The Best Indie Games Of PAX East 2018
PAX East has slowly grown in to one of the biggest shows one of the biggest gaming shows in the industry, rivaling even its progenitor PAX West in terms of attendance and notoriety. This gives indie developers the opportunity to come to the public-facing show and let players get direct hands-on with titles and even receive feedback on their games.
This year, we got to try some known and unknown indie games across the show floor and picked out some of our favorites below.
Games are listed alphabetically.
Described as a hybrid mix of Contra and Metal Slug, Blazing Chrome definitely hews closer to frustrated memories of Hard Corps than anything else else. Players can co-op with a partner or go it alone in the demo we played, fighting against hordes of alien menaces through a ruined city. In typical Contra fashion, a single stray bullet means death and the loss of whatever special weapon you're using. Alien bugs pick you up and carry you off screen, foot soldiers shoot at you from elevated positions, and a multi-form boss waits at the end of the level with mouth-lasers at the ready. It's a pitch-perfect Contra homage, feeling almost identical in look and feel to the 16-bit incarnations of the series, and I am excited to play through the full game when it releases later in 2018.
Brave Earth Prologue
Passing by Brave Earth, you would be forgiven for thinking the game is merely Castlevania III running on an emulator, but that only speaks to the slavish dedication in ensuring the game matches its inspirations. Developed by I Wanna Be The Guy creator Michael "Kayin" O'Reilly, Brave Earth Prologue is a NES-style Castlevania through and through. At the the outset of the demo, players pick from three different characters: a quick swordswoman whose strikes and abilities mostly closely resemble the Belmonts, a magician with spells for both attacking and mobility, and a male knight who wields a broadsword for slow overhead strikes. All three characters have different stories, paths, and stages, with publisher Dangen Entertainment saying that the game will have the characters cross and intersect over the course of the story. Dangen also emphasized the lore of the game, talking about how the world around the levels and story was fully fleshed-out, but emphasized that it was optional. With Bloodstained on the way but emphasizing a more Metroidvania style of Castlevania games, Brave Earth might be the best bet for fans of the series' NES games and SNES games. With O'Reilly's extensive knowledge of cheap deaths and developing the skills necessary to overcome them, he might even be the person most suited to try their hand at it.
Church in the Darkness
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Paranoid Productions
In an age where game releases are increasingly tackling the idea of realistic cults but are unwilling to go very far with the idea, Church in the Darkness is grabbing the subject with both hands. The top-down stealth adventure game is set 1970s South America following a law enforcement officer named Vic investigating a cult to check on his nephew. The most interesting part of the game is that a narrative seed gets generated early on that defines what kind of cult Vic is dealing with, harmless hippies with free love ideals or a militaristic doomsday cult with deadly plans. That seed generates events that play out differently through the game. In one instance, a group of cultists were throwing stones at someone tied to a pole in the middle of a shantytown, while trying it again showed the area empty of anything but benches and tables like a normal community would have. If Vic wished to stop the stoning, he can raise his guns at the perpetrators, but attract more attention and suspicion to him by doing so. Doing quests for and saving NPCs also makes his quest easier and gives Vic more insight into what he's dealing with. I'm intrigued by how seriously the game is taking real life inspiration from cult behavior and want to see how it all pans out in the full game.
Dragon: Marked For Death
Developer: Inti Creates
Initially scheduled for March of this year, Dragon: Marked for Death started life as a 3DS game and was abruptly announced as a Switch exclusive in 2017. Though the game has been delayed, developer Inti Creates, behind games like Bloodstained and the Mega Man Zero series, has been quiet about the title. The 2D brawler features a pixel-art aesthetic that does not necessarily invoke 16-bit games in the same genre but more fits the developer's house style from the aforementioned Mega Man Zero games. The actual gameplay takes place on a straight 2D plane with no north and south gradiations, but ends up feeling a little more Metroidvania than expected. Despite going left and beating up monsters, I was eventually tasked with finding a key to get through a door. The key was not especially difficult to find, but it was still more involved from the Guardian Heroes-lite gameplay I had expected from the game. As a single-player experience, Dragon: Marked for Death is fun, but I expect and hope the game shines when it launches with online multiplayer later this year.
Developer: Range Plus One
The developer of Fatal Velocity explained the game in simple terms, saying he had always wondered why no one had ever made a first-person webslinging game. At the heart of its competitive multiplayer gameplay is that core design philosophy of the thrill of swinging around at high speeds. Players grab each other with grapple hooks and try to throw them off the stage or force them into walls at a high enough speed. The aesthetic tries to channel Mirror's Edge and the gameplay tries to channel Smash Bros. and it all somehow works together into a fun experience. The game is on early access now, but it shows a lot of potential from concept alone.
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4
Developer: Team Sorcerobe
While nearly every dungeon crawler gives you a sword or a spell and tells you to be on your way in a realm of dice rolls and character states, Fight Knight breaks the one sword he has within the first five minutes of the game. What is a pugilistic warrior to do besides just punch everything to smithereens? This is the idea behind Fight Knight, a hybrid dungeon crawler and first person action game that lets your fists quite literally do the talking. Players use punches to interact with everything from advancing dialogue to hitting knuckle-shaped panels on the walls. Fight Knight's quest takes him deep into a cursed Tower where he explores floor by floor getting into random battles with various monsters and undead foes. When something in front of you turns red, you press the parry button. Whenever it's not red, you punch it hard. You can also combine punches with dodges for moves like uppercuts and dashing punches to get enemies off your back or stunned for full-on machinegun punch mechanics. While I am unsure how well the dungeon crawling mechanic will hold up beyond the length of a demo, the way the camera moves and sprites ungulate is mesmerizing and kept me wide-eyed and engaged with every single fist thrown.
