Top 5 Games to Watch From PAX East 2023

Everyone loves listicles. Otherwise why would anyone write them? Because they’re easy content that can be ginned out at a moment’s notice, with little effort? Nonsense! It’s because they’re the glorious future of writing.

1. Mina the Hollower

Expected Release: 2024

Mina the Hollower was, simply put, the best video game at PAX East this year. It’s a brilliant combination of old school Zelda with some Soulslike influences. It’s being made by Yacht Club, who’ve proven their worth already with Shovel Knight. The 50 minutes I played made me wish I’d backed the Kickstarter. If the full game is as good as the one level I demoed, this will be my indie game of the year for 2024.

2. Athenian Rhapsody

Expected Release: 2023

Athenian Rhapsody was my dark horse of the show. I had never heard of the game, developer, or publisher before I saw it for the first time. It sold me on the strength of its demo alone. I’m very curious to see the final product, and frankly, I have a mild sense of trepidation. This game’s either going to very, very good, or an unbelievable disaster and cringefest. Trying to emulate the tone of things like Earthbound and Undertale is hard, and I’ll applaud the effort either way. I just don’t know if I’ll be wincing while I do so.

3. Cobalt Core

Expected Release: 2023

I was going to put information about Cobalt Core here, but then I realized a friend made a meme about it that I could steal and use instead.

TLDR: Spaceship deck builder from the Crypt of the Necrodancer people. The demo I played was fun as well.

4. Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless

Expected Release: 2023

This entry is technically cheating. I didn’t actually play it at the show, but NIS had a booth, and I saw an advertisement for it, so I’m going to say that counts. Disgaea 6 moved to a new engine, and was a somewhat weaker entry in the series, but still had a strong story and fun gameplay. I’m hopeful that 7 returns the franchise to a point of strength. Also I’m pandering so I can get a pre-release copy.

5. Galactic Getaway

Expected Release: Not listed at time of writing.

I’ve got Galactic Getaway on this list because it’s trying to do something I don’t think I’ve seen another game try to do: go toe to toe with Animal Crossing. And it’s being made by the developer of Nookazon. Which is to say, this isn’t someone trying to compete with Animal Crossing because they think there’s a load of money to be made, so much as they think the player base for that game is underserved.

Which you know. That’s fairly bold.



PAX East 2023 – Day 4

The final day of PAX is always a bit slower. After three full days of running around and playing games non-stop for 14 hours straight, I am a bit tired. So I’m more than happy for a day with less crowds, and a more leisurely tone.

I started by wandering over to the Top Hat Studios booth. I tried a game called Elementallis. From what I saw it was sort of a simple dungeon crawler in the vein of the Zelda games. I ended up putting it down fairly quickly.

Then I moved to another game at the booth, Athenian Rhapsody. Specifically, Athenian Rhapsody: Thunder Goober’s Personality Dungeon. It’s not a demo of the full game. Instead, it’s a sort of standalone mini-section of what the full game will be.

Athenian Rhapsody might be my sleeper hit of the show. It’s unabashedly following in the vein of Earthbound and Undertale. It’s weird, with a distinctive style and unusual tone. It also uses a amped up version of Undertale’s bullet hell/real time movement dodge mechanics within an RPG.

I am cautious. Undertale is an incredibly strong game on every axis. Music, writing, and perhaps most importantly, gameplay. But it’s a strong game because all of how well all of those three work together. I have no idea if Athenian Rhapsody will be as good. But I’d like to believe that it will be. It certainly has the potential.

Anyway, moving along I found Treachery in Beatdown City. It’s part side scrolling beat-em-up, and part JRPG. Characters are moved around with the control sticks, but there’s a energy and FP menu for actually using some attacks on enemies. The game didn’t click for me, but it’s a very cool combination I’ve never seen done before.

Another cool project that I haven’t tried out yet was Project Dark, a video game with no video. Instead, it’s an audio based game where you swipe left or right to make decisions. I grabbed a code for one of the modules and I’m hoping to try it at some point this week.

Then a lunch break!

Post-Lunch

In entirely unrelated and weird experience, I ran into the booth for Artix Entertainment. There’s a longer story here. Short version is that I met someone who was basically a personal hero from my childhood, and made a bunch of the games I played in highschool and middle school. So that was cool. They’re working on a port of Adventure Quest Worlds to Unity, with the name Adventure Quest Worlds Infinity. So if I can ever figure out how to get my old character back, I might play that again.

