With Riot Games’ massive production at PAX East in the last few years fresh in my mind, I was absolutely shocked when I heard that they would be a no-show at PAX East 2015. Despite my initial disappointment, I’m actually incredibly grateful for their absence. My last two years at PAX East (which were my first two years in attendance) consisted primarily of me hanging around the Riot booth, due in part to their grandiose and star-studded events and in part to my (at the time) serious addiction to League of Legends. This year, however, I was able to spend my weekend much more productively: I spent almost the entire time trying out new indie games. And with everything from a turn-based gardening game (Hexarden) to an IKEA-style furniture building simulator (Home Improvisation) to a VR Time Machine, there was a lot more to discover in the Indie Showcase than anticipated. Here are some of my favorites.
Wander is one of the first games I checked out this year, and I’m actually afraid to download it because I’m afraid I’ll spend all of my time in this universe. Available on Steam and PS4, Wander presents a breathtaking world of nature and exploration. This online multiplayer game is non-combative and low stress, with a focus on “collaborative exploration and beauty.” Players begin the narrative-centric game as a giant tree, and as they explore the rainforest, they discover that everyone is a shapeshifter and has the opportunity to transform into a plethora of other characters. Soaring through the sky as a griffin or underwater as an azertash are just two possibilities in this stunning world of shapeshifters.
A non-combative MMO is a striking concept for me, and the gorgeous scenery, immersive sound design, and the rich cultures presented in the narrative make the follow through on this one incredibly promising.
I have been a giant fan of Boston-based Tenwall Creatives since I first heard about their high-difficulty platformer BLEAK at PAX East three years ago, and they brought a new surprise to PAX this year: Discoverous. While still incredibly early in production, I can’t wait to see where Tenwall goes with this game. Before I sat down to play the demo, the game was described to me as a combination of elements from Myst, Gone Home, and Starship Titanic: it is a mysterious exploration game with plenty of puzzles and quirky humor. While the demo only featured one room — presumably the very beginning of the plot — I was hooked on the story already. If my experience following the production and development of BLEAK means anything, this is a game you should keep your eyes on.
10. Lost Orbit
Speaking of difficult games, I’m pretty sure Lost Orbit is just a game about dying. Okay, look, I know it’s about space exploration and survival, but all I did while playing it was die. Repeatedly. There was a lot of blood. And frustration. And… I had so much fun. Using just gravitational force to drift through the galaxy (hence the dying; the controls were quite slippery), players have to dodge meteors and navigate through a beautiful but perilous landscape in an attempt to get stranded spaceman Harrison back home. This highly technical and moderately frustrating game by Pixelnauts is set to hit Steam and PS4 later this year.
9. Slash Dash
One of my favorite things about indie games is the variety you can find in the art styles. The standout in visuals at PAX this year was Slash Dash, a couch co-op ninja game with unbelievable graphic design. Slash Dash feels a lot like capture the flag, but it’s obviously better, because you get to be a ninja. Slashing, dashing, and teleporting across the variety of aesthetically pleasing stages is easy to pick up but still fosters intense competition, making this a great party and family game. Slash Dash is currently in production by Nevernaut Games, and will be released this year exclusively for XBox One.
Picture The Binding of Isaac. Picture Diablo. Now take the best parts of those games, smash them together, and throw in some fauns and satyrs: that’s Blackfaun. With random procedurally-generated levels and over 50 unique enemies, each playthrough of Blackfaun will be different. Developers at Wild Guess Software intended to make players focus on their play skill and each individual run, as opposed to grinding through levels on a linear game. The replayability of this game makes it stand out to me: each run will provide a unique snapshot of experience in this immersive world.
Wild Guess Software hopes to release this ARPG by the end of 2015, and it is currently on Steam Greenlight and available for preorder.
I’m a gamer, a writer, an artist; I am many things. But while I am all of these things, I can’t deny that I am also a teenaged girl. Naturally, then, when confronted by a cast of absolutely adorable space bunnies, I am reduced to a puddle of goo. Thus, Holobunnies has captured my attention. The Holobunnies are a family of hologram bunnies exploring the universe in search of a new home in this side-scrolling 2D platformer, being brought to life by Q-Bit Games and Sleepy Sheepy. Each of the five bunnies is a unique character with different qualities and skills, and while exploring the eerie and dangerous depths of space, they’re still all incredibly cute.
Holobunnies is on Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight, and is looking towards an early 2016 release.
