The Best of PAX West
PAX West 2019 was an incredibly busy weekend in Seattle. The Washington State Convention Center housed a plethora of games and thousands of gamers from all walks of life. I got my hands on more games than I can count, and I learned an important lesson from that experience: We’re in a golden age of gaming. From the biggest AAA developers to the smallest team of passionate indie devs, you’re never far from finding a new obsession.
To illustrate that, I’ve gathered six very different but equally impressive titles. No matter what you like, at least one of these titles should be on your radar as we march toward 2020.
No Straight Roads Rocks
We took a look at No Straight Roads back at E3, and it had an impressive showing at PAX as well. Set in a world where EDM rules the soundwaves, rock ‘n’ roll is all but forgotten. Yet, a guitarist and drummer duo refuse to let it die. Named Bunk Bed Junction, they set off on a musical journey to topple the EDM empire.
In the demo, I fought a super DJ who believed his music would live on forever. When you approach him, he sits on a throne in what looks like a nightclub, but the moment the fight starts, the arena transforms into a supernatural solar system. Planets orbit around him, and you have to dodge and attack those planets to hurt him.
As you’d expect, music plays an important role here, as if it were the third main character. This isn’t a rhythm game, so don’t expect to hit moving notes along a chart. Nonetheless, counting to the beat is essential. Certain attacks move to the beat, and the only way to dodge them is to be in tune with the music. It starts out as EDM, but the more you gain the upperhand, the more you hear a rock version of the track break through. The spectacle is an impressive musical treat, and I’m eager to see (and hear) more of it.
No Straight Roads is set to launch on PC via the Epic Games Store and PlayStation 4 in 2020.
Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection Delivers What You Expect
I should say right off the bat that as a kid, I adored the Mega Man Zero games, and for good reason. I enjoyed playing as Zero in the Mega Man X games. The Game Boy Advance games provided even more of that. Furthermore, the story goes above and beyond your average Mega Man title. The villains’ motivations and actions paint a surprisingly gritty narrative, and the memorable plot twists inject a lot of personality in these character sprites. To put it simply, the Mega Man Zero series stands as some of the most underrated games in the entire franchise.
So you can bet I was more than interested to see what Capcom would do with this legacy collection. Looping in the excellent ZX games was like a cherry on top for me. I spent 15 minutes with the collection at PAX West, and I enjoyed every second of it. I booted up Mega Man Zero 3, and it was like going back in time. The new screen smoothing options help it look great, but the original pixel-perfect graphics are there, too. If you enjoyed them back in the day, the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection should be up your alley. For newcomers who like action platformers or the Gunvolt series, these older Inti Creates games will provide you with more than enough to chew on.
Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam on Jan. 21, 2020.
Windjammers 2 is Straight-up Competitive Fun
A couple years ago, I wasn’t ever expecting Windjammers to receive a re-release for the PlayStation 4 or the Nintendo Switch, but it happened. Furthermore, I never expected a Windjammers 2 to ever grace the gaming landscape, but it’s happening. Both of these events come to us courtesy of DotEmu, which showcased the sequel (along with Streets of Rage 4) at PAX West once again.
Seeing Windjammers 2 in action really sold me on this sequel. The stylish animation has a flair for the dramatic, but it still retains that competitive edge players are looking for. At first, I played against one of the developers, who handily beat me for a few rounds. When I played with a fellow newbie though, everything started to slowly click. I’m by no means an expert now, but it took some willpower to put the controller down. I wanted to keep playing and get better.
Everything in Windjammers 2 relies on your reaction speed. You almost always have an answer to whatever the opponent throws at you. You just have to be quick enough to respond accordingly. Essentially, this game fits in the “quick to learn, hard to master” category, as the skill ceiling is quite high.
Windjammers 2 is slated for PC and Nintendo Switch later this year. It will also come to Google Stadia in 2020.
Journey to the Savage Planet Takes a Lighthearted Approach to Savagery
Typhoon Studios, based in Montreal, features developers from Ubisoft and EA. Those big names aren’t really known for making lighthearted, funny games, but humor seems to be a core part of Typhoon’s identity. Look no further than their website, which showcases how many bugs they’ve fixed alongside the number of Sanpellegrinos consumed. To add to the wholesomeness, next to it is a count labeled “laughs shared,” so you know they take humor very seriously.
Journey to the Savage Planet strives for that happy-go-lucky vibe. In the game, you (and a friend, if you want) explore a world full of alien creatures, harvesting materials to expand your footprint. Harvesting and crafting is a common trend, but Typhoon’s approach aims to make you laugh. The creatures I saw would feel at home in your average Saturday morning cartoon. You can shoot them with your gun to watch them blow up in colorful goop. Alternatively, you can punt them and watch them fly away. I did that a lot, and I swear my brain added a slide whistle sound effect as they flew away.
If you’re looking for a new, non-serious adventure that involves crafting and exploring an alien world, keep an eye on Journey to the Savage Planet. If you’re a fan of wordplay, you should know that grenades in this game are bombegranates.
Journey to the Savage Planet launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC via Epic Games Store on Jan. 28, 2020.
Monster Prom 2: Monster Camp Makes Visual Novels Competitive
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who are fans of Monster Prom, and those who have never played Monster Prom. Everything about this competitive visual novel experience screams ridiculousness. Luckily, the folks at Beautiful Glitch seem primed to double down on the zany antics with a sequel, Monster Camp.
In Monster Camp, you and up to three other friends play as monsters, and now that it’s summer, all of your peers are enjoying summer camp. You each take turns doing a different camp activity, which affects your stats in sometimes unexpected ways. Afterward, you’ll see an event, often involving one or two of the other monsters at camp (that you’re inevitably trying to get busy with). The game gives you a narrative choice, which further affects your stats and the way others see you.
These situations often made me marvel at the incredible creativity behind Monster Prom. The references are topical—Belle Delphine was brought up, for example—and the monsters are as lovable as ever. If you’re looking for a funny night with friends, Monster Camp could be a great start.
Monster Prom 2: Monster Camp is slated for a PC release via Steam in fall 2020.
Foregone Features Responsive Combat
Big Blue Bubble wears its inspiration on its sleeve when it comes to Foregone. The pixel art of Dead Cells is obvious, and it looks beautiful in motion. The gameplay takes a similar approach, but it doesn’t rely on procedural generation. In Foregone, you play as an Arbiter, and it’s up to you to restore order by killing monsters.
You have access to a melee weapon, a ranged weapon, and a host of abilities. In my short time with it, I used a smaller, quicker sword and a larger falchion, both of which felt good to use. Meanwhile, the ranged weapons presented more interesting worldbuilding decisions, as I found a futuristic pistol and a bow.
No matter the weapon you choose, the combat feels responsive in Foregone. Furthermore, the special abilities you have access to brings things to the next level. The superpowered dash absolutely obliterates enemies, but it has a lengthy cooldown. The screen-clearing bomb has a similar destructive effect, while the shield eats a hit on behalf of your health bar. Finally, you have a healing ability you can channel, but it only charges when you do damage.
I’d love to sink my teeth into this juicy combat system more. It perfectly balances flashy, feel-cool moments with the ever-present danger of death.
Foregone will go into Early Access on PC via Steam later this year.
We saw a lot of other cool things at PAX West. Skullgirls creators Lab Zero Games has a new title in the works called Indivisible. Meanwhile, Life is Strange fans can hop over to our interview with co-director Michel Koch here.