PAX East 2018 may be well behind us, but that doesn’t mean our coverage is done. I’ve already written a handful of articles on some games that left particularly large impressions on me but there were many others that deserve some mentions as well. In no particular order, here’s a quick shotgun overview of the rest of the games I got my hands on during the show.
Yoku’s Island Express
If you’ve ever had dreams of using your pinball wizard skills for the common good then you’re in luck, because this game was made for you! You take control of the titular Yoku, a dung beetle that is tasked with delivering mail through a tropical island. He navigates the land in this 2D side-scroller by rolling his ball of “goods” around and launching it, along with Yoku himself, using paddles found around the world.
Each puzzle is organically built into the environment and, in addition to introducing unique gimmicks that consistently keep things fresh, requires precise control of when and where you launch you adorable little beetle. Just like any other pinball machine, the slightest difference in timing can result in wildly different trajectories and outcomes. There were numerous puzzles in my demo that came down to such timing and while they were certainly challenging, they never seemed unfair and overcoming them granted equal shares of satisfaction. More importantly, I just didn’t want to hear poor little Yoku yelp in pain whenever he went down the drain to what often led to spikes…
Following in the trend of 2D puzzle platformers is one that takes place on an alien landscape with odd flora and fauna all about. In Planet Alpha you control an as-of-yet unnamed humanoid alien as you explore this foreign landscape. This alien has the power to control the time of day, turning dawn to dusk in the span of seconds and vice versa just as easily.
This mechanic allows for some creative applications within the world, the simplest of which was gigantic flowers that would bloom during the day that acted as platforms across gaps. Another scenario demanded that the player hide within a floating rock structure, then advance the time of day so that the structure moved past a swarm of giant wasp-like creatures. As the demo advanced it became necessary to change the time of day on the fly in order to clear and/or create a path forward.
The time-changing powers not only allowed for interesting puzzle setups but also sceneries that could only be described as “spell-binding.” The range of colors on display that shift from day to night is nothing short of astounding, and the dynamic lighting effects are simply dazzling. After seeing just one environment, a jungle-like habitat, I can’t wait to see what else Alpha Planet will have in store for the game’s release.
This is a game that takes the tried and true “disarm the bomb” multiplayer mode that is so standard in other multiplayer shooter and refines it to a T. Due Process is a team-based FPS where one team defends a bomb and the other attempts to disarm it. Before each round, both teams will be presented a floor map of the stage that is randomly generated each time. During this planning period, teams can draw on the map to mark breech points to break through or choke points to hold and these marks that will remain on the field- even after the planning phase is over.
The catch is that between the three rounds of a match, resources consumed do not replenish. This includes; ammo, grenades, door charges, and other special equipment, adding an element that is one part blackjack card-counting and one part chicken. When and where to use your resources is critical to succeeding as well as keeping track of what your opponents have used. For instance, if the attackers have already used all their flash bangs and door charges, it’s reasonable to assume they will try a frontal assault on the following round and the defending teammates can set-up accordingly.
Pulling off a meticulously crafted strategy with flawless execution is exhilarating. By the same token, being thwarted by an equally impressive execution left me in awe and made me almost want to shake the other team’s hands. Communication is key here, and I can only imagine the tactics people will devise once the game is out proper.
Futuristic racers tend to fall in one of two categories. Items are either picked up off the track to be used against other racers, such as in Wipeout and Sonic All Stars Racing: Transformed, or it focuses on boost gameplay, such as FAST RMX. Antigravitator takes elements from both sides with a unique twist on “combat” part. You still pick up energy on the field, but instead of wielding it as weapons against your opponents, you instead use it to trigger traps on the track such as a landslide of metallic cubes. This same energy is also what you use for boosting.
As you weave throughout the tracks, icons will pop up indicating a nearby trap that can be triggered. Deciding whether to use your collected energy for traps or conserving it for a later boost is part of the strategy of the race, in addition to reacting to traps sprung on you.
Antigravitator is an interesting take on the combat racer formula, as it allows players to plan out their race since all possible racer interventions are fixed points on the track. Is one particular trap another player loves to trigger giving you a headache? Maybe save some boost to get ahead of it, or trigger a previous trap that will grant you a shield to protect yourself. This results in a much more cerebral racing experience than most other games because you manage when and what to use your energy on. Antigravitator will definitely be interesting to see what mind games happen when a full group of friends comes together to play.
In the same booth as Antigravitator is Head Snatchers, this party game about snatching other players’ heads. Who woulda guessed? In this zany, Japanese game show inspired title, four players are given a task, minigame style, that involves stealing and doing something with each others’ cartoonish heads that take up half their bodies.
Antics range from feeding heads to the sharks to doing slam dunks. The goals may differ but the mechanics are the same. Stun your opponents with a punch, rip off their heads, then carry it to the objective. Heads can be recovered after they’ve been lost but once your opponent completes the objective with them they are gone for good and you’re out of the game.
Unfortunately, because of the methods of stealing and recovering heads is identical between minigames, they ultimately ended up feeling rather samey, despite the varied objectives. There were other game modes on the main menu but I didn’t get the chance to try them out so I do not know if those shake up the formula a bit more.
