We’ve already talked about plenty of standout games that were present at the recent PAX East ranging from high-flying cybernetic ninja action to good ol’ classic D&D shenanigans. Naturally, the show featured countless other titles showcasing a breadth of diversity and creativity. This final post rounds-up everything else I played on the show floor into one handy, dandy location.
Sakuna of Rice and Ruin
Platform: PS4, Switch, and PC
This was the very first game I played when the doors opened on the first day and it was a good opener for what would eventually go on to be my favorite PAX East yet. Sakuna of Rice and Ruin is a 2D action game that puts you in the shoes of the titular daughter of a Japanese war god and harvest goddess. I played through a single stage that walked me through the basics of combat, including your standard light attack combos, heavy attack finishers, and special attacks to use a meter. Being the daughter of a harvest goddess, Sakuna forgoes the usual sword and lance options and instead opts for farming tools like hoes and rakes adding an adorable charm to the combat.
Sakuna can also grab onto distant objects and enemies with her divine raiment and launch herself towards them, which is used both for navigation through the stage and during combat. While the core combat mechanics feel fluid and nice, the raiment itself feels a little bit squirrely, oftentimes flinging Sakuna way past the enemy she latched onto making it difficult to follow-up a combo. That said, when the combat clicks, it clicks, as I was able to setup some particularly flashy aerial beatings when I successfully wrestled with the raiment positioning.
Combat is only half of Sakuna of Rice and Ruin, however, as the other half of the game involves planting, tending to, and harvesting crops for villagers that in turn power up Sakuna’s own abilities. This aspect was not featured in the demo, unfortunately, but the combat alone has me curious enough to want to see how well the two facets intermingle in the full game.
A Fold Apart
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, and Apple Arcade
With the ever-increasing presence of technology in society, long-distance relationships are becoming more and more common as they become more viable. A Fold Apart is attempting to capture the sweetly melancholic feel of being connected to your distant loved one via a creative puzzle platformer.
A Fold Apart operates on the very simple premise of getting your little blue man/girl to the other end of the stage by “folding” the paper that each stage is made of. By strategically folding and unfolding the top, bottom, sides, and/or corners of the stage, you can create connections between the front and back sides of the paper. There’s no cutting and pasting involved here, just pure folds. The concept took me a bit to wrap my head around and really challenged my spatial imagination. It didn’t take too long for the pieces to fall in place, though, and I was soon able to navigate my blue man to his significant other.
Every stage in the game was first designed by hand using real-life paper and that attention to details showed even in this early-game demo. It has the inherent quality that makes trial-and-error fun that is all so important for a puzzler and makes A Fold Apart one to look out for.
Spirit of the North
Platforms: PS4, Switch, and PC
Release: Immediately available on PS4, coming to Switch and PC in 2020
If you wanna get me immediately interested in any video game whatsoever, put me in control of an animal. That’s exactly what caught my attention about Spirit of the North, an atmospheric, narrative-driven game that had me lead a fox through Iceland-inspired environments as it followed an ephemeral spirit fox.
There’s no UI in this game, no objective markers or minimaps telling you where to go. Just the landscape around you and your inherent curiosity pointing you towards whatever catches your fancy. What’s immediately striking is just how well Merge Games nailed the anatomy of the fox’s movement. I’m by no means an expert, but the way its shoulder blades rise and fall while it trots along, the way it pants after sprinting too long, and the way it splays its legs out on slippery surfaces all lend credence to the existence of this fuzzy creature.
As I meandered through the sparkling snowscapes, I was overcome with a sense of wonder. This was a very calming game to play even amidst the hustle and bustle of PAX East all around me, and that was in no small part due to the game’s phenomenal atmospheric soundtrack. Spirit of the North is ultimately linear with some minor collectibles here and there, but it promises never to get too comfortable by shaking things up with new environs as you progress as well as new explorative abilities, like an air dash. There was a distinct pull to see what’s around the next corner always pushing me onward, and that’s a facet that works greatly in Spirit of the North‘s favor.
Platforms: PS4, Switch, and PC
Release: Closed beta happening during Q1
Genshin Impact has been getting a lot of attention lately for looking just like Zelda: Breath of the Wild but with anime characters. After playing it at the show I gotta say, I have to agree. So much of this game’s environment — from the blades of grass, to the wooden watchtowers, to the shimmering water — look like assets ripped straight out of Breath of the Wild. There’s also the fact it includes mechanics like being able to climb almost any surface you come across as well as being able to glide through the air from high places.
Fortunately, the comparisons more or less stop at “looks like Breath of the Wild“, because Genshin Impact plays quite differently outside the aforementioned navigational abilities. You take up to four characters in your party to adventure out into the open world with, each with their unique weapon types, skills, and elemental affinities and changing control between them as needed. Combat is real-time action with elements interacting with each other such as dousing an enemy with water before electrocuting them with a thunder spell.
