PAX East 2019: I came. I saw. I conquered.
This year’s Penny Arcade Expo has come and gone, but it wasn’t all fun and games. It was a chance for developers to showcase how their titles are pushing the limits on innovative storytelling, breaking technological boundaries, and forever altering the landscape of gaming as we know it. From rebellion battles, to journeys of self-discovery, to enchanting virtual worlds, there was something for everyone amongst the sea of gaming booths. Around every corner a new title was just waiting to be discovered and I couldn’t help but think to myself, “What a time to be alive!”
This year was particularly special for me as it was the first year I attended as Nerder, She Wrote. I registered this site years ago and acquired the social media handles but experienced some false starts as I tried to find my voice and focus. It wasn’t until PAX 2018 when I finally realized what I wanted Nerder, She Wrote to represent; a site devoted to my passion for indie games. While there are several AAA titles that rank amongst my favorite games, I’ve always found myself drawn to what indies are able to accomplish with their vast scope of diverse storytelling, daring exploration of themes, and cutting-edge game mechanics that AAA titles aren’t always able to explore. And after the titles I tested at this year’s expo, how could I not want to share those experiences with everyone.
Be sure to check here each day this week as I will be updating this post to share a new batch of my favorite indie games from this year’s Penny Arcade Expo. So, without further ado here are the highlights:
Developer: Stone Lantern Games
Release Date: Target release November 2019
Available On: PC with plans to release on all major consoles in the future.
What happens to us when we die? Is there an afterlife? Do we only get one life to live or have we lived previous lives now long forgotten? These are the eternal questions that the team at Stone Lantern Games asked themselves when creating Evergate; a 2D puzzle-platformer featuring KI, a lost soul on a journey to reclaim her memories and find her kindred spirit.
Players will aid Ki on her quest through the afterlife and overcome obstacles in order to reach the gate at the end of each puzzle. Leap from platform to platform, harness energy and blast Source Boxes containing the mystical fuel of the afterlife. Ki must lock onto a Source Box and unleash her Soulflame allowing her to gain access to higher platforms or teleport to an area that would otherwise be out of reach.
Clearing a path to the gates is a feat in and of itself, as players must lock onto the Source Boxes and jump at just the precise moment or risk falling and restarting the puzzle. Additionally, players will face dangerous elements in the game that they must tangle with. Nightmare incarnates, such as colossal crows, may appear to stop you from reaching your goal. These threats are pulled from Ki’s memories and displayed on a much larger scale in the afterlife. For example when Ki and her sibling were a child they were attacked by crows, a traumatizing experience now elevated with the incarnates. But not all of these creatures come from nightmares, some could even be friendly, though in the demo I tested I only experienced the deadly.
With over 100 puzzles to solve, each one varies in difficulty and may comprise of more than one solution. The surreal setting of each puzzle features ethereal clouds with stunning backdrops that indicate the era of Ki’s past life. The striking visuals and emotional narrative is elevated through the game’s ambitious soundtrack, setting the tone for each level and pushing the story forward as it builds momentum from puzzle to puzzle.
This puzzle platformer incorporates an enthralling story with challenging gameplay set in a tranquil environment. Programmer and Designer, Ariel Wexler, expressed that he hopes players enjoy the unique game mechanics, feel immersed in the story and feel engaged with the environment. Initially, I was first attracted to how adorable Ki looked with her big round eyes but once I became immersed in the game I knew I had to find out more about this pint-sized spirit. The more I progress I made the more the music would build, almost as if it was rooting for me at every jump that I managed to make. All of these elements combined made for a perfect storm to pull me deep into the afterlife. I became so caught up in it all, I forgot that I was surrounded by a convention center packed with thousands of people. I turned to see a line had formed behind me with other gamers eagerly waiting their turn. Selfishly I wanted to have another go at the demo but I passed the controller onto to the next hopeful eager to find their kindred spirit.
Developer: Rogue Sun
Release Date: Available now
Available On: Steam and Oculus Rift. Plans for other platforms in the future.
“Tomorrow is another day.”
“It’s just not the right time.”
“I just have so much else going on right now.”
Sound familiar? The older we get the more difficult it is to find a balance between work and our creative ambitions. The realities of life just always seem to get in the way. Tin Hearts is a game that seeks to explore these themes through an enticing narrative and immersive gameplay.
Set in a fairytale-like Victorian world with toy inventions scattered throughout, players take on the role of a spirit and must solve puzzles in order to guide squads of tiny mechanical soldiers on their path to safety. Placing wooden block shapes into matching pegs creates a path for the soldiers to follow. If placed correctly the soldiers will bounce off the corner of each shape until they are well on their way to a synchronized march through a tiny door. Over time the puzzles will become increasingly more difficult and move beyond just fitting blocks to matching pegs. The soldiers will even be able to operate items within the environment like toy cannons and evade enemies such as a frightening Jack-in-the-Box character.
When each puzzle is completed players are treated to vignettes featuring members of a family that the story revolves around. Through these vignettes, cut scenes, and even environmental features likes posters on the wall, players will unfold an emotional and heartwarming story.
Kostas Zarifis, Managing Director at Rogue Sun, describes Tin Hearts as a cross between Lemmings and a walking simulator. The team at Rogue Sun is comprised of ex-Lionhead employees who wanted to try their hands at VR. Fascinated with VR capabilities, Zarifis and his team wanted to create an experience where players could take a closer look at a world filled with mystery and wonder.
Zarifis admits the team came up with the mechanics for the game first and then retrofitted the narrative to those mechanics. They brainstormed ideas as to what players could guide and when the team’s Art Director, Ian Faichnie, presented the concept of a toy solider everyone was inspired. After that, all the pieces fell into place in what will become a three chapter game. And while the initial vision was for players to experience the world of Tin Hearts in VR they will also have an opportunity to play the game with just a controller. Having played the game with only the later I can attest that the experience was just as engaging.
While the game is set in the past its message is contemporary. Zarifis tells me, "I like games that make me think while I’m playing but also after I finish playing the game.” His hope for this game is that players think about the story and mechanics long after they put the controller down. He was also keen on not spoiling any narrative details as he wants players to have a full experience when they enter the world of Tin Hearts.
Mowin’ & Throwin’
Developer: House Pixel Games
Release Date: Available now.
Available On: Steam. Plans for Nintendo Switch release soon. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this summer
I’m going to be honest with you, I never thought that I would play a game about mowing a lawn and actually enjoy it, until I tried my hand at Mowin’ & Throwin’. There’s something so ridiculously absurd and fun about it that I ended up playing two rounds with a group of three other strangers as we all laughed and shouted at the screen while landscaping a perfectly manicured lawn…Oh who am I kidding our lawns were a disaster but that’s part of the fun!
