The 20 Most Exciting Indie Games from PAX South 2019

Posted by | January 24, 2019 | Feature, Mobile, PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One | No Comments
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The fifth annual PAX South convention took place this month in San Antonio, Texas. The convention is smaller than other PAX shows, with an emphasis on indie games and tabletop games. A few big publishers were in attendance showing upcoming games, such as Capcom with Resident Evil 2 and Sony with Days Gone. But often these shows are a great opportunity to see smaller games and meet passionate developers.

Here is our alphabetical list of the 20 most exciting indie games we saw at PAX South 2019.

A Fold Apart

Developer: Lightning Rod Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Release: Spring 2019 (PC and Switch, other consoles to follow)

A Fold Apart looks at first glance like a platformer, but there’s no jumping. Instead you’ll need to fold the pages of the world to bring the partners together, who are struggling with a long distance relationship. It’s based on a true story from lead designer Mark Laframboise. You play as both characters, choosing each of their genders. Something that seems sweet from one character may be viewed differently by the other as you see both sides of the complex relationship.

Bee Simulator

Developer: VARSAV Game Studios
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Release: Spring 2019

In a shocking twist, Bee Simulator is all about playing as a bee. Set within Central Park in New York City, the life of a bee is fraught with both beauty and peril as you collect honey from flowers, defend your turf from wasps and spiders, and be wary of the most dangerous animal of all – humans. Varsav Game Studios are all too aware of the endangerment that bees face in our world and have produced the game with a socially conscious heart. But more importantly, it’s fun to fly around as a bee and pop balloons.

Bombfest

Developer: Sudden Event Studios
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Release: Jan. 31

Mario Party-style multiplayer mini-games were definitely in vogue at PAX South 2019, but Bombfest stood out thanks to its adorable wooden block art style and easy pick up and play format. Up to four players choose an adorably dressed wooden block figure and compete in small household arenas like toy boxes and play mats. Players try to knock each other out of the ring, not unlike Super Smash Bros., through a variety of bouncing, freezing, and good ol’ fashioned exploding bombs. The family-friendly style and simple controls make Bombfest particularly well suited to the Switch.

Dark Devotion

Developer: Hibernian Workshop
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch
Release: Early 2019

Dead Cells meets Dark Souls probably sounds like gibberish to a number of gamers, but for the rest of you, it’s an intriguing mixture. Dark Devotion is a side-scrolling RPG with the challenging but rewarding rhythmic combat of a Souls game with a Dead Cells 2D pixel style. The dungeon designs bear the dark inspiration of eldritch and Gothic horror. I died several times during the short demo at PAX, and still I wanted to come back for more.

Dicey Dungeons

Developer: Terry Cavanagh
Platforms: PC
Release: Spring 2019

In Dicey Dungeons a typical adventuring party has been transformed into anthropomorphic dice. The six-sided heroes navigate a series of roguelike dungeon crawls acquiring new loot cards, leveling up, and rolling dice during combat to activate abilities and attack enemies. All of the character classes play very differently from each other. The Witch gets spells instead of the usual loot and uses dice to cast them, while the Robot has a neat push your luck element when it comes to rolling dice each round. The turn-based combat could easily stand alone as an intriguing solo board game, and I particularly enjoyed the whimsical characters and art style.

Disjunction

Developer: Ape Tribe Games
Platforms: PC
Release: 2019

Disjunction is a cyberpunk stealth action game wrapped in a top-down pixelated art style. It’s Deux Ex indie style, and it’s damn good. You take on the roll of three characters, each with their own stories and playstyles as you dive into the classic cyberpunk themes of corporate espionage. Enemies have clear vision cones that must be avoided – although you can certainly treat every level like a guns-blazing bloodbath if you wanted, which has repercussions for the story. I opted to use my various gadgets, including smoke grenades and a paralyzing dart, to quietly take out foes and hide the bodies. It’s been three long years since Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Disjunction is looking to fill that void quite nicely.

Evolution: The Video Game

Developer: North Star Digital
Platforms: PC, iOS, Android
Release: Feb. 12

Evolution: The Video Game has the quirky honor of being on our most anticipated PAX South list for the third year in a row. The digital adaption of the award-winning board game has been in development for a long time, but it’s looking better than ever, with gorgeous art and animations, cross-platform play, online multiplayer, and a full single player campaign that unlocks new AI for skirmishes. I’ve been playing the beta throughout the last year and have been consistently impressed with the updates and additions with each new patch, and very much looking forward to one of the best digital board game adaptations around.

Fantasy Strike

Developer: Sirlin Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch
Release: 2019 (Currently available via Steam Early Access)

If you’ve been disappointed by the recent trend of fighting games, either from complexity, input lag, or style, Fantasy Strike hopes to bring you back into the fold. It’s billed as an accessible 2D fighting game with intuitive one-button controls and easy to grasp mechanics, developed by a master fighting game craftsman, David Sirlin. Fantasy Strike looks and plays nice but a fighting game lives and dies by its community. Time will tell if it can pull fans away from Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.

Final Assault

Developer: Phaser Lock Interactive
Platforms: PS VR, Oculus, Vive
Release: 2019

I had yet to play a VR game I truly enjoyed until Final Assault. Slotting a traditional management-heavy real time strategy game would have spelled disaster, but Phaser Lock Interactive smartly took cues from the MOBA genre to create a much more streamlined and fun experience. Final Assault plays more like a real time miniatures wargame as you and your opponent survey the tabletop-size battlefield, dropping troops, unlocking advanced forces, and watching the destruction unfold all around you.

