I hope you're hungry for some PAX because boy howdy do we have some content for you. Joe is back with us to recap and not only do we have a nearly 2 hour long episode full of game and panel talk, but there's also some photos, plus there was stuff we couldn't fit in the episode that Joe wrote about below. It only took 6 years but I think we're finally learning how to reach peak PAX efficiency.
I'm going to keep this brief as I don't want to take away from Joe's superior words plus all the good things I have to say are in the episode anyway. But I will say that, per usual, PAX was amazing, the people we met were amazing, and the games we played were, for the most part, amazing as well.
Now check out what Joe had to say about a couple of games he got to play: (Note: some of these are brought up in the episode but I couldn't bring myself to hack this to pieces so enjoy it in its entirety.)
Shantae and the Seven Sirens
So amazingly enough, it’s been 3 years since the last Shantae game was released. For those of you who don’t know, the Shantae series has had a tumultuous history, starting with it’s inaugural game being released on the GBC just as the handheld was dying out. However, the second game in the series got a hold of its roots on the DSi’s downloadable software store, and now the series has a strong reputation as being a quirky and fun platformer. Shantae and the Seven Sirens was not on my radar at all because I’m old and time passes weirdly, but it’s the 5th overall game in the series and the 2nd in the new HD stylings. Also weirdly enough, despite this game coming out for all major consoles in the spring, it’s already been out on the iOS since Fall of 2019.
I had a great conversation with Christopher Shanley, the Director of Publishing at WayForward. He shared some of the background considerations when developing the game, including how they merged the animal transformation mechanic from the original two games with the weapon’s system from Pirate’s Curse, and it was a lot of fun! The game has had a difficulty spike since going into HD, in a very positive and energizing way (the demo gave me infinite health, which I absolutely needed for the challenging boss battle at the end.) Shanley also talked a bit about their history in taking on their own publishing responsibilities, and how empowering it has been for their releases (not just Shantae, but other WayForward games as well like River City Girls.)
The Yacht Club games folks, fresh off of the release of the last game in the core Shovel Knight series (King of Cards), had a surprising showing with two new games in the Shovel Knight series.
The first one I played is a Shovel Knight puzzle game in the style of Puzzle League games called Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon. The core mechanic has Shovel Knight wandering around a bunch of falling pieces including enemies, health potions, keys, and treasure chests. He can attack enemies and set off chains, which is good because fighting them individually will have them hit you back and kill you pretty quickly. I know this because boy did I die a bunch of times in a row before figuring out that I had health and was being attacked. It seems interesting but outside of aesthetics, it is a very non-Shovel Knight property. For both of the new games, there is a clear shift from the original design (all of the characters are a little bigger and more detailed.)
The second game was called Shovel Knight Dig, and is extremely similar to Steam World Dig. If you haven’t played this series before, you play a robot that digs down and collects resources to help aid him in digging even further - it’s weirdly a blast. SKD follows very similar mechanics, except with the ability to “shovel jump” like in the original game. The feature that really sets it apart is a sense of urgency… after going down just a little bit, there are mechanics such as drills and enemies, that turn it more into a Downwell-style game.
Both games were fun and interesting, but there was an oddness about both of them. With the slightly different graphics and completely different genres, they both don’t feel like Shovel Knight and really didn’t need to be. I’m curious if the branding is to help tie their way into new styles of games.
Cyberpunk Bartender Action N1RV Ann-A.
Aesthetically this game feels like a mid-90s Sierra sort of pixel number, and play-wise it was incredibly reminiscent of Phoenix Wright games when you’re doing the walking around and gathering evidence parts. Jayare, Colin, and I all got to play this bartender simulator where you try to make drinks for different people who come in and navigate conversations with them. Mechanically, it was very straight forward: you get to make drinks and react to what people say, but it had the feeling of a game of discovery.
Radical Rabbit Stew
A combination of action and puzzle game, RRS immediately reminded me of a Genesis game that no one remembers named Wiz and Liz. W&L was this odd game where you had to catch rabbits and use magic and I was too young to understand the strategy, but there was something undeniably charming about it. Radical Rabbit Stew brings that charm in spades. You play a cook that uses various cooking implements to knock rabbits (that have taken over his people or something?) into pots and launch them into space. The plot doesn’t matter. It was cute and fun and I loved it. Check it out in July.
