Connect with us


Pax West Indies 2019 (Pt. 3) – feat. ‘Haven’, ‘Chicory’, and more



In another installment of my PAX West 2019 indie roundup, we’ve got a heck of a lot to cover.

One of the most interesting trends I saw this year in game design was the emphasis on accessibility. Although I’m somebody that enjoys a good, crunchy challenge, it’s oftentimes easy to forget that having a comfy experience is one of the ways in which video games can be a powerful tool for positivity.

Well, let’s get down to it then! In no particular order, here are seven more amazing indies that I had the opportunity to check out at PAX West.


Haven is a love story about all the moments in-between: the gentle touches, the small fights, and the quiet laughs. Drenched in bright neon colors, Haven focuses on the relationship between Yu and Kay, a couple that ekes out their days on a backwater planet. Though their routine is mundane, they are alone together and happy.

It’s this connection that lies at the heart of Haven’s story and gameplay mechanics. The game plays rather oddly at first. Dialogue choices exist for both characters in the same conversation, Yu and Kay seamlessly switch who leads when gliding around, and combat requires simultaneously managing the two and their abilities. As a solo player, the character you control isn’t Yu or Kay: it’s their relationship. Haven quite masterfully encapsulates the warm feel of being in love, of having to rely on and be relied on by another person.

The real genius, however, is how this experience changes when you play with another person. Because the mechanics operate on a philosophy of simultaneous decisions, Haven encourages conversation. This game isn’t about skill or optimization: it’s about learning, talking, and being present with another human being,

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how the developers behind Haven are the same ones behind Furi. Yes. Furi. The high-octane, white-knuckle, off-the-wall boss-rush bullet hell hack-and-slash game about slaying your jailors and escaping prison. That Furi. Yet, when the vivid blue and purple neon tones bloom onto the screen, accompanied by a gently pulsing synth score, there’s no denying it’s the same team. Haven is an odd step forward, but one that works with such a stirring beauty to both its presentation and gameplay.

Emily is Away <3

It’s 2008: Barack Obama’s presidency has begun, Team Jacob vs. Team Edward debates rage fiercely, and America is experiencing a crippling financial crisis. For a large number of us who were teenagers at the time, Facebook was our sanctuary. It was a home that we made for ourselves. After the confusing gaudiness of MySpace, the sleek, uncluttered timeline was perfect for a cool internet kid like myself. All of my friends were on it too! I just had to make an account, fill out some details, pick my favorite movies, books, and shows, and bam my feed was up and running.

That’s how Emily is Away <3 starts. Once your “Facenook” account is created, you’ll receive your first friend invite. Soon after, more friends reach out until you find yourself switching between conversations as you pore over your walls and photos. Emily is Away <3 is the third installment in a series of games by Kyle Seeley that aims to recreate the experience of internet communication in the mid-late 2000s. Seeley not only captures the look of Facebook in 2008, but the feel of it. The user-driven timelines, the pokes and tags, and the frenetic lowercase typing instantly transport you back to a decade where social media was still figuring itself out. Within this framework, Seeley tells a story of teenage pettiness, pop-culture, and surviving friendship on the internet.

Emily is Away <3 is a time capsule for the 2008 kid, a look back on how we used to engage with technology in our personal lives. For those of us that lived through that period, it offers a moment to reflect on who we were back then and where we came from. For everyone that has come after, it’s a chance to see how internet culture has changed into the unrecognizable behemoth it is today. 


Chicory, much like Spiritfarer, abides by a philosophy of accessibility, optimism, and fun. The game has been built from the ground up as a sandbox for discovery and play. As an apprentice to Chicory, wielder of a magic paintbrush, you suddenly find yourself in possession of the brush and all its powers. Out into the world you go, coloring everything to your heart’s content.

The world of Chicory is your canvas and invites you to fill it as you see fit. There is no fail state, there is no wrong way to play the game. The core gameplay can best be thought of as 2D Zelda’s exploration and puzzle systems. With brush in hand, you venture out into the world and use your paint to color and shape the environment around. Along the way you meet quirky characters, like Pickle the smarmy fox or Lemon the skittish lizard (salamander?). 