Then it was back to wandering, and I wandered over to Righteous Mojo. I didn’t like Righteous Mojo very much. The game felt and played like a combo of Friday Night Funkin and a 2006 flash game. It also looks like 2006 flash game. Graphics aren’t everything, and gameplay isn’t everything, but you gotta have at least one of them.

Anyway, I wandered a bit more and found myself at the Raw Fury booth. I’ve written about one of their published games, Dome Keeper before. Raw Fury has a bunch of games I’m curious about, including Cassette Beasts and Superfuse. But I sat down and played Friends VS Friends, the deckbuildy-cardshooty 1v1 and 2v2 shooter. It had a bunch of cards I hadn’t seen before in some of the other public demos they’ve run, and was quite fun.

Strolling around, I stopped into play ODR Hockey Heroes. Sports games aren’t really my thing, but it was pretty fun. It’s apparently inspired by the SNES era of couch co-op and versus hockey games. I’ve never played any of those, so I’m not sure if it succeeds.

Then I played something a bit more in my wheelhouse: Robobeat. It’s a roguelike arena-shooter, where you get rewarded for shooting to the beat. It was pretty fun! Side note: This is a genre that demos well at game conventions, but I’ve burned by before as well. So I’m always a little hesitant when see these sorts of games.

Crossing to the other side of the hall, I found Toy Tactics, a neat little RTS with primary gimmick being the ability to draw your own battle formations. It reminded a bit of Battalion Wars 2. Yes, I am comparing this to a Wii game from 2007. No, I won’t elaborate.

Because PAX East closes at 6:00 on Sundays, I didn’t get in as many board games. I did however get to demo Potion Slingers, a very cool semi-deckbuilder. Its main difference from a traditional deckbuilder is that cards are placed face up onto your deck as you buy them, and many are single use. So instead of being a hard engine builder, it’s more about spotting combos and combining various factors. It was quite interesting, and ended being the only board game I played at the show today.

However, it wasn’t my last game of the day. That honor goes to the somewhat unfortunately named Pandemic Train. It’s a roguelike about managing survivors in a train, and getting out to loot the places you stop at, all while trying to cure a deadly disease. The game was interesting, but felt a bit rough around the edges. Right now it has a release date of next quarter, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that gets pushed back a bit.

And finally, as the hall closed, I waved goodbye and-no wait, I didn’t do that. Instead, I helped some friends break down their booth, lug everything out to the car, and then made my way home, where I’m now typing this.

From an attendee standpoint, this was a pretty good PAX. Attendance did feel a bit lighter then usual, but I don’t know how that worked out for folks at booths. I saw a bunch of cool stuff, learned about some interesting looking upcoming games, and chatted with cool folks.

PAX East 2023 – Day 3

Read day 1 here. Read day 2 here.

Day 3 of PAX East 2023 has rolled around. AKA Saturday. AKA the busiest day. But I was a bit tired, so I just laid in bed, and headed over to the convention center at about 12:00.

I started by heading over to the NIS America booth. They’re the publisher and developer for Disgaea, a series I absolutely adore. There was some promotional material for Disgaea 7, but no demo. So instead I played the five games that they had available. The two that stuck out to me as interesting were Grim Grimoire OnceMore and Trails to Azure. Grim Grimoire is a remake of a PS2 RTS style game. Trails to Azure is a JRPG.

After that, I wandered a bit and checked out Bish Bash Bots, a multiplayer tower defense game. The mechanic setting it apart is a light physics system. Players whack towers to upgrade them. They can also whack incoming enemies to push them back. What I saw was a bit simplistic, but fun.

I swung by Serenity Forge. The demos I was interested in had fairly long lines, so I kept going.

Then I found Galactic Getaway. Players play Mario Party style mini-games to earn currency. Then they can spend that currency to decorate and build up a Animal Crossing style island. One of the mini-games was a very clever tile placement thing I found quite fun. I didn’t really experiment with the other parts of the game, but there’s a lot of potential. I’m going to keep an eye on this one, even though it’s not really a genre in my personal wheelhouse. Side Note: I chatted with the devs a bit. They’re aiming for a multi-platform and cross platform release. It’s ambitious, and I hope it works out.

