The third annual PlayStation Experience took place this past weekend, this year venturing to Anaheim, CA. Despite being depressingly close to Disneyland and never venturing inside, the convention held its own fair share of surprises and entertainment.
Since it falls near the end of the year, almost every game on the show floor was set for an ambiguous 2017 release date, and most of the readily available demos were indies or Sony-partnered publishers. There was still no shortage this year of interesting games to check out, and the pace of the show allows for more time spent on smaller titles, ones that might go overlooked at E3 or PAX. In no particular order, here are twenty games we played at PlayStation Experience that we think you should keep your eye on in 2017. (And yes, we said “played,” not just games that were announced. That means no The Last of Us Part II or other games that were revealed but not playable on the show floor.)
1 of 20
: The first part of Vane that struck me was its visuals, particularly its beautiful, crafted world. You fly around as bird in a vast desert wasteland, gliding and soaring on the wind. The feel of flight is very easy to grasp, and soon becomes second nature even minutes in. Banding together with more birds, you can find strange ruins and delve into a backstory about tragedy, loss and transformation—or you can just do bird things. Vane has some strong artistic chops, but the real catch is just how good it feels to fly around its massive world.
2 of 20
Super Mega Baseball 2
: Growing up on games like Bases Loaded, my baseball tastes have always skewed to the arcade style. Where Super Mega Baseball 2 succeeds best is in its arcade-like atmosphere; allowing for up to four players, two per team, it's easy to make this a friendly couch game, as players can switch between fielding and pitching on defense, or batting and baserunning on offense. A difficulty slider lets each individual player adjust the level of assistance they get in making plays happen, and co-ed create-a-character and season modes let you make your dream team from scratch. It's not licensed or franchised with the MLB, but if you need a fun baseball game you can play with any family member, Super Mega Baseball 2 does a great job of making everyone feel welcome.
3 of 20
: A sci-fi thriller with hacking and robots, Divide capitalizes on mystery and intrigue to set itself apart. The protagonist David wakes up in a strange high-tech society with a powerful set of cyber-hacking contact lenses in his eyes. As you explore the world, looking for your lost daughter and trying to figure out how you got there, you have to deal with the oppressive government of this dystopian world. Hack a robot to shut it off, or shoot it with your Taser, or just try to sneak by and hope for the best. It's a little more combat-focused than the likes of Deus Ex, but the low threshold of damage that both you and your enemies can take heightens the stakes. Every firefight is tense, as you often find yourself scrambling for cover as enemies surround and encroach on you. Though the shooting is still a little rough, ambiance and atmosphere are Divide's greatest strengths, and it plies them to great effect.
4 of 20
: The next game from Bastion and Transistor creator Supergiant Games, Pyre is a bit of a departure. Departing on a pilgrimage, your trio of characters takes part in a ritual that's akin to spiritual basketball, as you attempt to plunge a ball into the other team's ritual pyre by "dunking" (running) it in or throwing it. The solo experience is already interesting, but at PlayStation Experience, Supergiant was showing off something completely new: multiplayer. Playing against friends in Pyre's absurd occult sport is a blast, and I often found myself dragging people over to the booth for a match. It's a little slower, a little more strategic, but has the kind of depth and simplicity you would expect from a distilled three-on-three basketball game. Pyre has all the look and sound of a Supergiant game, but this major departure from its previous two is looking to be another standout from the indie studio.
5 of 20
: Ysbryd Games has been publishing some strange and quirky titles over the past year, including the tabletop-podcast-esque Masquerada: Songs & Shadows and cyberpunk bartending sim VA11-HALLA. YIIK is the next in that line, a postmodern role-playing game set in the '90s, focused on occult message boards, cheesy pop culture references and quirky combat. The main party throws LPs and plays keytars, and you can boost their damage output in small minigames, like scratching a record or timing a button press in line with a moving meter. It's a unique concept for a role-playing game, more in line with Earthbound than Final Fantasy, and should be on your 2017 radar if you're looking for something a little off the well-worn path.
6 of 20
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap
: Wonder Boy is maybe best remembered today for its convoluted publication history. The Sega Master System original isn't as well-known in America as Adventure Island, Hudson's adaptation that came out for the Nintendo, and subsequent Wonder Boy sequels were similarly released for various consoles under different names with different art styles. This remake, put together by Lizardcube, takes the third title into the modern era, with improved graphics and revamped levels. The key point was to stay faithful to the original though, and not lose anything in the transition, to the point that the team is working to make its passcode system compatible with actual Sega Master System copies. Even years later, the mechanics and platforming feel solid, reminiscent of an older era but still compelling. The transformations, which allow the titular protagonist boy to turn into different animals, make for a wide breadth of gameplay and interesting puzzles. This is the sort of retro remake that's exciting to see, wholly faithful and displaying the game better than any rose-tinted glasses could.
7 of 20
: In the year of our lord 2016, Windjammers has been announced for re-release. A cult hit among subsets of games culture, the disc-slinging game has a following for good reason. It's essentially air hockey taken to the extreme, flinging a frisbee back-and-forth at breakneck pace, using specials to send it flying along the sides of the arena or bouncing around the walls. Unlike other retro-remakes, Windjammers doesn't have too much polish. The focus is more on stability than reworking assets, but the result is the same game as it's always been, only more readily available for a greater audience to experience its crazy disc-sport for the first time.
8 of 20
: The developers of Absolver like to describe combat as a dance; being practitioners of the martial arts themselves, they have a great deal of knowledge and insight to work with when making the kung-fu fantasy world of Absolver. The easiest way to describe this game is if Dark Souls was primarily a martial arts game. Poise, pacing and careful circling is still crucial, but punches and kicks are the main form of inflicting damage, and your stance is everything. You can set up combos to flow through as you rotate through blows and stances, or hot-swap your position on the fly for certain moves. Each hit has a weighty, meaty feel to it, and the player-versus-player combat reveals a great level of depth and technicality in the combat. Being a wandering ronin-monk, exploring a ruined world reminiscent of Lordran, it's easy to see Absolver being one of the bigger indie hits of 2017.
9 of 20
Battle Chef Brigade
: The mix of Battle Chef Brigade is very strange. As a battle chef, you compete in Iron Chef-style competitions where you have to hunt your own ingredients and create culinary masterworks. The loop tends to be run out, kill some monsters in 2D side-scrolling combat, then pick up the ingredients and drop them into your pot, matching their core essences together in a match-three minigame to "cook" the highest scoring meal you can. It's odd, but the different elements work seamlessly together, creating high tension when you've got thirty seconds left to kill a dragon and get its meat mixed into the pot before time's up. Over time, challenges get added, requiring you to use specific ingredients, highlight certain elements in your dish, or serving multiple dishes to multiple judges. With a charming aesthetic akin to Avatar: The Last Airbender layered over it, it's hard to not love the weird mix at work in Battle Chef Brigade.
10 of 20
: A charming and atmospheric exploration game, Rain World puts you in control of a little cat-slug hybrid, separated from its family and trying to survive in a ruined world. You have to find food, navigate across vines and girders, avoiding predators and seeking shelter when the torrential rain starts again. The developer described Rain World as an anti-Metroid, a response to the feeling of unkillable godhood you feel by the end of the game compared to the tension felt early on, when you have nothing but a peashooter. You gain tools but are still vulnerable in Rain World, and your survival depends more on ingenuity and care than missile expansions. In a growing genre of Metroid spiritual successors, Rain World is much more unique, and much better for it.