OK, so maybe not “we.”
I wrote the headline a little tongue-in-cheek because at PAX East 2022, I was the media representation for Nintendo World Report. The main reason for this was the ongoing pandemic, and since I’m located in Boston, I was uniquely qualified to represent the site and see what a post-2020 PAX East would look like.
If you want to check out my reflections on this PAX, read those here. The short version is that I had a good time and it was a fun, albeit slightly quieter version of the Boston convention. It’s a great effort from the con after the last two years, and I’m optimistic about 2023.
I want to define “the coolest” here by saying it’s more or less a synonym for “my favorite.” I’m just one guy covering this year’s show, and this represents about half of the 20-or-so games I played. So I guess if you think about it, these are Nintendo World Report’s™ PAX East 2022™ Games of Show™ (in no particular order).
No Place For Bravery
Every PAX East, there’s a “that game.” A game you’ve never heard of before that knocked your socks off in some way or another. It’s fair to say that everyone has a different “that game,” and oftentimes there is more than one, but for me No Place For Bravery was a “that game.”
This one’s a 2D, top-down action-RPG soulslike about an old warrior in search of his lost daughter. The parry and stamina-focused combat is where you’ll see the Souls influence, but you’ll also see bits of Zelda (you can cut the tall grass) and Hyper Light Drifter (with that semi-isometric perspective).
The combat is sharp, fun and fast, and it clicked for me immediately in a way games don’t always do. I also appreciated the multiple difficulty options available as a way to meet players where they’re at. There’s an additional special shout-out that needs to be given to the colorful art, which is as gruesome as it is beautiful.
No Place For Bravery slated for release later this year.
Kao the Kangaroo
Kao the Kangaroo is a reboot and new game in the Kao (pronounced K-O) the Kangaroo series, a mascot platformer franchise originally from the early 2000s focused on a kangaroo that hits enemies with boxing gloves. This new one is helmed by original developers Tate Multimedia, a Polish studio that has continued making games even while Kao has remained dormant for 15 years (you may have seen their work on Urban Trial Freestyle).
I’ve only played this new one in the form of its PAX East demo, but it makes a strong first impression. As a platformer, the way I’d describe it is a bit like Crash Bandicoot but more 3D. You progress through levels in a linear fashion, beating enemies up with your boxing gloves and solving some light puzzles along the way. Oh yeah, and lots of collectibles.
Controlling Kao feels quite good, and a mechanic I found particularly fun was the ability to change Kao’s boxing gloves with various elements. The demo I played focused on Kao infusing his gloves with fire; this both packs an extra punch against enemies and is used to solve puzzles (the ones in the demo primarily involved lighting a boomerang on fire and using it to destroy cobwebs).
I’m interested in seeing more of this one, and thankfully its release date is coming soon: May 27.
Arcade Paradise is a first-person business simulator in which you run an arcade located in the back of a laundromat, and over the course of the game you gain access to more arcade machines. The machines seem to be all playable based on the 10-15 I saw in my demo, and I was told there would be around 40 in the final game. The arcade games – which are all original – were overall quite fun. My favorite was a take on Pac-Man where you’re in a Grand Theft Auto cops-and-robbers type city.
It wasn’t the arcade games alone that sold me, though – it was the vibes. The game had an overall tone and humor of No More Heroes, complete with the idea of retro-gamifying even the most mundane activities. This one was a surprise hit for me.
Arcade Paradise is currently dated for this spring.
Depths of Sanity
“Underwater metroidvania” is not the type of game I’d expect to be for me, but it works! Also in Early Access on Steam, Depths of Sanity places you (mostly) in a submarine as you explore the ocean’s depths and fight sea creatures.
One way this game solves the “water level problem” is by making your submarine feel powerful and making movement less floaty. Your sub has significant inertia, meaning it takes a bit of momentum to go faster and doesn’t immediately come to a stop. It feels strange at first but gets really nice after getting used to it.
The weapon/tool diversity also seems quite good, and the overall experience seems to represent the danger and weirdness you want out of a game about exploring the deepest parts of the ocean.
Depths of Sanity’s final story chapter is coming to Steam in early May, and a Switch launch is slated for this year.
Cursed to Golf
From the cute, colorful art to the fun take on a familiar genre, Cursed to Golf is the type of game I think of when I think of “cool Switch indie.”
After you’re struck by lightning during a golf championship, you have to escape Golf Purgatory by playing 2D, paranormal golf in the underworld. Unlike traditional golf, however, the rules are different. You start out with 5 shots, and every time you take a swing it counts down. If you don’t get the ball in the hole by the time the counter hits zero, you lose. The holes, however, seem to be designed to take more than five straight shots, and as such you have to get to your hole via power-ups and items that replenish your remaining shot counter.
