PAX West 2017 had tons of great games on display, but the indies in particular were abundant and especially interesting this year -- so we've put together this list of some of the most unique and standout titles among the independent crowd for you to consider checking out in the future.
We can't promise you that all of these games are great, but they're all definitely good, and they're definitely interesting. Enough stalling...let's see what these independent endeavors have to offer!
Monster Prom (PC)
Okay, stop me if you've heard this one before: Monster Prom is a competitive dating-sim party game about trying to be popular in a monster high school so that you can take one of the cool ghouls to prom. No? You've never heard that one before? Yeah, me neither.
It's a refreshing take on both party games and dating-sims, using its gameplay to tell jokes and start conversations among the players, as well as tell a variety of small character-stories with it's diverse and highly likable cast of characters. Every round is constantly throwing jokes and surprises at you with barely a minute to breathe, and the art speaks as many volumes about the characters as the writing does.
The core mechanics take some inspiration from tabletop gaming -- likw the stats doled out at the beginning and gained through decisions in conversations, as well as the frequent occasions where the players are advised to talk among themselves and create different scenarios in order to advance the game. It's almost like playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons where your DM is a snarky bisexual millennial who's kind of drunk -- and that's a lot of fun.
It's also a game that cleverly avoids the local-play issues of the PC by allowing up to four players to participate while only using one controller. It's a great game to break out with friends and strangers alike -- assuming they can appreciate more than a few raunchy jokes and out-there writing. It had me and everyone who even glanced at the booth while walking by laughing quite a lot.
The game boasts a lot of different scenarios that can occur based on the player's decisions, although I did see some people pick the same options in two different games, so your mileage may vary. The sense of humor may not be for everybody, since it's pretty raunchy and often very sexual -- but if you're interested in that sort of thing, then you're gonna have a great time.
Monster Prom truly feels like a new idea for both dating sims and party games, and by the end of each game you'll want the whole cast to sign your yearbook. The game is currently planned to release some time in October.
Blasters of the Universe (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive)
Blasters of the Universe is the kind of game that had to happen eventually. It takes the frantic twitch-reflexes of a bullet-hell shooter and brings it to first-person virtual reality. This sci-fi shooter that expects you to physically duck, dodge, twist, turn, and just generally keep on your toes and stay alert so that you don't get shot in the side by half-a-dozen floating metal heads.
The demo had me on the floor, shooting sideways and tilting my whole body on several occasions, but it never became overbearing because I was never required to completely turn around. I did constantly have to turn my head left and right in order to keep track of the action and enemy threats -- but by keeping the danger in a rough 180 degree area, it never took me unfairly by surprise.
Though the game will only feature four levels, it will also feature a vast number of weapon combinations as well as a scoreboard, which may help encourage players to replay in a variety of ways and improve their high score. Blasters of the Universe was an intense, enjoyable, and fresh-feeling burst of neon colors and glowing red bullets that I can easily recommend to VR enthusiasts looking for a well-made and immersive action game.
Blasters of the Universe is available now on Steam for VR devices.
Way of the Passive Fist (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Way of the Passive Fist is a twist on the classic beat-em-up genre with a motto of "the best offense is a good defense". Instead of making your way through hordes of enemies by beating them down with punches and kicks, you must instead defend yourself with a series of blocks and parries in order to tire out your enemies, whereupon you can move on.
The gameplay is less of a chaotic violent mishmash like the arcade games that inspired it, and more of a rhythmic combat game with a lot of stress management, pattern memorization, and prioritizing threats in order to effectively take down your murderous opponents. You also level up and gain new abilities as you go along, keeping the gameplay fresh. As a bonus, the variety of customization options for difficulty and playstyle make a low barrier for entry and a high skill ceiling.
The sprite work is also well-executed and neatly captures the look of the overly animated and (often colorfully designed) characters of older arcade beat-em-ups like X-Men and Turtles in Time. The sound design is solid as well, giving every enemy a distinct and bit-crushed grunt, and making sure that all moves are choreographed by sound as well as sight. Last but not least, the pumping music succeeds in making a mostly non-combative situation feel intense.
Way of the Passive Fist is a new take on an old idea that manages to evoke the past while also breaking new ground. It is planned for release on Steam, PS4, and Xbox One in early 2018.
Save Me Mr. Tako: Tasukete Tako-San (PC, Switch)
Save Me Mr. Tako is a kind of homage that should have come along in game form a long time ago. What Shovel Knight is to the NES, and what Freedom Planet is to the Sega Genesis, Save Me Mr. Tako is to the original Game Boy. It's a 2D platformer that takes elements from some of the best and most well-known games on the system and pick-and-mixes them into something fresh yet familiar; celebrating the charm and style of the old days while moving forward with newer, more polished technology.
