This year’s PAX East wasn’t dominated by huge games like previous years. That’s largely because those companies have yet to pull the trigger on returning to in-person events in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s understandable, and it also gives smaller games a chance to shine, as fans are less drawn to the big shiny AAA monolith taking up the most show floor space. I spent a lot of time talking to devs about being back at PAX East, especially when those big companies aren’t hogging the spotlight. But in between our chats, I found a handful of games that have stuck with me since I got home from Boston.
Here’s my roundup of my favorite things I played at PAX East 2022:
Voracious Games’ Potionomics was easily the most impactful game I played. Deck builders are the hotness right now, but I really need the premise surrounding the cards to draw me in, and Potionomics was exactly what I ordered. The game focuses on Sylvia, who inherits her uncle’s potion shop. Managing the store itself is made up of its own systems, but the deck building is woven into sales, which you accomplish through a card battle with customers as you attempt to haggle a better price. There are a lot of moving parts, from Sylvia’s stress meter, which is increased by crass comments from your customers, and makes it more likely you’ll draw poor cards your next turn, and your customer’s patience, which may have them turning heel and leaving without making a purchase. But on top of gamifying my traumatizing formative years of working retail, it also brings in social elements with a bunch of neighboring cuties. It’s a deck-building dating sim.
I’m stoked to see how Voracious Games brings all these systems and narrative threads together when Potionomics comes to Steam this fall.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are my mortal enemy, and have been since they were added to Injustice 2’s roster while John Constantine concept art was left unused in a NetherRealm file cabinet somewhere. But it’s a good thing I didn’t have to play as any of those pizza-eating bozos when I was playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, and was able to play as Master Splinter instead because Tribute Games’ upcoming TMNT brawler fucking whips.
Shredder’s Revenge is a retro beat-em-up along the lines of a Streets of Rage or Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but is filled to the brim with details big and small that capture the spirit of the source material. That is seen in overarching design decisions like each of the turtles’ movesets complimenting their fighting styles, or tiny touches like April O’Neil snapping a quick photo for her report after she slams a baddie to the ground. The time I spent with Shredder’s Revenge was all about finding those little touches, and seeing how some of them were triggered through coordinated attacks, like two players hitting an enemy from both sides to activate an iconic Shell Shock attack. It’s always a comfort to see a beloved property in the hands of people clearly invested in doing right by it. And that was my biggest takeaway from playing Shredder’s Revenge.
It’s coming to PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch this year.
Like Potionomics, Power Chord was one of the deck building games that really spoke to me not just through its complex systems and card battling, but through its premise. Power Chord is a deck-builder about a rock band that fights with the power of music. It’s dripping with an edgy rocker aesthetic that I somehow find refreshingly endearing this many years removed from my punk days. The concept is already fun enough, but even compared to all the mechanics in Potionomics, Power Chord has a wealth of elaborate systems that I I picked up pretty quickly. It’s complex, but intuitive. And getting that across with a deck builder on a convention show floor is no easy task. But Big Blue Bubble seems to have succeeded, because even with my short time with it, Power Chord…struck…a…chord…with me.
The Day We Fought Space
I was drawn into The Day We Fought Space by its intuitive use of a tablet touch screen to riff on usual bullet hell mechanics. Using touch screen controls to aim and move your ship as it flies through different space battles is simple enough, but small tweaks like using pinching motions to expand the range of fire made it feel like a neat take on the mobile genre. That on its own was enough to sell me on what I was playing. What put me over the edge was when I picked a ship loadout that had a wrecking ball tethered to it. It wasn’t just a wrecking ball that would circle my ship as I flew around — I would need to build momentum to swing it toward oncoming enemies. Much of the latter half of the demo was spent drawing circles on an iPad to swing my ship around and fling my space wrecking ball into the sides of unsuspecting spaceships. Miley Cyrus who? Hammond Overwatch could never.
I joke, but this showed how fun and experimental The Day We Fought Space’s builds could be. And I hope more silliness is found in the space between each battle when it comes to the app store on May 26th.
While a few games I enjoyed most at PAX East this year were complex deck builders full of intricate, interwoven systems of strategy and skill, sometimes you just need to make ball go in goal. And Match Point was a great place to go and do that. Jolly Crouton Media’s game has been out on Steam since 2018 — it’s like Pong, but lit. If you know the basic premise of Pong, you know the baseline premise of Match Point. Make the ball go into the other team’s goal and block it from entering your own. But Match Point effectively riffs on the concept by letting players grab the ball with a tether and fling it back to the other side of the screen. It’s perfectly equipped to give you the happy accidents of a flashy sports game like Rocket League, but stripped down to its simplest elements. And it’s still incredibly effective. It’s available now on Steam.
Tough Love Arena
Tough Love Arena is another game that’s already out, but it’s free and based in a web browser. The fighting game is made by two-person team M. Paul Weeks and Amy Xu, and it trades the complex inputs of most fighting games for something simple, yet stylish, and really gives you a chance to learn the nuances of a character fairly quickly. Even with no prior experience, I was able to beat a friend of mine who was more familiar with the game because Tough Love Arena excels at accessibility. Setups and payoffs for a character’s playstyle aren’t blocked by high skill ceilings and complicated quarter-circles. Instead, it’s entirely playable with five keys on a keyboard, or five buttons on a controller. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a game so wonderfully break down fighting game mechanics to their rawest form in a way that wasn’t gimmicky. I’m intrigued to the point where I think I’d rather buy the Steam version to support the team, even though the free version remains readily available on its website.