The PAXpocalypse List: The Best of PAX East 2015

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Most of the big publishers chose to skip the 2015 edition of PAX East and even those that did attend (like Nintendo and Microsoft) kept their most anticipated projects home. But that didn’t stop a wide variety of indie developers from setting up shop in the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center to wow the assembled masses. These developers set the tone for this year’s expo, which featured a heavy focus on games that attempted to reinterpret classic gameplay concepts for a new generation of players. And the crazy thing is that many of the developers hyping these games looked like they would have been in diapers the first time I fired up an SNES.

It was a welcome sight with the rest of the industry pivoting away from those types of games and towards a competition to see who can push the most polygons. So if you were a fan of gaming in the NES, Super NES, and Genesis days, this PAXpocalypse List is for you. Because these are the games we would have played over and over again if some horrible snow storm had trapped us inside the convention center beyond the last day of the expo.

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20XX
Anyone who grew up on the Super NES will recognize the connection between “20XX” and the Mega Man X franchise. In fact, developer Batterystaple Games is counting on the fact that that year that’s not actually a year will conjure up images of platforming madness and giant boss battles. But even though both games star a blue robot with a laser pistol and a red robot with a sword, the similarities end there. 20XX is its own beast, and it takes its Mega Man-like concept to some new places. For example, it’s a co-op game. Secondly, all the levels are procedurally generated to increase replayability. Third, the game includes a “Skull” system that will make things much more interesting (and difficult) for the hardened Mega Man veterans that will surely be drawn to it. But most importantly, Batterystaple Games is doing what Capcom won’t and they’re doing it well. And that’s why I can’t wait for 20XX. (John Scalzo)

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Axiom Verge
Shifting from a Mega Man homage to a Metroid homage, Axiom Verge was developed by a single man, Tom Happ, over the span of five years. Happ wore many hats during development (Programmer, Artist, Designer, and Composer), but his singular vision has created a game that’s like Metroid, but is altogether something else. The visual similarities (including alien worlds with a reddish tint and long shafts littered with tiny platforms) are quite noticeable, but Happ has changed things up by switching out Metroid’s experienced bounty hunter for a scientist in over his head. You won’t have to wait long to assist him as Axiom Verge will be available for the PS4 on March 31. (John Scalzo)

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The Behemoth’s Game 4
Better known for platformers like BattleBlock Theater or beat ’em ups like Castle Crashers, The Behemoth is shifting gears with their next project and producing a turn-based strategy game with the currently untitled “Game 4.” Though the genre is unfamiliar, Game 4 is already looking incredibly beautiful thanks to The Behemoth’s house style, and Will Stamper will once again lend his maniacal vocal stylings to the game’s narration. Even if you don’t like turn-based strategy games, that’s OK, The Behemoth’s Dan Paladin told Joystiq last year that he doesn’t like them much, either.

I’m pretty sure Game 4 will change a lot of minds about the greatness of the genre once it’s finally released sometime in the not-too-distant future. (John Scalzo)

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Cinelinx
Pitched as “Dominos For Movie Lovers,” Cinelinx definitely lives up to its tagline. Cinelinx is a tabletop game that begins by putting ten cards into the hands of every player. Each card lists a genre, a title, an actor, a character, a quote, or a scene and each one must link up with cards already played. So if someone drops “The Dark Knight Trilogy,” it can be linked on each side by “Christian Bale” or “Christopher Nolan” or “Action” or any number of cards… serious movie buffs will be thrilled at all the options (including the versatile “Thriller” card). Perfect for two players and great for more, Cinelinx is now available for your next board game night. (John Scalzo)

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Extreme Exorcism
Extreme Exorcism is a single-room arena fighter that asks players to dispatch a series of ghosts using, and I quote, “an arsenal of shotguns and rocket launchers.” The premise is simple enough, but things turn frantic once you realize that the ghosts that populate rooms further within the house are copying your movements and attacks from the previous levels. That’s when Extreme Exorcism becomes a puzzler on how best to avoid the chaos you’ve created in earlier levels while creating new chaos in the current level. But it’s worth it to be able to shout “This house is clean!” after busting all the ghosts. (John Scalzo)

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Gigantic
I tried to play Gigantic at PAX Prime but couldn’t get near it. I did get to play it at PAX East, and I was thrilled with the gorgeous not-a-MOBA. Teams of five battle against one another and build up their Guardian’s attack meter. Once the meter is high enough, your Guardian can attack, but they also become vulnerable to the other team. The game is from third-person perspective, which allows you to see your amazing character in play. I can’t get enough of the graphics, quick leveling, and fast and furious fights. Though I’m not usually a PC gamer, I can say with confidence that I’m looking forward to playing this more when it comes out. (Nicole Kline)