The game was developed almost single-handedly by one man, Chris Deneos, who has said that he wanted to make something new using elements of all of his favorite games on the Game Boy growing up. Metroid's influence is especially apparent, as Mr. Tako's main weapon temporarily immobilizes enemies and turns them into makeshift platforms, much like the Ice Beam.
While Save Me Mr. Tako isn't the first game to try and imitate the Game Boy style of presentation, it's definitely one of the best attempts I've seen yet. The graphical style, the quality of sprites and color palettes, the simple-yet-expressive animations, the dialogue boxes, the catchy chirping 8-bit music...every bit of it is right on the nose in terms of paying tribute to this beloved period in early handheld gaming.
While the game is inspired by simpler time in gaming, Chris Deneos didn't just leave it at that -- opting for a somewhat darker, more mature story than any Game Boy game really did. Mr. Tako is an octopus who's part of a greater army of octopi that's at war with the humans on the mainland. Deneos wanted to depict both sides as simply doing what they thought was best for their people, and show Mr. Tako as a man caught in the middle of it all after saving a human princess from execution, doing his best to be kind and not hate anyone.
Save Me Mr. Tako is a passion project from Chris Deneos that he's really put his heart into -- and even quit his full-time job to finish. This fun, charming throwback to a more innocent time in gaming with a fresh take is currently planned for release on Nintendo Switch and Steam later this year.
OK K.O! Let's Play Heroes (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Capybara Games/Cartoon Network Games
Cartoon Network Games had a small but still impressive showing at PAX this year that included a preview of the very intriguing OK K.O! Let's Play Heroes from Capybara Games, the studio behind Superbrothers Sword & Sorcery EP and Super Time Force.
The game is based off of the recently premiered Cartoon Network show OK K.O! Let's Be Heroes, which stars the titular KO as he and his friends seek to defend Lakewood Plaza Turbo from evil forces while also running a convenience store and leveling up to become great heroes.
The game is best described as a combination of an adventure game, an action RPG, and a classic arcade beat-em-up. It's equal parts combat against robots and running around the Plaza to talk to people. The fighting feels very satisfying, with plenty of moves that are easy to string into combos and keep you flowing through the battlefield, and there seems to be dozens of cards for the player to unlock and use as assists.
What's especially interesting about this licensed game is that it began development around the same time that the show did. The developers at Capy and the show's creator Ian Jones-Quartey even visited each other's studios many times and spoke on a weekly basis in order to get better insight on the creative process for both sides.
The show itself also shares elements with video games, such as every character having a slowly increasing level and a special move of their own, which made adapting the property into a game a lot less than difficult than it would be for some other properties. This -- alongside the game's quality writing and fantastic character and cutscene animations -- makes the game feel like you're playing through several episodes of the show and not just some failed imitation. The entire main voice cast for the show also lent their voices to the project, so the game really is just a playable version of the show.
OK K.O! Let's Play Heroes is a quality beat-em-up and a passionate licensed game that should be enjoyable for younger and older players, as well as fans on the show and newcomers alike.
Coffence is a game about fencing with cups of coffee. This 1-on-1 fighter has you compete against an opponent to steal their coffee by using yours wisely.
It may not be a graphical powerhouse, but the gameplay is what makes it all worth it. Coffence has quite a lot of different tactics to take advantage of and plenty of opportunities for mind-games. Your cup of coffee is on the end of a piece of elastic string, and you must thrust it in different directions in order to knock coffee out of your opponent's cup, and then steal it out of the air before they can.
You can also swing your cup to block attacks, perform a short-range melee swipe, jump, and move freely around the 2D arena -- or even drink some of your own coffee in order to speed yourself up and slow down your opponent. There are also different types of coffee that have different unique properties, and the characters will have slight differences, like longer reach or shorter stature that protects them from a straightforward attack.
Coffence is a simple, pick-up-and-play fighting game with a unique hook and enough depth to be replayable. It is available now through Early Access on Steam.
The American Dream (PS VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive)
Have you ever heard the saying "guns are as American as apple pie"? Developer Samurai Punk of Melbourne, Australia certainly has, and they're setting out to prove how great guns make America (sarcasm) with The American Dream. It's a satirical shooting-gallery VR game where all the basics of the 1950's "American Dream" lifestyle are handled with guns.
