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Everything we saw at PAX West 2019

PAX West wrapped up a couple weeks ago. As my first time attending, it was surprising just how different it felt from E3. PAX being a properly public-facing show, the whole event felt a lot more adjusted for general attendees, with lines moving quickly (I could actually spend my free time on the floor trying out stuff) and generally having a ton of stuff to do and see outside of just waiting in line to try out some games. It puts into focus just how weird the space E3 occupies has become as it tries to be both a trade show and a more fan-focused convention.

Anyway, here’s what I was able to check out at the show:

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A Fold Apart
A Fold Apart is about long distance relationships. You play as one half of one such relationship (the gender of those involved is chosen at the start of the game). The demo I played was set in a dream sequence where my avatar’s partner had come by on a surprise visit, flying across the city skyline as I tried to catch up. A Fold Apart has a paper motif going on, and it manifests in play by letting you fold and flip the scene (which itself is a page) to help you progress, such as folding the edge of the page enough to create a bridge to cross, or flipping the page and then folding it to allow myself access to the opposite side. It’s a simple mechanic that makes good a visual metaphor: the two sides of paper illustrating the distance between the two characters, folding the page allowing you to bridge those gaps. It’s very clever. Very curious to see more. A Fold Apart currently doesn’t have a release date.

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Everspace 2
My initial understanding of Everspace, having not played it myself, was that it was a space faring game in the vein of Freelancer with some roguelike elements through in. I expected the sequel to be more of the same then. In actuality, I was told it’s more like Diablo. Everspace 2 is a loot game played from the perspective of a speedy space craft. You zoom about the galaxy shooting up pirates and other goons, completing missions, and collecting all manner of gear along the way. The first major change from the first game is that it’s world is now persistent. It steps away from the roguelike progression of its predecessor in favor of a set open universe to explore. As a result, the game also has a bigger focus on story as well.

I was given a demo of the game, and from what I saw, it looks very fast and fluid. The player’s ship is able to move swiftly, making for some exciting looking encounters. Missions, both of the story and side variety, are plentiful and have a decent variety. The developer say the plan is to have side quests lead into one another, eventually awarding you with permanent bonuses of some sort. It’s still early of course, but it’s looking pretty promising so far. Everspace 2 is slated to launch in early access on Steam later this year, with a full launch sometime next year.

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Sparklite
Sparkelite is a roguelite where the world literally shifts around with each new run. The basic loop is you head below to gather sparklite and hopefully slay a boss or two before returning to your base. You then take that sparklite and use to upgrade buildings and increase your attributes, buy gadgets, and so on. The hub and the way you upgrade buildings feels similar to Bastion, as you’re based on a floating island slowly adding more shops and facilities to help you get stronger. The world map is big, with multiple biomes to explore. My time was spent solely in the starting zone — tktkt — wherein I was shutting down mining operations and fighting off goblin-like foes. My goal was to get back to the boss who was holding my robot buddy hostage, but I often died before I could find their lair.

The game has a very clear environmentalist angle, as the villains are seeking to plunder the world’s natural resources (in this case, sparklite — specifically the sparklite core) for their own ends no matter the cost to the planet. Shutting down mining operations feels extra good then knowing it’s in service of taking down monsters who would destroy the planet.

While exploring the world below, you’ll occasionally find NPCs who will give you quests. The one I encountered in the demo had me helping a couple twins on an expedition find each other after getting separated. The quests aren’t quite persistent — if I died before completing it, I had to find the quest giver again to start it again — but it wasn’t hard to find them again even amid the procedurally generated world. Afterward, they appear back at your base. The twins were only there temporarily before heading back out again, but maybe some will stick around permanently. Sparklite is out on Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC this fall.

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Stranded Sails
Stranded Sails was pitched to me as Stardew Valley meets Zelda. The premise goes that you’re a sailor who finds themselves stranded on an island without a ship or crew. As such, if you want any hope of leaving, you need to get a new crew and build a new ship. In my demo, the first item on the agenda was to start growing crops so I’d have food. If you’ve played any farming games like Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon, you’ll feel right at home: Stranded Sails‘ farming is very similar to those games. The farming aspect is important here because you need to build up resources if you’re going to gather a crew and set sail across the sea again. You can also cook. The process is actually pretty fun, as you discover recipes by throwing random ingredients together until you get a proper meal. Stranded Sails helpfully notifies you when you’re on the right track, meaning you’re less likely to waste time losing ingredients to failed dishes.

But farming is only one half of the game. The other is exploring, wherein you’re roaming around looking for treasure and people to recruit, occasionally fighting off a monster or two. The island I was able to explore (there are five total in the full game) was surprisingly big. I feel like I saw a lot of it, but there still felt like there was more to see. One thing that became clear very quickly is that stamina is everything. Every action — running, gardening, swinging your sword, etc — uses stamina. It’s also your health, draining every time you take a hit in combat. The stamina thankfully didn’t drain very quickly. I was able to accomplish a lot before ever having to worry about running out, allowing me to save any food I’d prepared until I really needed it, but it was still something I had to keep an eye on. I was told you can also obtain various buffs to reduce stamina consumption as well. There was also a seemingly unlimited supply of apples back at camp that would immediately restore my energy. Very handy. Stranded Sails is currently slated for release later this year on PC, Switch, Xbox One, and PS4.