Walking through the crowd of the convention center a man called out to me asking if I’d join three other players in a quick game. I figured why not, I’m at the conference to play games after all. Suddenly I was launched into a match where me and a stranger teamed up against two other players in what would become an epic battle of lawn-care. He grabbed the mower to begin cutting the lawn, while I grabbed rocks, fertilizer, and a variety of fungus like items to throw into the other player’s lawn. The guy next to me politely asked if I could stop throwing rocks on his side of the fence, which only encouraged me to move faster to create more damage. Our opponents threw items back at our lawn as my partner and I raced faster to refuel the mower and hit back harder. Before we knew it the battle was over and we tied. Looking at each other we all agreed we needed to play one more round to settle this once and for all.
Bill Hood, the Art Lead on Mowin’ & Throwin’, told me the story behind the game all began in grad school when one friend said to the other, “I don’t think you can make a fun game about mowing.” To that the other friend responded, “Hold my beer.” The friends graduated school, bought the rights to the game, and took their vision to a whole new level.
The object of the game is to have the least amount of grass on the lawn before the clock runs out. There are eight different lawns to choose from ranging from an average lawn you’d see in your own backyard to more intricate lawns featuring new obstacles and mechanics. For example, one lawn has collapsible tiles that could cause you to fall, or a jungle lawn where players throw items at a totem and a bridge collapses, or even a lawn inspired by Stonehenge where you mow in the dark.
Bill notes, "It's a party game and it’s about having fun with your friends or family or even strangers you just met.” I was skeptical at the start but it didn’t take long for me to realize just how engaging the mechanics are and how enticing the competitive gameplay is in Mowin’ & Throwin’. Bill adds, "Please love puns. there are a lot of puns in this game." And for those that are curious about that rematch. Well…to say the least, I fought the lawn, and the lawn won.
Developer: Decoy Games
Release Date: Summer release. Official date coming soon.
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
We’re gonna need a bigger T.V.
Swimsanity! is a multiplayer underwater shooter where players can team up or battle against each other in dynamic aquatic worlds and unleash their Swimsanity powers. It’s more than a button masher. It’s a fintastic experience that’ll have you playing for hours on end.
Before the fun begins, players select a character and choose from a variety of Unleash Powers to equip. The more damage a player is able to inflict on an enemy the more their bar will fill up until they can ultimately unleash an annihilating move to use on their adversary. Choose from a variety of modes such as a four player co-op campaign or a four player versus campaign, either can be played remotely or online. Players can even experience an Adventure Mode where the hero Mooba must protect Orbs and save the ocean, or a Survival Mode where players can fight against endless waves of enemies to see how long they can last. On top of all that there’s even Versus Modes where players can compete in a Deathmatch, or Last Mooba Standing, or even an Orb Rush. Point being, there’s a huge replay-ability factor with this game.
Khalil Abdullah, one of the developers of Swimsanity! notes, “I just want [players] to have a full experience. Not just a sit down once and put it down. Our goal is to make you, when you turn off our game at night, be like, ‘I’m going to play that again in the morning.’”
What started out as a school project took on a life of its own. Khalil was originally inspired by Octopus, a game within Nintendo’s Game & Watch Gallery, where Mario goes to the bottom of the sea, collects gold, brings it back to his ship, and avoids the clutches of an octopus. Khalil wanted to build from that idea and add more sea creatures so he made a game, which he admits was not too easy on the eyes, but knew he could make something more with it. Encouraged by his brother Ahmed to turn the project into a console game the pair set out to learn how to make games through YouTube tutorials. Realizing their art was less than ideal they recruited childhood friend and graffiti artist Chris Venne to help bring their vision of Swimsanity! to life. Venne pulled inspiration from Mega Man and Power Rangers to create an extraordinary colorful underwater world filled with spectacular enemies and a pint sized hero named Mooba. The version I tested at PAX is the end product of all their efforts combined.
I don’t know what was in those YouTube tutorials but Swimsanity! is a whale of a time. I blasted my enemy, transformed into a massive shark to wreak havoc, and battled my way to victory…Ok that last part didn’t happen, I lost, but I demand a rematch when the game comes out later this year.
Where the Bees Make Honey
Developer: Whitehorn Digital
Release Date: Available now.
Available On: PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Plans for a Switch release this summer.
Halfway through my gameplay of Where the Bees Make Honey I had to take off the headset and put down the controller. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the game, in fact it was quite the opposite. The problem was that I deeply related to the story that unfolded before my eyes and I wasn’t prepared to experience an emotional journey in a mass of thousands and thousands of people.
Where the Bees Make Honey is a narrative-experimental puzzle game that tells the story of a woman named Sunny who is at a crossroads with her dead end job. As she looks through old photographs she grows reflective of her childhood and remembers what is was like to be young, carefree, and a bee. Players will follow Sunny’s journey down memory lane through diverse dreamlike levels and a mix of gameplay mechanics.
The game begins in the first person perspective with Sunny at work in her office. As she recalls memories of her past, players will take on a third person perspective playing as Sunny when she was a child. Play through each level and vignette to open paths to memories, no longer forgotten. The game spans across the four seasons and exhibits a gorgeous honey glow throughout. Developer Brian Wilson notes that this Golden Hour or period of time when the sun begins to set, cascading a beautiful golden veil across the sky, is used as a nod to summer evenings from when he was a child.
Each level has its own distinct aesthetic and mechanic. For example, some levels feature a cube setting that rotates 90-degrees. Players must spin the cube to access different spaces and expose new areas to find and collect hidden honeycombs. Other levels may feature a field where players control a bunny hopping through a maze of hills while Sunny narrates a memory of feeling lost.
Having never met either of his grandfathers, Wilson wanted to create a game as a sort of reflection of that. Pulling from his own childhood memories, Wilson incorporated stories from his own life into the game’s narrative. His decision to include a female protagonist instead of himself in the game was a decision he made when the game was starting to feel too personal. Once he created Sunny she took on her own characteristics and personality traits and there was no looking back.
Wilson said that at its core, Where the Bees Make Honey is a puzzle game but to me it’s so much more. It forces players to reflect on moments from their childhood, particularly ones they may have buried deep within their minds. It also encourages players to think about where they are now in life; are they too stuck at a crossroads? What would their younger-self think about where they are at today? We live in fast paced world and it’s not often we take the time out of our day to reflect on our own lives. It’s special that a game can force us to do that.
Wilson adds, “The fact that I was able to tell a personal story through a video game is kind of the closest thing we have to magic and I want others to be able to see my game and say, ‘I could do this too.’”
