PAX East is officially back — and some hidden gems have arrived with it. The kind of games on display at a PAX show may not be big-budget blockbusters, but they pack a surprising punch that might just convert a couple of gamers to the indie side. The expo hall was filled with independent games both old and new, though there were some clear highlights on the busy show floor. Here are six eye-catching games we saw at PAX East 2022.
Demon Throttle was only playable in a small arcade cabinet located at Devolver Digital’s booth, and it very much fits that medium. It’s a retro shooter in the same vein as Ikaruga, but with a little more comedy. You control a cowboy and a vampiress, each of whom has a score to settle with a demon. The two have different weapons and bombs, giving them each their own distinct feel on the constantly scrolling battlefield.
The game’s standout feature is something you usually don’t see in these kinds of games: Verticality. You can jump up onto higher terrain levels or drop to lower ones to dodge bullets or collect pickups. Terrain can also be blown away to reveal hidden pickups, so I progressed through the game, leveling the world as I went along. Still, none of those pickups helped when I faced the game’s bosses, which crushed me. Demon Throttle is shaping up to be the perfect challenge for fans of those old-school bullet hell games while also providing something fresh.
Devolver Digital’s Cult of the Lamb stands out as a morbid, roguelike city builder starring cartoon critters. You should expect to lose at least some of them, though. A possessed lamb creates a cult in the name of an unknown god in exchange for another life. Once sacrificed in a ritual, it is resurrected with the help of the god’s Red Crown and slaughters its persecutors before escaping to start a cult. Next? Screw the other gods and their followers by becoming the ultimate cult.
Each gameplay loop starts like this: The lamb enters a dungeon to beat up monsters, forage for ingredients, and find followers. Dungeons work like your typical roguelike, with randomized rooms that might hold anything from mini bosses to prophets. You might even get a helpful power-up to help brute force your way through the dungeon. After a run ends, players indoctrinate new followers and take care of them to cultivate their cult. In the process, they might even find a way to free The One Who Waits.
WrestleQuest was tucked away in the corner of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center during PAX East 2022, but it may as well have had a massive sign pointing at it. The game’s energy, much like the wrestlers in it, is larger than life. The elevator pitch is that WrestleQuest combines JRPG mechanics and wrestling. Battles are turn-based, players can perform special moves that require MP, and there’s a massive overworld to venture across that’s littered with dungeons.
While the game has some of the usual downsides that come with the JRPG territory (like way, way too much dialogue), it still provides some nice wrinkles that speed things along. In combat, for instance, players can call on their manager to apply a buff or debuff, and players have to mind a hype meter showing the crowd’s excitement, otherwise they’ll deal less damage. WrestleQuest still has a ways to go — its demo had some bugs and wonky animations — but fans of JRPGs, wrestling, or both should find something they like in it.
Eiyuden Chronicles: Rising is actually a prequel to another one of Rabbit & Bear’s upcoming games, Eiyuden Chronicles: Hundred of Heroes. Thanks to a hefty Kickstarter surplus, it was able to announce both at once — talk about efficiency! In Rising, an adventurer named CJ ventures to the town of New Nevaeh as a treasure hunter, but finds out it’ll be harder than she expects. She eventually teams with other heroes to take on more challenging quests and play out the prewar backstories of Hundred of Heroes’ characters.
Eiyuden Chronicles: Rising is a side-scrolling RPG, meaning you can only move side to side and jump as necessary. Characters work similarly to how they do in fantasy RPGs, with their own unique abilities that players will need to switch between effectively to best bosses. Plus, its colorful, detailed artwork and expressive sprites can appeal to those who enjoy pixelated ’90s RPGs like classic Final Fantasy games and more modern counterparts.
Note: These games are also developed with a refreshing amount of humor — one of the first quests features a fluffy white cat that doesn’t attack you even when you hold it up like a rag doll.
There were lots of roguelikes at PAX East 2022, but none quite like Shoulders of Giants. Unlike Cult of the Lamb, its not a hybrid game that smashes genres together. Instead, the hook is that players pretty much control two characters instead of just one. The first is a giant robot armed with a sword that can wallop enemies, while the other is the robot’s driver, a small frog armed with a laser pistol.
Runs are differentiated by the new abilities for each of those characters that players can pick up, each of which can make destroying the game’s monsters a breeze. A missile launcher for the frog, for instance, locked straight onto three enemies and vaporized them. Some abilities are goofier though, with one for the robot summoning three trucks that run over any enemies in their path. While I only played one run of Shoulders of Giants, I can already tell that it’s got a lot of promise.
Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories drops players into a world without melons. Well, one that might lock you up in jail for even having them. It’s one of the indie games that was showcased at XSEED’s booth, complete with a melon-colored, monochrome aesthetic. Cantaloupe, a melon factory worker, gets a mysterious request from her friend Honeydew to skip work and bring their suitcase to Hog Town. It’s a strange situation that gets even stranger once Cantalouple gets to this anti-melon town. A thieving cat named Lily steals Honeydew’s suitcase and is arrested. The catch? The suitcase is full of melon seeds and a note labeled with the initials R.H.
What was supposed to be just another day for Cantaloupe turns into a little bit of a detective story. Why did Honeydew need this melon-stuffed suitcase? And what does Hog Town’s politics have to do with it? Melon Journey isn’t difficult but it hooks players in right away with its intriguing and cutesy setup. However, there aren’t actually any combat or RPG elements — it’s just exploration and reading. Find your friend Honeydew and find out what’s up with Hog Town!