So ends another PAX. I’m walking away from it deeply satisfied with just about everything I played, and best of all I’ve not tested positive for any ongoing plagues.
To celebrate the closing of the show and a clean bill of health, here are fourteen more games that stood out to me on the latter half of this year’s PAX West.
Hyde’s Haunt & Seek
I said on the Twin Geek’s Benevolent Halloween episode that I prefer spooky to scary. This has made it difficult to get into certain multiplayer horror games like Phasmophobia. Luckily I found a game at PAX that caters to the weak of heart.
Hyde’s Haunt & Seek features two ghosts against a human seeker in a very Haunted Mansion inspired manor. The human has a first person perspective armed with a ghost detecting flashlight. Their goal is to seek out one of the ghost’s prized possessions (a baby doll) and escape the manor with it. Meanwhile, the ghosts have a top down view of the map, allowing them to track the human’s position relative to the goal. The ghost’s goals are to manipulate furniture to block the seeker, and spook them with various ghostly pranks until they collect enough fear energy to summon a long-armed harlequin to deal with them. In the build I played the only way for ghosts to scare the seeker are threateningly hovering objects into their view, but the spirited devs from Smol Games promised they plan a variety of different ghostly actions inspired from their favorite spooky stories.
I played a round as the ghosts and the seeker and won both times (hold applause). I could see the game taking off in a streamer setting, and speaking with the devs it was hard for their enthusiasm for this concept to not rub off. Maybe I just enjoy meeting fellow practitioners of Benevolent Halloween.
Stick it to the Stickman
It took me a hot minute to figure out how Stick It To The Stickman plays. It’s a 2D beat ‘em up about a disgruntled office worker, who is a stick-person, snapping and going ham on his coworkers, who are also stick people.
How the combat works is you’re effectively structuring your own combo through roguelike elements. I started with a stick-man whose initial combo is jump kick>spin kick>flip kick, but after beating a floor I got the choice to upgrade one of those attacks to a more powerful version, or add a new one to the chain in the form of a knife throw. Its a nifty system that got me to think more about the flow of battle than I would have. Because ultimately the combat is all mashing the same attack button, there’s no weapons or pick-ups of any kind, but I suddenly had to stop mashing when I included a buffing move to my chain where my character chugs a cup of coffee to increase attack speed. The animation takes a bit to complete so it wasn’t ideal as my fourth attack in a chain 7 attacks long.
The question is whether this small amount of depth will be able to sustain the game, because as it is right now it is very simplistic and I feel the demo I played could easily be released by itself for about $5. I’ll wait to see if developer Free Lives can expand on the idea.
The full title of this game is Justice Sucks: Tactical Vacuum Action, and I think that’s just great. This is a sequel/remake of Roombo: First Blood. In both, you play a little AI powered vacuum that goes on a bloody quest to protect and save your family from a gang of criminals by sucking, shooting, and hacking.
Right away the demo caught me off guard with the control list telling me that the directional pad activated “Blood Abilities.” Said abilities are literally powered by the blood and giblets of your fallen enemies. Just wanted to make that clear in case the game’s cute aesthetic lulled you into a false belief that this is a kid’s game. The vacuum is not as fast as you would think, though being low to the ground means it can hide beneath furniture and escape through vents. Sucking up small objects will allow you to fire them for varying amounts of damage. There’s also hacking functionality, where you can overload various smart devices to further unleash hell on the criminals threatening your home.
It’s wildly fun, especially since each stage offers a visually different map with wildly different goals. First map I had to stop intruders from stealing the family fortune, then clean up their corpses before my family got home, in the other offered stage I was on a cruise ship where I had to safely escort the family out of a hostage situation. The game is ultimately a score chaser, giving you a mission rank at the end of each round based on factors such as stealth, damage, cleanliness, etc. It doesn’t feel as addictive as something like Akane, which I mentioned in the last article and have played every free hour since I got it, but there is a feeling that I need to optimize my playthrough of each map to get that desired S Rank. Honestly, I’d love to see a speedrun community build up around a game like this. I wonder what the most optimal vacuum blood ability is time-wise.
