After days of interviews, previews, and trailers, Sean Z and Will James discuss some of their favorite games from PAX West 2019.
The Vale – Falling Squirrel (Release TBD – PC)
The Vale is a unique concept for a role-playing video game – there’s no visuals. At all. The game is a black screen (with occasional particle effects). You navigate towns and landscapes, fight enemies, hunt, all based on positional audio.
The game is uniquely accessible to low vision players, and, while I only tested a prototype, the game was unique and fun – navigating a town and trying to find various shops based on the various barkers at stalls was memorable, and combat, where you raise a shield in the direction of oncoming attacks, worked well.
Roundguard – Wonderbelly Games (Early 2020 – PC)
Roundguard mixes roguelike elements with Peggle, and while I was skeptical when I first heard the pitch, the game plays quite nicely. Like Peggle, you’re smashing things by bouncing a ball around, but, unlike Peggle, the ball is your character. Depending on who you’ve selected, your character will have different properties: the warrior, for example, can do a “double jump,” where they can change direction as they’re traveling to make trick shots. Certain pegs are monsters (they you need to kill to clear the stage, and might damage you back), while others might be traps that cause status effects.
One thing I enjoyed about the game was the focus on low-friction play. Developer Andrea Roberts spoke about building the game during nap times for her children, and explained that she initially got into roguelike games because, as a parent, she didn’t have as much time to play longer games. As a result, she designed Roundguard to be a game where a player can easily hop in, play for half an hour, and then hop out.
For me personally, as someone who has hours and hours logged in Slay the Spire for exactly this reason, this resonated with me. While 90-hour RPGs are nice, it often feels as though I need to allocate time to play them – it’s nice to have more games that are easy to quickly pick up when you have a moment, and where you can come back to them after not playing without having to remember where you were or what quests you were doing.
Spiritfarer – Thunder Lotus Games (2020 – all platforms)
In Spiritfarer, you play as Stella, the ferry master to the deceased, befriending and caring for spirits as you help them move on. While tackling death sounds like it could be depressing, the game felt incredibly upbeat. In many ways, it’s similar to games like Harvest Moon, where you grow plants to make food, go on small quests for items, all of which give you resources to help your spirits on their journeys. The game also draws inspiration from Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, and that inspiration can definitely been seen in the colorful world and charming art.
One unique thing about Spiritfarer is the inclusion of couch co-op, uncommon in farming games. A second player can play as Stella’s cat, which has almost all the same abilities Stella does. The cat can water plants (the animation of it holding a watering can was adorable), open doors, and do just about everything other than trigger events (and, of course, pet the cat, an action only open to Stella). When I asked the developer if they had planned this kind of co-op experience from the start, they commented, “We just wanted a cat, and what’s better than having a cat as a side character? Playing the cat. Everyone always wanted to constantly pet the cat, or play as the cat, so we gave everyone both.”
Indivisible – Lab Zero (October 2019 – all platforms)
An action RPG with hand-drawn animation and platforming elements, Indivisible reminded me heavily of Dust: An Elysian Tail (a game I loved, and still remember fondly). The battle system is fairly unique; your four party members stand in a diamond-like formation and develop charges over time. As long as the designated character has charges, you can tap the corresponding button to launch an attack or block if the enemy is attacking (so, for the character on top, you’d press the top button – X or Y or triangle depending on your controller). In the short preview I played, I didn’t hit many battles, so I don’t think I’ve used it enough to form a strong opinion, but what I did see felt intuitive and fun.
What stood about the most about the game, though, was the world and art. The game’s hand drawn animation looks stunning, and the fantasy world, which draws heavily on Southeast Asian cultures, felt unique. Mariel Cartwright, the game’s creative director, explained “It’s a setting we don’t see often in games. We see Western European, we’ll see East Asian, but we don’t see stuff drawn from this area… We got feedback from people we knew; we spoke with cultural consultants… Our team is majority Asian, and we were drawing from places that were close to home for us.”
Sayonara Wild Hearts – Simogo (2019 – Switch)
One of the game directors I spoke with at PAX made a very astute comment: building a genre-defying game is risky. It’s easy to recommend a movie where you can say “it’s a comedy,” but much harder to explain “it’s a film that blends all these different concepts, and it’s unique and like nothing you’ve seen before.” It also makes it frustratingly challenge to write up. While Sayonara Wild Hearts is certainly a unique blend, it’s absolutely worth your time.
Since I’ve played it, I’ve been struggling with how to describe the game. The best I’ve come up with is: rhythm game, played while motorcycling through narrow city streets, as someone shoots fireballs at you, drenched in neon. The closest thing to it I’ve seen is Audiosurf (played in Mono mode).
But, here’s the thing: it works. The music was excellent, the bright colorful visuals were eye catching, and there’s something deeply satisfying about having a musical fight with a demonic street gang on motorcycles. It’s surreal, it’s different, and it’s something I plan on buying.
If Found – Dreamfeel & Annapurna Interactive (Early 2020 – PC)
If Found tells the story of Kasio, an astronaut falling into a black hole, as she remembers her life. She remembers how she wasn’t like other people when she was younger, how she found friends, how her parents didn’t approve of their decision to stay in academia over a more lucrative job, how her friend (and his boyfriend) took her in after she fled her parents. While this could have easily felt overdone, it instead was remarkably relatable (as a queer person) and poignant, even in the very short demo.