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Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
The first Hotline Miami game took up an absurd amount of my time. The game’s difficulty level was intensely high, but the quick restart and well-placed checkpoints made it addictive. The second game feels like it’s going to be just as time-intensive… and as difficult. I only got to play one level at PAX East, but it was enough to get my heart racing and the expletives flowing. It’s the same old murder simulator I know and love, but now there are more masks, more enemies, and more ways to kill. There’s no series that flows quite like the Hotline Miami games. I look forward to dumping more time into it… especially since it was released last week! (Nicole Kline)

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Just Shapes and Beats
Do you love Pacifism Mode in Geometry Wars 3? How about “bullet hell” shooters? And have you ever wished for a game that combined those two concepts? You’re in luck… Just Shapes and Beats is that game!

Controlling a small ship, players have to move, dodge, and dash away from the pinkish shapes that slowly take over the screen. Maneuvering through this technicolor obstacle course is tricky, but incredibly satisfying. Especially when you have three friends helping you. Just Shapes and Beats is another simple concept (the instructions were a single sentence taped to the television) with an absolutely killer presentation. And if Berzerk Studio can manage to secure the licensing rights, a planned level based on one of the great “video game movies” of the 90s would be an epic way to end the game. (John Scalzo)

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Knight Squad
If you ever have the opportunity to cram eight people around a television set for a night of gaming, Knight Squad needs to be on your radar. Mixing in a bit of Bomberman with a dash of Gauntlet, Knight Squad is an overhead battler where eight knights compete in an increasingly awesome series of challenges, including capture the flag, king of the hill, and soccer. Yes, soccer. Taking part in a four-on-four soccer match where tiny knights try to push a giant ball into a goal… and they all have swords… is just immensely fun. Complete strangers were exchanging high fives with every goal and watching a small boy trash talk seven grown adults (including his own father) when he smoked us all and put the ball in the back of the net put a huge smile on my face.

Eight people with controllers will push any living room past capacity, but I can’t wait to try. Knight Squad is just that good. (John Scalzo)

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Rive
Two Tribes refers to Rive as “the metal wrecking, robot hacking shooter” and that is a completely accurate description… Rive is a beautiful shooter about a little robot that blasts other robots. Once again, it’s a simple concept but it’s one that’s executed perfectly. Rive has a sense of style and a consistent feel that a lot of indie games (especially indie shooters) lack. It’s fast-paced and exciting and coming to every currently-available platform (PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U) soon. (John Scalzo)

We’ll Meet Again…
This year, we also got to replay a few previous PAXpocalypse selections as they continued development and made a return engagement for the PAX-going crowd.

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Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows
Shovel Knight appeared in the inaugural PAXpocalypse list produced for PAX East 2013 and with the Plague of Shadows expansion planned for release in a few weeks/months, Yacht Club was mixing it up on the show floor once again. Throwing potions and using a rocket-powered super jump are definitely new experiences for any seasoned Shovel Knight player, but I was very impressed with what I saw. (John Scalzo)

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We Are Doomed
We Are Doomed is a hypnotically calming/hyper-kinetic twin-stick shooter that we originally zeroed in on at PAX Prime 2013. With a pending PS4/Xbox One release in April, Vertex Pop (the nom de game of developer Mobeen Fikree) showcased the game one more time. Everything felt a little sharper and a little smoother and We Are Doomed definitely felt like a game that is less than eight weeks away from launching. Are you a twin-stick addict? Then keep an eye out for We Are Doomed. (John Scalzo)

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Tumblestone
I first got to play Tumblestone at PAX East 2014, and The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild was back with a new build this year. Expanding on the simple match-3 puzzle game they presented last year, the new version of Tumblestone has an extensive single-player quest mode as well as multiple multiplayer battles that encourage players to think (at least) three moves ahead. Tumblestone is expected to be out this year on every platform imaginable… and I mean that literally. The game’s official website says that its in development for the… deep breath… PC (Steam, Windows 10, Mac, and Linux), Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, Vita, Wii U, iOS App Store, Google Play’s Android Store, Windows Phone, Ouya, and Facebook. If I wasn’t still exhausted after spending three days on the PAX East floor, I would be after reading off all those platforms. (John Scalzo)

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