Deliver Us The Moon
Developer: KeokeN Interactive
Release Date: Available now
Available On: Steam. Working to port to console.
Imagine a world in which all of Earth’s natural resources have been depleted and you are the world’s last hope for salvation…no pressure or anything. Deliver Us The Moon puts players in the position of Earth’s last astronaut as they travel to the Moon in order to find a new source of energy and uncover secrets of a lost colony.
The concept behind the game all began when Paul Deetman, Founder of KeokeN Interactive, and his brother Koen wanted to become astronauts, but realized they weren’t smart enough for rocket science (his words, not mine!). Instead, the two started their video game company, which they found wasn’t easy either, but they were able to develop a game that took them to a place they’ve always dreamt of visiting; space. Deliver Us The Moon gives players the feeling of being an astronaut with an emotional narrative woven into the gameplay.
The story takes place just a mere 50 years in the future. The World Space Agency, an organization developed to solve the planet’s energy crisis, has set out to build a colony on the Moon in order to deliver a new source of energy to Earth. However, something has gone awry and their communication has been cut off. Now it is up to you to get to the Moon, find out what happened to this colony and restore a connection to the energy source to save all of humanity.
It’s a story about people and perspectives, not everyone gets along and there are differing opinions within the colony, Deetman tells me. Players will explore what remains of the colony and look for clues as to what happened, solve puzzles, and endure environmental hazards like loss of oxygen or being exposed to radiation. During my gameplay I had to make my way through a violent sand storm to launch my spaceship. Once I finally made my way to the cockpit of the ship I felt like a true astronaut; I flipped the switches, pulled the levers, and prepared myself for launch. It was spectacular.
The mechanics felt natural as I toured various areas where previous astronauts had lived. Around every corner there are discoveries to be made; I found a box of children’s toys in one area, a bottle of antidepressants in another room, and around another corner a beer pong table and score board was left behind. The more players analyze their surroundings the more questions they will ask as they try to uncover the truth behind what happened to this colony.
"Space is the next frontier," Deetman tells me. He adds that he hopes players, “have the feeling of isolation. I want them to feel that they are aware of what’s happening to Earth… Of course it’s a game and it needs to be fun as well but just that little extra school education in what’s happening to Earth and a possible way of how to think and solve these things.” When I put on the headphones to demo this game the world around me disappeared. I launched my ship into space and looked out my tiny window to see the magnificent blue glow from Earth. I wasn’t just one of thousands at the convention center – I was completely alone and felt an immense pressure to save the world.
Developer: Paper Cult Games
Release Date: Summer 2019
Available On: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Have you ever had a bad day a work and just wanted to blow off some steam? Bloodroots is going to be your new favorite way to do just that. Grab a sword and dice your way through opponents, smash through a wooden crate and use its broken pieces to inflict damage, or seize a carrot and beat someone to death with it. Inspired by Jackie Chan films, players will utilize every item available to them to defeat enemies and improvise their way through levels to unfold an ultra-violent tale of vengeance.
Bloodroots follows the story of Mr. Wolf, a man with an impressive grizzly beard and an epic wolf pelt. After having been betrayed and left for dead Mr. Wolf is on a mission to find his killer and seek revenge on literally anyone who stands in his way. Players will grab whatever items are available to them, learn how the item can take down foes, use the weapon until it breaks, and snatch a new one to keep the action moving. Some items can even be used as both a means of transportation and a weapon, like running atop a rolling barrel and crushing people who stand in your path as you make your way across the land.
Raphael Toulouse, Co-Founder of and Developer for Paper Cult Games, explained that the team was concerned this genre of games could get stale fairly quickly for gamers. In order to keep players on their toes the team built in ways to make things interesting such as boss fights where each have their own unique gameplay, changing the environment as you progress through levels, and even introducing a new weapon every three minutes. “It’s full of surprises,” Toulouse says.
When developing Bloodroots the game started out as a classic Western revenge tale, but as the team continued their work, the game began to take on its own identity. The environment is influenced by the movie The Revenant and while the forests and mountaintops will look familiar, this universe takes place on a parallel timeline to our own. Meaning, while it appears to be the Wild West it’s actually the Weird West, with flying train cars that shoot beams of light in an effort to stop Mr. Wolf in his tracks.
There are 15 core levels with hundreds of areas to explore. The gameplay is roughly 6-10 hours long, which is about the time you’d need to take down an onslaught of enemies. Toulouse beamed with enthusiasm speaking about his game noting, “We want to make you feel like Jacki Chan.” I have to admit, during my gameplay session of the demo, I didn’t feel like Jacki Chan…I was Jacki Chan.
The Church in the Darkness
Developer: Paranoid Productions
Release Date: Targeting a summer release
Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC. Available as an Alpha on itch.io
What would you do if you believed your nephew joined a cult? You’d hop on the next flight to South America and get him out of it is what you’d do! Inspired by cults and social movements of the 1970s, The Church in the Darkness is an action-infiltration game that takes place during a period of time in the United States history where people were not sympathetic to socialist causes.
Preachers Isaac and Rebecca Walker, leaders of the Collective Justice Mission, have been labeled as radicals by the U.S. government. They decide to uproot their followers to an area in South America where they can build their socialist utopia called Freedom Town. But when you receive a postcard from your nephew Alex, you grow worried that something is amiss. Once you infiltrate the camp you quickly realize that this won’t be an easy rescue mission.
If it sounds a little bit like the video game version of what took place in Jonestown then you’d be correct…sorta. The setting of South America for the game was inspired by Jonestown, but the tragedy itself is not fixed in the game. Narrative Consultant C.J. Kershner explained, “The thing that drives The Church in the Darkness is the variables.” There are multiple outcomes as the game reshuffles elements at the start of each new playthrough. This means new characters are unlocked, new items will become available to players, and new obstacles to overcome. It also means that it could end without tragedy. With each new game players will encounter various situations, for example, in one playthrough they may find their nephew Alex but he may not want to come home. Another playthrough players might decide to leave Alex behind. Or during another session Alex might be more than willing to leave the compound and return home.
Players must sneak around the compound, hide in chests, arm themselves with a weapon or disguise, and avoid getting killed. Inspired by infiltration games like Metal Gear players have a Birdseye view of the compound. Kershner notes that this is to give players a better perspective of where the guards and civilians are and to see what’s happening around the compound. He also adds that this perspective gives players details they otherwise would miss like seeing the chalk drawings from children on the playground blacktop, showing that maybe things aren’t as terrible as they seem…or are they?
