I always look forward to the timely arrival of PAX West.
The summer heat is just starting to cool off. It's been a long, hard summer at work, and the four days back in the city of my youth to revel in gaming are just what I need after E3, and a few months before the holiday season.
That timeline lets me filter out the bigger events covered at previous shows. I get to focus in on the small, earnest work that continues to take up more and more space on the convention hall floors. I've mentioned on the last few podcasts some of the games I played, so here they are in written form, as promised.
There's so much good stuff coming, friends.
Developer: Nomada Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: December 2018
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC
Gris is a graceful, artfully designed platformer with emotional soundscapes and stunning visuals. Flowing swathes of blues and greys, punctuated by small shocks of red, visually guide you through challenging platform puzzles. Delicate geometry contrasts with organic structures and emotional scores as you follow the protagonist's journey through sorrow and discovery.
Gris's booth was big, slow, loud, and pale blue against the dark frenetic energy of the expo halls. It stood out in a really lovely way. This game is definitely A Mood, and I look forward to playing it on a big screen.
Untitled Goose Game
Developer: House House
Release Date: 2019
Platforms: Steam, Nintendo Switch
“It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose.”
I love birds. I really love birds. So a sandbox game about a goose with a penchant for mischief seems right up my alley! There’s a button dedicated to rude honking, which startles and upsets local villagers. Terrorize a small neighborhood with your bad goose antics in Untitled Goose Game.
The HouseHouse booth was a brightly colored melange of rustic cartoon benches, picnic baskets, and community bulletin boards with humorous posts. There were demos of the game with both PC and Switch stations scattered about. The line was, predictably, wrapped around the entire space that the booth was on. This one I didn’t actually get to play, but honestly, I don’t need to. This will be a day-one buy for me on the Switch.
Developer: Kitfox Games
Publisher: Kitfox Games
Release Date: 2019
Platforms: Steam PC/IOS
Half dating sim, half dungeon crawl, all weapon lust. Boyfriend Dungeon feels like an homage to the childhood secret anime that I should have written fanfic about. People can just change into weapons, and you can attempt to date them! They are just like everybody else, except wicked hot.
The demo I played at PAX wasn't lengthy enough to get particularly raunchy, but I'm not sure that it needs to. This delightful dungeon romp would still be fun if it was this PG throughout. The dunj is the local mall, and surrounding its brightly lit rooms are elevators, hallways, and other banal mall accouterments in lovingly stark contrast.
Publisher: Anapurna, Microsoft
Release Date: 2018
I seem to be a fan of flat, dark, somber looking spaces. Just as Necropolis enticed me with that aesthetic, Ashen as lured me in as a survivor in some post-apocalyptic darkened land. One thing I appreciated right off the bat was the inclusive and flexible character customization despite a somewhat limited palette.
Ashen also boasts of “Passive Multiplayer,” where game keys can be shared between friends, or one can just go towards the areas requiring multiplayer and you’ll get sorted into groups with other players with the same goals in mind. Possibly a bit Dark Souls-y, but maybe not quite as punishing? Can’t wait to get my hands on this one again and figure it out.
Developer: Chance Agency
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Release Date: Early 2019
NeoCab really got to me. As someone who has worked the service grind for decades, the trials of a lyft/uber-esque driver and the customer/service-agent power imbalance hit a little too close to home. However unlike my dull experience, Lina is caught in the middle of something big, and the police are involved.
The booth for NeoCab was small and at the edge of a hall right next to an adjoining hallway, in a loud, bright, busy area up on the 6th floor. Fortunately, within seconds that all disappeared and I was in the cool, dark, jewel-toned world reading Lina’s quiet inner diatribe.
These monologues, layered between external dialogues with other characters in the story, make NeoCab feel reminiscent of comics noir themes like Miller’s Sin City or Brubaker’s Fatale. This is one of the few demos I tried where I lost track of all time and space. Highly anticipating the release of this one.
