Here are the best games of the show from PAX West 2019
I wish I had time to cover everything, but these are some of my favorites from the show.
I played somewhere in the vicinity of 60 titles at PAX West, but not all of them can be the best at something. Some were graphically impressive, others made laugh, and others stole my heart with their wit, their theming, or their soundtrack.
Without further ado, here are my top titles from PAX West 2019, presented as personal awards.
Best Throwback – Infernax
Have you ever gone back to play one of your old favorites only to realize it does not stand the test of time? Graphics that you thought were expressive look terrible, the controls are unresponsive, there are frame drops where your Capri Sun-addled baby brain thought everything looked and felt great?
Infernax is the latest title from the Just Shapes & Beats team and it’s a Zeldavania that takes all of those positive feelings and manifests them into a title that justifies every one of them. Even the booth was a 1980’s Greatest Hits presentation, from the shag carpet to the squishy rocking chair, hand-built CRT, and nostalgic snacks.
In Infernax, you play as a crusader returning home from battle only to find that “home” is a little bit infested with zombies, skeletons, and giant monsters right now. It’s a side-scrolling action game with meaningful choices (e.g. bash the screaming man’s head in at his request or pray for his soul and let him transform into a mini-boss), equipment upgrades, an absolutely absurd number of secrets, and challenging action that will keep you coming back. No, seriously, I literally played this game twice at PAX West and my schedule was full.
There’s no release date for Infernax yet.
Most Hilarious – Best Friend Forever
We covered Best Friend Forever, the hybrid dog care simulator/dating simulator, when the trailer dropped and one of my thoughts was, “Alright, the trailer is hilarious, but maybe it’s just well-cut?” Turns out no, the actual game is even funnier than the trailer. Maybe part of why everything here feels so fresh is owed to the fact that nascent studio Starcolt is almost entirely women – 4 out of 5, to be specific – and that’s huge in the gaming industry.
I had to give the laptop back to the developers mid-play because I would have literally played all day if I could have. It is one of only two games at PAX West to make me laugh out loud multiple times and the other will be covered in a review soon (spoilers: It’s River City Girls).
Best Friend Forever comes out February 14th, 2020 for Windows and Mac on Steam and itch.io as well as Nintendo Switch.
ALSO, LOOK AT THAT LINK. IT’S DOT DOG.
Most Poignant – Spiritfarer
Monday of PAX West was my “I have no appointments, so I’m going to check out everything I heard about but haven’t played yet” day and Spiritfarer by Thunder Lotus Games was one I had heard about repeatedly. It was the very last game I played at PAX West and I’m extremely glad I did, because wow it is something special.
In Spiritfarer you play as Stella and your job is to guide characters into the afterlife. Your quests are their last wishes. You have a glowing, golden relic that turns into whatever you might need it to be (e.g. a fishing rod when you’re fishing, a pair of oven mitts to cook food, or a watering can to maintain your garden) and you can build rooms on your ship however you’d like. Everything is gorgeously animated as well as a feature movie and everything from the controls to the audio is masterfully well done.
I don’t even maintain that the games I give a 10/10 to are flawless, but the Spiritfarer demo is utterly perfect. Spiritfarer is something profoundly special and I can’t wait for it to come to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, and Mac in 2020.
Best Action – Super Crush KO
Super Crush KO is the latest title by Vertex Pop, the studio most recently known for Graceful Explosion Machine. They have a long history of making excellent action games and this one is no exception.
I spoke with Mobeen, one of the developers, and he best describes this one as, “What if action games like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry were cute?” So Super Crush KO is exactly that: All of the incredibly tight action and combo mechanics of the best action titles in the genre with the bubblegum pop animation of a cartoon.
The result is an absolutely dazzling action masterpiece that I can’t wait to play in full. You can punch robots in the face and look stylish while you’re doing it sometime in early 2020 on Windows and Nintendo Switch.
Best Aesthetic – Creature in the Well
I’ve never seen a game that looks like Creature in the Well. I’ve also never played a game that plays like Creature in the Well. I included a gif because this is a game that only makes sense in motion, but I can best describe it by saying, “What if a pinball machine was a dungeon?” You play as a character with a metal rod and a sword, each of which interacts with flying ball projectiles in a different way, and your primary means of interaction is hitting balls around the level.
Best Genre Buster at PAX West 2019 – No Straight Roads
My favorite thing about playing as Mayday and Zuke in No Straight Roads is that it’s never 100% clear if I’m playing a third-person action game or a rhythm game. I’m fighting bosses and free to move around and act however I want, but the boss’s attacks are in sync with the music. I have to manage health and special attacks and so on, but if I just stay on the beat I’m going to be win eventually.
It doesn’t hurt that No Straight Roads is also one of the most stylistically impressive titles from PAX West. It also doesn’t hurt that the soundtrack is great, oscillating between rock and the nefarious EDM villains you’re fighting against. This is definitely a title to watch out for.
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