I played The Church in the Darkness at PAX East 2018 and was immediately captivated by its eerie atmosphere and how realistic the narrative played out. The situation the players are put in is very real and the decisions are yours to own. Good or bad you must accept the outcome, or start a new play session to see if you can earn a different result. Now a year later, the developers have worked out bugs and have seen players solve problems in ways in which they themselves never thought to do.
Kershner hopes that players enjoy a satisfying narrative experience when they play The Church in the Darkness. He adds that he hopes, “they enjoyed their session even if it didn’t end as they expected it to…this is a time and place in our history that is not often explored by games. And it tries to do that in a mature way…I hope that it inspires people to explore it further and ask questions and find their own community that they are comfortable in.”
Developer: Massive Damage, Inc.
Release Date: Release expected early 2020
Available On: PC release first. But the plan is to have it on as many consoles as possible.
Take control of your ragtag rebel squad and fight an intergalactic battle that spans generations in Star Renegades. Inspired by Star Wars, this tactical rogue-lite RPG takes players on an epic journey with their squad as they battle The Imperium. But what sets this galaxy rebellion apart from the rest is that each playthrough offers players a different experience. One playthrough is the equivalent to one rebellion cycle, resulting in numerous outcomes that range from periods of peace to a whole new onslaught of enemy attacks.
Utilize counter attacks and combos with the game’s turn-based timeline system, and upgrade your squad’s weapons and gear to better your odds of survival. As you and your squad traverse the varying landscapes featuring pixelated mountain peaks, cascading waterfalls, and ancient ruins, your team will encounter various enemy attacks. Additionally, players will learn more about their characters as they progress through the game and determine their strengths and weaknesses. For example the older scruffy grandfather type figure known as The Enforcer, can’t see well in his older age, so he may be more well suited for the front lines in order to see enemies better.
Star Renegades features various unique systems as well, such as their Nemesis System. This system allows enemies the ability to rank up in the rebellion cycle, which means they could evolve by the time you see them in battle again. There’s also a system in place where if you leave squad members behind the enemies could take them and in the next rebellion cycle players could find themselves battling someone that was once their best friend in a previous cycle. There’s also a Camaraderie System where the more times your squad members fight together the stronger the relationship builds between them, which could unlock a feature in the next rebellion cycle where the squad’s children are all fighting together.
And while the epic battles are part of the game’s draw, it’s important to note that the game’s narrative doesn’t take itself too seriously. The dialogue is clever and witty and there’s even a shoutout to the team’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in the form of an adorable and snarky robot named J5T-1N.
Star Renegades offers numerous possibilities and outcomes – too many for Community Manager and UI Artist Jacqueline Joy to count on her hands. One playthrough, or one rebellion cycle, could take an average of two hours to complete, but with so many variables and evolving systems the rebellion continues, allowing ample replay-ability. Joy notes that her hope for this game is to allow players to tell their own story. Now we just have to wait until 2020 to do so.
Developer: Dynamic Pixels
Release Date: Later this year
Available On: Confirmed for PC and Xbox One
Growing up I’d always laugh at my dad who would get slightly overenthusiastic anytime someone from the neighborhood approached our house. “Who are they?!” He’d shout to no one in particular while he pulled back the blinds to watch them walk past our lawn. “What are they doing?!” he’d shout when someone would use our drive way to turn around. The thing is, he used to joke that his father acted like that when he was growing up, asking him, “Who’s out there stealing our lawn?” And like my dad, I too am finding myself wondering just who my neighbors are, particularly when it comes to the upcoming release of Secret Neighbor.
In 2017 developer Dynamic Pixels released Hello Neighbor, a stealth horror game where players move into a new suburban neighborhood and see something strange going on at the neighbor’s house. Believing the Neighbor is hiding something suspicious in his basement , the player breaks into his house to uncover the truth. Utilizing stealth, players must escape traps set by the Neighbor and locate keys to unlock various areas of the house without getting caught. Since the game’s release the developers have launched a prequel called, Hello Neighbor: Hide and Seek, where players learn about what happened before the events that took place in the original game. But now Dynamic Pixels have created another story for players to unfold in their latest title, Hello Neighbor: Secret Neighbor.
Secret Neighbor is a multiplayer social horror experience where players take on the role of kids from the neighborhood who must sneak around the Neighbor’s basement to rescue their friend. However, one of the players is a traitor and in fact the Neighbor disguised as a kid. Players won’t know who the traitor is in the group until it’s too late.
Equipped with nothing but a flashlight, players must run around the house searching cupboards, opening drawers, and looking in the unlikeliest of places to find keys that unlock the basement door. The object is to rescue your friend from the basement before getting caught by the Neighbor. At some point in my gameplay I accidentally lost my flashlight which made running around a dark house fairly difficult and also terrifying. The gameplay is both extremely intense and thrilling all rolled into one ball of fun. Running through the house I scrambled to find the keys while flipping over dozens of boxes and searching every piece of furniture, all the while panicking as I raced against the clock. Each time I’d see the glow of another player’s flashlight I’d run scared in the opposite direction not knowing if they could be trusted or if they were in fact the Neighbor in disguise.
With a group of friends, or even with a group of strangers at PAX, this game is a horrifying good time. Secret Neighbor will be released later this year but if you’d like to experience a bit of the thrill now Hello Neighbor is available on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, and mobile devices.
Tales of the Neon Sea
Developer: Palm Pioneer
Release Date: April 30th on Steam. PlayStation and Switch later this year.
Available On: Steam
Robots. Humans. Cats. Oh my! Inspired by science fiction movies like Blade Runner, Tales of the Neon Sea is a pixelated cyberpunk adventure game featuring a half-robot detective and gangster felines. Players will enter a vibrant and futuristic world littered with mysteries to unravel and puzzles to solve.
The city is overrun with greed and lust as tensions between humans and sentient are on the rise. Taking on a missing person’s investigation, players will guide the Detective on his journey to take down a killer and unlock the secrets of his own past. This point-and-click adventure encourages players to explore various unique areas of the landscape, analyze objects, and interrogate witnesses to unfold a cinematic and snarky narrative. The puzzles range in difficulty from locating items needed to rebuild a robot to utilizing objects in order to escape maze-like rooms. Players will also have an opportunity to control the Detective’s assistant William, a black cat that can explore hard to reach areas for more evidence and clues to solve the case.
The vibrant world of Tales of the Neon Sea was what initially peaked my interest. Qiufeng, the team’s Marketing Manager, spoke to the fact that the team was inspired by the ancient and modern architecture around China where their studio is located. The result is a moody retro world featuring tall skyscrapers with neon lights abound and a landscape coated in hues of pinks and purples.
