The 2018 Penny Arcade Expo was held last weekend in beautiful Boston, Massachusetts (my home sweet home). I’ve gone for five years now, and after a lackluster show in 2017, I didn’t quite know what to expect this time around. Fortunately, PAX East 2018 brought a ton of awesome games with it, and while I didn’t get to meet any of my gaming heroes this year, I did see some awesome panels and bought some cool stuff along the way. I have amassed a list below, in no particular order, of my top 10 favorite games from PAX East 2018. For the first time ever, this list not just traditional video games, but tabletop games and apps as well. This list serves as a testament to PAX’s diversity on its show floor, which is the reason I keep going back year after year. Let’s get started!
City of Brass (PC/PS4/XBO)
The first game I played at PAX East 2018, City of Brass is a first-person dungeon crawler inspired by games like Bioshock and Prince of Persia. I was immediately drawn to its artsy graphics, which are extremely reminiscent of Sea of Thieves. I ran over, grabbed a controller, and soon a crowd gathered around me to check out this incredibly unique game. Developed by Uppercut Games, City of Brass allows you to dual-wield a sword and a whip as you fight through countless dungeons, dodging traps and slaying skeletons along the way. Perhaps the most intelligent part of City of Brass is the use of context-sensitive directional attacks, allowing for fun moves like blinding an enemy by whipping him in the eyes, or pulling his feet out from under him by aiming at his legs. You can also activate traps by using the whip, making pots explode or spikes impale your enemies. Progression through levels requires shopping at the genie’s store, located randomly within the dungeons. The genie can provide health upgrades and damage boosts, which I assume will help you take on larger and stronger bad guys. City of Brass is currently out on Steam Early Access, and console versions are in development. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for this one. Did I mention you get to use a whip?
Murderous Pursuits (PC)
Murderous Pursuits was a game I spent nearly a full day seeking out on the show floor. Produced by indie studio Blazing Griffin, its booth was hidden between the PlayStation and Xbox booths, nowhere near the other indies, confusing me for hours as I wondered “where did that super cool game go? I need to play it!” Fortunately, I ended up finding Murderous Pursuits, and while some may just think of it as a more polished version of the Guess Who gamemode created in Garry’s Mod, I think its Victorian setting and wide array of abilities and characters provides a fresh new take on a beloved formula. If you’re unfamiliar with the aforementioned Garry’s Mod mode, another analogue is Assassin’s Creed multiplayer, where every player is assigned a target to kill, while they must also avoid the player tasked with killing them. 1-8 players take on the role of an 1800s partygoer, equipped with powers that allow them to perform actions such as taking on the form of another player, or blinding their pursuer with a bright light, collecting weapons along the way to assassinate their target with. Guided by just a meter that tells the player when their target is in range, they must use their sensory skills to find the odd one out, and earn the most kills to win the 10-minute round. Murderous Pursuits is coming out on April 26, and I’m already crossing my fingers that my shitty laptop can run it.
One of the most ridiculous games I’ve ever seen, Coffence combines fighting games with hipster culture. The title, Coffence, is exactly what it sounds like: a portmanteau of fencing and coffee. Players assume the role of their favorite barista, and choose one of the multiple cartoonish stages to fight in (my friend and I chose to duel in an office, complete with a break room for, you know, drinking coffee). The fighting mechanics are anything but typical; Street Fighter veterans will not have the upper hand in Coffence. Using the left stick for character movement, and the right stick for arm movement, players must hit their opponent’s cup, which will make a drop of the delicious drink fly through the air, and hopefully into their own cup. Once one barista’s cup is empty, they lose. Players are given close, ranged, and spin attacks, using their coffee cup like a yo-yo, to (Cof)fence against their opponent. This may seem like an insane premise, and it is, but the mechanics worked so well, and made for some frantic fighting game action. Coffence is nothing if not fun, and it’s playable now through Steam Early Access.