Another Space Opera: Episode 1 – The Wake of the Giant
After assuming it was a retro point-and-click, Another Space Opera-Episode 1: The Wake of The Giant to revealed what it really was, other than a game with a rather unwieldy title. This is a pixel art 2D shooter set in what feels to be a Fifth Element inspired future. After a tense intro where the main character shows bare ass and loses her loyal bodyguard, I was traversing rooftops, slinging guns and taking names.
The shooting is cursor-based, with a grid system for inventory management. The combat is swift, with you and foes popping in and out of cover to exchange a few key shots, but the exploration was surprisingly slow.
When you come across hovering bullet pick-ups you have to hold down E and then click the ammo, provided it’s within you’re character’s reach. It’s an odd design choice that makes me question if they’re shooting for a more immersive-sim feel.The pixel work invokes many things to me, mainly the game Out of this World, but when enemies die it seems to have an unmistakable influence from Metal Slug in how they Wilhelm Scream and spew blood in all directions. The trailer I got post-demo showed more of the promised gameplay, including motorcycle battles and boss fights with biblically accurate angels. It all has me curious enough to check the full game when it launches next year.
My Time at Sandrock
I haven’t had a farming/crafting game really grab me since Stardew Valley, but I find myself yearning for a new experience in that genre more and more. Maybe that’s why My Time At Sandrock, a sequel to My Time at Portia was so enamouring to me.
Unlike other fantasy farming games, Sandrock uses a 3rd-person perspective mixed with a large open-world. The game is set in a desert town on the verge of becoming a deserted town. Your goal is not to be a farmer, but a builder for the town, helping to fix it up and reignite its populace. To do this you need to forage in the desert for supplies until you can start to cultivate them yourself at your workshop. It’s a solid premise and I like this fantasy version of the wild west. In the demo I saw a lot of different avenues for building up my income, such as doing commissions, or catching bounties.
Right now the game is in early access. Disappointingly, it seems many reviews are lamenting that the game doesn’t feel complete enough to recommend a purchase, but I liked enough of what I saw that I’ve already wishlisted it with the hope of picking up the full release.
I genuinely don’t know how to pitch this game. It doesn’t have a bizarre premise, or abstract mechanics, but something in the presentation is so hard to describe.
Evolutis: Duality is set in a cyberpunk future of Neo Hong Kong. The demo opened with a woman getting sexually assaulted in a bar and beating up her captors, over the course of which she gets a knife stabbed clear through her hand, then uses said knife, still in her hand, to gouge out the eye of on of her assailants. After that violent imagery you wake-up in her apartment and just kind of explore and interact with things.
The game has a cell-shaded art style with aggressively rotoscoped animation, and it’s hard to describe what aggressive rotoscoping looks like unless you’ve consumed a lot of 70s mature animation. It’s a strange uncanny valley of moving too smooth while looking completely unnatural. The game is garish and grotesque and focuses way too much on its lead’s teeth. Once you’re in the apartment you can do things such as “take a bath,” “make a salad,” “Pet your cat.” Very few of these interactions are minigames, and the ones that are are incredibly simple, it screams of interactivity for interactivity sake. There is a fighting mini-game, which I’m going to assume will be the core meat of the experience, and it’s so stiff and unresponsive that I had no fun with it.
And yet…I couldn’t stop playing his game. There is something hypnotic in its bold crudeness. I did everything I could in that apartment, and when I ran out I asked the booth attendant if there was more. I just wanted to see how this game tackled everything it was attempting, how much more jarring the presentation could get. Not sure if that’s a recommendation, but I so want to see the full game.
Yes, this is that game you played in the browser many moons ago. Jellycar Worlds is a sequel from the original dev expanding on the wibbly-wobbly gameplay. I have not played that flash classic, but Jellycar Worlds was one of my favorite games of the whole show.
The goal of the game is simple: get your jelly car from one end of an obstacle course to the other. Since your car is soft it can be mashed and ground up by gears and bounce back just fine. Levels have power-ups that make your car bigger, give it a balloon, or allow it to drive up walls. The small smattering of levels I played used each beautifully to make for a game that’s chaotic, but feels just skill-based enough to be engaging. If you attempt a level a second time you get to see the ghost of your previous playthrough driving beside you. It’s a great motivator to jelly car better.
