Now that I’ve had some time to decompress after the most insane, busiest several weeks in a row I’ve had in many years, I wanted to share my favorite titles from Expo West earlier this month. I would include Creature in the Well, but it launched shortly after PAX West, so I’d suggest checking out my review of Creature in the Well instead. Here are my top top non-triple A games in alphabetical order since I couldn’t decide on a best to least best arrangement of the list. They’re all great for different reasons!
The Backbone demo consisted of the full Prologue chapter of the story, featuring the main character, a witty, anthropomorphic, detective Raccoon. The music was appropriately moody for the detective noire setting and the environmental touches of pixel-noire Vancouver were most impressive! I found myself peering into the background almost constantly, admiring the ambiance and sheer quantity of detail that could be seen in the background layers of the level design. If the rest of the game is as good as the demo, I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on the final version! I won’t give away the ending of the demo, but you should totally try it for yourself on Steam.
Best Friend Forever
Best Friend Forever was only announced a week before PAX West and I was delighted to try it while I Was there. The game is half dating sim, half dog owning sim, and its fantastic sense of humor is aptly described by the developers as “millennial despair”, which I just adored. Even the intro questionnaire for the “dog owner dating app” had me audibly chuckling to myself. You play the role of a newcomer to the most dog friendly city in the nation where every character you meet has a dog and you’ll quickly adopt one of your own. The cast of colorful characters is refreshingly LGBTQ-friendly and gender-norm breaking. I’m looking forward to Best Friend Forever on its Valentine’s Day release date!
Biped is a quirky, light hearted indie game brought to the US by NEXT Studios. I played the demo with my boyfriend and we both really enjoyed the level we tried! Each player controls a cute, charmingly clumsy robot and pilots them through a gauntlet of co-op physics puzzles as you progress through the game. Biped was some of the most fun he and I have had with co-op games and we had a great time figuring out the puzzles together, which had us moving switches and swinging from magnetic walls while tethered together, among other things. I was informed that the platforms Biped is releasing on are still undecided, but I really hope it comes to Switch so we can finish the co-op experience together.
Haven was at the top of my list of demos I wanted to play at PAX West and it remains at the top of my list of anticipated, upcoming releases. I was particularly impressed with the voice acting of the main characters. They sounded so genuine in their lines that it made me feel like I was in on the inside humor between the couple. The presentation was interesting because rather than playing as one of the two in their home, you observe as an invisible third party, which feels voyeuristic in a wholesome way. When outside the home ship you can swap between either character. The controls while hovering outside were a little looser than I prefer, thought I think it is an intentional design choice based on the slippery physics of the hover gear. Haven’s environment was lush and inviting, with intriguing alien creatures needing cleansed from a creeping natural corruption found on the planet. Check out a few minutes of my demo gameplay here!
Representation is happily a big deal in games these days and Indivisible steps up to the plate by providing not only a cast of people of color, but also a deep cultural background. You may recognize the art design and animation style of Indivisible from Skullgirls, but little else crosses over in this fresh, action-platformer based on south-east-Asian culture and mythology. The demo controls were concise and snappy, with nuanced, manual control of specific platforming elements that reminded me a bit of Mirror’s Edge, but in 2D. The art design is simply gorgeous and combat encounters are interwoven with the platforming in flashy, turn based battles. Featuring a strong female heroine in Ajna, Indivisible is one coming of age hero’s journey I refuse to miss.
Praey for the Gods
Praey for the Gods is an ambitious upcoming RPG inspired by Shadow of the Colossus. The demo had me scampering up, around, and inside frozen ruins on my way to battle one of the Gods. I’m embarrassed to admit that I went into autopilot based on my experience with Shadow of the Colossus. Instead of taking advantage of the grapple hook tool to mitigating time spent climbing, I simply climbed the colossus from the ground up repeatedly each time I was shaken free, as one might with early bosses in Shadow. I was also told there are several other methods to ascend the giant, including dropping from above. While I accidentally chose the most boring option, the battle still felt satisfyingly similar to Shadow of the Colossus, but with its own spin on creatures, environment, and mechanics. I typically review only Switch games, but Praey for the Gods is likely have me pulling up my desk chair upon PC release.
Roundguard is another game that had not been on my radar prior to visiting Seattle, but I sure am glad it is now! This Peggle-inspired rougelite was a blast to play and now that I have my hands on the PC beta, I find myself playing rounds of it between multiplayer games with friends frequently. Roundguard great to play in short bursts! You’ll pick a character based on the warrior, rogue, or magician archetypes and then battle your way through as many stages as you can by bouncing off of the wall, “pegs”, power ups, and enemies. However, the player has much more control of their unit than in other games of this style. You’ll be able to use active abilities that you can learn from rewards, such as double jump or firing arrows, as you bounce your way to victory!
Sayonora Wild Hearts
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a title I’ve been following closely since it’s initial announcement. The psychedelic colors, feminine vibes, and gripping rhythm game play immediately caught my interest when I saw it. The demo at PAX West played as buttery-smooth as was claimed by the dev team and I couldn’t put down the controller until I tried every stage available. The soundtrack is stunning! One thing that really stood out to me is how seamlessly the game “restarts” when you fail by running into an obstacle or missing a big jump; there is no loading screen and it simply plops you right back on the track a moment later with the music still going. I wish more games took this approach because it felt so smooth. Sayonara Wild Hearts is releasing on the 19th in a few days, so expect a full review!
Nothing at PAX West pulled on my heartstrings quite like Spiritfarer. In this calming, bitter-sweet title, you will tenderly care after the spirits of those who have passed away, but aren’t ready to move on yet. Each with their own personality and story, they will live on your barge as you tend to their needs, both “physical” and emotional, until they have done whatever they need to do to feel ready to move on to the next plane. It sounds a little grim, but Spiritfarer is actually a bright and wholesome experience based on the demo. You can even play co-op with the second player being the main character’s little animal companion. I was informed that each of the over a dozen spirits are based on the late loved ones of Thunder Lotus’s team members. What a lovely tribute! I have no doubt Spiritfarer is a game that will make you feel things.
World of Horror
Speaking of feeling things, World of Horror will make your feel very different things. Set in an alternate world Japan where the fabric of reality is broken and Lovecraftian horror is common place, World of Horror is a choose-your-own adventure roguelike that is 100% not safe for children. Inspired by Japanese horror manga series such as the classic Uzumaki series, I was very impressed with the demo presented by Pawel, the solo developer. I’ve never seen a title in the style of World of Horror and was quite taken with its retro art design, mystery, and variety of eldritch horror elements, characters, and stories. I did not win the scenario I chose, which was much harder than expected. In fact, I had my face hacked apart by a crazy lady with scissors. Oh well, such is life (and death)!
Thanks for reading!