There’s not much else to say about Genshin Impact since the demo drops you into its world for fifteen minutes without any objective. I wasn’t really able to accomplish anything, but the characters were colorful enough and the combat just satisfying enough to get me to sign up for its closed beta happening later this year.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC
I’ve been playing Megaman 11 on and off for the past month as a quick pick-up-and-play break game, so when I saw 30XX with its distinctive hi-bit Megaman aesthetic, I was drawn in pretty quickly. What made me realize very quickly that I was not playing a Megaman game was when I mistimed a jump and fell into some spikes… and didn’t die immediately. 30XX is actually a roguelike, so it expects the player to be able to get through its entire game on one life.
The game begins by giving you the option of playing the blaster toting Nina or the saber wielding Ace, of which I chose Nina. Anyone who has played a Megaman game will be instantly familiar with 30XX’s gameplay as you dash, blast, and special shot your way through each level and its boss. Special challenge zones scattered throughout each level will test your platforming prowess and reward powerful upgrades if cleared, such as faster charge shots or auto-firing a shot when you dash. The lack of insta-death is reflected in the environmental gimmicks that make traversal a little tricky and provide a healthy dose of tension when navigating. The whole package comes together into an incredibly tight experience that had me raring for more in the end.
I also got to try out the game’s co-op mode with a friend. On top of the game still being a blast with a partner, I was impressed with just how much the same two stages I played solo had changed due to the roguelike elements. On top of just generally different pathways, there was even an environmental gimmick I hadn’t encountered on my solo run. It definitely made me see how 30XX could be a game that can easily be played over and over again.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC
Release: Fall 2020
Going straight from 30XX to Cyber Shadow caused me all sorts of horrible whiplash that I had to quickly change gears and adjust to. Instant death hazards were back, as was having to start a level over entirely if you do bite the dust so I had to very quickly ditch the laid-back attitude I had going into the demo.
Cyber Shadow is an 8-bit, two-button, side-scrolling action game inspired by the likes of old-school NES Ninja Gaiden. This year’s demo featured a new level from last year’s and it was just as masterfully crafted and butt-clenchingly difficult. I had to very carefully time my jumps, land my shurikens, and dash in for close-range sword strikes in order to make it through an underwater reservoir stage that culminated in a showdown with a mekadragon.
It may have taken me numerous tries to finally conquer the level, but every death fell squarely on my shoulders and served as a learning experience for the next attempt. The demo was constantly engaging, even when I was just retreading ground in order to make it back to where I died to try again, which is a testament to just how tightly made the level is. One-man developer MekaSkull has done an admirable job with Cyber Shadow thus far, so here’s hoping that carries through all the way into the full game.
Platforms: Xbox One and PC
The world is flooded and tensions between nations are high in this high-flying, aerial combat title. The Falconeer has you take to the skies as the pilot of oversized versions of these majestic animals, escorting merchant ships, salvaging parts from the sea, and engaging in dogfights (birdfights?) with enemy pilots. Momentum is key to keeping up your speed, requiring you to occasionally dive down to build it up before leveling off in your desired direction.
Managing your momentum while tending with incoming fire from other falconeers, ships, and fortresses makes for frantic action that was admittedly a little overwhelming at first. I was eventually able to find my groove, though, and start blasting away at enemy forces without receiving too much damage on my end and getting through an encounter by the skin of your teeth is appropriately satisfying.
What’s especially striking about the game is its visuals. The way your falcon maneuvers through the air looks compellingly natural and the raging waters and waves that arise during stormy weather make for some gorgeous setpiece moments. Between missions, Falconeer is an open-world game, allowing you to explore the skies and waters of this captivating world at your leisure. You can also apply upgrades and modifications to your falcon, some of which look decidedly unhealthy for the poor creature when its veins start popping and pulsating from the stress. This also affects the nameless narrator’s impression of you, as they will constantly question you on what it means to be “heroic.”
Platforms: PS4, Switch, and PC
Now I’ve already talked plenty about N1RV Ann-A from it’s showing at last year’s PAX East, as has my colleague Kyle at PAX West, so I won’t go into it much more here. Needless to say, I’m still in love with what this game is showing. The patron of this year’s demo, the jaded biotech employee Olivia, was just as engaging and multi-faceted as last year’s Parka. The amount of nuance embedded in her dialogue with Sam lends their conversation an incredible level of believability and relatability.
The new reaction system that allows you to choose the tone of how you respond to various lines also made me feel like I had more agency over the story than simply selecting the correct drink to mix. Olivia’s responses to my replies were often unexpected and caught me off-guard, yet still were consistent with her character that I had only gotten to know in the span of a few minutes. It’s this level of depth in characters that made me fall so in love with VA11 Hall-A and that is 100% shining through with N1RV Ann-A as well.