It was a fun demo with some clever golf twists and pretty pixel art, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the game develops when it comes out this summer.
A physical-only release from Devolver Digital, I was told Demon Throttle takes cues from classic top-down shooters King’s Knight and Gun.Smoke. Like those, you proceed through always-scrolling levels either by yourself or with a partner, shooting down demons and getting power-ups. While it is balanced with “arcade difficulty” in mind, the game also utilizes unlockable roguelike elements to keep a gentler curve for the average skilled player.
One other thing I found fascinating is that while Demon Throttle has only four main levels, secrets like hidden areas and optional bosses add an extra layer of discovery. It was fun – especially in co-op – and I admired developer Doinksoft’s efforts to stay true to the arcade experience (complete with lo-fi voices!). Pre-orders of Demon Throttle ship this summer.
The biggest compliment I can give to WrestleQuest is that I walked into my press appointment knowing nothing about wrestling and, one hour later, walked out with a homework assignment to watch the first WrestleMania (that I am fully planning to follow through on). The passion seen in developer Mega Cat Studios’ upcoming turned-based wrestling RPG is palpable.
The immediate reference points Mega Cat Studios founder James Deighan gave me for WrestleQuest were Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG, and you can see it. The game places you in wrestling-focused combat where you can strike enemies, taunt them, and use special signature moves. When you strike enemies, you are given timed button prompts that allow you to do things like deal more damage and throw enemies against the ropes, a la Mario RPG.
It’s not just the combat – everything exudes wrestling.
The world of WrestleQuest features the likenesses of around 20 real life wrestlers ranging from household legends Randy Savage and André the Giant to indie wrestlers, Japanese wrestlers and more. I was told that the wrestlers are written both appropriate to their characters (be they babyface or heel) but also with the love and reverence they deserve.
The wrestlers are separated into their own regions within the game’s world and play a major part in the overall story. The game sounds big too; I was told that rolling credits would take 30-50 hours, and its script has well over 100,000 words in it.
While I’m not a wrestling fan, you can’t help but root a bit for a game so passionate about its source material. I was told the game was planning to be both for the diehards and for the uninitiated to become initiated.
WrestleQuest is planned for this summer.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge is a sidescrolling beat-em-up developed by Tribute Games and published by Dotemu. It takes cues from the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games released by Konami. As such, you beat up bad guys and go from screen to screen in a manner similar to Streets of Rage, but compared to Streets of Rage the playable characters are a little faster and a little less bulky. Like other retro revivals published by Dotemu, it looks and sounds great, and it plays really well too.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge releases this summer.
The Big Con
Another game coming to Switch this summer, The Big Con represented a classic PAX East situation: the experience of walking past a booth nestled in the back, looking at a game’s visual style, and going “wow!” This one is an adventure game that takes you, a runaway teenage con artist, across the '90s U.S.
The demo tasked me with earning $75 in a mall, and the way I had to do it was scam it out of people, either through intentionally designed sequences or, something I found immediately endearing, a pickpocketing mechanic. I say endearing because The Big Con seems to be going for a more complicated hero’s tale under a '90s Nickelodeon backdrop; and of course, there’s always something fun about unique crime mechanics in video games.
Speaking of that backdrop, the visuals are overwhelmingly nice. I’d almost say its color pops a little too much, but I think it toes the line between awesome and distracting nicely. I’d compare it to ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! and Pool Panic.
In addition to its Switch launch in a few months, The Big Con is available now on Xbox and PC.
World of Horror
This one’s really cool. World of Horror’s Steam page describes it as a “1-bit love letter to Junji Ito and H.P. Lovecraft.” 1-bit refers to the presentation at play here, which is completely black-and-white.
The structure of World of Horror is that you are given some kind of usually-short horror adventure that you can, to some extent, customize the parameters of. You’re then given a premise and character, and you have to find your way out of the situation. The PAX demo placed me in an existential horror scenario where I was trapped inside my home for days on end. My character’s emotional state quickly entered dire straits, and it was up to me to find the creature behind this claustrophobic adventure and ultimately fight it in turn-based RPG combat.
From my experience with the Steam Early Access version and this demo at PAX East, I would describe the adventures I've played as part scary, part chill PC nostalgia vibes. I dig it a lot, though I’m curious about how the UI-heavy adventure will translate to Switch.
World of Horror is planned to release on Switch later this year.