A Duel Hand Disaster: Trackher
The Nintendo Switch has mainstreamed a feeling I’ve had for years. I’ve always preferred handheld gaming, starting as a 9 year old that saved his meager earnings to buy a Game Gear, and continuing today to where the Nintendo Switch is my go-to platform by leaps and bounds. It’s not just the portability: limited power platforms leads to people creating unique games that present fascinating challenges. The full name for A Duel Hand Disaster: Trackher includes the tagline “Split Screen Single Player Twin Stick Risk’em Up”. On the left side of the screen, you’re playing a mostly invincible ship in a Space Invader-style game, while on the right side, you’re flying around the screen with limited ways to protect yourself and trying to gather resources and end the level. Except you get to choose when to end the level, constantly risking a higher score with losing everything. It’s wacky and weird and genuinely impossible to explain in text. So go look at this guy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOGwVsSFsbk. And you still won’t really get it, but it’s already out and if you like arcade score-racing games, you’ll eat this sucker up.
Kroma: Presented by designer Carol Mertz, published by Breaking Games
Kroma is a 2-3 player game developed by Carol Mertz, Kai Karhu, Francesca Carletto-Leon, and Temitope Olujobi. Jayare and I had the pleasure of learning how to play this from Mertz herself, who has a storied history of game development. The concept of Kroma is that you play on a triangular lightboard and place down translucent pieces of primary colors pulled randomly from a bag. On top of those, you can place a second piece to make a new color (because that’s how colors work.) Each player picks a secondary color (orange, purple, or green), and the key is to have either the most pieces or the most connected area of your chosen color by the end of the game. Mertz taught us the game in less than 30 seconds, and it was one of those games that it was easy to learn but tough to master the strategy of. They’ll be kickstarting the game later this year, and it looks like a game that both kids and adults would have a blast playing. Mertz and her team were all showing a number of games (both electronic and otherwise) at the show, and I’m excited to see what other projects that team is going to churn out.
Cheer Up!: Presented by designer Chris Rio
Okay, so I like to play any board game I can get my hands on at PAX. There are a lot of misses here, but with board games, it’s almost possible to tell how you’re going to feel about it just by looking at it (books, covers, you get it.) Cheer Up’s booth is heralded by a ridiculous looking cartoon dog that is apparently the dog of the creator, Chris Rio. It’s a party game akin to Cards Against Humanity where you play cards and hope a judge will pick them. Unlike CAH, there is a mechanic with 3 different “categories” of cards, and before the judge picks, a rule gets thrown it to change it around. The cutesy dog and standard mechanic completely belies what is a somewhat raunchy and hilarious game. The creator, Chris, reflects this as well… he seemed like a very smiley and nice guy who would just slip in some of the funniest filthiest jokes as we were demo-ing. They currently have a kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cheerup/cheer-up-the-big-d-pack-expansion?ref=discovery&term=cheer%20up) for an expansion to the game that runs until April 1 2020, and the core game itself can be picked up in stores.
Set a Watch: Presented by designer Todd Walsh
Early on, as Kevin and I sat down with Todd Walsh to learn how to play Set a Watch, I was looking at the ability cards of my Witch and noticed they had the same art at the top. He was teaching us the game and also playtesting his prototype of an expansion (coming to Kickstarter later this year), but I was curious if there would be different art for each. Walsh indicated that it was an intentional design choice to help prevent the “quarterbacking” that is often common in co-operative games like this. This would be the start of my favorite creator conversation of the entire convention. Walsh, a self-proclaimed D&D enthusiast, has created a game with such careful consideration, that it’s hard to find faults that aren’t clearly designed to make the game fair, challenging, and fun. The concept of the game is that you are a classic D&D quartet that must defend against an onslaught of monsters. Unfortunately, only three of you can tackle the challenges, as your 4th member each round stokes the fire and brings on resources to help you tackle the challenges ahead and recover spent energy. Though the mechanics can be a little challenging, it has been so much fun to play, and chatting with Walsh to see the insights of a developer.
Colorful: Presented by designer Jordan Draper
Every year since I’ve gone to PAX, my favorite game to bring home is the one I can bust out anywhere and catch people’s attention and interest. One year it was Visitor, another it was Illimat, but this year, it was Colorful. We talked about Jordan Draper after last year’s PAX (I played Tokyo Coin Laundry with Alex and we had a very unexpected good time.) Colorful is an adaption by Draper of a Japanese game where you have a hand of 15 colors and try to match with other people you’re playing with based on constantly more challenging categories. If the category is “Smell”, someone can only say a single word (for example, “Citrus”) and everyone will play a color face down. As Draper describes it, it’s a co-op game where you all win by matching, but the moment you lose, it becomes a competition to have the most cards in the majority. It’s light, fun, easy to teach, and every single one of the 20 people I’ve shown it to since PAX has loved it.
Also KEVIN, firefighters are red and only a sociopath would play the color yellow damn it. -Joe