Three Standout Games From PAX East That Didn’t Take Themselves Too Seriously
While I was at PAX East 2019, I played way too many games. Some of them took themselves very very seriously, however I wanted to share my impressions from a few jovial standouts.
Gato Roboto was the one game that I absolutely couldn’t get around to the last time I was at PAX, which was an absolute shame since it’s one of the ones I’m coming out of this show most excited to play more of. In the last year or so, a clearer picture of my tastes has taken shape and there’s one long portmanteau at the center of it: metroidvania. So understandably, when a game comes around touting itself as a “mechtroidvania” and places you in the role of a cat with a combat suit, I’m baby- I mean, I’m game.
Gato Roboto’s greatest strength is easily its tone and quickened pace. The sheer audacity of a cat that can only meow donning a power suit to save their potential owner is exactly the lunacy I need in more games. I’m not at liberty to say how this translates to the writing for the rest of the game but after playing so many games in the genre that are incredibly too self-serious, it was refreshing to take on something so light.
That difference in tone helped the daunting task of exploring feel much smaller and easier to push through. A constant knock against the genre is the winding design that can bring your progression to a screeching halt. Gato Roboto, much like last years Minit, seems to be geared towards a new audience coming into a well trodden field. Almost literally too, because the spin on combat in Gato Roboto is that your mech runs on a timer, a timer that’s only refilled by defeating enemies in the world. At the outset, you’ll only have a minute or two to get anything done. Before you know it, you’ll have five. In a tutorial area like the one presented in the demo, it can lack challenge, but with enough time, I can imagine scenarios without enemies that challenge your platforming in and outside of the suit.
The Messenger: Picnic Panic DLC
Last year, PAX was dominated by talk of a little game that dared to defy every expectation of it. I’ve written at lengths about that game on OK Beast before, in a preview capacity and once it had actually been released. That game’s called The Messenger, a send up of challenging platformers that delighted and challenged audiences decades ago, when the bits were much smaller. The reason it dominated the conversation so much though was because while it was very clearly inspired by classic games, it also devolved into so much more absolute batshit stuff. It transitions from an 8-bit game to a 16-bit one, it becomes a metroidvania halfway through and introduces the most ludicrous cast of characters ever. All this while still growing enough mechanically to be a challenging platform and experience well worth all the hoops they expect you to jump through.
The DLC, Picnic Panic, continues the lineage of insanity, parodying and balancing that helped turn the traditional experiences that inspired the main game into something a modern audience could get behind. It all begins with a reintroduction to one of the best supporting characters and villains from it, Ruxxtin, who offers to take you on a boat that more closely resembles the middle portion of a skull than it does anything that should logically be carrying anyone to a faraway island. The sequence that brings you there feels straight out of Battletoads, which should immediately bring to mind horrors best left unspoken.
I maybe died twice during the run up to the boss and a handful of times to the actual big squid, who demanded you mix moves up just enough to avoid being rote. It’s still left to be seen what kinds of abilities, enemies, and environments you’ll find in the new locale but if the demo is anything to go off of, more aquatic foes and tropical environments seem about right. What served The Messenger so well was the shock factor of it all that effectively kept you stunned throughout. Up to now, I don’t see how the DLC can effectively do that and recapture that feeling, but don’t let that keep you away from what so far seems like a solid follow-up to a great success.
Afterparty is one of my favorite games of the show. Night School Studios have become experts of wielding the mundane while seamlessly weaving the weird in and making something not quite like anything else. Oxenfree became a runaway hit the year it released and found its way into my own heart a few years later and that game is fundamentally about teenagers walking around an island and talking. Sure there’s deep generational trauma, some sort of conspiratorial plotline and the prevailing feeling (and later confirmation) that shit’s haunted and you need to get out. Afterparty is sort of similar.
In Afterparty, Milo and Lola are best friends who take one bender too far and wind up in Hell. Actual hell, not the hangover the morning after. This rendition of it, which operates under the guise that all the different ideologies were kind of right, is a sprawling metropolis with Satan’s bachelor pad at the heart of it. Hell feels more like a defined place than mythology portrays it as. Rather than damnation and suffering, everyone exists seemingly side by side. They go out for drinks and celebrate the day they died and in general seem to have a good time.
This portrayal that rejects the binary that introducing hell typically leans into can and does lead to smart developments that, by the end of the demo, present an intriguing path forward. Sam, a character that acts as a guide throughout the demo, informs you of the sort of slump that Hell has found itself in and the confusion growing amongst even the denizens of hell as to what they’re supposed to do and who they’re supposed to be, all while pointing you in the direction of Satan and informing you to literally challenge him: presenting a seemingly impossible task that could change the course of literally everything.
While that sounds heavy and like a lot, it’s a blast to work through. Afterparty plays exactly like Oxenfree in that it tasks you with walking around and picking from a dialogue tree that can dynamically change depending on the situation. The only difference now is that speech is now not only dictated by your sobriety but what you choose to drink too. Different cocktails provide different bolsters to your personality. One might make you angrier, one might make you more melancholic, all of them will absolutely get you trashed enough to suck at beer pong.
All of this makes for an experience that was familiar but different enough to stand apart. It’s an intriguing and fun thing to work through and I’m looking forward to outdrinking every demon or die (again) trying.