Ion Maiden

Developer: 3D Realms
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Release: 2019

3D Realms is back and they brought an impressive Duke Nukem 3D clone to PAX South. Ion Maiden is a classic first person shooter done entirely within the original Build engine, which featured a pseudo-3D world with pixelated graphics and 2D models. It’s a massive nostalgia trip for anyone who lived through 90’s PC shooters, but it’s also a solidly enjoyable fast-paced action game with labyrinthine level designs full of secrets and plenty of fun weapons and enemies.

JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword

Developer: NX Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Release: January 24

The 2D action-platformer is probably the most common genre for indie games to explore. But that shouldn’t discredit the good ones, like JackQuest: The Tale of the Sword. JackQuest features a boy and a really big sword as they adventure through a cavernous dungeon. Like Shovel Knight, JackQuest nails the pixelated aesthetic and old school level design while featuring tight controls and satisfying movement and combat.

Last Epoch

Developer: Eleventh Hour Games
Platforms: PC
Release: 2020 (Steam Early Access in 2019)

The traditional Diablo-style action-RPG has ebbed and flowed over the last several years, mostly relying on indie games like Grim Dawn to provide that classic loot-obsessed gameplay. Last Epoch takes the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra of design, adhering closely to past and recent juggernauts such as Diablo, Path of Exile, and Titan Quest. Last Epoch will feature multiple classes with specialties and augmented skills, an endless supply of loot drops, multiple end game systems, and a Chrono Trigger-inspired story featuring time-travel.

MageQuit

Developer: Bowlcut Studios
Platforms: PC, Switch, Xbox One
Release: 2019

MageQuit is one of the best kind of games to show at conventions: a 10-player multiplayer brawl that ends in shouts of joy and cries of defeat. Every round players draft spells for their wizards, with each round gaining a new spell to add to their repertoire. Spells are elemental-based, such as fireballs, rock walls, and air-dashes, and the too-small arenas are designed to get wizards blasting each other quickly and hilariously. MageQuit is available now via Steam Early Access, and best played with a large group of friends.

Mowin’ and Throwin’

Developer: House Pixel Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Release: 2019 (available now via Steam Early Access)

Silly name aside, Mowin’ & Throwin’ is a delightfully fun competitive mowing game. Players take on the role of mischievous lawn gnomes in 1v1 or 2v2 with the goal of mowing their side of the lawn before their opponent. Power-ups fall from the sky while gnomes can chuck rocks and plant more grass onto each other’s yards. The level designs take a page from Overcooked with numerous challenges and hazards, such as rotating platforms, fences, and water.

Project Witchstone

Developer: Spearhead
Platforms: PC
Release: 2020

The developers behind Stories: The Path of Destinies and Omensight have their sights on a very ambitious new game, tentatively called Project Witchstone. Witchstone aims to be a massive tactical RPG that grants player freedom and meaningful choices in a fantasy world. Witchstone is still very early in development, but Spearhead is planning on a completely open development process, beginning with a Kickstarter campaign later this year.

Projection: First Light

Developer: Shadowplay Studios
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Release: 2019

Projection: First Light is a 2D puzzle-platformer starring a shadow puppet named Greta. Greta’s primary ability is to manipulate the shadows around her using a controllable ball of light with the right stick. The shadows create new platforms for Greta to traverse past obstacles. I found it incredibly challenging to think along an entirely different dimension with the way shadows were cast from the light’s positioning, but intrigued to try more.

Rezplz

Developer: Long Neck Games
Platforms: PC, Xbox One
Release: 2019

Rezplz is another 2D puzzle-platformer with an intriguing twist – your primary ability is to resurrect your partner. The young sibling wizards start only with the ability to ‘rez’ each other, making death a means to overcome the many enemies and hazards that lie in wait. To get over a bed of spikes, for example one of them can jump in and die, while the other can use their body as a platform, then resurrect them on the other side. The death animations are hilariously macabre, and the Lost Vikings-style level designs have a lot of potential for both single player and co-op.

Splitgate: Arena Warfare

Developer: 1047 Games
Platforms: PC
Release: 2019

While many competitive multiplayer games chase the Battle Royale bandwagon, Splitgate: Arena Warfare is firmly fixed on the past. That could be a winning strategy when you combine two of gaming’s most beloved franchises: Halo and Portal. The old school arena shooter looks and plays great with Halo-style guns and pacing. The obvious twist is the ability to create matching portals to zip around the battlefield, creating an entirely new dimension that further rewards map awareness and quick positioning.

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones

Developer: Cultic Games
Platforms: PC
Release: 2019 (A demo is available on Steam)

Most Cthulhu stories revolve around the prevention of eldritch armageddon, but Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones places you firmly in the post-apocalypse when the old gods have already wrecked havoc. The old school cRPG checks all the right boxes with stat-based character creation, an open world full of consequences and choices, and turn-based tactical combat.

ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove

Developer: HumaNature Studios
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Release: March 1

Seeing a new ToeJam & Earl game releasing in 2019 is eye-rolling, but I was pleasantly surprised with ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove. Taking its cues from the 1991 original, Back in the Groove features randomly generated levels as our stranded alien friends try to find the missing pieces to their spaceship. The isometric levels are literally stacked on top of one another as up to four players can explore on their own pace using dynamic split-screen, avoiding enemies, finding powerups, and listening to funky tunes and remixes.

 

Eric Watson

About Eric Watson

Eric is a freelance writer who enjoys talking about video games, movies, books and Dallas-based sports teams. Every week he watches a random film from his collection of several hundred DVDs and live tweets about it @RogueWatson. He also makes a mean tuna quesadilla. He lives near Fort Worth, Texas with his wife and daughter, two dogs, two cats, two fish tanks, some hermit crabs and a bookshelf full of Transformers.