Just Shapes & Beats
Platform: PC, Switch
Developer: Berzerk Studio
Nintendo was showing off the rhythm action game Just Shapes & Beats, a single or multiplayer game where music is the death of you. 1-4 players take control of shapes over a black screen and avoid the various and many pink energy generated by a stage's music as a song plays. The hazards aren't procedural, the game is completely designed based on music from several chiptune artists, and even includes a techno remix of the Mortal Kombat theme to try and kill you. Your only controls are the analog stick and a single button to dash around, meaning that four players can comfortably play using any combination of Switch controllers. Players will die during the song, it's more or less expected, but they can rescue each other by just touching their shapes, or try to hold out long enough to make it to a checkpoint. We played through the game's first world, which culminated in a sidescrolling sailing sequence and then a boss fight which, while it lacked checkpoints, did give the shapes a little more health to try and make it through. Playing the game with other people was a fun toe-tapping and surprisingly uproarious experience and might make good on the rooftop party promise of the Switch's tabletop mode.
Developer: Grip Digital
Mothergunship is a game being designed by Tower of Guns' sole developer Joe Mirabello and continues a lot of the same ideas with some new mechanics and a hell of a lot more polish. Mirabello and the team at Grip Digital are focusing on crafting to your gun with ton of permutations as you travel through procedurally-connected pre-built rooms blasting enemies away. In these rooms, players can find shops to buy parts and attach them to left and right guns, modifying them to include things like shotguns hanging off the side or add properties like ricocheting bullets. Mirabello used an example of stacking recoil mods on a rifle until it functioned as a makeshift jetpack. I was surprised how much fun I had playing Mothergunship and can't wait to try out different mod combinations.
Developer: Gamepires, Croteam
SCUM is a departure for indie publisher Devolver Digital, as the open-world multiplayer survival game looks like a dime a dozen at first glance, but there are layers of details below the surface that actually might be overwhelming. The game positions players as prisoners pitted against each other as part of a TV show where they survive and compete to get off their prison island. The survival aspects are deep, down to counting your character's caloric intake if you want to take it that far. A smattering of charts and graphs can cover your screen as prepare an egg breakfast ahead of your objective-based multiplayer match. Players can choose to engage in survival and try to escape the island or try to win their way off through battle or do both, but the developers insisted that you only have to go as deep as you want to regardless of which path you choose. It was astounding to see how deep you can go, even though I can't imagine most players will dive all the way down.
Developer: Lunar Rooster
A somewhat unexpected hybrid of Smash Bros. and Overwatch, Sky Noon is a first-person competitive multiplayer shooter with sumo rules and a Smash sensibility. Players can only win by knocking their opponents off the floating arenas and their only means of getting back are items and a trusty grappling hook at their side. Your own guns can only knock enemies around, but players can also grapple opponents to bring them down with you in to the great abyss below. There is a weighty and yet speedy feel to grappling through the air and catching yourself from death by swinging back into the arena is surprisingly exhilarating. The game is fast and frenetic in a way that lives up to its inspirations and I am excited to see how well it catches on.
The Swords of Ditto
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Release: April 24
The Swords of Ditto looks and feels like a retread of A Link to the Past at first, but deeper exploration of the game reveals it to be a culmination of lots of ideas from the Zelda series married to modern rogue-lite ideas. The developers previously worked with Nintendo on other projects and made it their mission statement to bring that company's quality to their own games, creating The Swords of Ditto. Players take the role of a legendary sword that makes adventurers heroes for five days every hundred years. The heroes try to get as powerful as possible before taking on the ancient demon on the island and then doing it all again a hundred years later. Winning creates a stronger, happier island for the next run, while losing depresses and oppresses the island. Or, Breath of the Wild-style, players can just head straight for the demon's castle and try and beat it without any dungeon power-ups. The Cartoon Network-like graphics and fun premise make Swords of Ditto seem like a real blast.
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One, Switch
The pitch for Trailblazers is simple: what if you combine Wipeout with Splatoon? If your vehicle is going to be racing along the track anyway, why not just use a button to paint the road and tally it up at the end? This is the core premise of Trailblazers, a competitive and co-op arcade racing game from Supergonk. The title pits players against each other in multiplayer races for the traditional racing genre objective of getting to the end of the track in first place, but the results screen are where things really start to vary up. Winners and losers in Trailblazers are determined by a point system, which includes not only your placement at the end of a race, but how much of the road you covered with ink along the way. It's not enough to just paint the road, you have to also use your laps around the track to keep your paint on top, so driving in odd ways that your opponents can't easily replicate and paint over is the best way to continue. The game also features a co-op time trial mode where all players cooperate to get as much of the road inked as possible together. The game has online multiplayer on every platform and has tracks as normal, reversed, mirrored, and mirrored-reversed for replayability.