Cards Against Humanity has really reinvigorated the party game scene in the last few years and Slash: Romance Without Boundaries is an entertaining extension to this trend. Fan fiction is the guilty pleasure of many an internet user and this game plays in that realm; asking players to justify the wild relationship pairings of various fictional characters, celebrities, and historical figures. As in CAH, Slash designates a floating role known as the Matchmaker who acts as an inciting action and a judge. Each round, the Matchmaker places one character from his hand on to the table and chaos ensues as the other players’ choose the perfect match and creatively explain why their choice is the best.
It’s a fun and effortless experience with tons of clever references; I didn’t expect to find Demona from Gargoyles in the stack. Surprisingly, the mental fortitude and imagination it takes to unify these varied universes is quite a challenge and the humor of the game comes from the debates that arise around the table. Pull out Slash at a party and you’re bound to have a good time.
I didn’t actually have the chance to play Elegy for a Dead World, but it was the real standout at the Dejobaan Games’ booth. The game is gorgeous to look at and the looping trailer really managed to capture my imagination. From what I understand, Elegy takes place in one of three post-apocalyptic worlds influenced by famous Romantic poets like Keats, Byron, and Shelley. The player has been sent to chronicle the demise of these planets and as they explore the shattered ruins of ancient civilizations, they take notes that are shared across cyberspace with other players. This collective note-taking is an experiment in joint storytelling and is the real meat of Elegy’s gameplay. Dejobaan is no stranger to taking mechanical risks in their games and I can’t wait to see how this innovative choice will impact the experience of Elegy for a Dead World.
When Team Meat announces a new game, the world listens. Deep within the PAX show floor, behind the expansive Bethesda booth, was everyone’s favorite two-man development team showing off the playable demo for Mew-Genics. Alas, I didn’t actually get my hands on this one because the lines were too enormous, but I did spend some time watching other players navigate the dangerous world of being a “Cat Lady”. There was unadulterated joy and curiosity on the faces of a number of people; an accurate response to a game that combines the cuteness of kittens with Team Meat’s trademark sick sense of humor.
Essentially, Mew-Genics takes the animal collection mechanic of Pokemon and the simulation elements of The Sims, tosses them in a blender and spits out something distinctive and exhilarating. I’m not even sure that I entirely understood what was going on onscreen, but in Edmund and Tommy we trust. Expect great things from Mew-Genics: it’s charming, ambitious, and exactly what you want to follow-up Super Meat Boy.
I’ve already mentioned that the tabletop party game is going through an exciting resurgence and the proliferation of light, creative card games was incredibly evident at PAX. One of the most exciting developments was the inclusion of tabletop games at the Indie Megabooth, confirming the connection we’ve often suggested between the indie and board game revolutions. Of the eight titles presented, word-scrambler These French Fries are Terrible Hotdogs was probably the most impactful and entertaining. The game is a bit more structured than Slash, but that structure manages to stretch players’ mental flexibility and provide a few hardy laughs along the way.
At the beginning of a round, the first player places a card on the table face up. It might contain a word like “Hot Dog”. The other players than place their cards face down and have to convince the original card-holder that their words are the same. But the trick is that you can only use phrases that can describe both objects. For example, if my card is “French Fries”, I could say, “This goes very well with ketchup.” If you successfully persuade the original card holder, you win the round. These French Fries are Terrible Hotdogs sounds silly, but it actually forces players to make interesting connections within language. I found this game to be utterly charming and I would not be surprised if it ends up as a huge hit, because it hits the sweet spot between family-friendly and strategic. There was no better new tabletop experience at PAX than These French Fries are Terrible Hotdogs.
Children’s television is on the lower end of the film production hierarchy and Power Rangers is probably considered one of the lowest of the low. But small budgets and wonky scripts haven’t kept our favorite multicolored heroes down: they’ve lasted more than twenty years. Chroma Squad is a turn-based roleplaying game with a unique sensibility. The player is actually a producer on a Sentai-style television program tasked with keeping costs low and ratings high. You hire a cast, modify their costumes and weaponry, throw together a duct-taped set, than ‘film’ episodes of martial arts driven hilarity.
I was absolutely shocked by just how deep the customization options for Chroma Squad are. This is where you’ll find a lot of the real fun, expressing yourself in ways you never knew you’d be able to: give the heroes dragon masks, design increasingly bizarre monstrous enemies, and tell the stories that you want to tell with the tools available. The whole affair is schlocky and a bit tacky, but that’s what makes Chroma Squad so damn wonderful.