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Overcooked 2: Carnival of Chaos
As a noted Overcooked fan, I’d be remiss if I didn’t check out what was on the horizon for the game. Overcooked 2‘s next piece of DLC, titled Carnival of Chaos, delivers more of the same ridiculous antics the rest of the game does. Carnival of Chaos sees you jumping between different styles of cuisine every level. The two levels I saw had one set in a barn making pizza and another set an Asian-themed zone making ramen in massive woks that had to be moved between fire sources constantly. Neither had any of the usual mix-ups that Overcooked‘s most devious levels have, but for the sake of the demo, that’s probably for the best. Carnival of Chaos is available now on all platforms.

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Moving Out
If Overcooked isn’t enough of a chaotic mess of a multiplayer game (and I mean that in the best possible way), Moving Out might be more your speed. It’s a cooperative game where you and up to three other players work together to pack up various locales — houses and office buildings, for example — in the fastest time possible. Moving boxes might be the most thrilling idea on paper, but Moving Out makes it extremely good and silly in its execution. The level I played was set in an office, which saw us tossing objects through windows (or jumping through them ourselves) and over the second-floor railing, but I also watched other people play a level set in a haunted house where you had to fight off ghosts as well. It definitely captures how much of a nightmare moving can be — we had to really work to fit some objects into the freighter we were filling — but makes it actually enjoyable. There’s currently no release date yet, but Moving Out is worth keeping an eye on.

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Spiritfarer
I saw Spiritfarer previously at E3, but I got some actual hands-on time at PAX. The demo followed the same scenario as the E3 build wherein Stella (the protagonist) helped a snake spirit named Summer begin to prepare to move into the afterlife by completing a few tasks for her, such as building her a home that she can mediate in and retrieving an old keepsake. Her requests took me around a few different locations, each of which I had to travel to in real-time, allowing you to sit back and watch the scenery pass by if you so desire. Or you can fish. Or garden. Or chat with your fellow passengers. Whatever you prefer.

The PAX demo emphasized the co-op play, which sees a second player taking control of the cat that follows Stella everywhere and is able to do just about everything she can when under the control of another player. The usefulness of co-op was especially clear when a storm rolled in at sea. Lightning began to strike all over the ship, providing a perfect opportunity to gather some glims, the game’s currency. Stand underneath where the lightning would strike and the amulets Stella and the cat carry would absorb them. Given how quickly the lightning would strike and the varied locations it’d hit, having a partner around to help gather glims definitely helped out a lot.

Then I was told you can hug everyone — the cat included (as if the game wasn’t wholesome enough already). So of course I went ahead gave everyone I could hug. Definitely living up to its pitch of being “cozy” so far. It’s very wholesome. It’s also very funny. Chatting with some of the locals at a small town prompted a ton of fun dialog. Some of them made sarcastic remarks about bothering them, while one in particular thought I was a telemarketer who was stalking them. For as much as Spiritfarer deals in heavy subject matter — death and moving on — its upbeat attitude and the touches of levity here and there work well. Spiritfarer is out next year on PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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Kine
Kine is a puzzle game wherein you push and roll instruments around to help unite them to form a band. It starts off with Roo, a pianist who’s seeking a change. Soon enough, she meets Quant a drummer who’s looking to put together a band. This manifests in play as a block rolling puzzle. Only, moving each of the characters around isn’t as simple as just moving a regular ol’ block around. Quant, for example, can use the cymbals he’s attached to to push him to and fro or give himself some extra height. Same goes for Roo once she gets an accordion. It’s delightfully challenging and extremely charming. Kine‘s out on October 17 for PC, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One.

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Chicory: A Colorful Tale
My love for games that see you restoring worlds is well-documented at this point. Being a force of restoration and rejuvenation instead of one of destruction is always a plus in my book. So of course I had to check out Chicory: A Colorful Tale, a game in which the world has lost all its color, turning it into a blank canvas to color in as you see fit. The demo was set during the very beginning of the game, and walked me through the basic ideas of the game. It starts off by asking what your favorite food is, which determines the name of your character as everyone is named after food. (A fun little detail is selecting “I don’t know” to that question just defaults it to pizza.)

From there, it was right to painting. You can pull out your paintbrush at any time with the press of a button and paint wherever you want. Everything you can see — yourself included, can be affected by your brush. I had only four colors to choose from, but it was enough to be plenty expressive with. The brush also has three different sizes to help make those fine adjustments as needed. The space I could explore in the demo was limited — the part I played was more focused on giving a broad sampling of what the game was — but it was definitely enough to play around and see the various ways your painting powers can be used. All the characters were fun, the whole game exuding a great playful, upbeat tone. It was lovely and I’m very much looking forward to playing more. Chicory is currently set to be released sometime next year on PC.

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Sayonara Wild Hearts
It’s difficult to describe Sayonara Wild Hearts because it’s the sort of thing you need to see in motion to really, fully grasp what it’s doing. The basic pitch is that it’s a music sort of rhythm game (there are quick-time events that happen frequently that feel choreographed to the beat) where you zoom through dazzling neon environments collecting hearts, pulling off cool stunts, and also fighting rival gangs via dance battles. It’s a lot, basically. And it’s really cool.

Each of the quick levels I played in the demo had me speeding down roads at high speeds collecting as many hearts as possible, narrowly avoiding obstacles all the while for extra style points. If I stuck close to trucks driving down a tunnel, for instance, I’d get extra points for “near misses,” a la Burnout. Likewise, timing my button presses perfectly during the quick-time event combat/dance sequences would award a better score as well. The moment to moment action switches things up so frequently and quickly that sometimes caught me off guard, but it also flowed so smoothly that it felt natural once I got the hang of it. Sayonara Wild Hearts is out on September 19 for PC, Switch, and PlayStation 4.

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