6. Social Justice Warriors
We all know them: the trolls, those aggravating instigators that lurk in the comment section, and the social justice warriors, those overzealous activists who take a good cause just a little too far. And we all know the war for the internet that is being waged between them. Social Justice Warriors, a satirical pixel-art role playing strategy game, takes this figurative war and makes it real. You play as a social justice warrior: a cleric, a mage, a paladin, or a rogue, to battle trolls for reputation and sanity. The game has a heavy dose of humor, but presents a powerful message about labels and web-based interaction. The gameplay is surprisingly intense for such a social-criticism-driven game, and is an incredibly unique breath of fresh air.
Social Justice Warriors is available on Steam and the Humble Store.
If you’ve ever been to Montreal, you’ll know that there’s not a whole lot of guns up there. But what is there a lot of? Bikes. Therefore, seven years after the dawn of a zombie apocalypse, the remaining residents of Montreal have armed themselves with weapons made of bike parts. Welcome to Z’isle: an action packed story of survival set in this world of innovation. Z’isle already exists as a comic (one that I am soon to be a devout follower of), and the creators are beginning production for a game. Z’isle’s “cyclepunk” booth with Up North Indies at PAX was certainly attention-grabbing: the artist was there in full cosplay, complete with a bike-bow, and a contest for turning fans into NPCs was a great introduction to what seems like it is a great fan community.
Super Smash Bros. is a series that has ignited the gaming communities love of competitive brawlers. Brawlhalla takes that magic and brings it to PC, presenting players with an innovative 2D platform brawler. The controls are smooth, the items are unique, the characters are fresh, and the plot is lighthearted. Combining the fervent competition of online PC gaming with the all out mayhem and crowd-pleasing fun of brawlers, Brawlhalla is likely to be a hit.
Brawlhalla is available on Steam Early Access, and is currently in a free, closed beta. You can sign up for a beta code on their website, but if you can’t wait to get in and play, I have a few extra beta keys from PAX. Find me on the internet somewhere and I will send one your way.
3. Guild of Dungeoneering
Guild of Dungeoneering takes everything you thought you knew about dungeon crawlers and turns it on its head. Here, instead of taking on the role of the lost adventurer, you take on the role of the dungeon master: you place the loot, set the scene, even decide where the enemies will hide. The only thing you don’t control? Where the dungeoneer decides to go. Driven primarily by his desire for treasure, he will traverse the rooms you lay out and battle the monsters using attacks that you dictate. All options are presented as cards from a deck, and the art has this great pen-and-paper style to it, making this game a fantastic intersection between tabletop RPGs and turn-based video games. I have truly never seen or played anything quite like it.
This game will be available on Steam mid-2015, with a tablet release to follow.
If you follow my writing at all, you’ll know that one thing I can’t resist is a strong heroine. And a heroine brought to life with hand-drawn animation in a Legend of Zelda- and Shadow of the Colossus-inspired action adventure game? I’m sold. Setting that game in Norse mythology with a story that follows our heroine on her journey to impress the gods after an inglorious death, and I’m literally throwing my money at a game and counting down the days until its release. That’s how I feel about Jotun, the highly anticipated title from Quebec’s Thunder Lotus Games. While I myself did not attempt to impress the gods at PAX, I did watch two of my compatriots play through the demo, and I was thoroughly blown away by the game. It looked challenging (I’m not saying one of my friends failed miserably, but he certainly did not impress the gods) and the art is breathtaking. Jotun looks like it will be bringing a completely immersive experience to the table: big name developer quality, but with the flavor and originality of an indie game.
Jotun will be available on Steam this fall.
While I have been an avid video gamer all my life, I had not become involved with tabletop gaming until this past fall. Because board games are not quite my area of expertise, I surprised myself in finding that my number one standout game at PAX this year was, in fact, a board game. My friends and I made our way to Dragoon late on Sunday; we played it right up until the expo hall closed. Maybe it sticks out in my memory just because it was the last thing I did, or maybe it was the well-crafted metal game pieces, the innovative use of sound technology, the amazing, evocative art style, or the dragons. Dragoon is a strategy-heavy, unapologetically competitive board game with a distinct feel. Heavy on the craftsmanship, Dragoon features a cloth game board, illustrative art design, and pewter game pieces, as well as a complex system of gameplay for two to four players. This is no Chutes and Ladders; this is a gamer’s board game.
Dragoon will be available this coming winter, and is currently on Kickstarter. While the initial kickstarter goal has been met, backers can still order the game and become eligible for some seriously amazing stretch goal rewards.