Whether you're feeding your baby, flipping burgers at a greasy spoon diner, putting holes in bagels on a production line, or even driving home from work, you're doing it with the help of your trusty sidearms. The game is set to take place across 20 different stages set in a Norman Rockwell-esque parody of 1950's suburban America, with an ongoing narration from the comedy stylings of "Buddy Washington".
The guns don't have a lot of kick to them, but the actual aiming and reloading of cartridges in midair actually takes some practice and skill, making even the most menial tasks with your guns a lot of fun. The environments are also very reactive and loaded with lots of cracking, snapping, and toppling physics.
The American Dream is a fun and funny experience with sold gun-play that you should keep an eye out for in early 2018. If you want to get a better sense of the kind of tone that Samurai Punk is going for, then you should check out the short "educational film" they've made for the game below. It's just too funny:
If you've been paying attention to the indie-gaming scene for the past three years or so, odds are you've heard of Cuphead. It's been in development hell for years past its expected release -- and for good reason.
The whole game was hand-drawn using traditional animation techniques similar to the cartoons of the 1930's, particularly those of Fleischer Studios and Disney. Because of the amount of work necessary to make this style look and play smoothly, brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer have been working on the game for a total of nearly seven years.
The final package exemplifies their efforts, as Cuphead is one of the most visually detailed and fluidly animated 2D games ever released. From the film-grain filter to the exaggerated facial expressions, from the bright colors to the rubber hose arms and legs, Cuphead looks and plays authentically like Contra adapted into a Merrie Melodies cartoon.
It's a highly difficult, fast-paced run-and-gun shooter where Cuphead and his friend Mugman must take on a series of elaborate boss fights in order to appease the devil and keep their lives after losing to him in a game of chance. There are various weapons, a two-player co-op mode with Mugman, an overworld map to navigate with its own secret areas, and special moves for that extra bit of razzle-dazzle.
Cuphead is a visually flooring, skill-testing, action-packed love letter to a golden era of animation -- and it's finally planned for release on PC and Xbox One on September 29.
Dumb and Fat Games
Wandersong is a musical adventure game where you play as a bard tasked with preventing the erasure of the entire universe, and you must use your natural talents as a singer to solve puzzles and help people out with their problems. You use a series of notes represented by color-coordinated notches on a wheel in order to swing a sword, fend off ghosts, and gain the favor of passing songbirds in order to get a boost.
The game's bright, colorful visuals, friendly comedic writing, and excellent soundtrack and sound design may make it look happy -- but there very well may be something sinister that lurks beneath it all. A mysterious force that speaks an unknown language is against you on your quest, and you'll slowly uncover what secrets it holds as the game goes on.
Super Meat Boy Forever (Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, PS4, iOS, Android)
Our little boy is growing up.
As an official sequel to the critically acclaimed and famously difficult indie hit Super Meat Boy, Super Meat Boy Forever has some big and very bloody shoes to fill. But we may be able to put those worries to rest, because it seems as though those same shoes still fit the sequel's squishy feet.
Super Meat Boy Forever is a follow-up that keeps the same spirit and familiar feel of the original game while still managing to feel completely new and original. You can still deftly dodge insta-kill obstacles using the game's simple move-set and tight controls, but there are quite a few additions and revisions to the core gameplay.
Both Meat Boy and Bandage Girl now run automatically, meaning that the stress of movement for the most part has been removed. Instead you must focus on the various moves you can pull off, which still includes the old wall slide, wall jump, and a high jump. But you also now have an air-dash, a sliding tackle attack, and a fast-falling downward dive. These moves lead to new obstacles, new methods of success, and of course, many new deaths.
The speed and flow of the first game is still there, but the levels evenly balance both the classic and new mechanics in order to make them feel like something that is truly meant to succeed the original. The levels will also become harder each time you beat them, and the dark world equivalents with much more difficult design return as well. And rest assured -- Super Meat Boy Forever is just as hard as Super Meat Boy, and you'll still feel that rush of adrenaline whenever you figure out the trick to getting past that one obstacle that killed you twenty times.
In terms of content, very little has been revealed. There's no telling how many levels we can expect out of Forever, but hopefully it's somewhere around the 300+ from the original game. There's also no word yet whether this game will feature playable characters from other indie games or not. It is confirmed that players will be able to play as either Meat Boy or Bandage Girl right from the start.
Super Meat Boy Forever is already shaping up to be a great game and a worthy successor. It is currently planned for release in Summer of 2018, and will come to the Nintendo Switch first.
That's the list! After getting to check out all these awesome demos, I can't wait to see these indie gems release throughout the rest of this year and early next year.
What were your favorite games from PAX West 2017? Let us know down in the comments!