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PAX East: Seven of the Best Indie Games From the Show

PAX East 2016 was jam-packed full of games of all shapes and sizes. There were dozens of games which all had to be shared amongst thousands of gamers hungry for content. AAA and indie titles alike often had huge lines, especially those that offered a VR experience.

For games with a lot of buzz at the show, like Supergiant’s Pyre, 90 minute waits would form within seconds of the doors opening to let in the crowds each day. It was simply impossible to play everything. In fact, it was impossible to play even half of the everything. Out of the indie games we were able to get our hands on, here are seven of the best:

Pyre

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Pyre is the upcoming game from Supergiant Games, making it instantly the most high-profile indie game at PAX East, a title it deserves. The game is a cross between an adventure game and a sports title, with your three party members playing a game of surreal black magic rugby to save their souls, all as part of a fantasy journey across a gorgeous world dripping with mystery and atmosphere. The art direction is top-notch, combining 2D graphics and the occasional 3D effects to create a vivid world.

Pyre feels both like a bizarre step away from the previous Supergiant games, Bastion and Transistor, and yet a natural evolution of their style. It’s an action title with seemingly simple controls, but actually requires a great deal of thought and strategy to master. Every element of the 20-minute demo shown at PAX added to the captivating mood of a surreal landscape and story to be told. Pyre is a daring, unexpected step forward for an already great studio, and we are expecting great things from this title.

Pyre will be out sometime in 2017 for the PlayStation 4 and PC.

Read our full hands-on impressions here.

Lumo

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Lumo comes to us from Finnish developer Triple Eh? led by Gareth Noyce. It is an isometric dungeon-crawling, puzzle-solving platformer, inspired by old 8-bit games such as The Legend of Zelda. It also draws a great deal of inspiration from the charming WiiU title, Captain Toad: Treasure Trackers.

In Lumo you play as a tiny wizard wandering around a 400-room medieval dungeon, looking for the way out. At the very beginning of the demo, the wizard can barely jump. It is only later that you obtain the ability, making for minimalist puzzle design. But simplicity shouldn’t be mistaken for uninspired or brainless. Lumo is a legitimately brainy and mentally challenging title, even for a Zelda veteran.

The player can only ever see one room at a time, leaving the rest of the dungeon a dense void. Most of the game seems to be a medieval torture chamber, yet in one section you ride an elevator up to a sci-fi room guarded by a blocky 1950s-style robot. While not much story was given in the demo, the little wizard became an adorably lovable main character. If you accidentally let him die, he lets out a little chirp of pain, then respawns instantly. He’s bound to capture the hearts of gamers, just like the rest of Lumo.

Lumo will be released this year for PC, PlayStation Vita, and Xbox One.

Cryptark

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Gotta get a Metroidvania and a roguelike on the list. How about a game that’s both? Cryptark from Alientrap is aiming more for the Metroid-side of the Metroidvania equation. Several locations in the demo appear to come straight out of Mother Brain‘s lair .

Cryptark has you play as a mech-wielding space scavenger, exploring the husks of spaceships to gain loot and defeat dangerous bio-robots. Combat plays out in classic shmup two stick action style. Shield against projectiles, shoot at the right time, and defeat the brain-like boss of every ship. Rinse and repeat.

Each ship is a decently-sized labyrinth of enemies and freakish biological H.R. Geiger components. You’re advised to try for a more stealthy approach when you enter ships. Poor planning will leave you exposed with the entire ship’s inhabitants out to destroy you.

Ultimately the best part of Cryptark is the weighty feel of the combat. Shooting down a large enemy robot yields a satisfying explosion. However, getting sloppy and allowing the enemy to hit you gives a jarring concussion as your mech flies across the screen. For those looking for a more complex and darker Metroid, Cryptark definitely scratches that itch.

Cryptark is already available on Steam Early Access, and will have a full release for PC and PlayStation 4 later this year.

Abzu

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Since Journey was released to critical acclaim in 2012, ThatGameStudio has neither released nor even announced any new titles. Luckily there is Abzu to hold you over. If Abzu in any way reminds you of Journey, that should be no surprise, since the developer, Giant Squid, includes Matt Nava, the art director of Flower and Journey.

Abzu is a reference to the ancient Mesopotamian concept of the primeval waters of creation, and the game itself is an underwater fantasy scuba diving simulation with a beautiful cel-shaded art style. Any game where you can ride sea turtles, and explore the depths is worth following.

