PAX South 2019 – My Four Favorite Indies From the Show
PAX South was full of fantastic indie games from passionate and hungry developers, so let's dive into what stood out to me from the show.
PAX South has come and gone over the past weekend, and I was able to take a look at a bunch of games during the weekend in Texas. I played some huge titles such as Days Gone, as well as many smaller titles from passionate indie developers.
While it was cool to play those massive games early, I believe that the wide assortment of indies is what really makes PAX a go-to event for any video game fan. Everything I got my hands on left me pretty impressed, so it was a bit challenging dwindling down this list to the top four. However, I can’t make a top 100, so, this will probably make it a lot simpler by going with the best four indie games that I got to check out at PAX South.
Developed by Askiisoft, and published by the masterminds over at Devolver Digital, Katana Zero sold me the moment I started playing. It is a fast 2D action game with repetitive, but addictive gameplay. You play as a Samurai assassin, taking on missions for different targets while taking out enemies with the help of your trusty katana blade. Hacking down enemies by mashing the action button several times won’t just do the trick though. Certain enemies will be able to block your first swipe and you must be agile enough to find their week spot. Other enemies must be taken out from a distance and a nice shot to the face will (mostly) solve all of your problems. There were even a couple special abilities that spiced things, up such as the ability to slow down time.
Katana Zero, just like another game on this list, reminded me very much of Hotline Miami because of how difficult a level can be, yet forgiving at the same time due to the quick respawn time and placing the player at the beginning of that level. The repetition, in turn, will have players develop muscle memories and, eventually, you will be flying through levels like it was nothing.
From my time with the game, the gameplay was exactly what I wanted from a 2D action-platformer. However, Katana Zero goes a step further and introduces dialogue options and an intriguing story into the equation as well. I can say that I will absolutely be picking this up when the game releases in March.
While Hotline Miami and Police Stories look very similar at a glance, the two are vastly different in terms of gameplay. In the former, you would be bursting through doors and blasting everything that moves or has a pulse. In the latter, the best way to achieve the highest score and beat the level is to be patient, methodical, and meticulous. I know that can be a bit of a turnoff to some; if given the chance though, I believe Police Stories can change many peoples minds when thinking about what they want from a video game.
Nowadays, it seems as if everyone is wanting to run and gun. Police Stories goes in the complete opposite direction and slows everything down. Just like in Hotline Miami, the camera is a top-down perspective, and to beat a level, all the rooms must be cleared. However, instead of running in guns blazing and killing everything in sight, your goal is to arrest as many enemies as possible and kill every bad guy who shoots at you first. If you kill an enemy that doesn’t shoot at you first, points are taken off your overall score at the end of the level. This leads to some pretty stressful situations where a flashbang or breach charge might come in pretty handy.
Another great aspect was that the enemies were randomly generated throughout the rooms in each level. The overall design of the level will stay the same, but the enemy placement changes each time. This doesn’t allow players to memorize levels and the thoughtful, methodical gameplay will continue to shine every time.
Be on the lookout for this fascinating title when it releases sometime early this year.
As noted in the recap of my final day at PAX, Dark Devotion is a Kickstarted roguelike RPG from Hibernian Workshop that is brutal, challenging, and one of my favorite games I played at the show. The combat was much more tactical compared to your fast 2D action platformers and utilizes different skillsets. Rather than jumping and slashing your way through enemies like in Katana Zero with your trusty blade, Dark Devotion allows players to be more versatile with their skillset and armory. In my time with the game, I wielded an obnoxiously large sword that would take a second to hit enemies whenever I hit the attack button, leading me to be more cautious of my attacks.
I may be mistaken since I did only have a brief amount of time with Dark Devotion, but I am pretty sure that there is no jump button. This seemed a bit odd to me at first: a 2D action roguelike without a jump button? Haven’t heard of many of those before. However, this simple absence causes more enemy encounters since you must defeat the enemy in your path.
On top of the gameplay, Dark Devotion contains everything you would expect from many roguelikes, such as earning experience points to turn in for better gear and to unlock other areas to wander into. Sadly, I never got to take on a boss battle though. Nonetheless, I am still eagerly anticipating this game when it releases sometime early this year.
It was a challenge to narrow down the last game to make my list but when I thought what game was the most fun to play, Descenders had to make the final cut. I was able to play the game during my second day at the show and it was the most enjoyable part of the day. I felt bad for the people behind me because I probably played for just a tad bit too long.
Descenders has players take on procedurally-generated BMX tracks trying to complete sweet moves in style before crossing the finish line. I have to admit, I do have a soft spot for BMX games since I probably played Dave Mirra BMX Freestyle 2 way too much on the PlayStation 2. Putting nostalgia aside though, this game was a blast to play. The controls were intuitive and easy enough where the second I started peddling downhill, I knew just what to do. Hitting those perfect backflips was as satisfying as sticking a plasma grenade on another player in Halo. Skidding around rocks using the right stick made me feel like a badass (I am not).
What I felt was the most important factor though was how every time I failed a challenge, I just wanted to pop right back in for one more go at it. It was a feeling similar to Fortnite or PUBG, where you know that you were so close to winning, and you just want to play one more round. Then, once I beat the challenge of staying in the air for over four seconds or completing three backflips, I wanted a new one to tackle. Descenders took me off-guard because it might be the last thing I would have guessed to be on my favorite games list from PAX after the show but here we are. The best part is, you can buy it right now! The game is currently in Early Access on Steam and Xbox One with a full release next month.
I left PAX glowing with positivity due to the interaction with all of the passionate developers who got to showcase their games. As stated plenty of times before, this was my first PAX and I totally get it now. The exhibit hall was buzzing with energy and it was contagious. I had an absolute blast and I am very much looking forward to seeing what the show has in store for me next year. I will definitely stay away from the pizza though.