This is all aided by a wildly charming aesthetic that replicates the look of flipbook animation. The thing that made me not stop smiling was the fact that all the car’s sound effects are done by what I can only assume is the dev making car noises into a microphone. It just makes me feel like I’m a kid again, and I think we all deserve that feeling every once in a while.
Planet of Lana
You ever look at a fictional critter and go: “that was designed to be marketable, but I don’t care”?
That was my immediate thought when playing Planet of Lana, a puzzle platformer from Swedish developer Wishfully. The story follows a young girl traversing an alien world with the help of a squeaking catlike alien named Mui.
The demo used a fair number of puzzles you’d expect from this set-up: having one stand on a pressure plate while another traverses whatever it activated, enemies that will harm one character, but not the other, objects only one character can interact with. Despite these predictable scenarios, Planet of Lana, impressed me with its gentle atmosphere and sense of unknown. Rocks get up and walk with black tendrils, machinery is left abandoned and sparking, the lead girl speaks in an alien tongue. I’ve found myself pouring over concept art shown on the game’s website to gleam more about what there will be to encounter in the main game. Long after the demo I’ve found myself repeating the phrase “Imma Mui” to my pet dog in place of “Stay.” I think the devs have struck a chord and I’m very intrigued to see where this tale goes.
Provided the little cat alien doesn’t die or wind up alone. That would just be heartbreaking.
Cricket: Jae’s Really Peculiar Game
Another game with a bit of a mouthful of a title. I’m fairly certain this has little to do with the IRL game of cricket, which, as an American, I do find peculiar and esoteric. This is instead about a boy named Jae, nicknamed Cricket by his mother, on a quest across his peculiar town while making friends along the way. Cricket is a turn-based rpg in the vein of a Mario-RPG, which is to say there’s timed hits/blocks with puzzle-based overland exploration.
Unique to Cricket is what developer Studio Kumiho have dubbed the “Tide Meter.” Essentially you and your opponents share a gauge that can be drained to fuel special abilities. If you do well in combat the tide shifts your way, allowing you to end battles quickly, whereas doing poorly sends the tide the other way, giving your enemies options to defend themselves or do massive damage to your party. I didn’t play enough of the demo to get a feel for how much this mechanic impacts the game, but It’s interesting conceptually.
Like a lot of games, I’d argue Cricket’s draw is in its artstyle. This is all hand-animated and meant to invoke the style of mid-2000s cartoons. I strongly detect some influence from show’s like Ed, Edd, & Eddy in the expression work. Unfortunately the game isn’t really my genre, but talking with the devs I could tell they have a meaningful story they want to tell so I thought I’d highlight it here so fans of JRPGs can seek it out.
Much like this site’s Editor-in-Chief, I enjoy a good time-loop narrative. Re:Call isn’t quite a time-loop story, though it does experiment with reliving the same events again and again to get the desired outcome.
I’m a bit hazy on the actual narrative reasoning for the gameplay, so bear with me. The game is an isometric puzzle game wherein you relive the memories of your player character with the option of making different choices to alter the present. The demo had me as a college student captured and interrogated by a colorful crime boss. As I made alterations to my story I could rewrite the scenario I was trapped in. Changing it so a guard had a rock instead of his gun meant he didn’t have a proper weapon to attack me when I attempted to escape. I went through the same scenario a few times before I refined it to the point that the guard was ineffective, my cell door was unlocked, and the boss grilling me suffered a severe blow to the head. If what I said is hard to wrap your head around, like many of these games Re:Call has a demo available right now.
What I appreciated most about the game is that it didn’t feel the need to waste my time by repeating scenes I had already seen. The first time I donned a disguise to walk past a guard there was a lengthy exchange of dialogue. Every subsequent time it skipped right to the guard stepping out of my way. That’s some great developer foresight. In that line of thought, I wonder how long the full game will be. It’s such a great twist on adventure game logic that I’d hate for it to be over too soon.