During my demo session I found myself grabbing drinks at a bar and exploring a building where one room had a disco ball, fireplace, scantily clad photos of women on the wall, and a bunch of cats partying the night away. To me, that was enough to make me want to know more about this world and the stories it holds. Qiufeng stated, “We just want players to experience a good story and film-like experience.” While I was unable to delve into the story during my demo session it was enough to wet my pallet to want to try more. Tales of the Neon Sea will be available later this month on Steam for those looking for a cyberpunk mystery to solve.
The Last Friend
Developer: Stonebot Studio
Release Date: Release first week of August
Available On: Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
I love dogs. I’m sorry – what I mean to say was - I LOVE dogs. When I see a dog on the street I can’t help but stop to say hello, habitually forgetting to even acknowledge that their owner is there. So when I saw that there was a game where the main objective was to save puppies, I knew I had to get my hands on it.
The Last Friend takes place in an apocalyptic world where a chemical war has caused few humans to survive and starving mutants to eat dogs. Oh, the horror! Luckily the main character, Alpha, makes it his own personal quest to save the puppies, and keep them safe in his mobile dog shelter.
The developers for this title grew up in the 80’s and 90’s and were inspired by classic games of that time like Streets of Rage and movies such as Mad Max. When planning for what type of game they wanted to make some members of the team were seeking to build a tower defense game while others wanted a classic beat ‘em up. Unable to decide between one mechanic they combined the two, along with their love for childhood nostalgia and dogs. What they’ve created is a tower defense/beat ‘em up mashup with dynamic animation and a classic arcade experience.
In order to keep the mass of mutants away from the dogs, players must set up traps and turrets to push them back and take them down. While traps are set and activated, players can use Alpha’s fists to take out groups of mutants. Additionally, each dog that Alpha rescues can be equipped to lend him special skills to improve his chances against the mutants.
The game features 30 good doggos and 48 adrenaline-fueled levels. The mutant’s attacks are relentless and forces players to make quick decisions and multitask. During my demo session I was eager to punch and dodge the mutants but forgot to set more traps and turrets. But then when I was focused on my traps I forgot to punch the mutants to take out more of them. Players need to think fast and be able balance their strategy and action. It’s a unique challenge to have and certainly keeps you on your toes.
Stonebot Studio’s business developer, Alesandro Biollo, told me the team wants players to “have fun and remember the 80s.” He also noted that the team will be launching a Kickstarter in May which will include options for backers to have a photo of them with their pet in the game’s credits or even have their dog recreated to be in the game. Now if only I had a dog of my own that I could submit to the game…
Developer: Gossamer Games
Release Date: Beginning of this Summer
Available On: Xbox One and Steam. Plans for other platforms in the future.
Do you ever stop to wonder what your purpose is in life? Do you think about who you are or what you want to be? Gossamer Games explores these burning existential questions in their new abstract adventure Sole. In a world cloaked in darkness, players become a beam of light painting the landscape with their glow and restoring life to an abandoned world. Travel through desolate buildings, discover remnants of an ancient civilization, and engage in an emotional dreamlike experience.
Inspired by indie games such as Journey, Flower, Abzu and The Unfinished Swan, Director Thomas Sharpe said his team wanted to create a game where players could explore the feeling of being lost in an unknown world. He explained that this feeling of being lost was a theme that came to life when the team was trying to decide what the game should be and what they wanted to say as artists. They in turn utilized their personal experiences to create a game that helps players process these feelings and understand a little bit more about themselves.
There are five levels in the game and if you’re someone who likes to quickly go from Point A to Point B you could finish the game in about two hours. But during my demo I found myself caught up in the Sole's heavy atmosphere. I wanted to explore every inch of the environment. I swirled my beam of light around to create blades of grass and give life to trees. I explored the halls of a building where old texts were skewed about. I even found an unusual glowing letter, a collectible in the game. These collectibles, or Glyphs, are scattered throughout the game for players to find. Collecting these characters will allow players to decipher messages written in the game to better understand the backstory and unravel the mystery of this ancient land.
The game communicates a nonverbal story through its environment. The level I played was dark featuring shades of purples. Sharpe notes that over the course of the game the color pallet evolves. Each level has a limited color pallet that sticks to one hue or section of the color wheel. Players will progress from cooler colors to warmer colors which are meant to enforce different emotional responses.
Another tool used to invoke emotion is the game’s original score. Composed by Nabeel Ansari, the soundtrack features powerful orchestral builds creating a beautiful and meditative soundscape. I had no idea how much time I spent in the game until I turned to see a line form behind me during my demo. I had to peel the headphones away to allow someone another turn, but truly I wanted to hear more from what the soundtrack had to offer.
Sharpe explains, “At the end of the day we want this to be a game where every player walks away with a different personal interpretation of what this game means to them. And for a lot of players just sitting down and relaxing and having that experience is just an awesome meditative hypnotic experience.”
The Rabbit and the Owl
Developer: Formal Sheep
Release Date: Available now on Steam. With plans to port the game on Xbox One, PS4, and Switch in the future.
Available On: Steam
Before attending PAX I put together a list of games that I know I want to check out, but there are always surprises to be found and for me The Rabbit and The Owl was one of them. This cooperative puzzle-platformer features a hand-painted negative space world with two kindred spirits manifested in the forms of a Rabbit and an Owl. The Rabbit is trapped in a realm of light while The Owl is trapped in a realm of dark. Through a single player experience or by cooperating with your partner, players will manipulate the environment and hone in on the character’s unique abilities to solve nearly 50 levels worth of puzzles and hopefully reconnect the two spirits.
Set in what was once the vibrant world of Yril, this game features beautiful contrasting lands with lush forests and harsh deserts. Artist Andrew Chen explained that he wanted to contrast the game’s rigid level design with something organic such a plants and animals. He also wanted to utilize blues and reds to signal players to specific items in the environment which are brilliantly contrasted against the black and white setting.
Additionally, the game’s soothing music compliments the gameplay. In a mass of thousands of gamers, tournaments, and hundreds of other gaming booths with their own bleeps and bloops booming from their systems, I found myself at ease while solving each puzzle. Even though the difficulty of the puzzles increased over time, the calming music helped to set my mind at ease.
My husband and I played through the entire demo talking through each level and how we would help each character get from one side to the other. We grew excited when we gained a new skillset to move the light one way or pull the darkness another, allowing the characters access to new areas. Chen said “I think games are really great at bringing people together and that’s what I want people to take away from this.” If you’re looking for a co-op puzzle-platformer to chill to, then The Rabbit and The Owl is a game worth checking out.
WHAT THE GOLF?
Release Date: “Approximately Summer” of this year
Available On: PC and Mobile
I hate golf. It’s boring. It’s expensive. It takes way too long to play and usually leaves you feeling angry and pissed off at your score. Most of all, I am absolutely, positively, terrible at the game. So if you had told me I would have played golf at PAX and actually enjoyed it I would have said, “Go golf yourself!”
