You can scour the land for a century or more, but you’ll never find a better place to get your hands on amazing indie games than at PAX. Between the appropriately titled Indie Megabooth and the PAX 10, there are enough titles to choke a large chocobo. These are the most awesome indie games from PAX West 2016.
Platforms: PS4, PC
Release Date: Q1 2017
Stare long enough into a void of mystery, and it might start looking back at you. Echo tells the story of En, a woman attempting to revive someone through the mysterious powers of a seemingly sentient palace. All goes well enough until the palace, activating its own defenses, begins to create violent and aggressive clones of En. The kicker? The palace only learns as much as you’re willing to teach it. En’s unwanted copies are ultimately a benign obstacle until she’s forced to adapt, opening doors, launching over barriers, and utilizing weapons. The clones slowly but surely adapt to every new maneuver you employ, dramatically increasing the likelihood of detection and death. Employing a sort of rapid “day and night” cycle to indicate when the clones will begin to employ your own tactics, Echo quickly becomes an exercise in risk versus reward and stealth versus desperation. Knowing that your own mistake is about to make things even worse is powerful, and allows players to choose their own play style. The team at developer Ultra Ultra might be commanding their corner of the Indie Megabooth, but the game stands as a technical and visual marvel in its own right, right alongside anything more highly funded.
Old Man’s Journey
Platform: Android, iOS
Release Date: 2017
Fun fact: Roughly a quarter of all gamers are over the age of 50. So yes, you should keep trying to get your old man to play American Truck Simulator, even if it kills you. But if he’s not jonesed about a trip down spreadsheet lane, then perhaps the more serene Old Man’s Journey will be his cup of tea.
Old Man’s Journey, developed by studio Broken Rules, captures the lengthy, meditative travels of an old sailor, on a mission of unknown intent, stopping only occasionally to enjoy Austria-inspired scenery. Gentle rolling hills turn into cobblestone roads. An old woman badgers you from her second floor window. A sly cat leads you along the path, and all the while the aura of a small town whispers through the streets. It’s every bit as peaceful as it is artsy, evoking a painterly style that’s both warm and embracing. Thankfully, gameplay seems to maintain a similar level of approachability. On mobile, players bend and layer the environment to line up with the area they want to reach, gently rearranging the landscape. Each segment is capped off with an impeccably illustrated still frame, capturing a moment in time of the protagonist’s storied life: A chance meeting with a girl, a gentle kiss to his pregnant bride at the summer harbor. At an estimated 90 minutes of playtime, you have no excuse not to find time for this game.
Dog Sled Saga
Platform: PC, Android, iOS
Release Date: September 22, 2016 (full game, early access currently available)
The onslaught of overly charming 2D “retro” indie games is inescapable. Many retro-inspired games seem to take the framework of a more recognizable era of gaming, but forget to put their own modernized twist on the end product. I don’t know with what else I’d compare Dog Sled Saga, because while its visual style invokes an entirely retro aesthetic (developer Trichotomy Games even rigged their demo to play on an NES controller), its gameplay comes across as both oddly personal and challenging at all times. After making the drastic decision to start a new life in the frozen Alaskan wilderness, the player finds themselves managing a rotating crew of sled dogs, qualifying for tournaments and maintaining their wellbeing over a season. It reads more like the back of a Football Coach Simulator 2016 box than any personal narrative, but each victory and failure along the way is an intensely intimate and earned one. You’ll need to precisely throw rations to your dogs in order to maintain their energy, while also ensuring they don’t injure themselves in tangled sleigh lines or due to lack of rest. The journey becomes just as much yours as it is theirs, and within a tight ten minute window I was already drawing a connection to my loyal steeds. Dog lovers need not miss this.
Platform: PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux
Release Date: January 2017
LucasFilm’s 1987 hit Maniac Mansion set the bar for all future point-and-click games, establishing more than just a simple control scheme, but also the very nature of a video game narrative. Gone were the ultra-linear paths and obfuscated motivations for saving a block-shaped princess, replaced with a full cast of characters and player choice. Almost 30 years later, Maniac Mansion co-creators Ron Gilbert, Gary Winnick, David Fox, and their team are returning to the roots of what makes a great point-and-click narrative with Thimbleweed Park. Sardonic wit, whacky yet engaging characters, and inventive puzzles that play out across the entire cast all come together to craft an engaging mystery. Ignore the obvious parallels to The X-Files. Gilbert and Fox say they didn’t even realize it until the first playtesters made a mention of it. It’s just a good old fashioned murder mystery with clashing FBI agents – until it isn’t and the amateur game programmer/factory heiress and depressed clown show up.
Battle Chef Brigade
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Release Date: 2016
If you have even the slightest interest in the indie scene, you've more than likely heard of Battle Chef Brigade, and for excellent reason. After a successful Kickstarter campaign and three years in development, the cooking action puzzler is shaping up like few other games of its kind. Merging side-scrolling platforming and combat with Bejeweled-esque culinary puzzles, Battlechef Brigade challenges players to whip up the best darn dish in a fantasy world inhabited by your unusual assortment of heroes and devilishly handsome orcs. Wrapping it all up is an art style evocative of famed Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki, or the more recent Mamoru Hosoda, but with enough of its own unique flair as to be entirely unique. With a wonderfully colorful cast and cooking competitions that would make Top Chef look like Julia Child, Battlechef Brigade is a dish best served on every gamer's plate.
If there's one thing all PAX attendees can agree on, it's that the number of games at PAX is far too vast to play all of them. Make sure to check out the rest at both the Indie Megabooth and PAX 10 web pages and beyond, and to let us know what your favorite game from PAX West was.