The best games at PAX aren't the AAAs, but the indie labours of love from the PAX Rising exhibit.
It’s kind of hard to imagine what life was like before PAX, a now annual pilgrimage for all facets of the local industry to meet up, have overdue face to face chats and, of course, play a ton of fantastic games. From the very first convention back in 2013, with its limited floor space, covered walkways and freezing cold weather, one of the best parts of the show was checking out what Australia’s phenomenal indie scene was up to.
From a handful of contenders then to a whopping 70 plus in the now named “PAX Rising” section in 2017, it took me two days just to get time to play through them all after fighting the hordes of people avoiding the AAA stalls to check out the arguably more interesting and creative work down the end of the hall. Out of the plethora of brilliant titles, I picked my favourite five to feature – although its important to note that dozens of other titles are going to be on my radar for the next couple of years.
Hand of Fate 2
I must make a confession: I never played the original Hand of Fate. Whether I was put off by the cards (quite a lot of card games overwhelmed me back then) or it flew under my radar. I feel awful about this, especially due to the fact I have known the developers, Defiant Dev, for a long time, and that they are fellow Queenslanders and my native parochial sense means I want them to succeed. Thankfully, quite a lot of people did play the original, so they made a second one. It also won ADFA Game of The Year.
Hand of Fate has you at the mercy of “The Dealer”, a shift looking tarot sort of bloke who, you know, controls your path forward as you attempt to complete a series of quests. Several cards sit on a table, and you move across them, choosing both the cards you land on, the dialogue and scenarios paths on offer, and a few other random choices. This means when you eventually find yourself in a combat situation, all your weapons, armour, buffs and so forth have been determined by the cards.
I genuinely loved this because while many other roguelike style adventures mix things up with RNG, this system means that I have very limited control over my success, outside blind luck and skill. It also means my choices have significantly more clout over the long term as they stack throughout your general progress. Everything looks great and ran silky smooth, which is good considering it hits Steam on November 7th. Look out for our review.
Are you a fan of Earthbound? Great. How about waiting in lines? Perfect. Have I got the game for you.
Knuckle Sandwich is the kind of quirky, clever, beautiful and silly game that I love seeing at events like PAX. This beautiful tribute to the 16-bit glory days has everything I want in a top-down isometric RPG, from great art to clever combat, manual labour based minigames to making fun of silly tropes that we all know and love. I even did some dance, dance revolution during my demo playthrough, all the while I attempted to solve a mystery. Beautiful.
You can take a gander at the game in progress here.
Sinner caught my eye based entirely on its utterly gorgeous artwork. As I walked past the stall, the developers had cleverly set up the game on some enormous screens, inviting players to take on one of the eight significant boss fights the final game will offer. There are some obvious nods to games like Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Shadow of the Colossus here, with combat that likely requires quite a bit of rote learning and a hell of a lot of death. The game, interestingly, features a level down system, which forces players to sacrifice a stat before they enter battle.
It was hard. I’m very bad at Souls games and it showed here – I was far too eager to take greedy shots at each boss as I learned the patterns and was rewarded with so much death that the developer mercifully offered to end my playthrough before I destroyed their controller. But man, it was gorgeous – seems like it will be a winner on Twitch and for the masochists who love murdering their psyches.
Sinner hopes to hit Steam next year.
I would have loved to be inside the original meeting at Robot House, developers of Rumu, when they originally pitched the idea of a sentient automatic vacuum cleaner protagonist. In hindsight, it's genius, especially as it's wrapped into a very cool plotline involving a Cortana-style home AI that orders little Rumu around, completing tasks that may or may not involve him hacking into his owners’ personal information.
It’s also beautiful, full of soft shaders, crispy edges and a very cool soundtrack that likely deserves its own OST. Leading your little Roomba around is done via a top-down, point and click system, as you snake in between the various floors and guts of this futuristic smart home. What I played was short and sweet, leaving me itching to play more.
Rumu is destined for a Late 2017 release.
Spearbound captivated me by being the game I genuinely couldn’t stop playing once I started. Following on the visual crack that is 16-bit, something I will never be able to shake, Spearbound follows its unnamed female protagonist on her quest to stop the world from facing the darkness. As a sidescrolling platformer, it’s perfectly fast and fluid – littered with great little details and fantastic animations.
I just want more. That’s all there is to say.