The experience of PAX West is claustrophobic. People wander around and holler and generally do the things that people do, but they do it in such close quarters that you can’t turn around without knocking a Cloud Strife into a Tom Nook who comically performs a domino effect that knocks eight different generations of Power Ranger to the floor. However, being the Very Good Journalists that we are, we did our due diligence by walking around and looking at a million different games and generally compressing an infinite amount of information into our finite brainspaces. Here are the fifteen games Paste’s PAX team—Holly Green, Imran Khan and myself—thought were the most interesting at PAX West 2016, in alphabetical order.—Cameron Kunzelman
This minimalistic beat ‘em up was showcased and received funding through the NYU Game Incubator in 2015 and is the work of a single dev, 2016 IGF Student Finalist Gabe Cuzzillo. It was also shown at PAX this year without an official announcement from Devolver Digital, yet easily outshone every other game in the booth.
Featuring bright silhouettes inspired by the cut-outs of Saul Bass over a soundtrack of jazzy drum solos, Ape Out is a top-down brawler starring a gorilla on a rampage. Players navigate a maze-like level, ripping items from the environment and swinging their giant monkey fists to deliver brutal justice on the guards pursuing them and threatening to take them down. At the end of the level, the player’s path through the maze is shown on the screen, bringing renewed motivation in tackling the challenge anew. (Some footage of the game can be seen in this mini-documentary.)
From the visuals to the audio to the controls, Ape Out is satisfying in its simplicity. The controls are easy to learn, the art style effective but not fussy, the music punchy yet unobtrusive. It sold me on premise but sealed the deal on presentation.
There is scant information about Ape Out available right now but with its first PAX West now behind it, expect more soon.—Holly Green
Battle Chef Brigade
I like my games with a huge dose of personality, and Battle Chef Brigade delivers. A side scrolling, combination match-3 and fighting game, players take on the role of Mina, a young woman aspiring to become a top battle chef.
Each battle is fought with the goal of making the dish with the highest number of points, and players must use the finest ingredients and solve as many puzzles as possible within the allotted battle time. Ingredients are gathered by killing enemies and collecting their remains, which are then put in a large pot for cooking. From there, the ingredients are turned into random puzzle pieces, which can be “stirred” and rearranged into matching sets of three. The more combinations made during a match, the higher the score of the resulting dish. Whimsical, with a basic but satisfying combat system (featuring spells and special skills, some of which can help you in the kitchen), Battle Chef Brigade is uncomplicated, with a great sense of humor. Battle Chef Brigade would make a great boyfriend.
Successfully funded through Kickstarter in October of 2014, Trinket Studios reached several of their stretch goals, which include additional playable characters, each with their own specific combat and cooking strengths. Last month the studio was also able to announce Adult Swim Games as their publisher, however a release window has yet to be announced.—HG
The Church In The Darkness
Jim Jones and the horrifying mass murder/suicides of Jonestown is a collection of events that are hard to get over when you learn about them. It’s a very human story of believers, betrayal and authoritarian control that is hard to shake, and the scale of it makes it so much worse. It’s very easy to get those kinds of events wrong by turning them into exploitation or by parodying the very real assemblage of people, places and ideas that make events like Jonestown happen. The Church In The Darkness seems to be taking that grand cluster of ideas and putting them in infinite remix with each other, telling different kinds of stories with different kinds of outcomes from the generic historical information we know about events like Jonestown. The game seems to be striking the correct mix of ideas and mechanics while not exploiting the real tragedies that share the same ideological core, and I’m interested to see what comes out the other side in the end.—Cameron Kunzelman
I had no idea what Clustertruck was before being encouraged to pick up the controller and, to some extent, I wonder if that was for the best. The initial moment of confusion, then panic, then immediate acceptance as I played will be extremely hard to ever replicate. The game immediately thrusts you into its SuperhotmeetsMirror’s Edge mad world without giving you time to understand. Clustertruck is the logical extreme of “The Floor is Lava” with trucks and you absolutely need to give it a try to understand.—Imran Khan
Earthlock: Festival of Magic
Look, here’s the deal: this game has a small pig rabbit who is, as far as I can tell, a playable character that can kick ass all over a fantasy world that’s equal parts ‘90s JRPG and contemporary beautiful animated experience. There’s tactical battling (in the sense that party members pair up to perform better attacks), and there are numbers that go up and down based on how hard you wail on your enemies. It seems refreshingly no-nonsense in a world where that genre of role-playing game has either been flattened out into an action experience (the Bethesda model) or made so complicated that I can’t really make my way into it (the Tales of … series). Earthlock seems like it strikes a lot of balances for helping you into the game, and that’s something I find really refreshing in the world of enthusiast gaming.—CK
Gears of War 4
I have a special place in my heart for Gears of War that I have been unable to articulate for years. Something about the way the game aims and moves, the way the enemies react (or don’t) to your attacks, all gels together so well. I thought I only needed one second to touch Gears of War 4 to know if it feels like a real sequel or something entirely alien, only to discover that I still do not know for sure. It feels like a lost Gears game, somehow steeped in all the virtues of its predecessors while doing nothing to advance itself forward like the two sequels before it did. Despite my excitement, I am worried. That worry, however, still did nothing to stymie the fun I had playing the game on the floor as I slowly recalled what it was like to love Gears of War in the first place.—IK
Just Shapes and Beats
With a TV screen jammed uncomfortably into a tight corner on the Indie Megabooth show floor, you’d think the demo station for this game would go unnoticed by PAX attendees. But you’d be wrong. Like the Pied Piper of PAX West, the soundtrack of Just Shapes and Beats assembled a tight crowd five-deep and ten-wide of folks eager to get their hand on the game. And what a game it is.
Just Shapes and Beats is the very definition of the term “orchestrated chaos”. It’s objective is simply to not hit anything. It sounds easy, but in practice it’s among the more difficult games I’ve played. As the name suggests, the game consists largely of shapes and beats; the player is one of up to four polygons hurtling through space, dodging and ducking the many on-screen elements illustrating the music. Each moment is well-choreographed and perfectly timed to audio cues. The effect is not unlike playing through a music video.
Originally conceived during a 48 hour game jam, the fully realized version of Just Shapes and Beats is the brainchild of the three-person Quebec City based team Berzerk Studio. The soundtrack is an open collaborative effort featuring many artists. As a “music game”, it will go down in the halls of fame right alongside Bit Trip Runner, Super Hexagon, OlliOlli and Hotline Miami. Like Super Hexagon and Bit Trip Runner, the fun is in the game’s intense demand for quick reflexes combined with an almost hypnotically upbeat soundtrack, each small successful maneuver evoking a huge sense of triumph. It is also the only game I’ve ever deliberately stood in line for at PAX and I got a very stiff neck in the process. I have no regrets.—HG