Pitchstorm is a game unlike any other on this list, because it requires no screens at all to play it. Developed by Skybound, makers of The Walking Dead comics, as well as popular card games like Superfight and Red Flags, Pitchstorm is their latest promising project, and it hasn’t even been Kickstarted yet. Like all of Skybound’s previous card games, Pitchstorm can be played with a nearly infinite amount of people, and it tasks players with creating a movie pitch based on a drawn “character” and “plot” card. They are given 60 seconds to pitch their movie to the executive (Judge/Card Czar/what have you), and at random intervals that executive is allowed to throw curveballs their way, in the form of “notes”. For example, my buddy and I were told to pitch a movie about a crocodile hunter getting lost in the big city, and running into trouble with the mob. Easy, right? Well, not when the executive tells us to make it G-rated, after we just spent 30 seconds explaining how bloody this film will be! All in all, the game’s a total riot, as are all of Skybound’s card games. The most unique thing about Pitchstorm, though, is that no game will ever be the same. Relying completely on improvisation, the possibilities for movie pitches are truly endless. I can’t wait to throw my money at this game on May 8, when the Kickstarter begins. Good luck, Skybound!
The Inner Friend (PC/PS4/XBO)
I played The Inner Friend inside a booth that looked like a never-ending cave. Its dark and dreary appearance made my gameplay experience something much more impactful. The Inner Friend is difficult to describe, as a simple description would make it seem like a fairly undesirable game. Armed with just a “jump” and “interact” button, you play as a child whose appearance is literally shattered, as if they’re made of glass or paper. I played a level set in an abandoned school, and as I ran through the vacant halls and uncovered more of the mysterious story – complete with eerie lighting effects and demonic flashbacks – I found myself getting more and more involved in what turned out to be a really smart puzzle game. What begins as a walking sim turns into a much more complex experience, and by the time I approached the final boss fight, I didn’t want to put the controller down. I’m still confused by what I played, but from the moment I finished the demo and a developer placed a promotional yo-yo in my hand, I’ve been hung up on just what The Inner Friend did to my mind, and I can’t wait to see more of it someday.
If you’re a mobile gamer, you’re probably pretty bored of Match 3 puzzle games. Some hold their own, like Marvel Puzzle Quest or the old standby Bejeweled. But for the most part, they’re all just more of the same. Thankfully, Collapsus breathes some fresh air into the mobile puzzle genre, and it’ll even breathe some life into your PlayStation Vita! Coming to all current platforms, Collapsus is a Match 4 puzzle game that uses your device’s accelerometer in the most creative way. Through an endless stream of levels, the player is tasked with making lines of four or more to fill a progress bar (along the top of the screen) and move on. Working against the player is a resource bar along the bottom, with 10 moves to make. Every time the player taps a block, one resource is depleted. Lose all 10, and you lose. However, to make things a little easier, the player can rotate their device in any direction in order to make a line. Just tap a block, and let gravity do its thing. It’s an incredibly unique concept, as I’ve never seen motion controls utilized in a block-matching puzzle game, ever. Making things harder, too, is the inclusion of “chameleon blocks” that change color every time a move is made. This can drastically mess up your strategy, and leave you staring at your screen, thinking nervously for quite some time. Collapsus will be available this summer, if everything goes according to plan. I, for one, can’t wait to download this on my phone (or my Vita!) for any time I want a fun puzzle game that’ll make me look like a damn fool, flipping my device wildly through the air.
Sky Noon (PC)
Probably the most basic game I played at PAX East 2018, but without a doubt the most fun, Sky Noon is a 3-on-3, 5-minute, nonviolent multiplayer shooter. Let that sink in for a minute. Sky Noon equips players with air-based weaponry: snipers, handguns, machine guns – all shooting air instead of bullets. The goal is to simply blast the other team’s players off the edge of the arena (which is literally floating in the sky). Grappling hooks are used to get around, as the maps allow for some crazy verticality. Lassos are also used to latch onto enemies, letting players pull themselves back to safety. There’s no health, no ammo, just straight up fun. So if you’re imagining a mixture of Titanfall 2, Super Smash Bros., and Overwatch, you’ve basically got the picture already. Sky Noon drew a crowd so big, their booth literally had to expand as the convention went on. If that doesn’t make you the slightest bit interested in this game, then nothing will. But for those of you who love Old West-inspired arena shooters, your prayers will be answered later this year.
Battery Jam (PC/Switch)
Piggybacking on the concept of “inspiration”, Splatoon couldn’t find a better spiritual successor than Battery Jam. A top-down 4-player game with truly no genre to label it with, Battery Jam is a battle of land ownership, using colors as a weapon. Each player has their own color, and their goal is to cover the playing field with it. At the start of each round, players can run for a few seconds and spread their color behind them. After that, the only way to produce color is by stunning their enemies and throwing exploding boxes at them, which will explode with color upon their death. Arenas are very small, which makes for a hectic close quarters race against the clock. Further making things difficult is the ability to raise and lower the terrain, making it harder to hurl boxes at enemies and thus gain control over the map. The matches are short, the game is colorful, and the developers are really passionate about their product. I strongly advise you pick it up when it releases on Switch, especially if you love couch co-op party games (for more awesome party games, check out my article on the Top 10 Party Games of 2017).