Then I went to actually demo Nostalgix. Nostalgix is an Indie TCG that feels like a combination of Hearthstone and the Pok√©mon TCG. It was actually quite fun! I’ve written a bit about other indie TCG’s (and my skepticism of MetaZoo). I may try to do a full writeup at some point on Nostalgix, but it played the best of any of the indie TCG’s I’ve seen so far.

After that I wandered and found Infernax. I legit didn’t know anything about it, other than that it looked like gritty Shovel Knight Castlevania. After playing for a bit, I would say that it was fine. It felt a bit tonally weird, but the actual mechanics of the demo didn’t feel special enough to make me love it.

Then it was time for board games. I demoed Skytear: Horde. It’s a co-op PVE defense game. I’m not a huge PVE board game person, so it didn’t grab me. Might be worth checking out if you are into that sort of thing though. It did have nice art.

After the expo hall closed, I checked out the board game library.

The first game I ended up playing was Downforce. Downforce is a diceless tactical movement game where you’re racing racecars by playing movement cards. Each card can move multiple cars, and there’s also a bidding element. It was quite neat, and I would play it again, but I did not win.

The second game from the library was Air Land & Sea. It’s a neat bluffing game. Players take turns placing cards, and try to win two of three battlefields. At the same time though, it’s possible to retreat early. Doing so lets you minimize losses, and keep playing.

The last game of the night was Macaryoshka. It was a sort of incredibly interesting Japanese homebrew, with what appeared to be home machined parts, and a set of English rules that weren’t translated 100% correctly. It placement game about Macarons. It was pretty neat! We did have to google translate the Japanese rules to figure a few things out though. Fantastic components, interesting gameplay. I would be shocked if I ever see another copy of this thing again in my life.

Image of Makaryoshika board game
Here’s an online image I found. I can’t actually find a website or link for the developer.

And with that, PAX East 2023 day 3 was over! But we still have one more day left. So for now I am going to get some sleep, and try to prepare mentally for Sunday.

PAX East 2023 – Day 2

Day 2 of PAX East 2023 is over, and I am completely fried. Before I stumble into bed though, I’ll be doing another quick recap! Mostly just focusing on what I saw and played.

Let’s start with the big highlight: Mina the Hollower.

It’s from Yacht Club Games, the folks who made Shovel Knight, which I also love.

From what I played, it feels like a combination of the best mechanics of 2D Zelda and a sprinkling of Soulslike, specifically Bloodborne in some ways. So far it is hands down the best thing I’ve seen at PAX East this year. The movement and combat is fantastic and fun, and while I can’t comment too much on on story/art/music, they all seemed great from what I saw.

I did get to chat with one of the devs as I was playing, and he mentioned that the game likely won’t be out this here, but hopefully will be out next year. So I have a bit to wait before we get to play the whole thing.

Anyway, just in case I wasn’t clear enough, let me say it one more time. Mina the Hollower is currently the best thing I’ve seen at PAX East 2023, and it might turn out to be the best game there.

Rest of the Day

Anyway, after that I rolled over to the Unpub tables, and played some stuff there. First game was Magician’s Challenge by James Eastband, who doesn’t have a Twitter or website I can link to. Players try to draw props to complete various sets to perform magic tricks, while messing with their opponents via sneak cards. It’s effectively Yahtzee with cards, and it was pretty fun.

This was followed by Wormwood. It’s a 2-4 player (prebuilt?) deck game, in the spirit of something like Netrunner or Magic’s Commander format. Where it differs is that it’s designed to be played with 4 players, and there’s no elimination. Instead, you win by collecting 10 of a certain type of card, meaning that even if you fall behind, you stay in the game. I only played a two player game, but it was pretty neat, even if I did feel a little overwhelmed at the start.

Finally, I played The Armory a second time after seeing it at Granite State Games festival. There have been been a few tweaks, reducing the lulls quite a bit, and it’s neat to see how it’s shaping up.

Then it was back to roaming the show floor for a bit. I tried out Blackout Protocol, a top down team based shooter in the spirit of something like Alien Swarm. Me and the other two folks I was playing with got absolutely bodied by the zombies.

