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The Games I Played at PAX East 2017

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PAX East 2017 is behind us and I am pleased to report that it was a wild success. Tens of thousands of people descended on the Boston Convention Center for a weekend  celebrating games of all varieties. Fortunately, I was able to get my hands on a number of games that families could enjoy together. Below is a list of some of the highlights.

Steamworld Dig 2

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Steamworld Dig 2 was one of the highlights of the weekend for me. The original game was amazing, and I was immediately excited when I saw that the sequel was going to be launching this year. I was able to play through the demo they had at the show and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The gameplay was very reminiscent of the original. Players dig downwards to gather resources and then climb back up to trade those resources in for better tools. They then repeat the process and descend further.

The gameplay might have been similar, but I didn’t find that to be disappointing. There were enough differences that it didn’t feel like it was just a rehash. The biggest difference is that there will be more boss fights throughout the sequel. The PAX East demo concluded with a boss fight with the floating head of an idol that shot our lightning in various patterns and regularly shielded itself from attacks. Defeating it was all about learning it’s patterns and taking advantage of the terrain to wall jump into its head and whack at an energy crystal atop it.

Steamworld Dig 2 will launch on the Nintendo Switch during the summer.

Northgard

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I wasn’t certain what to expect when I was invited to play Northgard. I enjoy real time strategy (RTS) games, but I tend to get bored with the standard gameplay loop of building up a big army and then pushing it to an objective. Northgard subverts all of that by being one of the first RTS games that I have played that had multiple win conditions built into it.

Players control a mighty viking clan in a quest for dominion over other clans. You can achieve that in four different ways. Domination is straightforward and requires eliminating all of the other clans on the map. Trade victories require trade and acquiring krowns (gold coins) and having active merchants. Fame victories  are all about the expansion of your territory and earning fame through various activities. Lastly, Wisdom victories can be gained by earning Lore points by assigning your villagers to be Loremasters at capturable sites on the map.

My demo was about a half hour long, but I could tell that Northgard was something special even in that short period of time.

Northard is currently available on Steam Early Access which means it is an incomplete game that is being worked on by Shiro Games. But, they expect a full release of the game to take place this fall.

Hob

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I played Hob last year was was captivated by its colorful visuals and Zelda inspired gameplay. Needless to say, I was very excited to get another chance to play the game this year.

Hob is a game where players are exploring a world that is in conflict. Technological elements are in a constant struggle with the flora and fauna of the world you are playing in. The main character has to explore this world and find his way all while dealing with this conflict and the dangers it brings with it.

I did a lot of exploration, puzzle solving, and combat in my brief demo with the game. The level design was refreshing because none of those elements stuck around so long that they got boring. I think the quality of the game will depend on whether or not they can maintain that balance over the course of the game.

Hob will be coming out later on in 2017 for PC and PS4 and I really can’t wait to see more of its secrets.

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles

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Yonder is, essentially, a softer and gentler version of Dragon Quest Builders. I want to be clear though. That isn’t meant to be a criticism. I loved every second that spent with this game.

Players take on the role of a young boy or girl that has been shipwrecked on a, relatively, peaceful island. The goal of the game is to explore, complete quests, craft items, and farm. All of the action is lovingly rendered in the most endearing art style I have seen in a very long time. I felt like every moment I spend playing the game was like living inside of a storybook world

One of my favorite parts of the game is the farming system. You are able to craft items using the sticks, rocks, and other objects that you find throughout the world. You can then interact with a book in the corner of a farm you take over. When you do this your view of the farm changes into a grid that allows for very careful placement of the different buildings and crops. I love the neat organization of crops and other resources on grids in games. It’s part of the reason I lost so much time to Farmville on my Facebook account all those years ago.

I have been captivated by this game ever since I saw the first announcement trailer last fall. I was not disappointed with my time with it. I can imagine losing a lot of time to this game after it launches later this year on PC and PS4.

Blaster Master Zero

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I am a big fan of NES games and Blaster Master is one of the most interesting games to come from that era. It was one of the first games to combine multiple different styles of gameplay into one experience.

Blaster Master Zero by Inti Creates takes all of the “good stuff” from the original title and gives it the benefit of a fresh coat of paint. They also take advantage of more than 20 years of advances in game development.

I could tell from the jump that the game was lovingly crafted by long-time fans of the original game and its sequels. This is a very important game for like-minded fans to keep their eyes on. In fact, the game is out right now for both Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS.

Graceful Explosion Machine

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Graceful Explosion Machine was a lot of fun. It is an arcade style shooter where players control a small spacecraft and navigate obstacle filled levels and try to destroy all of the enemies in them as quickly as possible.

I spoke to the developers while waiting in line to play this one and it was clear that this game was being developed by a team that had a passion for the project. All of them enjoy arcade style shooters and are excited to create one.

The biggest thing that makes this game stand out from others in its genre is the art direction. Everything is composed of simple shapes and bright colors. This helps to keep the players attention on the action as opposed to (potentially) busy visuals.

Another standout feature is that your ship only has four weapons; each of which are mapped to a different face button. The first is a simple, low damage blaster. The second is  a laser sword that rotates around your ship. The third is a powerful, continuous laser beam that does high damage. The final weapon is a barrage of homing missiles. Players need to use all of these weapons carefully to deal with waves of enemies.

I can’t wait for this game to launch on the Nintendo Switch later this month.

Snake Pass

Snake Pass was the best game I played at PAX East 2017. It features a lovably animated snake and tasks players with helping it navigate complex 3D environments. The goal is to explore the different environments and collect three colored gems that are placed in difficult to reach locations.

What makes this game truly special is the way that the snake moves. I spoke with the developers while playing my demo and they made it clear that they studied snakes to see how they move while developing the game. This means that you can’t just power forward in order to move. You have to undulate side to side in order to gather any sort of real momentum. You can also climb by wrapping yourself around different objects in the terrain.

Sumo Digital is a company known for their racing games. This development DNA was not ignored while they were working on Snake Pass. The, somehow, managed to make this cartoon snake control like it was a car. You have to undulate side to side, but while doing so you have a “gas” button and a “break” button that keep you moving. Once I got the hang of the controls I was able to race around the demo level at a rapid pace. This gives me a lot of hope for the speed running community because I am sure that some fans of this game are going to figure out how to abuse the racing mechanics and beat these levels at incredible speeds.

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PAX East 2017 Takes Place This Weekend in Boston

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The eighth annual PAX East gaming convention begins today, March 10, and runs through the weekend. PAX East is held in Boston at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

Since 2010 PAX East has rocketed in popularity, selling out every year to become one of the biggest gaming conventions in the U.S. (along with PAX West in Seattle).

If you’re not attending PAX East, don’t fret. We live in the age of live streaming, and Twitch.tv has you covered. No less than four different channels will broadcast various games and panels of PAX East. See the full schedule for the weekend here.

The keynote speaker for PAX East 2017 is game designer Jake Solomon, Lead Designer for XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2 at Firaxis. The keynote speaker is the first panel at every PAX. Solomon will take the stage of the Main Theatre at 10:30 AM EST. You can watch it live on Twitch.

This year’s PAX Arena at PAX East will feature Rocket League and For Honor on Friday, Brawlhalla on Saturday, and close out with Super Smash Bros. 4 on Sunday. Live stream begins at Noon Eastern today.

More than 100 publishers will have booths on the massive show floor this year, from the big guys like Bethesda and Nintendo to the Indie Megabooth. Stay tuned for any major announcements and reveals.