The PAXpocalypse List: The Best of PAX East 2013

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We don’t have the PAX pox, but what if the entire convention center was put under quarantine because of some mystery illness? What would you do? What would you see? We’d endure the PAXpocalypse by spending all of our time with the 13 games (nine playable, three developer-guided demos, and one board game) below. Though it would have to be after pushing the hordes of undead off our doorstep. Because any pox affecting PAXgoers would almost certainly have to lead to a zombie uprising.

Playable Games

BeatBuddy
All over the show floor, people were sporting the most adorable little plush keychain I’d ever seen. I finally accosted one gamer, who pointed me in the direction of Threaks’ BeatBuddy. The developers tried to talk to me about it and I listened to as much as I could stand before I apologized and said I had to put on the headphones and start playing, because their description just sounded beyond amazing. Think of it as part Pixeljunk Shooter and part Sound Shapes, but with its own unique visual and rhythm styles. You can check the demo out now on Steam. – Nicole Kline

Delver’s Drop
Delver’s Drop is another one of those Kickstarter games I missed funding – this one due to the fact that it was ending right before PAX East, and I was trying desperately not to spend money. There’s plenty of good news here, though: it was playable on the show floor, and they’re still accepting contributions through PayPal that will count toward their stretch goals. The game is a typical Zelda-esque dungeon crawl, in which you’re fighting monsters, breaking boxes and other lootable items, and solving puzzles by maneuvering objects in your environment. The difference here is that, as you drop from one room to the next, you’re met with a random room each time, making your visit to the dungeon constantly changing. Oh, and did I mention the art style is gorgeous, unique, and darkly adorable? – Nicole Kline

Diablo III
When your main criterion for purchasing a computer is “doesn’t explode when I turn it on,” you don’t even entertain the idea that you’ll be able to play high-level PC exclusives like Diablo III. So I’m thrilled that Blizzard has decided to officially (and finally) port Diablo III to consoles. Giving the PS3 version a go on the show floor was an incredibly smooth experience. I was hacking and slashing with the best of them and I never felt that the game I was playing was never meant to be played with a controller. Some PC gamers may scoff at that last part, but Blizzard is bringing Diablo III to more people and that can only be a good thing. – John Scalzo

The Last of Us
Naughty Dog’s reputation is unmatched, but The Last of Us may be their biggest game yet. The post-apocalyptic third-person game puts together survivors Joel and Ellie as they venture across a crumbling world. The small test we got at PAX East was enough to show congoers the game’s Hearing Mode as well as the bottle-throwing mechanic that Joel uses to confuse the blind Clickers. They may not be able to see how awesome The Last of Us is, but I certainly can. – John Scalzo

Legend of Dungeon
Robot Loves Kitty’s successfully Kickstarted “Roguelike-like” beat ‘em-up, Legend of Dungeon, is a four-player adventure that includes permadeath, treasure hunting, and some fantastic pixel art. We all got to pick up controllers and take on monsters, collect apples, and work together to figure out how to get through the dungeon. We weren’t great at it – each of us died at least once – but much fun was had regardless. The game and its incredibly detailed soundtrack are already available for Linux, Mac, and Windows. – Nicole Kline

Luftrausers
Vlambeer has to date consistently defied my disdain for games where the only goal is getting your name on a leaderboard. How have they done this? By making the most old school simple fun games around, then cranking the speeds up just right. Luftrausers is the best gun fight you’ve ever seen… on a trapeze. Imagine Asteroids plus Contra guns with gravity and you might start to understand the thrill of burning your jets into the clouds to outrun enemy fighters, then cutting the engines to go into freefall so you can spin around and blast away as much as you can before you dive into the ocean, burning the jets again and skipping away on the surface to fire a laser beam through a battleship. Run-on sentence? Maybe, but that’s how the game is… nonstop. All this done in a crisp, clean two-tone style in Flash. There’s a much simpler Flash version online which will give you a taste, but the one at PAX East had much more going on and moved faster. Give it a shot here. – Anthony Amato

