Another Labor Day has come and gone, which means one more PAX West is in the books. For over a decade the original PAX has turned the holiday into a four day stretch that many in the games media and community celebrate by playing videogames. This year, Paste Games writer Dante Douglas and assistant editor Holly Green sampled a little bit of everything from PAX West’s massive and diverse line-up, selecting the games they thought were the best and look forward to the most in the coming year. Here are their 10 favorites from the show, in alphabetical order.
I generally hesitate to put a game on one of my “best of show” lists more than once but Ape Out is worthy of continued praise. For this PAX, a new build with additional levels was showcased, illustrating how designer Gabe Cuzzillo has improved on the formula. Players are a gorilla on a rampage, grappling and punching their way through a randomly generated level, trying to find the exit while avoiding and/or mauling the guards. In the new demo, the game introduced a wider variety of enemies, including guards with flamethrowers, and flashlight-wielding guards that lurk in the dark, among other obstacles and environmental hazards. While previously I’d been concerned about how Ape Out will offer an escalating challenge with such a simple premise, I am worried no more. And of course, the bright minimalist cut out graphics and jazzy drum beat soundtrack are still the icing on the cake.
Confidentially, Devolver Digital PR head Stephanie Tinsley Fitzwilliam tells me that an extra special level has recently been added to the game, featuring a certain orange, poorly coiffed manchild who happens to have a…building…in a cosmopolitan American city… somewhere cough. So stay tuned for that barrel of monkeys. —Holly Green
Celeste, from the creators of Towerfall (and with the help of a couple other collaborators), is a tightly-paced, hardcore platformer with a surprising amount of heart. Often, games that push for mechanical perfection in the platforming genre skimp on the story and setting, but not so for Celeste. Building on a rich, character-driven background and sparse, but enticing, setting, Celeste shows that there’s still room to grow in a genre space that feels confined to the same conventions. It doesn’t hurt that the pixel art used is lush and vibrant, and the soundtrack atmospheric and grand. Celeste stands out both artistically and mechanically. It releases January 2018, for Steam, itch.io, PS4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One.—Dante Douglas
If we as critics should disclose potential sources of bias, then I should be upfront and say I always knew I would love Cuphead. There is something so comfortingly nostalgic about the many vintage cartoons that inspired it. Not only has Studio MDHR absolutely nailed those faded animation and swinging music styles, the recent overhaul to the gameplay (which previously was limited to boss battles) is also superb: the traditional sidescrolling levels feature controls that allow you to duck, dodge and dash with a fast paced fluidity that is as responsive as it is satisfying. The end result will be worth the wait.—Holly Green
Dragon Ball FighterZ
Out of sheer nostalgia I checked out Dragon Ball FighterZ, and came away supremely impressed. This is the Dragon Ball Z fighting game I always wanted as a kid—it perfectly retains the cheesy ‘80s rock feel of the original (in every detail, from its soundtrack all the way to its garish menu), while offering a moveset full of satisfying explosions and over-the-top attacks. My opponent after the match informed me, with a mixture of disbelief and sadness, that the controls are “exactly” like Guilty Gear—and to that, I cannot attest. I do know, however, as a casual fighting game player, that it was fun and adequately captured the series’s spirit, which is what really counts to me. —Holly Green
Gorn is a VR game about being a gladiator. Blood flies from limbs, ridiculously beefy challengers are watched over by grotesque floating heads, and the coliseum quickly fills with gore and gibs and weaponry. It’s a blast, and not just due to its goofy presentation. It’s one of the first VR games I’ve seen to use physics simulation and limb deformation to its most absurd capacity. Gorn players can rip arms off of opponents and use them to bash in other opponents, in full, glorious virtual reality. There’s simply nothing like Gorn in the VR space right now—and it shows. Gorn is currently in Early Access on Steam, and is expected to launch sometime later this year on Vive.—Dante Douglas
Necrobarista, described by the creators as an “experimental narrative game,” is a visual novel unlike any visual novel I’ve seen. Combining traditional narrative game formats with a fully 3D gameworld and player agency turns Necrobarista into a slick, noir magical adventure. Following the story of the titular “Necrobarista” (a necromancer and a barista), players will unravel mysteries, manage the bar, and explore this vibrant world. Stellar art design and a compelling cast of characters round out the title, and a dark, synthy soundtrack ties it all together. Necrobarista launches in 2018 for PC and Nintendo Switch.—Dante Douglas
Pikuniku is a charming puzzle-exploration game in a beautiful, flat-shaded world. The game’s colorful aesthetic and inspired wit is made even more interesting by the continual hints of something grander underneath. There is no attempt to hide this in publishing materials—Pikuniku is a game with something dark at its core. Floppy, procedurally-animated characters bounce and swing around environments bursting with color and heart, and a stellar, subtle audio design brings every wiggle and flop of each character’s limbs into focus. Pikuniku launches 2018 for the PC and Nintendo Switch.—Dante Douglas
The latest entry in the Bit Trip Runner series is, as ever, delightfully punishing and appealingly rhythmic. As with the previous installations, the developers (Choice Provisions, formerly known as Gaijin Games) have taken this opportunity to let the game’s visuals evolve along with the action. Players can now enjoy a more advantageous field of view that makes it easier to anticipate incoming obstacles and barriers. There are also some new vehicles that will give your runner a new sprinting challenge, including planes and cars. And as always, there’s a killer head-bobbing soundtrack to help you land all those timely leaps and bounds. —Holly Green
Wandersong looks so good that I started crying while watching the demo. It’s that good. The game follows a tiny bard trying to do good in a world that is threatened to be destroyed by its own creator. That touch of darkness underneath the exterior makes this more than just a quirky puzzle platformer, and that’s the key to Wandersong. Gorgeous visuals are buoyed by a fantastic soundtrack and vocal work, making this an easy standout of PAX, and my personal favorite game I saw all weekend. Wandersong launches in early 2018 on PC and Mac.—Dante Douglas
As much as it pains me to put another repeat on this list, Wolfenstein II shows the most promise of almost any upcoming game by a major publisher, especially as far as Bethesda is concerned. I am pleased to note the observations I made previously at E3 2017 hold fast: the level design is tight, flowing and intuitive but still appropriately busy, with great places to hide and take cover. I’m especially impressed by the thoughtfulness of its opening sequence, which places the lead character BJ Blazkowicz in a wheelchair. The maneuvering during this segment suggests an attention to detail that I anticipate will lead to a thoroughly enjoyable full game experience. —Holly Green