I did get to fiddle around with the head creator that had a staggering number of options, though, and created some green, alien monstrosity with an elephant’s trunk and the mouth of a chupacabra.
Just Shapes and Beats
Rhythm games are another genre that seems to always be innovating itself in a unique and fascinating way and Just Shapes and Beats is a testament to that. Take the frantic nature of a rhythm game then slam it together with the frantic nature of a bullet hell game and you get a controlled chaos like no other.
The premise is simple, you and up to three other friends control a small shape (triangle, square, etc) and move it around the screen as you avoid all manner of projectiles flying about at breakneck speed, all matched to the tune of a heart-pounding electronic song. There’s so much going on at the screen at any given moment that the game would appear impossible if muted. Add in the song, though, and everything just seems to fall into place. You can feel what’s going to be thrown at you because you feel it in the song, which is thanks to just how well each stage is mapped out.
That’s not to say the game becomes easy, though, it just becomes manageable. My buddies and I died multiple times on the final “boss” stage before barely squeaking by with just one player left standing. It was a battle well fought, and I can’t wait to have more like it in the full game.
Let’s get this out of the way, comparisons of Dauntless to Monster Hunter are going to be unavoidable. It’s an action game in which up to four “slayers” team up in order to take down hulking “Behemoths” that don’t have a visible health bar. That’s not stopping developer Phoenix Labs from carving out their own part of the niche, and they certainly didn’t hold back at PAX as they had one of the biggest booths dedicated to a single game on the showfloor.
Dauntless favors an aggressive style of play as each weapon has a special attack that is charged by landing hits on the Behemoth, but that charge rapidly dissipates when not attacking. On top of that, if you take a hit yourself you lose all of that charge at once. As someone who generally prefers a defensive playstyle in these kinds of games, it took some adjusting before I was able to settle into a groove. Being able to get off my super charged laser special by deftly weaving through the Behemoth’s attacks and landing my own in-between was a satisfying coup de grâce as a result.
Slayers can also support each other with unique lantern abilities on a cooldown that are set before the battle begins. Mine granted my teammates a shield that would absorb damage and help them stay alive while the Behemoth was in a dangerous rage state. Players can also revive each other on the field, assuming the danger level of the area, which is affected by numerous factors, isn’t at 100%. This all goes into making a familiar, yet distinct, cooperative experience.
Continuing in the “vein” of one game being heavily compared to another, Code Vein is a title that I have been cautiously optimistic about forever since the game’s initial reveal was as a Dark Souls-like game with an anime flair. While I’m still not entirely sold on the story and setting, I can at least say that any worries I had about the gameplay itself have been laid to rest after trying it first-hand.
Combat is fluid and gratifying and provides the same visceral moments of triumph one would expect from a game of its kind. In addition to standard light and heavy attacks (which felt a bit too “whiffy” but that’s a minor gripe). There are also four ichor abilities and four ichor buffs. These ichor abilities range from a small projectile meant for attracting enemies to an explosive damage-dealing fireball.
The game encourages liberal use of these abilities as ichor is restored at a decent clip by attacking enemies normally, relieving the stress that is sometimes associated with using special abilities in similar titles. Taking notes from Bandai Namco’s own God Eater series, there is also a consume mechanic that drains enemies of their ichor which restores your own while also increasing your max capacity for it, a particularly rewarding maneuver when pulled off.
Your AI companion, Mia, is also an impressive aspect in how meaningful her presence is. She can deal damage just as well as she can avoid taking it. Having her handle part of a large group of enemies on one end of the room while I tended to the rest was a godsend in some instances. Even more helpful was Mia’s ability to transfer part of her health to your own in a pinch, including when it hits zero, meaning that death doesn’t necessarily lead to a Game Over.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn
Sometimes in life, you just wanna beat some fools up. Other times in life, you just wanna to be The Shaq. So why not both?
For those of you who missed the gem that was the original SNES and Genesis classic, yes, Shaq Fu was a thing and is a thing again with this brand new reboot. In this side-scrolling beat ‘em up you play as the legendary Shaquille O’Neal himself as he punches, kicks, and shoes his way through an alien plot to take over the world by impersonating famous celebrities.
The plot is just as ridiculous as it sounds, and A Legend Reborn revels in that ridiculousness. Every B-rate kung-fu flick cliché, every NBA reference, every wax on and wax off; it’s all featured here in full force. For the duration of the ten-minute demo, I was, at a minimum, grinning like an idiot to, at maximum, laughing hysterically like an idiot. The fact that the game plays like a solid beat ‘em up is just a bonus and secondary to the entertainment the script will provide.
PAX East 2018 Take Home Message
If it wasn’t already obvious, it’s a good time to be a gamer and shows like PAX East only cement that fact even more. There are so many stellar games on the horizon and these are only the games I got the chance to play and fit in this article. The gaming industry has been and will continue to grow at an explosive rate and it’s astounding that it still manages to deliver novel and interesting ways to entertain every step of the way. So chin up because that Steam backlog is going to keep growing, that game case pile will rise even taller, that desire for a better TV/monitor will get even stronger. Our jobs as gamers ain’t getting any easier, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.