The game feels more like a visual novel more than anything else, where, to progress, the player uses an eraser to scrub the current screen to uncover more of the story. While this was a cute concept, in practice having to drag my mouse constantly across the entire screen was a bit tiresome toward the end of the demo – I do hope they make it slightly easier in the final release.
Still, the writing was impressive, and I look forward to playing the final version.
Final Fantasy VII (Remake) – Square Enix (March 2020 – PS4)
I have a confession to make – I’ve never played Final Fantasy VII. While I have played other games in the series, and I know what happens in FFVII because of the associated movies and fandom, I’ve never actually played the game itself, so I came in blind. But I certainly enjoyed what I saw.
The remake replaces the traditional turn-based battle system with an active combat system that reminded me of Supergiant’s Transistor; you fight in real time, develop charges, and then can press a button to slow down time and plan, issue commands to your allies, and fire off special abilities.
Representatives for Square Enix commented you will not be able to toggle original graphics (like the Halo re-releases), as this is a completely redone game, not just a graphics upgrade. New story beats will be added, along with the new combat system and upgraded graphics. While the remake will be done in installments (the first remake release will only cover the first region of the original game), staff promised there would be enough content in just that section to feel like a full game.
Monster Jaunt – Sketch House Games (October 2019 – PC)
How many of you have played Mario Party? Now how many of you have nearly destroyed friendships while playing? While Mario Party is a great collection of mini-games, the board game meta-game, which can involve stealing difficult-to-acquire stars, isn’t always great for friendships.
Monster Jaunt attempts to replicate the feel of Mario Party minigames, in a way that “won’t hurt hands or friendships.” There are no dice rolls determining your placement on a game board, and no stealing points.
While reviewing a game containing hundreds of minigames is tricky (especially in a quick preview), every minigame I demoed felt fun and winnable. If you’re looking for a good multiplayer couch game that won’t make everyone hate each other, this is worth a look.
Superliminal – Pillow Castle Games (2019 – PC)
It’s hard to talk about Superliminal without also discussing Portal. Like Portal, the game is a first-person puzzle game, where you’re the only person in the environment, trying to get from one point to the next, with only recorded voices to guide you.
But while Portal relied on its eponymous portals as its core mechanic, Superliminal uses perspective. There’s something blocking your way? Maybe if you pick it up, and look at it from a different angle, you can make it smaller and pass it. While I only played through the first 15 minutes, I was impressed with how the game was able to build on that core mechanic – there were puzzles where I first entered the room and immediately though “I’ve already done this, it’s getting repetitive” before the game threw me a curve ball and forced me to come up with a new way to solve the puzzle. If it can maintain that sense of newness throughout the entire experience, this is going to be an incredibly solid puzzle game.
Wilmot’s Warehouse – Published by Finji (available now – PC, Switch)
When I sat down to try Wilmot’s Warehouse, the developer called it “freeform Tetris.” My friend who was with me later called it a game of digging your own grave. Both descriptions are correct.
Wilmot works in two phases. The first is a delivery phase, where products are delivered to your warehouse. You, as the player, have several minutes to organize the various products in any way you see fit. In the second phase, orders will come in, and you’re responsible for running around your warehouse, grabbing products, and delivering them to the counter (hence the comment about digging your own grave – it’s quite easy to develop a storage scheme you think makes total sense, only to find it’s completely inefficient). If you’re someone who enjoys shape-based puzzle games like Tetris, you’ll almost certainly want to give Wilmot a look.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics – Published by En Masse Entertainment (Late 2019 – PC/Mac, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
I am a huge fan of The Dark Crystal, and like many fans of the movie, I was super excited to learn of the new prequel show on Netflix. I was even more excited when I was given an opportunity to sit down and play the new game developed by BonusXP based on said show!
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics is a turn-based tactics game that will play very familiar for gamers who enjoy these types of games (which I do). The added bonus of being deeply entwined with The Dark Crystal, easily shot this game to my favorite tactics game in just the few minutes I got to play. The play is smooth, the controls are intuitive (I got to play on both PC and Switch and they both worked very well), and the movement and character details are right out of the show and film. I also got a small taste of the way you can customize each of the character types and build your team so there are limitless ways to play and win the game meaning you can play over and over again, enjoying your time leading the Gelflings through Thra.
Marvel’s: Avengers – Published by Square Enix (May 2020 – PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC)
If you like video games and you like The Avengers, then getting this game is a complete no-brainer. Crystal Dynamics has taken the team we all love, created an entirely new story and world for them, and completely immersed gameplayers with a game that we will likely be playing for the rest of our lives.
In just the demo, I got to play all five of the original Avengers and every character has a full set of unique powers and abilities that really give you a feel for the character. On top of that, every character has multiple ability trees, gear power ups, and cosmetic unlocks that give you the ability to fine tune and change the way you want to play those characters! Add on to that that Square Enix plans to add more characters to the game on a regular basis post launch FOR FREE and the game is endless.
In addition to a full campaign mode and non-campaign boss missions, you also have the ability to play online to complete even harder, optional, missions to unlock rarer gear, and level up your heroes faster. Personally, I’m looking forward to when I can play Ms. Marvel and Moon Knight the most, but until those get released, I’ll happily play The Five.