Well, the annual Penny Arcade Expo (or PAX) has come and gone again in a gamer sweat and cosplay-soaked blur, and now that more and more reviews from it are trickling out, it’s time to take a look back at some of the best games the show had to offer. (FYI, this list was prepared last week but ended up getting bumped; sorry for the delay.) Granted, it probably would have helped if I could have actually afforded to go to PAX this year, but that just triggers a string of forty or so curse words from my mouth concerning my life, so best to sidestep all that, you know.
So while PAX allowed for the general public to finally get their hands on some of the biggest and most impressive next-gen, triple-A titles coming out soon, the real highlights lie within the indie games. The most notable ones this year were HEY HEY HEY GET BACK HERE DANG IT. Yeah, I’m talking to you. You think I didn’t notice your cursor moving away from everything here the second I said “indie games” and towards your bookmark labelled “Manicorn-on-Manicorn Action?” Shame.
Look, I know indie games don’t necessarily pack the same punch or nostalgic thrill as a brand-new Mario title or whatnot, but when the con’s biggest booth is a literal Megabooth consisting of over 80 indie games, you kind of can’t help but at least pay some attention to them. Plus they’re a good source of some of the industry’s most creative titles and a much-needed alternative to the triple-A stuff, as well as possibly holding the key to the next big hit or whatnot (hence why Sony is heavily investing in the indie market). That being said, I’ve naturally considered every possible game I could from all walks, so let’s start this showcase of digital sensations already, shall we?
10. Dying Light
Okay, so maybe after giving a bit of a speech about how events like PAX can help showcase indie games that can give the gaming world a much-needed dose of creativity, starting with a triple-A zombie game wasn’t that smart of a move. Let alone a zombie game from the dev team behind Dead Island, a zombie game which was either pretty good or a total apocalyptic letdown of suck that didn’t live up to that kickass trailer. But that being said, I still see more than a few glimmers of hope in Dying Light, largely due to the game’s dual nature, offering up some potential to inject a little life into the undead. By day, the game is a first person free runner a la Mirror’s Edge, allowing you to either use your parkour skills to skillfully evade zombies while blowing raspberries at them, or just run past them while bashing their few remain teeth out with a bat at 20 miles per hour.
By night, though, your corpsy friends take a Dead Rising turn into being more aggressive zombies, except in this case they basically go into full-on Predator mode and are more than ready to hunt down your tasty flesh, at which point the game flicks on the stealth elements as you try to find an area where you can safely curl up into a fetal position. Basically, it just looks like an intense and fun experience that looks to live up to both halves of “survival horror”, something that’s been lacking from the genre for quite some time now (lookin’ at you, Resident Evil 6 and Dead Space 3).
Maybe these are just my own crazed experiences with my imagination kicking in, but have you ever stared at a bunch of charts and graphs on some office work, either as a kid or an extremely bored adult, and imagined it as a bunch of jutting mountains, a set of skyscrapers or such, and maybe even imagined a little person (more than likely the one who tells you to burn things) traversing them? Well, apparently Digital Dreams have, because Metrico is a Vita platformer where the entire world is made out of infographics. Infographics based entirely on what actions you perform, mind you, meaning that the scenery and obstacles will alter themselves based on how much time you’re taking, how many jumps you’ve taken, how often you’ve died, how many times you’ve cursed while trying to solve a puzzle, etc.
It’s a surreal little charmer where you have to help a businessman navigate a wide variety of Braid-like puzzles concerning office work that you’ll undoubtedly end up playing in order to avoid having to do office work. This seems bizarrely appropriate, clever and fun, so here’s hoping for the best.
8. Samurai Gunn
Sadly, this is a game that has nothing to do with writers of cult horror films, private eyes with kickass theme songs, or blaxploitation heroes played by NFL stars. Nope, instead it just involves boring ol’ samurai having epic kung fu film-style showdowns. *sigh* Oh well.
Dreamed into existence thanks to an unwitting assist by Tommy Wiseau (no, really), Samurai Gunn is an 8-bit styled arena brawler where the goal is to get eleven kills before your opponent. You all have a sword, you all have a gun with three bullets, you all have the ability to pull off countless acrobatics, and if anybody takes one hit, they die. Needless to say, fun times ensue.
Basically, imagine the old PS1 fighter Bushido Blade if it increased the number of players, had larger, more intricate and diverse arena, and had just washed down an entire box of Cocoa Puffs with a six-pack of Jolt and boom, you have the recipe for what is certain to be one damn good party game. Throw in several great touches that fit the film-like aesthetics perfectly (the quick pauses and flashes to black-bordered highlights of each kill are a particularly good touch), and needless to say, this is one to look out for. Still, the inclusion of Jim Brown would’ve helped as well…
7. Galak-Z: The Dimensional
Last seen on TR as the runner-up for Best Name Ever at E3, Galak-Z aims to be one gigantic homage to ’80s anime, from the hand-drawn graphics to the battles against giant mechs to the wide-eyed protagonist to the commercial bumpers for loading screens to…well, you get the idea. Chronicling the tales of the talkative A-Tak, one of the last human survivors of an epic space war, it has you battling a motley crew of warmongering aliens and space pirates in what can best be described as an open-world Asteroids. Only incredibly more complex, challenging, detailed, and okay, maybe just using Asteroids wasn’t the best comparison.