From top to bottom, Chicory is a game first and foremost. The brush itself feels fantastic to paint with and rewards players who think (and color) outside the box. There are so many small details that you can fiddle around with, like coloring in your parents during a phone call or creating a totally awesome t-shirt design. Chicory explores the idea of fun and encourages you to do the same.

If Found

Visual novels and all of its offshoots are, to put it bluntly, stagnant. While the word “novel” is there in the phrase, people tend to follow that notion a bit too religiously and end up creating walls of text for the player to surmount. If Found bucks that trend by placing its story within a mesmerizingly simple mechanic: erasure. 

If Found tells the story of Kasio, a young adult undergoing a stressful time in their life, both in and outside of their head. While these story beats may have been tread before, the way If Found presents them is nothing short of gorgeous. There is no clicking text boxes or choosing dialogue options like a traditional kinetic novel (linear visual novel). Instead, If Found gives you a simple eraser. With it, you wipe away scratchy drawings, moody colors, and heartfelt words that fill your screen. 

Steeped in metaphor and emotions, If Found manages to achieve a simple sincerity with how straightforward it is. Each click of the eraser keeps you invested in Kasio’s story as you uncover layer after layer to see what lies beneath. 

Sayonara Wild Hearts

The notion of “game feel” is not to be discounted, as a sense of play is just as important to a game as its design. Sayonara Wild Hearts is a rhythm runner that doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre, but it possesses such a vibrant sense of style that it ends up not mattering much. Billed as “A Pop Album Video Game”, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a sensory experience from start to finish.

Like other rhythm runners, Sayonara Wild Hearts has the player run straight ahead and move around to collect pickups to the beat of a song. Sometimes it shakes things up and has you tap or mash a button, but otherwise the actual mechanics behind the game are super simple. Where Sayonara Wild Hearts excels is in its presentation. 

Good golly this is one of the most stylish games I’ve ever played. Straight from the game itself: “Sayonara Wild Hearts is a pop album video game about riding motorcycles, skateboarding, dance battling, shooting lasers, wielding swords, and breaking hearts at 200 mph”. Decked out in its tarot theming, it reveals in excess and style. From the loud and proud neon visuals to the thumping electronic pop soundtrack, Sayonara Wild Hearts oozes charm that keeps you around just so you can see and hear more of it.

Minute of Islands

In examining the classic “Hero’s Journey”, Minute of Islands has chosen to do so in a succinct four-hour adventure game. Players follow Mo, a young girl raised by giants that has been tasked with the responsibility of fixing and maintaining the islands they live on. Styled as a traditional narrative adventure game, Minute of Islands offers a refreshing change of pace for even the most burned-out story-based game fans.

One of the most noticeable features of the game is that there is no dialogue. All in-game text is told from the perspective of a third-person narrator. The result is a narrative that feels removed from the player, allowing them to more closely examine Mo’s story without projecting themselves into it. 

Minute of Islands has an oddly comforting, airy feel to it, as its narrative prose works wonderfully with the serene, storybook quality of its art. However, the game is anything but a story for children. Minute of Islands delves into shockingly mature content, seemingly at odds with its adorable art style, which only makes it stand out all the more. 


Devolver Digital has a reputation for publishing the quirky, odd, and obscene. Carrion is another title the company can stick in their trophy case, a celebration of all things grotesque. In Carrion, you play as a biomutated mass of flesh and teeth that has escaped containment to wreak havoc in a research facility. The game looks and feels like an over-the-top horror movie, from the gory visuals of blood splattering the walls to the sickening crunch of bone as you engorge on a mountain of bodies.

You control your pulsing, writhing biomass with two sticks, one for movement, the other for aiming, and a trigger button that has a general purpose interact/mangle function. As you progress, you obtain new, horrifying powers like shooting cobwebs. These abilities open up pathways and give you even more options to savagely overwhelm your prey. While there are times where you need to be sneaky and subtle, you’re most often bursting into rooms, grabbing frightened scientists and guards, and frantically tearing them to shreds. 

