2017 marks my fourth year at PAX. A cursory glance at the show floor makes the exhibitor and crowd size seem a little smaller than in years past but even if it’s not just my eyes playing tricks on me, I imagine I’ll be just as busy this year as always.
Here’s a little look at the games I got some hands on time with today:
Cuphead (PC, Xbox One)
The fifteen minutes I got to spend with Cuphead have led me to believe that the rumors regarding the game’s difficulty are spot on. Even working together Michael and I couldn’t quite manage to finish the demo’s first level.
The game is an absolute stunner to behold. The hand drawn art and old-timey soundtrack both gel together beautifully. It really does feel exactly like playing a cartoon. Despite how great the game looks, I’m not sure how in love I am with the core gameplay though. The level we played was less focused on platforming and instead felt more like a bullet hell shooter. Enemies spawn repeatedly and regardless of how you progress. They’re so common that I found myself switching from pressing my fire button to just holding it down all the time. Overall I’d say what I played today falls closer to Contra or Metal Slug than to a Mario or Rayman title.
Of course I experienced a very small sample of the game and I’m still really keen to check this one out when it launches later this month.
Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
It’s been seven years since Nintendo last released a core Mario title and Super Mario Odyssey is already looking like a worthy successor to Galaxy 2. The demo I was given access to took place in the Sand Kingdom, a very clearly latin inspired desert world.
Coins aren’t just collectible anymore, the level opens up on a town ripe for exploring and complete with a shop where you can spend your hard earned money. Before venturing out into the wilds I made sure to purchase a power up that extended Mario’s life bar past his initial stats but I also spied some new clothing options that I could return and grab later.
Mario’s latest power arrives in the form of his hat which when thrown at certain enemies will allow you to inhabit their bodies. Early on in the level I found a chasm with some moving platforms. On my first run across I was quickly struck by a Bullet Bill and knocked into some quicksand below. On my second attempt I tossed my hat at the Bill as it approached, took over its body, and guided it across the chasm, circumnavigating the platforms entirely. The hat’s powers came in handy several more times through the demo and it definitely feels like a meaningful element to the core gameplay.
I didn’t get a chance to poke around in New Donk City (the other segment available in the demo) but if Sand Kingdom is any indicator the games overall quality I think there’s a lot to look forward to when Super Mario Odyssey launches next month.
Battle Chef Brigade (PC, Switch)
I caught a look at Battle Chef Brigade last year while touring the Adult Swim booth. The game intrigued me, but time prevented me from spending any time with it. I made sure to rectify that as soon as an invitation to view the game hit my inbox this year.
The game focuses around cooking. Specifically tournament style cooking, similar to what you see in Iron Chef. Each day your character can explore the game’s hub city, purchasing new equipment and ingredients, and challenging other chefs to battle.
These core cooking battles are a really clever mish mash of genres, blending together puzzle aspects with action segments that control in a fashion similar to Smash Bros. To start each match you’ll need to gather ingredients to cook your dish, this is done by punching and kicking the monsters inhabiting the nearby forest in order to harvest their delectable innards.
Once you’ve assembled a collection of ingredients you’ll toss them into a pot to cook. This segment plays out in the form of a match-3 puzzle game. As you add ingredients to your dish your score will go up. Once you feel like you’ve created a high enough scoring plate you can serve it to the judge who will render a final verdict.
The demo I got my hands on was running on Switch hardware. Performance left a little to be desired but there’s still a ways to go before this one releases later in the year. Definitely a title that I would suggest you keep your eye on, especially if you’re looking for something breezy and portable for your new Switch.
Phantom Doctrine (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Phantom Doctrine is a tactical RPG set in 1983 during the coldest part of the Cold War. The game follows a secret organization called The Cabal who’ve set out to take down an opposing global conspiracy group.
From a structural standpoint the game is very similar to XCOM, with your gameplay dividing up between base-based segments where you deal with high level strategy and then granular missions where you guide your soldiers through combat (and in the case of Phantom Doctrine stealth) segments.
People are largely expendable in Phantom Doctrine. The mission we played only required that we extract our primary soldier, anyone else on the team was more than welcome to fall to meet those ends. Of course falling on the battlefield doesn’t guarantee death. We were told that some soldiers might just be captured, and could be returned to you though with the caveat that they might actually be sleeper cells when we encounter them again.
Conversely you may find yourself in possession of captured enemy soldiers and there’s plenty you can do to them including interrogating them to learn secrets, brainwashing and sending them back to their army, or stripping them of their abilities, making them significantly easier to pick off the next time you encounter them on the battlefield.
There’s still lots to go, but as of this writing Phantom Doctrine might be my favorite game I’ve seen at the show.
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine (PC, TBA)
Finally, a game that features a bindle-carrying skeleton! Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is a story based game set in a fictional version of the United States in the depression era.
When I say “story based” I mean it in a different way than you’d probably assume. That is to say that the game’s primary focus is on the telling and sharing of stories. You play as a drifter who has lost a card game to a mysterious foe and finds themselves indentured to him, charged with traveling the world and exchanging tales.
The core mission revolves around wandering a map of the US and collecting different stories. After you’ve amassed a collection of interesting tales and experiences you’ll track down specific strangers and swap stories with them. The strangers will have different requests and desires for what they want to hear, and it’s up to you to serve up an exciting or funny story depending on what their moods call for.
The game is laden with dialogue and features a voice cast consisting of many heavy hitters in the industry. You can look for Where The Water Tastes Like Wine next year.
Mothergunship (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Mothergunship, the latest game from Tower of Guns‘ Joe Mirabello is a bullet hell FPS hybrid that aims to polish and perfect the model Tower set forth.
The twitch controls and hefty array of weapon customizations mean that in the right hands, the game is pure unbridled chaos. Guns can be broken down and built up to a ridiculous degree, with barrels pointing in all manner of directions and projectiles being modified to do everything from explode to bounce. By the end of my time with the game I was dual wielding two enormous guns, each of which was customized with a unique set of abilities.
Similar to Tower of Guns, Mothergunship’s core gameplay loop is designed to be digested in short bursts. Each mission runs for about twenty or so minutes, meaning the game is really easy to pick up and play on a whim.