For those of you who didn’t make it to PAX this weekend, you have my most sincere sympathy; it truly is an amazing experience for a gamer. From playing Duke Nukem Forever on the expo floor to listening to Scott and Kris talking about making blamimations to watching Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins play D&D, there really is nothing quite like PAX; I highly recommend attending if you find yourself in the Seattle or Boston area. I’m sure you’ve seen some of the news for Duke Nukem Forever or Final Fantasy 14, but there are a lot of games shown off at PAX. For those of you who couldn’t make it out this year, I thought I might review some of the lesser known titles which were shown off at PAX this year.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Good-FeelI suppose this game has been in the works for a long time, and everyone got a look at it during E3, but it was a completely different experience when I finally got my hands on it. Compared to Sonic 4, KEY was very easy to pick up and I didn’t have to spend 10 minutes figuring out how to swing on a vine (I might be a little angry at SEGA for wasting my time). I may have to dust off my Wii for this one.
Nintendo’s new philosophy seems to be to take their old IP and re-imagine it on the Wii. Unlike the other games Nintendo was demoing, KEY felt like a new kind of game, not just an identical remake cough Donkey Kong cough. The “yarn” aspect gave me new ways to interact with enemies as well as the environment. From lassoing to unraveling the fabric I was playing on, it felt like a completely different game.
NevercenterShibuya is supposed to be based on the Shibuya district of Tokyo. Now I’ve never been to Shibuya or even Japan, but if it’s anything like this game, then I need to talk to my travel agent. I know most people aren’t huge fans of the iPad/iPhone as a gaming platform, but sometimes it’s worth checking out cool things on new platforms. Shibuya’s gameplay is based around a similar concept to Tetris, but instead of different shapes dropping, blocks drop automatically and you choose which color they are. The idea is to line up as many of the same color as possible; the only problem is that you can’t choose which color you have to assign next, only which block you assign it to. While this game play may sound complicated, it’s actually very intuitive and you pick it up within a few seconds. It’s definitely worth checking out if you own an iPad/iPhone.
Maxis SoftwareAfter the original Spore, I’m very hesitant to recommend a game with a similar name from the same company. I’m told that the only thing that DarkSpore shares with its ancestor is the engine and creature creator. Fortunatel,y Darkspore actually knows what kind of game it is: Action RPG. Darkspore feels more like Diablo than a Maxis game.
Two of the really nice features that Darkspore has are a) customizable characters, b) squad switching combat. DNA is the basic currency of the Darkspore world and it allows you to customize basic features of your squad. Instead of equipping new weapons, we were able to recreate the DNA of our squad. The squad is not the traditional squad based combat of RTS games, but instead the squad style of Lost Vikings, where you can instantly switch between members of your squad. This allows you to literally play 3 different characters at the touch of a button. I’m still hesitant after Spore, but I might be willing to give this one a try.
Hothead GamesBrought to you by the makers of Precipice and DeathSpank, Swarm feels like the makers of Lemmings spent too much time hanging out with Michael Bay. Swarm had the distinction of being one of the PAX 10 games; games selected expressly by the makers of Penny-Arcade to be shown off. I’m not sure how to explain how fun it is to order around little blue men to their explosive destruction, but it’s clear the designers knew when they built the things. Just check out this short video:
For those of you familiar with the concept of Boids, the Swarm game play is a natural extension of these algorithms. You don’t control a single member of the Swarm (despite what earlier trailers featured), but rather you attempt to control the Swarm as a whole. For those of you unfamiliar with Boids, it’s a series of algorithms which relate the movement of members of the Swarm to the movement of other members. The practical application of this is that when you issue a command to the Swarm, individual members attempt to perform this action with the closest objects to imitate the action you’re trying to preform. So if I tell the Swarm to pick up a rock and throw it, various members of the Swarm will look for rocks to pick up and throw (and sometimes replace “rock” with “each other”). Clearly Swarm is not designed for the more faint of heart, as you’ll often have to sacrifice some members for the survival of the whole. Swarm is set to release in 2011.
Klei EntertainmentIn the tradition of games like Metal Slug, Shank is a 2D side scrolling shooter; a genre from a decade past. While these games may have dominated the arcades of my childhood, it’s an amusement that seems to have faded with time. In many ways, one of the coolest things about a service like XBLA (or PSN) is the rekindling of that spirit. Shank, however, does not try to reenact the experience verbatim (at least not in the way Mega Man 9 does) but instead brings the human and gameplay elements of modern games. From God of War style quick time boss battles, to a highly characterized animation style, Shank feels more like a creation by the minds behind Castle Crashers than Metal Slug.
To give you a feel for the game, at one point during the demo you faced off in a cage match against an over-sized Luchador. To handle the fierce wrestler, Shank’s protagonist leaps upon his back and cuts away with a chainsaw. Though the act is intensely brutal, your opponent seems hardly phased and angrily bucks you off. This strange mix of dark humor seems to hold itself well throughout the game, and its 1200 MSP price is hard to argue with. Definitely worth checking out.
I could probably go all day about some of the games we saw, but here are a few more that were fantastic: Hegemony, Fluidity, and Bomberman Battlefest. But why are you sitting here reading this review? Go play some!