WHAT THE GOLF? is a hilarious physics-based golf parody game where players will hit cars through windmills, toss homes onto the fairway, and fling a man from one side of the course to the other for a par-four. There are over hundred different levels, each featuring their own set of absurd mechanics. At the start of each level players will tee up and hit their golf ball toward the hole. However the ball itself can warp creating a new set of problems for the player. For example, once the ball is hit it could turn into a rock and players will have to flip it over and over again until it lands in the hole. In some levels there isn’t even a golf ball; players could be hitting a soccer ball, or a bicycle, or even an exploding kitten. Each level counts your strokes and once you get whatever the object it is that you’re hitting into the hole a funny congratulatory pun will appear on the screen.
Morten Skouboe, Sound Designer for WHAT THE GOLF?, told me the initial concept for the game was to create a mix of golf and Dark Souls but quickly the team found out that the Dark Souls aspect wasn’t going to work. Instead they developed a game with epic golf boss fights and bizarre golf mechanics. From couches flipping across the course, to a man being hit onto the green, to horses being flung around, this game offers ample opportunity for quirky sound design. “It’s definitely the most fun design challenge that I’ve ever had,” Skouboe admits. And don’t worry, he assured me no cats were harmed when recording the sounds for the exploding kittens.
While demoing this game a crowd formed, laughing and rooting for each player to get their ball or item into the hole. Though there currently is no co-op option I can still see this being a hilarious game to play with friends, each taking a turn to see one ridiculous level after the next. Skouboe said, “The thing that we are trying to instill into [the gamer] is that…golf sucks. Golf really sucks and we just want to try and make it as entertaining as possible.” I still really hate golf, but WHAT THE GOLF? has me hooked.
Developer: Appnormals Team
Release Date: Available now
Available On: Steam, Switch, Xbox One, PS4, PS Vita, and mobile devices.
Imagine waking up in a dark room surrounded by cold cement walls. You don’t know where you are, how you got there, or how to escape your predicament. With nothing around you but the glowing monitor from a computer, you log on in hopes of finding a way out. Desperate, you connect to a chat and find a stranger on the other end. Who are they? Do you trust them? Will they help you escape? Or will they leave you behind to fend for yourself?
Appnormals Team’s first major release STAY is a controversial adventure that follows the story of Quinn, a man who has been abducted and wakes up in an ominous room with nothing but a computer to connect him to the outside world. Players find themselves on the other end of the chat with Quinn and are put in the position of helping this stranger who is in a desperate situation. The only way for Quinn to make it out alive is with the help of the player. With his life in your hands it is up to players to earn Quinn’s trust and guide him through a series of puzzles to aid him in his escape and discover who is behind his kidnapping.
Co-Founder and Art Director for Appnormals Team, Iñaki Díaz, told me that the game’s title is STAY for a reason; “Your absence is as relevant as your presence in the game.” The game operates in real time so even if players leave, the clock will keep ticking for Quinn. Every second you are out of the game is time that Quinn is left alone and he’ll know that you decided to do something else besides stay with him. When you enter the game again he’ll even ask you what was more important than helping him. If players are gone from the game too long they may log in and find that something terrible has happened to Quinn, and it’s all their fault.
The entire premise revolves around trust. The more Quinn trusts you the more you can control the story and get him to share more about his environment and even encourage him to share information about his past. Díaz described the game like a Tamagotchi, but instead of food you provide emotional support. Through a series of dialogue choices players will be measured on how much empathy they have toward this stranger that needs their help.
This 24-chapter story has multiple twists and turns with seven different endings. Many of the puzzles are incredibly difficult with no hint system or clues to guide players to a solution, and that’s by design. Díaz wanted to recreate the same emotions Quinn is going through but for the player. The goal is to feel the character’s frustration, panic, and distress. Díaz notes, “This game is not about feeling great. It’s about feeling quite the opposite…vulnerable, having fears, not knowing what to do, and that is natural, you should feel that way and you should embrace that.”
STAY is a game that teaches players how easy it is to drop someone a line and help them…but also how easy it is to ignore a stranger’s plea for help. It also demonstrates the effect our words have on someone. Respond to Quinn with the wrong dialogue choice and you could break his trust causing him to do something regrettable. “The bottom line is that no matter what, we can stay together and we can move forward,” Díaz says. STAY is available now on PC, console, and mobile devices, will you be logging in to save Quinn?
Developer: Outerloop Games
Release Date: April 9th
Available On: PS4 with optional PS VR support
From the moment I put a tiny little top hat on the head of my falcon I knew that I was in for a treat. Falcon Age is a first-person action adventure that follows the story of Ara, a girl who has been wrongfully accused for a small crime and is put in jail. To pass the time she befriends a falcon and together the two escape, join the resistance, and work to reclaim their freedom from the planet’s robot invaders.
At the start of my gameplay session I looked out to a vast and desolate desert. Before me sat a woman at a table with various pieces of equipment. I spoke with her, choosing from a selection of question prompts to learn more about how I got to where I was and where I would be going next. She taught me about my legacy as a falcon hunter, gave me a weapon, and sent me on a mission with my new partner in hand.
The demo I played was timed and to be fair I wasted much of the duration of my gameplay session petting my falcon, putting different hats on him, and placing my hands together to form a small circle for him to squeeze his tiny little head through. I did this over and over acting surprised each time the bird reacted to my signals. But beyond the undeniable cuteness of naming, feeding, training, and dressing your majestic bird, players will have the ability to hunt for resources, fight off drones, and take back their land. There will even be an optional Challenge Free Mode for players who may want to avoid combat. But to be honest, if I’m playing a game with a falcon in one hand and a stun baton in the other I’m going to opt for combat against evil bots…especially if my falcon is wearing a top hat during battle. After all, manners maketh falcon (I’m fairly certain that’s how the saying goes).
While I was unable to test the game in VR I have to admit the first person perspective with the DualShock Controller was impressive. However the game will come with an optional VR component, so I will likely utilize the VR option if it means I can really stick out my arm and let my feathered friend land on my hand. I’m taking falcon name suggestions now before the game comes out next week.
Developer: E-Line Media
Release Date: Late this summer.
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
From the creators of Never Alone comes a new adventure that gives players a chance to explore the mysteries below Earth’s surface. In Beyond Blue players will embark on an underwater journey as Mirai, a diver, scientist, and leader of a research team that uses groundbreaking technology to hear, sense, and see the creatures of the ocean in a way that’s never been done before. Players will uncover the mysteries deep within Earth’s blue abyss while unfolding a dynamic narrative surrounding Mirai.