This game is sad. I admire developer Folkore Games’ audacity to jerk tears with a showfloor demo. I suppose there’s no better advertising than gamers explaining their eyes are red and puffy cause they just played your game.
Spiral is a game about an old man named Bernard near the end of his life. Bernard suffers from a form of cognitive degradation that has caused him to forget most of his life. You explore a dreamscape version of his home in an attempt to piece together who the people are in his life and what they mean to him. The demo had me looping through the same area, inspecting the same objects, but Bernard always had a different reaction to them. He claimed a doll must have belonged to his sister, bu then he thought maybe it was his daughter. Sprinkled in were flashbacks to particularly strong memories that play out as minigames. It’s your typical narrative-driven fair, but the strong premise and voice acting carried it.
Right now the game is on Kickstarter with an estimated, and oddly specific goal of $38,114 by the end of the month. I really want to see this game get funded, if only because that demo ended on such a dark and saddening note that I need the proper closure that the full release, hopefully, brings.
The Big Con
Remember the 90s? I don’t, I was an infant when they happened. That’s alright though, because The Big Con will let me live through the vibe of the 90s just fine.
The game follows a teen con artist scamming money to pay back her mother’s loan sharks. It’s an adventure game primarily focused on fetch quests and puzzle solving, but its the game’s aesthetic that’s the main draw. The developer told me that many compared the artstyle to a Nickelodeon cartoon, primarily Doug but I was immediately reminded of the short-lived adult cartoon Mission Hill. Bright, garish colors are the name of the game here and it’s lovely. There’s no voice-acting, but I found the writing quite amusing, which is good because it’s the primary mode of gameplay.
The Big Con actually released in August of last year, but what was being shown here is the Grift of the Year Edition that promises more content and expanding existing areas in the game. For adventure game fans looking to travel back to a time where people hung out at the mall for fun I feel you could certainly do worse.
Last Hero of Nostalgia
Alright, here’s the pitch: The Stanley Parable, but it’s a soulslike.
Last Hero of Nostalgaia is set in a very typical dark fantasy world that has been afflicted with a curse that is causing its high-fidelity graphics to degrade into 2D sprites. You play a fated hero destined to save this land, but the issue is you’re a stick-figure, and the literal forces of narrative are against you.
The game features a sarcastic British narrator who undermines your actions and willfully spawns foes in front of you. There’s a lot of 4th-wall breaking and meta-jokes at the soulslike genre (including floor messages giving advice and cheering you on.)It would all feel obnoxious, but I have to respect the commitment to the bit. Your character’s UI is represented like an old text adventure, and equipment you acquire is flavored as code you’re imbuing your character with. The actual gameplay is exceedingly Dark Souls 1. My honed Elden Ring reflexes served me no favors with the slower pace of this combat. Everything feels solid, so I suppose my only question is whether the core gag will get old.
I had a four hour train ride leaving PAX, and it gave me a lot of time to think about the games I played and what impressed me most of all. After that internal deliberation I decided that Wavetale is my Game of the Show.
Wavetale takes me back to the games of my childhood. Games like Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, and the very first Kingdom Hearts. The game follows a girl named Sigrid who’s island home is overtaken by a strange mechanical darkness. In that chaos she befriends a mysterious fish-person that allows her to travel on water. Using this and armed with a trusty fishing net, Sigrid explores the neighboring islands to collect flying jellyfish called Sparks, to power-up her grandmother’s lighthouse and chase out the darkness.
Right away the movement in the game was fast and responsive. Sigrid has a double-jump, a glide, a grapple-hook, and a generous dash right from the moment go. Once you unlock the ability to go on water you can surf around at the speed of sound, leaping over waves and following rainbows. I was veering off course from my intended destination just to do little water donuts in time to the music. This game is setting itself up to be a collect-a-thon, which means the high mobility is a godsend for traversing these large and vertical environments.
It all invoked a strong sense of nostalgia and fun that I’m craving to feel again. Luckily that demo I played at PAX is available on Steam right now, though no release date has been specified. I very much plan on buying this the moment it’s available.