Carrion’s gameplay flow shifts quite satisfyingly to menacing stealth to absolute carnage, as you smash on the trigger and wildly flick your control sticks to cause utter mayhem onscreen. Where it unfortunately lacks a oomph is in the exploration aspect. The way the maps are designed, it’s rather hard to tell where you need to go and what you need to interact with. However, the sheer tactile sensation of controlling a sci-fi horror creature is beyond comparison, so hopefully the dev team can create levels that support it.

Kyle grew up with a controller in one hand and a book in the other. He would've put something else in a third hand, but science isn't quite there yet. In the meantime, he makes do with watching things like television, film, and anime. He can be found posting ramblings on or trying to hop on the social media bandwagon @LikeTheRogue

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.



Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.

It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.

Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.

In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.

Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.

Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.

Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.

I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.

Continue Reading


10 Years Later: ‘Mass Effect 2’ is An All-Time Sci-fi Classic

Mass Effect 2 didn’t just nail the formula for a successful sequel, it tied together one of the greatest science fiction tales ever.



Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect launched in 2007 as the boldest science fiction project ever conceived for consoles. The complex mythology, history and the many alien races, each with their own political/religious beliefs offered a depth rarely seen in the medium. Only a game as ambitious as Mass Effect 2 could not only match the pedigree of such a massive project but surpass it in every single way imaginable.

Released 3 years after the original, a full decade ago, Mass Effect 2 set the benchmark for not just sequels but for science fiction gaming as well. Few sequels are able to overcome the weaknesses of their predecessors with such perfect accuracy while also doubling down on what made them good in the first place.

The first task that fell to Bioware was to refine the combat. The original game had more of a strategic angle to it but that strategy meant the game was constantly stopping and starting, stuttering the action and ruining the flow of the game. By streamlining the combat into more of an action RPG experience (emphasis on action), Mass Effect 2 created a much better sense of tension in battle sequences. Aiming, using techniques and issuing orders also flowed more smoothly with these changes.

'Mass Effect 2' is An All-Time Sci-fi Classic

Another major change was the removal of the Mako, an exploratory rover the player drove around alien planets with. While a novel idea, the Mako often lead to aimless wandering as the player sought out resources on the many planets of Mass Effect. Instead of driving to their destination, players were now warped directly to the area they would be exploring. Resource collection was overhauled as a result.

While few players will talk about the thrill of spinning a globe around and aiming a reticle in order to collect resources in Mass Effect 2, the simple speed by which this process was streamlined offered a hefty margin of improvement over the original game. Resources that might have taken a half-hour to collect in the first game could now be found in 1/10 of that time. Resource collection, while a vital part of the game, was never meant to be the time sink it was in the original Mass Effect, and by speeding up this process, Mass Effect 2 allowed players to get back to the meat of the game: doing missions and exploring the galaxy.

Of course, these aren’t necessarily the most significant changes that players will recall from their time with Mass Effect 2. The story and character roster were also expanded considerably from the first game, and these are without a doubt the biggest improvements that this sequel is able to mount.

Mass Effect 2

While Mass Effect had seven playable characters, Mass Effect 2 expanded that to twelve. Not only was the amount of characters an improvement, though, the quality of the characters on offer was also much stronger this time around. A full nine new characters were introduced for players to utilize in combat, strategize with and get to know throughout the game. Among them were badass assassin Thane Krios, dangerous convict Jack, morally dubious Miranda Lawson, and hivemind robot Legion.

In fact, the cast of Mass Effect 2 is so good that it has rightfully become a benchmark for the creation of a compelling cast of characters in RPGs, and video games, in general. The sheer diversity on display in the looks, personalities and movesets allowed for the cast is awe-inspiring, and this is without even considering the trump card that Mass Effect 2 flashed throughout the experience of playing the game.

The monumental suicide mission to raid the Collectors’ base and save humanity is the impetus for the entire plot of Mass Effect 2, and the reason for which the player is recruiting the baddest mother fuckers from all over the galaxy in hopes of success. It isn’t just a suicide mission in name either, many, or even all, of the cast can die during the completion of this mission, adding a layer of suspense and finality to the final stage of Mass Effect 2 that few other games can match.

'Mass Effect 2' is An All-Time Sci-fi Classic

To this end, players were encouraged to get to know their crew through loyalty missions specific to each cast member. By undertaking these optional missions and completing them in a way that would impress or endear themselves to the character in question, players were able to ascertain the unquestioned respect and loyalty of that character, ensuring they wouldn’t go rogue during the final mission.