Swim through caverns, fields of seagrass, and various regions of the ocean to collect clues that lead to encounters with underwater creatures. Locating these encounters will unravel the main storyline with Mirai. However, if you’re like me, there is more to be discovered off the beaten path with even more narrative payoffs. There’s even a Submarine Mode where you can take a break from swimming to have meaningful dialogue with your crew.
To describe the aquatic world I explored as beautiful would be an understatement. Caught up in the wonders surrounding me in the infinite sapphire water I wanted to ignore my character’s research and follow my own path to make my own discoveries. As I explored this immersive marine world I encountered playful dolphins, colorful coral reef fish, and magnificent sperm whales. Soon my demo session was over and I realized I barely scratched the surface of the vast array of creatures waiting to be discovered.
Creative Director Michael Angst told me that the inspiration behind the studio’s latest game came to them when the folks from BBC’s Blue Planet II reached out wanting to create a game that would explore the science and themes discussed in their documentary series. Similar to Never Alone where interstitials of real documentary footage unlocked after each level, this game will give players a look at real footage from within Earth’s beating blue heart. BBC provided the development team with clips from their Blue Planet II series that becomes available to players at various checkpoints within the game. And while BBC provided the footage it was Angst and his team that created Mirai and the mystery she must unlock. In addition to educating players about our underwater world, Angst said, “We wanted to tell a story about female scientists. We wanted to tell a story about female leadership.” Underwater girl power? Yes please.
And while the diver and meditative nature of the game may remind you of another aquatic indie adventure, Beyond Blue is a game that explores a dramatic story, with real stakes surrounded by a world of beauty and wonder. Angst explained that the game his team has developed “rewards curiosity and helps build a sense of wonder and beauty of the ocean.” He went on to say, “I think we’re trying to celebrate the role of science and how important it is as a field and how exciting it is as a field and really try to get at some of the human motivations of what drives people to want to discover things and explore places where they take a little bit of risk to get to.” During my short play session I became engulfed in the game’s wondrous blue world. Someone may have to throw me a life preserver once the game comes out, because I could spend hours just swimming around, never mind the time I’ll be dedicating to the story.
Trover Saves the Universe
Developer: Squanch Games
Release Date: Coming May 31st to PlayStation 4. June 4th to PC via The Epic Games Store and Steam.
Available On: PlayStation 4, PC & Mac
Are you a Rick and Morty fan? Then strap yourself in because you’re about to take a deep dive into the extraordinary mind of Justin Roiland. Squanch Games, Roiland’s indie game studio, has created what they call a “bizarre action comedy” game. The story begins with Glorkon, a large blue beaked monster who has taken your dogs, shoved them into his eye holes, and seeks to destroy the universe. Everything is falling apart and it’s basically your fault. Actually, it’s all your fault.
Players will find themselves sitting on a futuristic floating chair when Trevor, a purple creature with smaller looking creatures shoved into his eye holes (I swear this will all make perfect sense once you play the game), shows up at their door. He’s really pissed about the whole you ruining the universe thing so in order to set things right the two of you team up in hopes of defeating the evil Glorkon. Taking a short trip through your village you’ll make your way toward Trevor’s spaceship and begin your quest to save the cosmos.
If I had closed my eyes during my entire demo session I would have thought I was playing a Rick and Morty game. The voice acting is easily recognizable as the distinct and iconic voice of Roiland and the narrative is laugh out loud funny. I chortled my way through the demo and I may or may not have beaten an elderly man to death. I don’t know man, things escalated pretty quickly and I had to get to a space ship and all. Don’t judge me, you don’t know, you weren’t there!
Players will be able to travel the universe, explore various planets and encounter a variety of peculiar characters. This action-adventure platformer also gives players the option to connect to the PlayStation VR Headset. What’s interesting to note is that while the perspective may feel like a first-person experience, players are actually controlling their purple pal Trevor, not their character in the game. This unique mechanic creates an almost co-op like experience for players but co-op with themselves. But I mean, who doesn’t like playing with themselves, am I right? Wait, you thought I meant…? Ew, gross. No. I meant the game dude. You can play Trover Saves the Universe with yourself, or maybe with a group of friends as they watch on and you can all laugh together. You do you.
Developer: Night School Studio
Release Date: 2019
Available On: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch
If you enjoyed Night School Studio’s 2016 release, Oxenfree, and you like drinking games then you’ll love Afterparty. This hilarious adventure game inspired by comedies like Rick and Morty and The Simpsons, features two friends named Milo and Lola who find themselves in Hell, though both believe to be there by mistake. As events unfold the duo discover a loophole that if they can outdrink Satan they’ll be able to escape the Underworld. Players will barhop their way through Hell seeking an invite to Satan’s party to try and outdrink him and finally return to the Land of the Living.
Similar to Oxenfree’s gameplay mechanics, Afterparty utilizes a web of dialogue where players are forced to make decisions that alter how the story is told. This time however a new mechanic is introduced where players can grab a drink at a bar before approaching a problem. Depending on what drink players choose it will make them more aggressive, flirty, or even talk like a pirate. These abilities give players a third option from their list of dialogue choices known as the Liquid Courage Choice.
Admittedly I have been looking forward to Afterparty for quite some time, and after playing the demo I was not disappointed. I found myself in a colorful world filled with demons puking on the streets, clever dialogue, and crushing a game of beer pong. While there’s only so much the developers can show in a short demo I was able to pick up on hints of a deeper meaning than just drinking games. I spoke with both Lead Developer Bryant Cannon and Lead Artist Claire Chen who told me that underneath the game’s humor and fun there is a wonderful character story with complex layers to unfold that explore themes around what it means to be a good person as well as exploring the complexities of friendships and an individual’s insecurities. And much like Oxenfree players can expect multiple endings with ample replay value.
Release Date: April 16th 2019 on the PlayStation Store and April 19th in retail stores
Available On: PS VR
As I put on the PS VR Headset I was immediately immersed in a fairytale like world. I looked down to find a little boy (or cat...or both) crying and his tears seemingly brought my character to life. In Zoink’s Ghost Giant players become well…a giant ghost! They have big blue transparent hands and are only visible to Louis, a lonely boy from a place called Sancourt. Louis is frightened of you at first, and understandably so, you are in fact a giant. But as you bend over to allow Louis a closer look the two of you will form a bond and become friends. Players will protect Louis and help him, and other townsfolk, accomplish tasks through a series of puzzles, and discover the true meaning of friendship.