Then again, a juiced-up ’80s arcade game for a juiced-up ’80s anime does seem like quite a match, though you should all be wary that no matter how good you thought you were at blowing apart floating rocks, a fleet of missile-launching murderous aliens followed by a giant Megatron-style gun may prove to be a tad more challenging for you. If this year’s Skulls of the Shogun proved that 17-Bit can handle an East-meets-West mashup of styles quite well, then hopefully Galak-Z should prove to be a roaring success worth breaking out the sugary Saturday morning cereals for.
6. Shadow Warrior
Remember 1997? The period when Duke Nukem was king, shooters were fun, frenetic, vibrant, over-the-top and funny, and even just stringing together the words “realistic military shooter” would’ve gotten you laughed out of the room? Good times. And thankfully, the people behind such old-school shooter throwbacks as Painkiller and Hard Reset have decided to resurrect one of the kings (well, princes, maybe) of that era, Shadow Warrior, in a reboot whose main goal is to develop the ability to say “This is what Duke Nukem Forever should’ve been, dammit.”
And thankfully, it looks like they’re well on their way to achieving that goal. Where the game is still pretty much a reboot, the main character (Lo Wang), the humor, and the setting are still intact, as is most important, the original’s old-school balls-to-the-wall shooty killy fun time mayhem. Well, they did add better graphics and even more instruments of mayhem to work with, mind you, including demon hearts that make your enemies implode and several katana skills highlighting some vastly improved first-person melee combat, so consider those the cherries on top. The tasty, bloody, soaked-in-the-essence-of-cheesy-kung-fu cherries.
Between Dishonored, Hitman: Absolution, Splinter Cell: Blacklist and more, I’d say we’re pretty good for stealth games lately. But all of those games tend to emphasize stealth kills and action, so what about just some good ol’ corporate espionage? Well, in comes Incognita to fill that niche, with one simple goal: Get information and get out (technically two goals, but whatever). Mind you, the developers have decided to make a little more complex than the ol’ duck behind cover, wait for the guard to turn his back on his set path, then slink past him strategy. Nope, instead Incognita takes the form of a top-down isometric XCOM-styled turn-based game, so you’re going to have to apply some strategy to your every move here.
Hack computers, use tranquilizer guns, crack safes, maybe even just barge in and shoot the guard after all, until you realize that just triggered three more guards. Smooth move. Yes, you might think that the idea of a turn-based stealth game sounds rather odd, but it still sounds definitely interesting, to say the least. Plus, Klei Entertainment’s recent track record includes the Shank games, Don’t Starve, and the critical stealth darling Mark of the Ninja, so I’d say the concept is more than in good hands here.
4. PixelJunk Inc.
PixelJunk Inc. is a game about having robots make soup on the moon, because if the Japanese can have rabbits up there making their snack treats, why can’t we get a piece of some similar action? Now, assuming you still haven’t finished going “whaaaaa??” over the initial concept, you might be asking what the actual gameplay consists of. Well, hopefully a sandbox/simulation/tower defense hybrid sounds like a good answer for you, and hopefully a fun one as well. The meat of PixelJunk Inc. takes a bit fo the Terraria route, with a fully digable 2D world which you’ll look through to gain the materials needed to run your facilities, as well as letting you potentially uncover alien lifeforms who are apparently jealous of your mad soup-making skillz and will therefore attempt to ruin your operation.
So now you have to balance both building and running gigantic factories that rocket your chicken noodley goodness back to earth, and defending it all from soup-hating E.T.s, either by building various killing machines or doing the job yourself. All while surrounded by some incredibly unique and vibrant aesthetics that are a staple of the PixelJunk series. It’s a weird little trip, yes, but one that looks damn enjoyable all around. Plus, someone’s got to show those damn Campbell Kids who’s boss…
3. Fables: The Wolf Among Us
So let’s say you’re Telltale, the company behind one of last year’s most award-winning games, The Walking Dead, a character and dialogue-driven adventure game full of moral dilemma based upon an immensely popular comic book for mature readers. What do you next? Well, how about all of that again, but this time with a different comic book as the basis! Joking aside, Fables: The Wolf Among Us looks to use the same core gameplay that made The Walking Dead such a huge success, but this time making sure to expand upon it as well.
