist without sleep in order to play everything. With 2017 having such a wealth of great games so far, it’s heartening to see that the second half of the year and into early 2018 is still looking just as good.