There have been hundreds and hundreds of war games over the years, typically pitting heroic soldiers against despotic or tyrannical enemies. But war is far more expansive than the battlefield; it often leaves tragedy in its wake. The lives of civilians are forever altered by the actions of opposing military forces. This War of Mine examines these effects, giving the player control over a group of survivors who must forage through the ruins of their bombed-out city and avoid an occupying enemy.
My interest is always peaked when a game appears to have a political or social message attached. Rarely is gaming used explicitly for this purpose. While This War of Mine does offer a new and significant perspective on violent conflict, it is actually a rather straight-forward survival experience; sharing quite a lot in common with games like Don’t Starve or State of Decay. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it will certainly attract more players, but I was expecting something a bit more bold and opinionated. Still, This War of Mine is riveting due to its fresh viewpoint and brutally detailed environments; but I secretly hope that the game will propose something even more philosophically challenging. Fingers crossed.
Unfortunately, Always Sometimes Monsters was a bit of a disappointment for me, but I can’t really blame the game. The truth is that I was so excited by the premise alone that I was ready to christen it Game of the Show before we even arrived at PAX. Always Sometimes Monsters is a tale of love and loss in which the main protagonist has randomized features including race, gender, and sexuality. Their romantic partner is also a random combination of these elements and as the plot unfolds, players are forced to put themselves in shoes they might not normally fit in. The game is primarily a dialogue driven adventure that revolves around significant choices that can alter the relationship and the plot.
But the convention environment is not terribly suitable to an experience as personal and decision-based as this one. By the time I was finished cycling through most of the expository information, my time with the demo had come to an end. I was never able to make a story-shifting choice or get to know the character that was supposed to be the love of my life. As such, Always Sometimes Monsters initially read as a rather subpar experience. Luckily, the concept is strong enough that I’m definitely willing to give it another shot upon release. I want to take my time with this one and really let it soak in. Don’t be discouraged by my review, I’m still confident that Always Sometimes Monsters will be amazing.
18. Distance I’ve always been a secret fan of crazy off-the-rails racing games like Burnout, Diddy Kong Racing, or F-Zero. Distance is a game that wears these influences on its sleeves, combining various mechanics to push the racing genre to its most insane limits. Holographic walls pop out of the ground, cars are cut in a half and brought back together, drivers cling to walls and ceilings or just fly through the air to reach their destinations; Distance is a celebration of what it means to go fast.
We often look for underlying emotional and intellectual context at Jetpack Joust, but to be honest, this one is just a lightning bolt of fun pointed directly at your skull. Distance adds raw adrenaline and excitement to creative tracks and power-ups that could really reinvigorate indie racers. What’s more, players are given real options in terms of the ways that the approach the race and winning can happen through a number of interesting means. This adds a layer of replayability that is quite refreshing. Few games at PAX brought as much sheer joy to my soul as this one did.
Erecting a horrifying ten-foot tall monstrosity in the center of the Boston Convention Center makes one hell of a statement; but when you’re the company behind Left 4 Dead and Counterstrike, you can afford a little boldness. But seriously, this danger beast is pretty sweet, right? It’s a hell of a marketing stunt. I’m just glad it didn’t come to life and start rampaging through a sea of nerds with nothing to defend themselves but their skills in Pokemon and Dungeon Mastering. We would’ve had to have turned to the cos-players with their kick ass foam swords to defeat the creature.
But in all seriousness, Evolve looks like it’s going to be the next huge Steam multiplayer experience. A team of four mercenaries is sent to a mysterious planet to hunt a massive super-predator played by a singular opponent. This team has really mastered the dynamic of monsters vs. humans in Left 4 Dead, so I’m excited to see where they take it with Evolve.
It’s always interesting when a developer takes a tried-and-true genre and adds a unique twist that completely changes the way we perceive gaming. Mushroom 11 is a game that was quickly picked up by the Indie Fundbecause of its innovative approach to the two-dimensional side-scrolling platformer. Set in a post-apocalyptic environment where much of animal life has been decimated, Mushroom 11 is the story of a sentient fungus that can adapt its shape to move through the world. Players’ are the guiding force behind our sponge-y protagonist using a tool that can grow or shrink the plant at will. It’s a deceivingly simple mechanism with endless implementations and the games’ physics-based puzzles become subtly more difficult over time.
But mostly, it’s performing the same kind of tasks that you would as a traditional gaming character – but as an immobile, amorphous blob – that is the seed of Mushroom 11’s greatness. This was by far one of the most unique gameplay experiences at PAX East.