A warm return to the Cold War.
Yee; and if I may be so bold, haw! PAX South has wrapped up and I’m back to report on thirteen of the coolest games that were on the show floor. Here’s a hefty Texas-sized list of amazing, new stuff from good folks:
Katana Zero (Askiisoft) – Release Date: March 2019
Everything I’ve played of Katana Zero proves that it is the full package: good looks, feels fast, exciting story hooks, and a strong sense of pacing. It’s a treat to touch and people have rightly considered it akin to John Wick. In Katana Zero you play as a modern-day samurai who deflects bullets and dodges lasers in the pursuit of justice. Between missions, there are scenes where your main character meets with his therapist, as even samurai hitmen need to take time to unpack with a professional, and that is awesome! When I spoke briefly with programmer Justin Stander, he said that he wanted a chance to normalize therapy within all of the Keanu Reeves-esque action heroics.
Splitgate: Arena Warfare (1047 Games) – Release Date: Q2 2019
It’s Halo plus Portal. That’s it. It is literally battle rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, etc plus a button that makes a portal. As I watched teams competing in the PAX Arena I was surprised by how tactical the performance was, as placing portals on any walls allowed for easy flanking. I was especially excited by the idea that you can go through an enemy’s portal, but you aren’t allowed to see what is on the other side, so you can catch a player unaware… unless they’ve set a trap up on the other side for you! I just wish the aesthetic was a little more inspired and didn’t remind me of how much of a flop Monday Night Combat was.
World of Horror (panstas) – Release Date: Time Is Irrelevant But The Year of Y̺o̹̰u̹r̝̭͉̫ L̹̪o̝̖̘̲͇͙ͅr͙̻̝͇d̯̞, 2019 Will Find Hearth For Horror (sooN…)
“Cosmic Horror inspired by Junji Ito and set in Japan” is probably enough of a sell for most people. Maybe the 1-bit picture of an AE-86 drifting down the switchbacks of a valley outside Tokyo is enough. But this stylish rogue-like text adventure with a tight 30-minute episodic structure was thoroughly satisfying as a short demo and promised even more in the long run! As someone who horror doesn’t do much for, I really enjoyed failing to solve the esoteric mystery, because afterwards I knew exactly where I screwed up in ritual summoning the scissors girl, and why she turned into an interdimensional tearing cthuloid monster.
Freedom Planet 2 (GalaxyTrail Games) – Release Date: Late Q1/Early Q2
Freedom Planet surprised everyone who played it when it came out in 2014 as it was everything people remember Sega Genesis games as in their mind’s eye. After getting my hands on FP2, I’m proud to report Lilac is Back and the sequel is even more incredible than the first! There are many characters to choose from that each navigate the platforming levels in novel and fluid ways, and the story takes twists and turns depending on who’s story you follow. We’re always taken by surprise by Freedom Planet because it always pushes beyond our expectations which we always set high, but then they go beyond that! It’s amazing seeing how Freedom Planet 2 has managed to carve an identity all its own that will, in turn, undoubtedly inspire a new generation of artists, speedrunners, designers, and musicians.
Dicey Dungeons (Terry Cavanagh & Marlowe Dobbe) – Release Date: Mid-2019
Terry & Marlowe are no strangers to procedural generation, but what is interesting is that unlike their previous work, they have combined their styles to make something light and whimsical! Dicey Dungeons is a rogue-lite game where you play as a six-sided dice imbued with the power of your own chosen fantasy class like wizard, rogue, or warrior. Then you roll dice to defeat enemies based on equipment and abilities you gain with experience. It is very similar to Seattle’s very own Slay The Spire, except it feels colorful and spunky and much more approachable for kids, even though right underneath the surface is obviously a masterfully-designed power-ramp, but don’t tell the kids that!
Hypnospace Outlaw (Jay Tholen) – Release Date: It Literally Could Be Tomorrow, This Baby’s Gonna Pop Any Day Now.
If you remember the cult hit Dropsy, then you’ll know exactly what you are getting into here. This was the heaviest display on the show floor because it was being shown on a fifty-inch CRT. I don’t know how they even got that there, that’s gotta be a helluva story to ask Jay or Mike Rose about. Anyways, it’s 1999 which means you have a career that pays you and the internet has not been ruined by corporations yet. Your job is to explore the net and bring criminals to justice for IP theft and other such crimes of the mind. This game is thoroughly impressive and even has its own file system architecture as if you are inside a computer, I’m excited to get to play it whenever it decides to apparate into our subconsciousness. This is the only time it is okay to be a cop.
