I recently had the tremendous opportunity to attend PAX East 2017, a video game convention held annually in Boston. When attending an event of this size, you are bombarded by video walls, promises of free swag and cosplay… so much cosplay, all vying for your attention. However, rather than spend hours waiting in line to preview the lineup of a major developer, or buy a giant statue of Tracer, I prefer to spend as much time as possible checking out the independent games. Unlike when demoing with larger companies like Nintendo or Bethesda, you can often get a long, detailed demo from a smaller booth. In some cases, you even get the opportunity to speak directly to the developer, which I took advantage of for last week’s podcast episode.
Best of all, a lot of these games prove to be tremendously entertaining, even if they don’t match the technology or scope invested into an AAA release. Here are three I’d recommend keeping an eye out for in the coming months as they finish their development.
Patobox: Created by the Mexican studio Bromio, Patobox combines Super Punch Out with… an adventure game? I was surprised, but after a brief boxing segment, I was let out into a series of rooms. Naturally my character still had boxing gloves on and interacted with the world by punching objects, but what drew my attention the most was his cute duck head that rested atop his muscular frame. I was left with more questions than answers, but the stark black and white art style had me intrigued enough that I’ll be checking back on this game in the coming months.
Stone Story RPG: Another game with an art style all to its own, Stone Story is diligently animated to resemble ASCII art. Reminding me a bit of the browser game Candy Box, you do not directly control your character; instead you choose their path, equip them with weapons, and watch the events play out on your screen. I was impressed by how fluid the animation was, and the puzzles were intriguing without being too punishing, even having multiple solutions in some cases. This game has already been in development for three years per the lead developer from Martian Rex, and was featured in last year’s Indiecade event, so I hope I don’t have to wait too much longer for the finished product.
Battle Chef Brigade: And lastly, my favorite game I got to play. Taking competitive cooking to its logical, anime-styled conclusion, Battle Chef Brigade lets you play as Mina, a young girl trying to become her world’s equivalent of an Iron Chef. The catch is, instead of gathering your ingredients from a mundane fridge, you must set out into the wilderness to acquire them, slicing up various animals to get at their tasty parts. While perhaps traumatizing to PETA, the combat is only one aspect of the game, as you must complete a match-3 puzzle to prepare the ingredients once they are acquired. Combined with forthcoming RPG elements not fully available in the demo, Trinket Studios has a promising stew going.
One of the greatest charms in attending conventions like PAX is getting to meet new people and bond over our shared hobby. Getting to visit smaller developers – such as the ones behind these games – is a reminder of the amount of craft that goes into every release big and small. So look out for other smaller releases, not just the three games I’ve mentioned. They are the best opportunity to hear the singular voice of a person expressed through a game. At least one that isn’t Notch.