That means more intense combat situations, more complex relationships and dialogue options, and more cel-shaded graphics that make everything resemble a living comic book even further, all wrapped up in a noir adventure perfectly suited for Bigby Wolf and the other residents of the Bronx neighborhood known as Fabletown. Only time will tell if Fables can match the metric ton of acclaim bestowed upon its predecessor, but I’d say it’s definitely shaping up to be damn good no matter what. And yes, you will be able to transform into a wolf on certain occasions, but the number of potential maulings is still unknown.
2. Shovel Knight
If there’s one subgenre I have a particular fondness for, it’s early ’90s NES games; the ones made during the console’s twilight years that really knew how to push everything to the max and get the most enjoyment out of it. So it kind of goes without saying that as a giagantic tribute to those glory days, Shovel Knight is a game I am all over like the molten orange plastic covering one’s movie nachos. The objective of the game is simple: You are Shovel Knight, a knight armed with a shovel (go figure), and you are on a quest to defeat the evil enchantress and save your beloved.
Not exactly the most complex, but what it lacks in story it more than makes up in presentation, be it the absolutely gorgeous sprites and scenery, the killer boss and enemy design, and all the terrific old-school touches right down the DuckTales-style pogo move. While not much new was revealed at PAX Prime this year, every moment of this game is still enough to get me excited all over (plus they were showing off a few things on the Wii U version), and you need to definitely check it out. And now I’ll stop before I make a lame pun about “digging it” (damn).
1. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
Given my largely vocal support of new IPs and more creativity in gaming, does it feel wrong to offer the number one spot here to a sequel that essentially initially started out as an expansion to the original game? Well, given that the same scenario applies to Saints Row IV and the fact that I loved the hell out of that game, why not, I’ll say hell no. Of course, it helps that the original Hotline Miami was one of may Game of the Year candidates for 2012, a top-down, visceral, neon-soaked action game that lit up all the right buttons.
Hotline Miami 2 so far appears to offer exactly what a sequel should: Original – Flaws + More Kickassery. In this case, the kickassery is represented by a stronger emphasis on story, expanding upon the game’s alternate 1980s universe and giving you multiple characters to play as. And of course, having more weapons, powers and all-new music to add to the series’ line-up of already impressive ’80s-style synth tunes. The developers have said that Hotline Miami 2 is intended to be the final game in a sadly short saga, but oh, what a bloody and beautiful bang it appears to be going out with…
Honorable Mention: Mighty No. 9
It would pretty much be a crime for me to not mention what was possibly PAX’s biggest story this year, that being Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune’s announcement of “Fuck you Capcom, I’m just going to make my own Mega Man game,” Mighty No. 9. Yes, you can argue that this pretty much looks like the gaming equivalent of “I’m not touching you, you can’t do anything”, but I say screw it. This is the man behind my childhood hero, the man behind Mega Man 3, a.k.a. my own personal Greatest Freaking Game of All Time, and the man behind a bunch of really damn good games in general. He has pretty much earned the right to do whatever he wants in my eyes, and no matter how you see Mighty No. 9, it still looks like a gorgeous and terrific action game in the works that’s a truly, truly worthy entry into the MM legacy.
Granted, I couldn’t put Mighty No. 9 onto the main list since it wasn’t playable, had no footage, and only kind of just began devlopment thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that you should totally support, dammit. But since I just love this so damn much, since this was a truly big event, since I have a lot of confidence in this and since I know people who will bash my legs in if I don’t include it somehow, I had to let it in. Seriously, 2015 can’t get here fast enough.
But before we go, let’s give a few more sentenced to some other Honorable Mentions, just because we can…
Broken Age: Oh, I wish I could rave about the god Tim Schafer’s latest adventure here, but I limited this list to playable games. But we did learn that Jack Black would be popping up in it, so that’s a thing, right?
Nekro: Cartoony Diablo-esque adventures where you control a necromancer spawning twisted abominations and creatures from beyond this earthly realm? Can’t go wrong with that!
Life Goes On: Because sending countless knights to sacrifice themselves in horribly painful ways just so can get a grail sounds like a happy experience indeed.
Loadout: An MMO shooter emphasizing weapon customization over hat customization? Hell yes I’m in (until the first DLC hat shows up).
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse: I have no idea when the Shantae games evolved into these must-play cult platformers (with a full next-gen console game already in development with Kickstarter), but seeing this beauty in action sure makes me glad it happened.
Fantasia: Music Evolved: I think I’m legally required to mention this game, or else Luke’s boss will bash my legs in as well. Still, looks pretty sweet. Plus, now it has Vivaldi!
…I could go on (and will, and have), but you can probably just view more sweet games at the Indie Megabooth lineup here. And yes, odds are I’ve omitted some other notable titles – in fact, I pretty much know I’ve omitted some other notable titles – so feel free to mentions any other highlights you may have seen from PAX 2013 in the comments. Better yet, if you were actually at PAX, feel free to share any stories, opinions, or pictures as well! Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find the best way to sell organs so I can save up for a trip to it next year…I wonder how much a good spleen can go for…
Previously by Kyle LeClair