The Liar Princess & The Blind Prince (Nippon Ichi Software) – Release Date: Feb. 12th
Whenever you transform from being a large monstrous wolf back into being a princess, there are two or three frames where you set your crown back centered on your head. You get to hold hands with a prince, transform into a wolf, and pick flowers. IT IS CUTE. SO DAMN CUTE. It may not be for everyone because it isn’t necessarily a challenging puzzle-platformer, but it is a simple and beautifully drawn storybook that you can adventure through. The lovely demo people had to kick me off because the demo was just the full game and after two full levels I really didn’t want to stop. TLP&TBP is a fine addition to a Switch library, especially as a gift to a significant other <3
Wilmot’s Warehouse (Hollow Ponds & Finji Co.) – Release Date: When It’s Good & Ready. (Soon)
You can go play an early version of this right now on Humble. This is for those who like to organize spaces, because it is a warehouse inventory simulator. Imagine Overcooked but combined with the best part of working retail: stocking. You get orders and then you wander your warehouse fulfilling orders as quickly as possible, but everything is exactly where you put it, so if you organize hats and socks together, they’ll be there. If you put all the purple objects in a group, then you can go to your purple aisle! I was fully engrossed with the core mechanics and then after a few levels I found out there was an enhancement system where I can carry more efficiently and now I’m hooked! I hope they take their time to finish the game, maybe add some multiplayer, and get Finji to advertise it a bunch because it is a delightfully soft and warm game.
Don’t Give Up: A Cynical Tale (Tristan Barona) – Release Date: Sept. 20th
This is a funky and personal RPG that works on multiple levels, even the title is obviously a mantra the developer Tristan Barona uses to push through the day. Don’t Give Up was inspired by lived experiences and a love of games, when I spoke to Tristan he said he doesn’t want DGU to be based off of any one game, and I respect that, because this is what life looks like. It’s a little messy, sometimes it is critical of little things or overly-excited, but it clearly strives for fun and it’s a joy to beat up pizza bullies on the big d-pad dance zone that you do combat in. I like that the protagonist isn’t a kid in this case, but actually an adult still trying to understand what that all means- which uhh… relatable!
Mage Quit (Bowlcut Studios) – Release Date: Probably Mid-2019, in Early Access
Now this is Wizard Dueling. This is a competitive game for up to TEN players and you’re all wizards in a death basket. You start with one elemental attack and work your way through round-robin, picking abilities with your competitors until you have a full kit of offensive, defensive, and ultimate abilities. After you pick an ability, the next round of combat starts, followed by another round of picking new spells. When I played, I had a major come-back as I was in last place for all ten rounds of combat until the final round when I swept the competition because I finally understood how to use the kit I’d built. It’s kinda like if Magicka was built to be competitive with cooldowns like Overwatch, but you also have full control to build whatever type of wizard you’d like (offense, defense, utility, etc) and you can morph that style throughout the gauntlet of ten rounds based on how your opponents build their wizards.
ULTRABUGS (Vlambeer) – Release Date: Just Announced sooo… Some day!
I’m really glad the Vlambeer crew is showing ULTRABUGS because it’s impressive and also in a reeeeally early state. It’s top-down twin-stick shooter just like Nuclear Throne, but in space where there are no walls. You pick a character with a giant laser gun and then, as you defeat waves of BUGS, the laser gun gets gianter! It definitely reminded me of Assault Android Cactus, one of my favorite games ever, so that’s a huge plus buuut that’s about it~ we’ll see more soon, I hope, as this demo was super bare-bones, but it’s nice to get that Vlambeer update and to know they’re still out there hustling.
Eagle Island (Pixelnicks) – Release Date: Feb, 2019
Did you think I’d make an entire list of indie games and not have a single Metroidvania coming out soon?? I want you to meet Quill and his pet owl Koji. They are cute. And just like Jeff Bridges, they hate The fuckin’ Eagles, man. Koji and Quill are teaming up to save Koji’s birdwife from a giant eagle, and they are going to power-up by finding rare treasures inside of the jungle ruins in order to rescue her. The hook is, when you throw Koji at enemies you stop still in the air for a moment while you decide precisely what direction to toss your attack in. It’s a lot of control right off the bat compared to most deadly platformer games! With its design specifically set up for speedrunning and highly technical play, I got really excited that Eagle Island will be coming out in less than a month!
Arcade Spirits (Fiction Factory Games) – Release Date: Feb 12th
It would be unconscionable to talk about indie games trying new things and not make mention of what is happening in the visual novel scene! Arcade Spirits is a game whose style lampshades its smart design. The setting is this vibrant 80s arcade pastiche brought to the modern day, but that’s actually a vehicle for bringing identifiable gamer-archetypes into a retail space, where characters can relate to eachother over mundane things like aggressive customers and cleaning up after children. The architecture of the character routing is built up over simple decisions that flesh out your character’s personality matrix over time and then other characters react accordingly to your personality. I know the elevator pitch looks all flashy and sexy, but what excites me even more is how the meta-structure and core design decisions set Arcade Spirits up to build a dense narrative, compared to its many “kindness coin” contemporaries. Also, Queenbee and Percy are hot and gonna kick my ass. I was a fan of the writer’s purrrrevious work on Space Cat Boyfriend and so to see Aenne Schumann connecting with Stefan Gagne, the prodigious designer of HeX coda (Neverwinter Nights), on a production of this scale is validating! It’s out real heckin soon!
And that’s all of them! Hopefully in this list there was a little something for everyone, because I sure felt a lot of diversity on the show floor when perusing all of these games! I’m excited for this year’s upcoming wave of games, and PAX South was an especially amazing space to get to experience them all in as it gave me direct connection to loads of incredibly talented developers. I’d love to go again next year, and hopefully I’ll see your beautiful faces there as well! <3