Your main method of communication is a sonar pulse that causes your swimming flashlight drones to pulse back at you, much like the magic carpets did in Journey. Since the game takes place in aquatic environments, there are no massive landmarks in the distance to easily guide the player. While that may be a concern, Abzu still features a lush undersea adventure.

You will be sold on the game once you allow yourself to swim back to the surface and stare out at the endless sky and sea full of life. Even if Abzu does share a lot in common with Journey, there is definitely room in the world for two such games.

Abzu will be released later this year for the PlayStation 4.

Just Shapes & Beats

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No list of PAX indie games would be complete without some kind of wild party game. In Just Shapes & Beats you and up to three friends play as shapes who must survive dangerous gauntlets of deadly beats.

Berzerk Studio showed this game off at last year’s PAX, but a year of polish has made it even more frenetic and frantic. Make sure to move your little shapes out of the way of danger and maybe you’ll survive long enough to reach a checkpoint. Or maybe the game will troll you and cause 70% of the screen to be a death trap.

Where other party games are about ruining your friends’ lives, Just Shapes & Beats actually encourages you to save them, since only one of you needs to survive to the checkpoint for the entire team to progress. You probably won’t have the time or ability to mess with your friends anyhow, since Just Shapes & Beats will be screwing with you plenty already.

The demo included four stages, each using wild techno music to create little playable music videos of lightning fast danger. In one stage a spherical creature did everything he could to smash the players’ shapes. In another the Mortal Kombat theme summoned armies of red ninjas to try to break the shapes.

The levels are made to look threatening and impossible, which is part of the fun when your friends get blasted into a million pieces right next to you. Careful study of the patterns allows for plenty of options to learn the rhythm and to find the best place to survive.

Just Shapes & Beats should be out sometime this year for the PlayStation 4 and PC.

The Metronomicon

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Metronomicon is a cross between Dance Dance Revolution and an RPG. Set in a world where monsters can only be defeated with the power of dance, Kasedo Games’ delightfully weird hybrid has you playing a tight rhythm game while trying to keep your brain limber enough to also make strategic battle decisions. As the arrows float down from the ceiling you must use one of four warriors to either attack, buff the party, heal the party, etc. There will be a full story mode along with many challenges including in what might be one of the silliest RPGs ever made. What Curse of the Necrodancer did for roguelikes, The Metronomicon does for Final Fantasy-style RPGs.

While the actual Final Fantasy rhythm game, Theatrhythm, just used role-playing battles as a background to a very fun rhythm game, The Metronomicon fully combines the two genres. You must switch between your party members in order to survive battles against creatures such as a shark monster, so if you let yourself get too sucked into the rocking unreleased Tiny Toy Guns song included in the demo, your battle is going to end poorly. You also cannot get too hasty with moving between party members, since if you try to dance too quickly you’ll make crucial mistakes. Enemies can rain down crippling status effects like causing the notes to swirl back and forth across the screen, making an already crazy game utterly mind-breaking.

The Metronomicon will be out later this year on PC.

Thumper

Thumper

The PlayStation VR title from Drool LLC, Thumper, is either a recreation of the worst drug experience anybody has ever had or possibly the best, depending on how you look at it. You play as a neon space beetle racing through a psychedelic mind-bending track at ridiculous speeds while dodging obstacles and fighting against terrifying monsters. It is electronica music brought to life in the a brilliantly abstract, immersive, and intense form. Your beetle car will

It is electronica music brought to life in a brilliantly abstract, immersive, and intense form. Your space beetle will careen into tight turns, break barriers, and fire lasers of energy, all while your mind is assaulted on all sides by stunning audio and visual design.

Thumper is an intensely addicting yet terrifying game. It is a trip like none other – and could be Sony’s ace in the hole. The PlayStation VR has a lot to prove against the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, and Thumper‘s G-force roller coaster ride thrills perfectly showcase the PSVR’s capabilities and what is possible with VR. Not much about Thumper requires the use of VR. However, game shows how VR can enhance and turn an already accelerated experience of musical hyper-reality into arguably the best game of PAX East 2016. It is clear there is a bright future for this new virtual frontier of gaming.

Thumper will be released later this year PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR.

Read our full hands-on impressions here.


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