Jon's Top 5 Games of PAX East 2013

PAX East 2013 was a very different animal than the PAX East I went to two years ago. Two years ago there was a small contingent of indie games in a tiny little circle and some other ones sprinkled on the outside of the convention. Massive booths like Dragon’s Nest and Vindictus took up a lot of the show floor and finding those little indie gems was tough. I remember literally searching for an hour to find the booth for Skulls of the Shogun and feeling relieved when I found it. This year’s PAX East was much different as the indie games were grouped together into the PAX East Indie Megabooth.  This was a large area of the show floor where dozens of games were being shown off from dozens of indie studios. While games like Saints Row 4, The Elder Scrolls: Online, Watch_Dogs and League of Legends all had big sparkly booths it was the indie games that stole my heart at this year’s PAX East. Here are the five games that I am looking forward to thanks to PAX East.

5. Tower of Guns- Take Doom and smash rougelike features into it at 100 miles per hour. Tower of Guns is a first-person shooter with old school tropes like bunny hopping and circle strafing. That’s all rad and awesome but what made the game even more interesting is the idea of permadeath and rougelike leveling up. Completing the randomly generated levels leads to more equipment and better guns as you go murdering through each level.  What really made me fall in love with ToG is that it’s all made by just one guy. We’re hearing the ”one man makes great game” story more often but it still amazes me each time I hear it.

4. Quadrilateral Cowboy- I’ve tried to learn programming a dozen times. I sit down at my computer, start to learn a bit, get bored and boot up a game. Quadrilateral Cowboy is the first and only game in recent memory that has made programming and hacking fun. Often times in games hacking is a simple and nuanced mini-game, but in QC it is the game. The demo at PAX East involved moving from dock to dock as you’d lay down your laptop, jack in and start typing commands like “;wait(2);” and it was really freaking awesome. I felt like the badass hackers from movies that type far too many keys to actually be hacking. Doors opened at my command, lasers shut off at my whim and at the end of the mission the documents had been secured. While the level shown at PAX East was definitely still in a beta-like stage I can only imagine how frantic it will get when enemies are added as a means to hurry your hacking along.

3. Octodad: Deadliest Catch- You’re an octopus, you have a wife and kids, you have a normal job and not a soul knows you’re an octopus. This is the premise for Octodad and it works so well. The first iteration of Octodad was a free to play game but Deadliest Catch is looking to up the ante.  The demo at PAX East was a flashback scene showing Octodad getting ready for his wedding. Players moved him around using the mouse buttons to control his legs and sliding the mouse to move him forward. By holding right mouse button his arm can be raised or lowered and with the left button you can suck onto items to open doors or put on a bowtie. The controls feel right for an octopus trying to be a dad, if that makes sense. Yes, the controls are sloppy and silly but that’s exactly how they should feel! Fumbling around as Octodad brought more laughs to show goers than any other game on the floor. A lot of people likened it to Surgeon Simulator and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.

2. Divekick- If you haven’t heard about Divekick yet I urge you to remedy that immediately. What started off initially as a joke has become the talk of the fighting game community. As Iron Galaxy’s Dave Lang put it during the Giantbomb PAX panel “Every kick does a million damage and every character has a thousand health.” Every kick in Divekick is a one-hit-kill so each round is extremely tense. The game is played with two buttons, one to jump and one to kick, and that’s all you need. The game was made as a joke for characters in fighting games that have devastating dive-kicks but Divekick has really taken off. At PAX East you could select from a handful of characters as well as a gem power-up to start each match. Rounds last 20 seconds or less depending on if a kick is landed or not. Headshots result in concussions for the effected player who then moves slower the following round. If this all sounds ridiculous that’s because it totally is and I can’t wait to play it.

1. Transistor- I made Bastion my game of the year two years ago so how could I not be excited for Transistor? The art is just as beautiful as Bastion with a new sci-fi twist on the buildings and environments. The music by Darren Korb is still some of the most phenomenal game music I have ever heard, hands down. The story feels tight, even from the 20 minutes I played, and the narration feels great and not overdone at all. I was worried when I first heard the narration again as I didn’t want Transistor to hang on the coattails of Bastion but the narration is fresh this time around as it emanates from a real-time character and not an all-knowing narrator looking back on events. Gameplay is really what sold me on Transistor as the team at Supergiant Games changed things up quite a bit. Transistor plays out like a turn-based RPG but with a twist. Each time you encounter enemies your main character, Red, can stop time and plot out her attacks before executing them in rapid succession. It’s quite the awesome feat that looks really cool when executed properly. Taking out a room full of baddies with a couple of well placed moves feels really satisfying. Transistor isn’t coming out until early 2014 but I am extremely excited to get my hands on it.

PAX East was very indie this year and that’s a good thing. These games brought something new to the table and I hope that we get to see more easily accessible indie titles as the years go on. I like my big AAA titles but I always crave the new and the unique.  Be sure to follow up on these games and support them where you can, they all deserve it.