Still, even passing these prerequisites with flying colors wasn’t a guarantee for success. Players also had to pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses of the characters when assigning tasks and making split-second decisions. Who you would leave to recon an area, repair a piece of equipment, or lock down a path, could make the difference as to who was going to survive the mission. Further complicating things, the characters you wanted to take with you to final branches of the mission might be the very people best suited for these earlier tasks.

Mass Effect 2 isn’t just one of the greatest science fiction games of all time, but one of the best science fiction experiences in any medium, full stop”.

Getting everyone out alive is a truly Machiavellian task, requiring either a guide or multiple playthroughs in order to get it precisely right. To that end, my feeling is that it’s better to go at it honestly the first time around, dealing with the requisite losses that this experience entails. After all, it isn’t really a suicide mission without a couple of casualties right? Even with all of my preparations and foresight, I lost Tali and Legion in the final mission, but for the fate of the human race, these losses were an acceptable cost.

Mass Effect 2

Even outside the strength of this fantastic cast and the monumental undertaking of planning and executing this final mission, there were other key characters and elements introduced as well. The Illusive Man, voiced by the great Martin Sheen, emerged as a necessary evil, saving Commander Shepard from death but asking morally complex decisions to be made as the cost of doing business. The relationship with, and the choices the player makes, in regard to The Illusive Man have far-reaching consequences for the remainder of the series, and as he emerged to become a primary antagonist in the final game of the trilogy, the considerations to be made were vast and insidious by their very definition.

With so many factors working in its favor, Mass Effect 2 is the rare game that is so perfectly designed that both its predecessor and sequel suffer by comparison as a result. While the improvements of ME2 make it hard to go back to the original game, the scope and ambition of an entire cast that could be alive or dead at the end of the journey also neutered the third game, causing many of the best characters in the trilogy to be excised from the final leg of the trip.

Truly, Mass Effect 2 isn’t just one of the greatest science fiction games of all time, but one of the best science fiction experiences in any medium, full stop. Like The Empire Strikes Back before it, Mass Effect 2 is the best exemplar of its universe and what makes it compelling and worthwhile in general.

Continue Reading


PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Speaking Simulator,’ ‘Iron Danger,’ and ‘Wildermyth’



Iron Danger

PAX South brought an extremely diverse lineup of games to San Antonio, and in this next roundup, it’s time to look at another diverse assortment of titles. These include Speaking Simulator, the surrealist take on the art of speaking, Wildermyth, a beautiful new RPG based on D&D, and Iron Danger, a surprisingly player-friendly take on roleplaying.

PAX South

Speaking Simulator

When asked why he was inspired to develop Speaking Simulator, the developer promptly responded, “I don’t know!” That was exactly what I felt while playing its demo at PAX. It left me mystified, amazed that it exists, overwhelmed by its complexity, and delighted with its absurdity. Speaking Simulator follows a highly advanced android tasked with assimilating into human society in order to gain world domination – and to do that, he’ll need to learn how to speak first. Players are thus tasked with controlling every aspect of this android’s face and guiding it through increasingly difficult social situations.

Speaking is an awkward art for many people (including myself), and Speaking Simulator is just that: awkward. You can control nearly every aspect of the android’s face. You can move its tongue with the left stick and its jaw with the right, while manipulating its facial expression, eyebrows, and more with other buttons. This leads to a delicate balancing act where complete control feels just barely out of reach so that you must always be alert and able to sufficiently direct your mechanical face.


During each conversation, you’ll have so many different moving parts to consider. You’ll have to follow prompts about where to move your tongue, how to adjust your mouth, how your face should look, and so on. The more complex the conversation, the trickier it is to speak. Scenarios during my demo included a date, a job interview, and the most normal social situation of all, speaking to a man while he’s using the toilet. And of course, if you don’t perform adequately in these conversations, then your face will start to explode – which is only natural for awkward conversations, after all.

Speaking Simulator is the definition of controlled chaos. It shows just how difficult it really is to be a human – controlling the face alone was far more than I could handle, as my frequent face explosions during my demo showed me. Playing Speaking Simulator was an equally hilarious and surreal experience, one that I can’t wait to experience in full when it releases on Switch and PC at the end of January.


