As with generally all our PAX East coverage this year, we aired on the side of focused, bringing you hopefully more in-depth or specific looks on the wide array of games we got to see in Boston this year. At the tip of this are our ‘Editor’s Picks,’ awards we’ve never awarded at an event before. This year we brought the poster board and thanked developers for reaching out and speaking to each of the six editors of IrrationalPassions.com.
Below are a little more we had to say on each game, and the rest you’ll be able to hear in our Podcast Recaps and One-on-One Preview Conversations, all of which you can hear now!
Alex – Spiritfarer
Sitting down and playing and feeling exactly what Spiritfarer is just reached out and squeezed my heart. It’s a re-imagining of Kieran and the River Styx, but totally changed to be a more positive, emotional, and in my belief, powerful story about helping someone accept death and its inevitability. I wrote a little bit about the game, which delighted me with its wholesomeness, but I also got to see a bit more after that in another, more in depth demo. Spiritfarer is combining all the classic components of a sim game, like crafting, building homes, upgrading your space to better fit your needs, with a slow and emotional journey across the ocean to help as many spirits as you can.
Sitting down with the art director, I really got the feeling of why this is special, why there is so much heart to it: every spirit is based on someone that a member of the team knew and lost. Each loss carries the weight of that real separation, and it’s not about being hurt by that, it’s about accepting that and making it as positive an experience as you can.
As someone struggling with a recent loss, Spiritfarer is so special in how it comforted and held me tight through that pain, and showed me all the other feelings that go along with that. It’s a standout, even in Thunder Lotus’s already cool and unique lineup, and I am very excited to lose myself to it later this year.
Spiritfarer is absolutely my game of show.
Jarrett – Raji: An Ancient Epic
In my surface level recollection, I can count the number of video game series set in Indian mythology that I’ve played on one hand. Not just ones played recently, like the egregiously slept on Asura. I’m talking ever.
That’s all I needed to keep in mind when I needed motivation to stay in line for Raji, which was commanding a lot of attention at the Indie Megabooth during PAX East 2020. This was worth lingering for, if at least just to have the opportunity to answer a question I’ve had for a long time: Why don’t we love and celebrate other cultures god-myths like we do our Greek, Egyptian, and Norse standbys?
The non-cynical (and maybe less correct) answer is that no one who is intimately familiar with these stories are creative directors in video game development. No one would ever claim that Shruti Ghosh is unfamiliar with the source material. India is her home, and she dedicated her post-grad education to studying the rich history of India’s incredible art. She and her husband Ian Maude – Environmental Artist who’s credits include work on games like Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture – figured out that, if they ever wanted to see games that told the stories of Vishnu and Kali like the ones we have about Odin and Ra, they would have to make it themselves.
My time with Raji was a pretty exciting one. It’s gameplay that you’ve seen before in every game of this ilk. There’s running and jumping and climbing. Combat involves mixing light and heavy attacks together while lacing in a few special abilities and avoiding big, telegraphed attacks. The standard action adventure fare.
That may make this game sound missable to some. I’d implore you to put it on your radar anyway. The setting, the characters, the sound design, and the absolutely gorgeous art takes this well known formula and helps give it a new swagger. It’s attempting to do to AAA games what Black Panther did to Superhero movies: take a tried and true formula and freak it.
Jurge – If Found…
In my experience, it’s usually the complete surprises that you discover on the show floor of PAX that leave the biggest impression on you. Of the three years I’ve been to the show, this year had the most surprises. I ran into a handful of inventive games at this year’s show that were not on my radar that left me so gosh darn excited about video games. If Found is at the top of that list.
I’ve already written about my time with it, and you should check it out, but one reason why it’s my favorite from the show is that not only could I not wait to play it in its final form immediately after finishing my demo, I was also picturing how I was going to play it. I cannot wait until the day I can lay on my couch, covered by a blanket next to my dog, and play through it in one session. Here’s hoping it all comes together, of course.