Detroit: Become Human (PS4)
If you’ve read our coverage of E3 and PlayStation Experience and other major game shows, chances are you’ve heard of Detroit: Become Human. The next big game from Heavy Rain creator David Cage, Detroit was born from a PlayStation 4 tech demo, and follows an android uprising in the futuristic city of Detroit. The demo I played was the same shown at the PlayStation Experience in 2017, involving a rogue android taking his owner’s daughter hostage and threatening to shoot her. The player is sent in as a “good” android to diffuse the situation. I say “good” because the story of Detroit revolves around the moral dilemma “can androids be trusted?” It’s a captivating concept, and the freedom to make so many different decisions allows for immeasurable replayability. There were so many contrasting outcomes at the PAX East demo alone, I can’t wait to see the final product’s attention to detail and plot variation. Fortunately I won’t have to wait long, as Detroit “becomes human” on May 25. See what I did there?
While the rest of this list was in no particular order, I must admit I saved the best for last. My Best of Show goes to a little indie game called Alkimya. My friend and I stumbled upon this gem by just wandering the aisles of games, and I popped by because, well, there was an open controller available. Nobody else was playing this game, and the developer was on his phone. I felt quite out of place, and once I realized it was a top-down RPG that looked like a bare-bones Divinity, I almost walked away right then. Until the man put his phone down, pushed some buttons on my controller, and explained Alkimya’s premise to me in his sweet (I think Spanish?) accent. As time went on, and I explored the game’s content, this Guillermo del Toro lookalike (and soundalike) showed me just how influenced by alchemy Alkimya really is. Opening an in-game spellbook, I was able to imbue my weaponry with the four main elements: fire, water, earth, and air. But if I mixed, say, fire and earth, I was given lava, which I could then turn into different potions to create bombs and barriers. However, the moment I reached an epiphany was when I looked at Guillermo and said “can I make ice?” and then proceeded to mix water and air to make ice, and covered my sword and shield in it. This customization, this immense freedom was unlike anything I’d ever seen before! I’ve played Doodle God. I’ve played little alchemy-based games before. But an RPG that allows you to make any element into a potion or weaponry buff? And even add elements like gold or freaking sodium for extra attributes? Alkimya is God: The Video Game, and that’s not even counting the story, graphics, or combat mechanics that are included as well. I cannot tell you how floored I was by Alkimya, and how ecstatic I am for its release next year.
Grip is a racing game with a unique twist. While it looks like any ordinary arcade racer with weaponized vehicles and huge open tracks, the ability to drive upside down makes for one hell of a time. Every car can literally flip 180 degrees and keep going, which allows for some crazy stunts that are downright dizzying at times. Couple that with its gorgeous graphics, and you’re left with a racing game that you just can’t tear yourself from, no matter how hard you try. Grip is coming to all consoles later this year, and it’s available now on PC.
Brawlout is a Super Smash Bros.-inspired fighting game, with an eccentric cast of fighters and arenas that caught my interest from the moment I laid eyes on it. Its graphics are cartoonish and vivid, its characters – like Senator Feathers, a patriotic eagle – are so ridiculous it’s genius, and the fun it supplied my buddy and I was priceless. Brawlout is coming to consoles later this year, but it’s already available on Switch and PC.
Just Shapes and Beats (PC/Switch)
I found it unfair to write about Just Shapes and Beats for another year in a row. I’ve done this list on my personal blog for 5 years now, and every year Just Shapes and Beats shows up. Simply put, it is the most insane, creative, and breathtaking rhythm game I have ever played in my entire life. It lives within the video game hall of fame in my mind, and it hasn’t even been released yet. Words don’t do it justice, so just take in this gameplay, and then buy the game when it’s finally released on Switch on May 31st.
Well that’s it, my favorite games from PAX East 2018! This year’s show definitely brought some amazing games to the table. Indie games will always have a special place in my heart, and PAX certainly delivered in that department, while also showing off some great new first-party exclusives. I can’t wait to see how this year plays out, especially with these games on the horizon.
For more gaming news, and eventually the Top 10 of PAX East 2019, stay tuned to Ground Punch!