Secret Ponchos
Developer Switchblade Monkeys was on the floor this weekend with Secret Ponchos, a ridiculously awesome top-down twin stick arena shooter with a Spaghetti Western theme. Did your brain just explode? Because mine did when I saw the trailer, and it did again when I got my hands on the controller. The pace is fast, the characters are bold, and the art style will leave you wondering how no one thought of this idea before. Absolutely a day one purchase for me. – Nicole Kline

Shovel Knight
For everyone who loves retro and retro-style games, WayForward Technologies should be a name you know. But did you know that a small portion of the WayForward team has broken off and formed a new studio named Yacht Club Games? Or that they’re working on a Mega Man-inspired platformer known as Shovel Knight? Or that Shovel Knight was playable on the PAX East show floor? Are you saying you did know all of these things? Then you must have attended PAX East, because Shovel Knight-mania seemed to sweep the show floor right from the start. The game’s pitch perfect platforming and pun-tastic absurdity made it a crowd favorite. I mean, how can you go wrong with a game that stars a hero that dispenses shovel justice? – John Scalzo

Transistor
Even though they take place in completely different worlds, Supergiant’s Transistor feels a lot like Bastion, their previous game, turned up to 11. The isometric combat returns. As does Logan Cunningham’s smooth narration and Ashley Barrett’s haunting vocals. But Transistor takes everything the developer learned on Bastion and throws it in a wild new direction full of robots and towering skyscrapers in a science-fiction-themed world. There’s also a new “turn-based” mechanic that allows Red, the game’s voiceless protagonist, to stop time and plan a series of attacks on the Creeps and the Jerks that populate the city. The plot is still mostly a mystery, but I must know more. – John Scalzo

Developer-Guided Demos

LocoCycle
KITT was always the star of Knight Rider. I know this, you know this, David Hasselhoff’s post-KR career knows this. So Twisted Pixel clearly knew what they were doing when they created a game starring a sentient motorcycle named IRIS and strapped the driver to her back wheel as he hangs on for dear life. To further marginalize the driver, IRIS knows kung fu and regularly uses it against enemy agents in jetpacks and helicopters. So yes, this is also very much a Twisted Pixel game, in case you were worried they had gone straight. While it wasn’t playable on the show floor, the guided demo was enough to rev my engine. – John Scalzo

Saints Row IV
Confession time… the only Saints Row game I’ve ever played is a demo version of the second one. So I don’t think I was prepared for the sheer level of insanity found in the developer-guided Saints Row IV demo. I can accept the President of the United States (who is also a gang leader) battling aliens, but I just had to shake my head in salute at the Dubstep Gun (complete with dancers yelling, “Make it stop!”). Parodying The Matrix in 2013 seems like an odd choice, but if Volition can keep it this fun and absurd, Saints Row IV should be a hell of a ride come August. – John Scalzo

Watch Dogs
As thoroughly hyped up as Watch Dogs is, I didn’t have any genuine excitement for it until I watched some gameplay at Ubisoft’s booth. They had a closed-door hands-off demo, which made the game look more appealing than ever. While their claims are lofty, and it’s a bit worrisome – will you really be able to hack the entire grid, or is it just a matter of a series of scripted events? The game still looks utterly amazing. Also, knowing that I can cause an accident, and then take the time to help out civilians in need, made the game even more interesting to me. While wanton destruction can be fun, it has its place, and Watch Dogs almost feels too realistic for that to be considered a good time. – Nicole Kline

Board Games

Ascension: Rise of Vigil
I’m sad to say I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time in the tabletop area as I wanted to this year, but I did get a chance to play a few things. One of them was, of course, the latest Ascension game, Rise of Vigil. They’ve introduced a new Energy mechanic which made me skeptical at first, but by a quarter of the way through the game, it felt like second nature. It took more time to acclimate myself to all of the new Heroes and Constructs, of which there were a veritable plethora. As with every Ascension I’ve played, I loved it, and wondered when it would be coming to iOS so that I could play it to death even more. – Nicole Kline

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