Mike – The Pathless
What an intriguing game.
In a post-Breath of the Wild world, games with little direction and open environments to soar over have become extremely cathartic for me. I cherish new discoveries and freedom to explore at my own pace. The Pathless seems to be taking those exploration inspirations to heart while also making a Journey style adventure with a feeling of self discovery. A lot of these feelings I came away with could be some conjecture on my end. But the demo I played left me with so much intrigue in wanting to know more about this game world and wanting to understand it. Using my bow to recharge stamina resulting in a burst of speed was a sensational experience. Sprinting through the fields and trees, finally leaping from a clifftop and soaring high over the landscape with my hawk companion. It all felt good. The leftover structures from an ancient world, the ominous and overwhelming red storm clouds; all a spectacle that I wanted to understand.
I don’t think I’ve been this intrigued by a game and how it works since something like Shadow of The Colossus, and that makes me incredibly excited to see what this world is hiding.
Scott – 30XX
While my persona here on the site is Professor PRG, and I host the RPG University podcast, it may surprise folks to hear that my favorite game of all time isn’t an RPG. It’s vastly different actually. My number one spot is Mega Man X on the Super Nintendo. I find the level designs, characters, music and gameplay to be perfect. As such, being able to get my hands on 30XX, a brand new roguelike platformer that uses X as it’s framework, was a highlight of my PAX East 2020 experience.
30XX is the sequel to 2014’s 20XX, a game I also very much enjoy. While 20XX nailed the platforming and control aspects of its gameplay, the visuals and the shallow differences between the playable characters left a lot to be desired. These issues seem to be addressed and then some with this new title thankfully! Opting to switch the visuals from an illustrated cartoon-like look to a more traditional sprite work, fits so much better, and looks beautiful. Fitting the Mega Man X motif far better. The characters of Ace and Nina, this series’ version of X and Zero, have been redesigned and look great. Steering closer in proportions and design elements to those of their inspiration.
Care has been taken to give Nina and Ace much more of a unique feel and play style from one another in 30XX. No longer will bosses drop the same weapon for both to use. Instead, Nina’s drop will focus around her buster shot, sharing similarities with an attack from the boss. Ace on the other hand, wielding their saber, will get moves that augment his repertoire of attacks.
30XX is still early on in development, with only a single stage being playable on the show floor. Still though, it still nails that Mega Man X feel and the fact that I can play along with a friend adds a lot of value for me. It was one of the few games that I kept thinking about as I wondered about, and pushed to try and get my friends to play with me. No solid release date is set for the game, but you can expect 30XX to be released in 2021. In the meantime, give 20XX on Steam and consoles a try, all you fellow Maverick Hunters out there.
Quin – Session
Skating has been such a big part of who I was growing up, and it is a culture I am intimately familiar with. Finding that one secluded spot in town, or meeting up with my uncles after school to head over to the skatepark in Ocean Beach, San Diego are memories I am extremely fond of. It was during this time that I began to play Tony Hawk’s Project 8, a game which I still am fond of despite its problems. Even when I played Skate for the first time, it always felt goofy even though the controls were incredible. Session captures that essence of skating.
When I sat down to play Session, I was able to talk to the Creative Director and he blew my mind with how he described this game. The subtle and small details with turning by using the triggers to lean on your trucks, and having the sticks represent foot placement was not something I was expecting. However, when the Creative Director told me about their approach to grinding and how it was dependent on your foot placement and weight being put on, was where I lost my mind. The control scheme showed me that the team at crea-ture studios was paying attention to the details which mattered most when it came to skating.
When I played Session, everything about the game just clicked. Everything from the controls, to the movement, and the environments. I was jumping gaps with ease and mastering the controls rather quickly.
It’s honestly something which I am looking very forward to losing myself into when it drops on Xbox Game Preview. I have been hankering for a skating game for sometime now and Session is that game.