The big thing I saw this afternoon, though, was Cobalt Core, a deckbuilding game about piloting a spaceship, in the vein of something like Slay the Spire. I quite liked what I saw, but it was a 12 minute demo. It’s a bit hard to draw long term conclusions. Still, there was enough there, and enough differences to make it feel distinct from Slay the Spire, especially with the positioning and row mechanics.

Finally, with the day rounding down, I went and got a healthy dinner.

Just kidding. I went, ate half of a friend’s sandwich, and sat down for some more games. I played Gudnak, and just dipped after a little bit. It’s a positional card game, but it didn’t really grab me.

This was followed up by Dice Miner. It’s a set collection and engine builder game that was quite fun. Players take turns drafting dice off the top of a mountain, score points, and than accumulate a increasing horde of dice to use to get more points in the next round. I liked it.

The last game I played was Hero: Tales of the Tomes. I demoed this game at PAX Unplugged about four months ago. Overall, I can’t say I love it. It feels like it’s trying to give a Commander-in-a-box experience. The problem is that there’s a lot randomness in card draw. There’s also first player advantage, and not much incentive to be the aggressive player. When one player dropped to leave, we all decided to just sort of abandon the game, and call it a night.

Everything Else – AKA Rapid Fire Round

Broombot Battlegrounds: Play as a “Legally Distinct Non-Roomba robots,” and compete in a small battle arenas sucking up dust. Played a little bit, but controls were inconsistent and didn’t quite grab me.
Star Salvager: Match falling blocks into your ship to power your weapons and fight off aliens Space Invaders style. Controls felt a bit wonky, but it does have a demo, so if that sounds neat, check it out.
No Longer Human: Side scrolling spectacle fighter. Currently looks like it’s an very early alpha, and I broke the demo build while playing it.

Overall thoughts

Solid second day. Mina the Hollower could be my game of the year for 2024, so at least I have that to look forward to. I’m planning to take it easy tomorrow. As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll be back to regularly scheduled writeups until April. Until then, I have two days of PAX left, and I need to sleep.

PAX East 2023 – Day 1

PAX East 2023 day 1 is over! Which means I still have three days left. This post is going up on what will technically be day 2 of PAX East, so it’s going to be a bit ramshackle. Still I want to get my thoughts down on paper.

I showed up a bit after 10:00 instead of waiting around too much this year, and just wandered the show floor for a bit.

First game I demoed was Worn Wanderers by Cleromancy Games. They’d launched their Kickstarter 20 or so minutes before I showed up, and it’s blazed past its funding goal now, which is awesome. I wouldn’t say that I loved the game from what I played, but I think making a game that you can play with wearable enamel pins is a really cool design space.

Next demo was Xenotilt. I’ve written about Demon’s Tilt, and this is another game from the same creator, who was more than happy to entertain my questions about various mechanics in the game, and give me some answers. Xenotilt does seem like it’s going to solve some of my complaints about Demon’s Tilt, so I’m excited to see how it ends up.

A bit more wandering, and I found Begone Beast by Tandemi. It’s pretty clearly in an early stage (there are quite a few things that need some polish) but the core movement is fun, even if the combat isn’t quite there yet. In addition, the final boss is a giant blob made out of hands, and it’s terrifying and I love it. I’m gonna be keeping an eye on this one. I’m not sure if it’s something special yet, but it could be something very fun.

Then there was Bomb Sworders. I didn’t play a huge amount, and kind of just got instantly killed each round. No strong feelings either way on this one.

There’s a augmented reality game called Sigil. It’s kind of hard to demo an augmented reality game, but I like that genre. I’m always up for more stuff like Pokemon Go, and I’m curious to see how Sigil compares to something like Orna.

There’s a few other things that happened, but don’t have enough to fill a whole paragraph, so let’s cover those!

I got crushed at Pocket Paragons by the folks at the Solis Game Studio booth. I played Brew, and lost by 8 points. There was a cool multiplayer Vampire Survivors styled game called Extremely Powerful Capybaras, and that was pretty neat.

I’ve also managed to sign up for a press session for Mina the Hollower (Yacht Club Games, the folks who made Shovel Knight, yay!) and then somehow misplaced the one business card I needed to hold onto (I’m an idiot). Fingers crossed that all works out. Bought some stuff, but no new games so nothing to say on that.

All in all, a solid day one of PAX East 2023. And now I am going to sleep.