Tens of thousands of gamers once again swarmed the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center for PAX East this past weekend. The annual video game convention from the creators of Penny Arcade, a massively popular web comic, gives gamers the chance to play hundreds of games months before release and chat with their developers. It also features a huge assortment of panels on games and the industry, as well as community events such as concerts, tournaments and tabletop and card games. If you ever wanted to see cosplayers dressed as Lara Croft posing for pictures with God of War’s Kratos, it’s definitely the place to be.
This was my fifth time attending the east coast event (the ever-expanding PAX also has expos in Seattle and Australia, and PAX South just premiered in San Antonio in January)—and though official attendance numbers for the sold-out event haven’t been announced, it felt like the biggest one yet. On Saturday morning, the line just to get to the convention’s entrance stretched at least a half-mile down Summer St., with thousands of eager gamers gamely braving the wicked Boston cold to get to the door. The show floor itself has expanded considerably since last year, with previously unoccupied space now lined with rows of PCs and monitors as far as the eye can see.
The exhibition hall is always dominated by big publishers such as Microsoft and Blizzard, and this year’s biggest booth may have belonged to game streaming site Twitch (further proof of its meteoric rise over the past few years). But my favorite part of PAX East is the thrill of discovery: wandering around the floor and stumbling upon promising games I’ve never heard of, getting excited while demoing them and talking with the developers, then eagerly anticipating their releases. In no particular order, here are 10 games I’m looking forward to from this year’s show.
Splatoon (Wii U)
Nintendo is finally getting into the multiplayer shooter arms race, and unsurprisingly, it looks nothing like Call of Duty. Splatoon is absolutely drenched in vibrant colors, largely because your cartoony character sprays neon-colored ink to mark the territory, and whichever team has marked the most wins. Oh, and also you can turn into a squid to slide around the environments in your team’s colors, because why not? It’s fast-paced, inventive and fun, though the controls, which require you to use both the gamepad’s right stick and gyroscope to aim, could be simplified. And while Nintendo has confirmed there’s a single-player component, we’ll likely have to wait till E3 to find out exactly what that is.
Runbow (Wii U)
Runbow is a frantic, nine-player, same0couch (assuming you have, like, a really big sectional) action game that had players hooting and hollering on the show floor. Using the Wii U’s gamepad and four Wiimotes paired with four classic controllers, players run, jump and punch through brightly colored platform levels in a race to the exit. The twist is that swaths of colors periodically run over the screen, erasing any same-colored platforms, which constantly keeps everyone on their toes (or plummeting to their death). There are multiple modes, including one where the player using the gamepad (the Colormaster) tries to stop all other players from reaching the end by constantly changing up which color washes over, dropping bombs and generally tormenting them. I could see Runbow taking over dorm rooms the way Goldeneye did in the late ’90s.
Enter the Gungeon (PC/PS4)
What happens when you mix a dungeon crawler with a bullet-hell shooter? Something pretty awesome. Enter the Gungeon has players shooting and dodge-rolling their way through increasingly difficult procedurally assembled rooms, battling an arsenal of gun-toting, table-flipping enemies and giant bosses. Players get one life to run the Gungeon, with each character’s progress unlocking new items, weapons, levels and characters to battle. Developer Dodge Roll promises around 200 different guns, ranging from your standard rifles and rocket launcher to wacky weapons such as the Excaliber, a gun that shoots swords. Though there’s no firm release date, I can’t wait to enter the Gungeon when it launches sometime this year.
Magnetic: Cage Closed (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Let’s get this out of the way: Magnetic takes a great deal of inspiration from Portal. But when it does that this well, adding its own unique spin and mechanics, I’m perfectly ok with that. The first-person puzzle adventure casts you as a prisoner who is forced to test out a magnet gun through a variety of hazardous environments, and the magnet gun is an absolute joy to use. You can push and pull small objects at will, but objects larger than you will exert a pull on you. You can also use magnetic attraction and repulsion to pull or propel you through environments, and clever puzzles take advantage of all these mechanics together. Developer Guru Games promises branching story paths and multiple endings, which should pull players back in again and again.
Media Molecule’s utterly charming papercraft adventure was one of my favorite Vita games largely because it’s one of the few games to take advantage of the handheld’s unique multiple touchscreens and cameras. I was skeptical how the game would be translated to PS4, but my doubts were soon gone as I watched Tearaway‘s whimsical world unfold in stunning HD. The demo showed how the DualShock 4’s touchpad and lightbar can be used to mimic the Vita’s touchscreen controls. Assuming the developer has successfully adapted the game’s other unique features, it seems like a journey worth taking over again on the big screen.
Titan Souls (PC, PS4)
If you thought Dark Souls was difficult, wait till you get a hold of this game. Armed with just one arrow and one point of health, you have to take on a series of fiendishly challenging boss battles. You’ll die repeatedly as you figure out each boss’ unique patterns and weaknesses, but when you finally triumph and fell the enemy, it’s incredibly rewarding. Well, I imagine it’s rewarding. I wasn’t able to take out that damn jelly monster, but the people who did sure seemed pleased with themselves. Titan Souls promises over two dozen bosses to conquer when it launches on PS4 on April 14… so that jelly monster better watch out. Because I know its patterns now.
Severed (PS Vita)
Drinkbox Studios made a big splash at 2012’s PAX East with Guacamelee!, and they’re back with a PS Vita-exclusive that features a similarly gorgeous art and animation style. You play as a one-armed heroine who wields a living sword to piece together her past (and possibly find out what happened to that other arm). The storytelling is entirely visual and very ambiguous, but intriguing nonetheless. The gameplay is inspired by iOS hit Infinity Blade, so combat is all done by swiping the system’s touchscreen—but it seems to offer a lot more freedom in terms of exploration. The Vita is struggling for good exclusive games, and Severed definitely looks like one worth swiping right for.
Albert & Otto (PC, Mac, Linux)
This atmospheric 2D platformer about a little boy and his magical bunny takes some aesthetic cues from indie hit Limbo but offers its own clever spin on physics-based puzzles. Albert and Otto embark on a dangerous adventure that requires teamwork and some serious puzzle-solving skills. I was stumped on more than one occasion during the 20-minute demo I played, and while the answer wasn’t always obvious, it was always very satisfying when you figured it out. The game has a pitch-black sense of humor to match its color palette; you don’t even want to know what I had to do to some sheep to get through the levels. Albert & Otto was recently greenlit on Steam Greenlight, and is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter in the hopes of a late 2015 release.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (PC, Xbox One)
One of my favorite games at last year’s PAX East, Lovers In a Dangerous Spacetime is a two-player co-op game in which you must work together to pilot your ship through hostile terrain, fighting off enemies and rescuing hostages. It’s also adorable, wrapped in a charming candy-colored aesthetic that belies how challenging it can be. Each ship features a number of turrets, shields and engines, and teamwork is absolutely essential for survival. When I remarked to one of the developers that this game requires so much careful cooperation that it could destroy friendships when things inevitably go awry, he countered that it also could fill you with love when your team survives. Aww, it’s cute that he thinks that.
Ori and the Blind Forest (PC, Xbox One)
Ever since Ori and the Blind Forest was revealed at last year’s E3, it’s been one of the most hotly anticipated indie titles on any platform. The game features gorgeous Studio Ghibli-inspired animation combined with tight platforming and a “Metroidvania” progression system where new abilities open up new areas. After spending 15 minutes exploring the beautiful world at PAX East, I’m eager to continue. Fortunately, unlike many of these titles that won’t launch for months to come, Ori is out Wednesday.