The World Next Door
Developer: Rose City Games
Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: Early 2019
Platforms: PC/Mac, Switch
This gem caught my eye because I'm a sucker for pretty art, and the booth folks were friendly and helpful. I found the story and characters a bit silly, but I liked the puzzle elements to this game enough to kind of gloss over the cheeky dialogue bits.
In The World Next Door, you play a human girl dropped into a dungeon in another dimension with a motley group of monster teens to help you sort your way out and get back home. The dungeon puzzle is a tile-swapper, where the tiles are different symbols you can shift around on the dungeon floor to execute attacks. The bigger the grouping, the more effective the attack. In between dungeon battles, the dialogue options you have between yourself and the other monster teens becomes a bit of a flirting simulator.
Lot of romance and dungeons, this year. I can't say I'm upset.
Publisher: Anapurna Interactive
Release Date: 2018
Wattam feels like the best parts of trying to watch Telletubbies on mushrooms, and I mean this in the dearest and most earnest way possible.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Wattam booth, which was filled with a circular formation of short cushions surrounding three widescreen TVs, back to back in a triangle formation. This cushions also happened to be the citizens of the world of Wattam. Squat, softly rounded shapes with tiny little faces drawn on, just look so pleased to be sat on. To my left, a handful of very small children sat rapt with controllers in hand, making friends in this beautifully strange world that absolutely gets on their level.
In Wattam, you are the mayor. To drum up support within your constituents, you go out and befriend and help the locals so they will support your re-election as mayor. Through the power of friendship, you strengthen your community. Also said community seems to be voiced by actual, baby children. I’d expect no less from the wonderful people that brought us Katamari Damacy.
Developer: Team Fugl
Publisher: Kotori Studios
Release Date:Available now
Another game where I get to be a bird!? This low-poly voxel experience allows you to fly around islands, rocks, mountains, and trees in a relaxing flight simulator. I tried it in VR, which was probably a mistake. My mistake, not theirs; I still strongly feel Fugl is best enjoyed in VR!
Much to my dismay, I couldn't handle more than 10 minutes. However, that may have also just been my flight methods, which trended towards crashing and lots of spiraling out of control. The soft noises and ambient soundscapes paired with the bright, rainbow-hued, pixelated world was a lovely experience that I hope to visit again someday.
Reigns: Game of Thrones
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: October 2018
Platforms: Android, iOS, Windows
Nerial made a name for themselves with the indie darlings Reigns and Reigns: Her Majesty. Their next venture is an exciting collaboration with HBO’s Game of Thrones! – back with more Tinder-esque swipe left-or-right mechanics, each choice a turn of fate and chance to see what could have been in the land of Westeros.
I didn’t get a chance to play this directly; a few quick glances made me realize this is a game I can’t wait to go in completely cold to really get the full effect of the game. I stole peeks from across the aisle, just enough to recognize characters from Westeros, but didn’t watch anything long enough to spoil it for myself. If you're missing out on that GOT content between seasons, a little mobile action like this might be just what you're looking for.
Designer: Prospero Hall
Publisher: Wonder Forge
Release Date: Available Now
I decided to wander off-site of PAX to go to the Tabletop Annex at the Olive 8. There were games on tables with signs like "looking for players" and "looking for teacher," which I thought was a nice way to get people playing. Just to the left of the entrance upon entering the great hall I saw one of these signs above the box-top for Villainous, so I hustled over and hopped right in.
Play as six different Disney villains! Each player has their own playboard and objectives. Your goal is to meet your objective while thwarting those of the other players via deckbuilding, tabletalk, and deceit. This game is pretty adversarial in nature, so get into it looking for a friendly fight. It’s a bit of a deck-builder for success, so don’t be afraid to discard cards in order to find the ones you need. I would say this game is good for intermediate to advanced board gamers, as beginners may find it a bit dense in regards to some of the mechanics.