If you’ve played other Zoink titles before like Stick it to The Man! and Flipping Death, then you’ll be familiar with the team’s cardboard cutout design style. But add VR to it and they’ve taken their cardboard aesthetic to a whole new level. It’s an astonishing virtual world unlike one that I’ve seen before. It felt like each piece of the setting was handcrafted and delicate. I was nervous to touch anything in fear that I would crush items or accidentally rip them apart.
In this VR puzzle story game, players will explore Louis’ sunflower farm, lift heavy objects, peer into windows, and discover secrets hidden throughout the town. It made me feel like a little kid again playing with my dollhouse, bending over to open little doors and move miniature items around the rooms. I was also just blown away by how interactive the world felt. In Moss for example, players are also a spiritual being aiding a small mouse through puzzles. However, most of the action takes place right in front of the player. What I experienced in the Ghost Giant demo was a world all around me that I could interact with. Pressing a button on the PlayStation Move Controller allowed me to rotate the main action to take place right in front of me if I desired. But I also was able to physically turn around to find a bird in a tree, touch him, and follow his movement around me. It’s still a wonder to me that I never got tangled in the PS VR cord.
While the demo mainly showcased the mechanics of the game I caught a glimmer of story as Louis seemed reluctant to tell a townsperson where his mom had been…making me wonder if something happened to her which then led me to wonder if that is why he was crying when I found him at the start of the game. Unfortunately, I won’t know the full story until it’s release later this month…so naturally I’m already charging my PlayStation Move Controllers in preparation.
My Friend Pedro
Developer: DeadToast Entertainment
Release Date: June 2019
Available On: PC and Switch
HO-LY SHITBALLS. The My Friend Pedro demo was an absurdly grotesque goodtime. At the start of the game my character was on the ground in some sort of industrial building. A friendly looking banana named Pedro roused me from whatever knocked me out and encouraged me to take out all the men in the building…so, I did. I performed backflips off the walls and I spun around on my toes while wielding two guns shooting at multiple targets at the same time. I even kicked a frying pan up in slow-motion, shot at it, and killed someone. After every ridiculous kill I just found myself saying, “What the f*ck?!”
This violent shoot ‘em up started out as a free Flash game in 2014 but has now been revamped into a mind-blowing indie shooter. According to the developer’s site, My Friend Pedro is described as, “a violent ballet about friendship, imagination, and one man’s struggle to obliterate anyone in his path at the behest of a sentient banana.” Basically just imagine John Wick as a playable video game character and instead of a dog you’ve got a banana by your side. I’ve played plenty of shooter games in the past but this one felt different. It was as if I was in a real action movie performing insane stunts and over-the-top take downs…it was everything I could have ever imagined and more.
After each level players are scored on how well they performed. The more creative your kills are the more points you’ll be awarded. During the demo I felt there was a lot to learn in a short period of time and with the added pressure of a massive line behind me of gamers waiting for their turn. I kept getting tripped up on what sequence of controls did what and grew frustrated with having to manually reload my weapons each time they ran out of ammo. However I know once the game is released and I’m in the privacy of my own home I will be wasting several hours of my life doing whatever Pedro tells me to, because quite frankly, it’s fun as hell.
Developer: Space Mace
Release Date: Available now
Available On: Switch, PC and Mac.
Somebody has spilled Joggeraid on your spaceship’s engine, blowing it up, and scattering your robot C.O.A.C.H.’s beloved trophies across a moon system. C.O.A.C.H. (aka Cybernetic Outer Space Athletic Coaching Humanoid) is not happy about it. Now it is up to you and your alien friends to jog through the universe, collect the trophies, and avoid getting killed.
Joggernauts is an autorunner puzzle platformer that forces players to work together through color-coded alien conga line puzzles without getting killed. Players can jump platforms, and jog forward but they can’t turn back. They must switch places with whoever is leading the line to match the color of the creature in front of them or risk death if they are unable to match the color in time.
Co-Founder of Space Mace and Game Designer Zach Johnson was inspired by the game Bit Trip Runner. He and his friend Jessie were playing the original game which is also a single player autorunner. They wanted to play at the same time and realized that if they were to do that the person in front would always have the most responsibilities. This caused them to develop a system where players could switch places and share in the responsibilities of being the leader.
Playing with my husband we fell into a rhythm of calling out the colors we needed to match and while it sounds easy I assure you it can become tricky. Mess up one move in your conga pattern and you could throw the whole thing off, killing off both players. It’s exciting to be the leader but you’re also left in a vulnerable position once you complete your task. If the other player doesn’t switch their color with you in time, you’re dead.
This colorful co-op is accessible to a wide audience and even offers the ability to play as a single player. But trust me, this is one of those co-ops that is best played with a group of four where you’re all screaming at the screen to announce what color is next in line. Zach stated that his team wants, “people to have a cooperative couch co-op experience. There’s a lot of competitive games in that space, but to flip it on its head and [see] who can cooperate the best rather than who can compete the best is kind of an interesting different angle that people seem to really enjoy.”
Developer: Eagre Games
Release Date: "Tentatively" within the next couple of months
Available On: PC, Mac, Linux, PSVR, Oculus, & Vive
I certainly wasn’t expecting to cry at PAX this year, but after a minute into Zed I knew this was a game that was going to affect me personally. In fact I genuinely had to pause my gameplay a few times to gather myself in the midst of all the PAX chaos.
Zed is a first-person puzzle game that follows the story of a dying modern artist who is also suffering from dementia. He finds out his daughter is pregnant but with the state of his condition he knows he will not live to see the birth of his granddaughter. As an artist he wants to create and leave behind a children’s book for her, but with his dementia he is unable to remember what the book is about or how to even create the artwork. Players will enter the artist’s dreams to reconnect fragments of his memories in order for him to complete this last piece of work for his unborn granddaughter.
If you’ve ever dealt with a friend or family member who has been diagnosed with a cognitive disorder than you’ll understand how heavy my heart felt during my gameplay. Chuck Carter, the Founder and Creative Director of Eagre Games (and whose name may sound familiar if you played Myst) told me he was inspired by the events surrounding a mentor of his and wanted to create this game to tell his story in a way that is both compelling and to be able to communicate what it would be like for someone to go through this terrible disease by using a dream mechanic to find and rebuild lost memories.
Not only did Chuck pull from his personal experience with his mentor but he also designed the game’s main hub to be modeled after his childhood home. Players will open doors of the home to fantastic worlds and sometimes mundane places, but will always return to the main hub, or home. Each location I was able to visit in my demo session was wonderfully unique, the score tugged on my heartstrings, and the beautiful narrative brought me to tears.
Chuck adds that he hopes Zed will show players that, “Whatever it is you’re trying to do in your life, you can always find a way to do it.”