Iron Danger

Iron Danger was one of my biggest surprises at PAX South. When I arrived at the Daedalic Entertainment booth for my appointment with Iron Danger, I didn’t expect to enjoy it half as much as I did. As a western-styled, point and click RPG, Iron Danger was outside my comfort zone. Yet the game is explicitly designed for players like me, who can feel intimidated by the immense amount of strategies and decisions that the genre requires. This is thanks to its core mechanic: time reversal. Perhaps this mechanic isn’t entirely unheard of in RPGs (Fire Emblem: Three Houses comes to mind as a recent example), but the way it’s implemented in Iron Danger makes all the difference.

It begins simply enough for an RPG. Your village is under attack, and as you attempt to escape to safety, you have the misfortune of dying. But death is only the beginning: just as you fall, a mysterious being blesses you with the ability to rewind time at any moment you’d like. That means that if you ever make a wrong move during combat, then you can reverse that decision and try something else. Time is divided up into “heartbeats,” which are measured in a bar at the bottom of the screen.  If you want to go back in time, simply click on a previous heartbeat. There’s no limit on how often you can use this ability: battles become a process of trial and error, of slowly rewinding and progressing as you discover what works. If you end up walking into an enemy trap, simply click back to the heartbeat before the ambush, and try a different strategy.

Iron Danger takes the stress out of roleplaying. RPGs are all about making decisions, and typically, making the wrong decision comes at a high price. But thanks to the time-reversal mechanic, Iron Dungeon gives you the room to experiment without consequence. As the developers at the booth explained to me, the ability to undo your actions turns Iron Danger into more of a puzzle game than an RPG. It’s all about evaluating your situation, the abilities at your disposal, the locations and actions of different enemies, and so on. And if everything goes wrong, then there’s nothing to worry about.

That doesn’t mean that Iron Danger will be too easy, however. Current indications point to the opposite. After I played through the tutorial, the developers took over and showed me an advanced, extremely complex level from later in the game, filled with deadly enemies and dynamic environments to consider, with fields that can catch on fire and explosive barrels to throw at enemies. You’ll have to constantly skip forward and backward in time only to survive. This combination of player-friendly mechanics and hardcore roleplaying combat is an exciting mix, extremely appealing for someone like myself who loves RPGs but doesn’t enjoy the stress that often comes with them.



In addition to video games, PAX South also had a substantial portion of the exhibit hall devoted to tabletop games – including, of course, Dungeons and Dragons. But if you wanted to experience D&D-style action without leaving the video game section of the expo, then Wildermyth perfectly fits the bill.

This new RPG is a hybrid between DnD storytelling and worldbuilding with XCOM-esque combat. Like D&D, it allows players to forge their own adventures and stories. Decisions during story events can impact everything from the way the larger story plays out to the weapons your character can use in each battle. Story sequences play out randomly, with events occurring differently depending on which enemies you’ve faced, which characters are in your party, which regions you’ve explored, and so on. It’s an extremely variable story, but with such adaptable writing, each story sequence feels natural, despite its apparent randomness. Instead, it should encourage replayability, to experience every possible story beat there is.


Combat plays out in a grid-based strategy style, similar to games like XCOM. Each character is decked out with unique abilities of their own, and can interact with their environment dynamically. My favorite ability to experiment with was with the mage character, who can imbue environmental objects with magical abilities, such as attacking enemies who get close or inhibiting nearby enemies with status debuffs. I loved exploiting my surroundings and constructing the best strategies during my demo, and cleverly using special abilities like these will likely be key to strategically mastering combat later in the full game.

Like so many other games at PAX, Wildermyth also boasts of a visually distinct art style. The entire game is framed as a storybook; narrative sequences play out in comic book-like illustrations, and environments and characters consist of flat paper cut-outs in 3D surroundings. Pair this with a muted color palette and a simple, hand-drawn style, and Wildermyth has a quaint, comfortable art style that really supports the fairytale feel of the whole game. Currently available on Steam Early Access, the full game is set to release later this year.

Continue Reading