PAX East has a special place in my heart. It was the first gaming convention I ever attended as a fan, back in 2014, and then a few years later it was the first I covered as a journalist (such as I was). A nice long break courtesy of COVID-19, changed much about the event, but PAX East 2022 proved it remains a hotbed for gorgeous, inventive, and often under-appreciated indie games vying desperately for your attention.
Having sifted through some of the bounty on offer, I've produced a list of the games most worth your ever-contested attention. Whether you're looking for a stunning watercolor adventure, a pixel art bloodbath, or a manic multiplayer melee, you'll find your next indie obsession here.
The Best Games of PAX East 2022
Let's get this out of the way: I love pixel art. If a game sports lush, minutely detailed pixel art, there's a pretty good chance you'll catch me drooling over the visuals.
Plenty of great games played with that aesthetic at PAX East 2022, but the most widely known is probably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge (developed by Tribute Games; published by DotEmu). The art here is smooth, vibrant, warm and nostalgic, a mix that conjures the Saturday morning-cartoon vibe this game plainly aims to evoke. The game's many characters with unique movesets keep the beat-'em-up gameplay fresh, as does the cooperative multiplayer that allows up to four players to join in on the chaos at once.
No Place for Bravery (developed by Glitch Factory; published by Ysbyrd Games) sports similarly vibrant pixel art, but pushes those colors into the grotesque and violent. Lush as the colors are, the deepest red on-screen is usually the blood and viscera of enemies, giving the game a kind of gonzo edge. Players take on the role of Thorn, a warrior questing across a brutal fantasy landscape in search of his missing daughter. Fearsome enemies from Old Gods on down will test your combat skills, requiring careful attention and copious deaths on the path to victory.
Moonscars (developed by Black Mermaid; published by Humble Games) turns the gore up even more, then drains the world of nearly all its color, leaving a haunting medieval grayscale punctuated by bursts of bright red blood. Combat here is nearly as brutal as in No Place for Bravery, but feels more fluid and fast-paced, with several unique weapons, randomized perks that reset on death, and a magic system that forces players to balance self-healing and offense. Even in the limited PAX demo the range of playstyles felt tantalizingly wide.
Just as tantalizing is the game's story. Clearly taking cues from FromSoftware, Moonscars loads the player up with references to magic and history they can't possibly understand, allowing them to unravel the mystery of warrior protagonist Grey Irma slowly, over the course of many hours and many more deaths.
Demon Throttle (developed by Doinksoft; published by Devolver Digital) emulates the screen-scrolling bullet hells of yesteryear, pulling from the NES era of chunky pixel art. Doinksoft's follow-up to the weirdo Metroidvania Gato Roboto retains its predecessor's sensibilities while injecting color and even more pulp magic. A cowboy and a vampire set out for vengeance against a nefarious demon, running and jumping through bright, bullet-filled environs. The writing is hilarious, the story outrageous and the release unique: Demon Throttle will only be available as a physical purchase when it comes out for Nintendo Switch later this year.
Outside of the pixel art department, Aron's Gift (developed by Inktale Studios) stood out, drawing on 20th century English fairy tale illustrations players might associate with Tim Burton but are really more Arthur Rackham. Lead artist Kristin Shiraef's history with physical art adds texture and depth to the game's fantastical world. Aron is a young boy living in a desolate and isolated mountain village who discovers a way to travel into the village's past, when it was vibrant and full of life. He then dedicates himself to restoring his home to its former glory, interacting with the village's many off-kilter inhabitants along the way.
But if I had to pick one game whose visuals truly blew me away, it would have to be Dordogne (developed by Umanimation and Un je ne sais quoi; published by Focus Entertainment). The game follows Mimi as she revisits the house of her recently deceased grandmother, flashing back and forth between that present and the summers she spent exploring the surrounding forests and streams, recording ambient noises, taking photos and journaling with her grandmother. Art director Cedric Babouche's hand-painted visuals are a portal to the French countryside, reveling in the wonder of discovery with striking and impressionist watercolors. This is weapons-grade nostalgia wrapped up in an entrancing sense of place. Special stuff.
We spoke to Dordogne's creators for insight into the game's style, inspirations and multimedia aspirations. Read our preview here.
Hard pivot to Signalis (developed by rose-engine; published by Humble Games), a survival horror game set in a frigid, far-future landscape. The demo plunked players down in a downed spaceship newly populated by horrifying, zombie-like monsters seen only in a twisted silhouette. The interfaces are chunky and multilingual — English, German and Japanese regularly mingle — and the gameplay isn't far from classic Resident Evil or Silent Hill experiences. You'll be solving puzzles, conserving ammo and trying not to lose your shit as you try to escape this cosmic horror hell.
Much more straightforward in its narrative delivery is The Last Worker (developed by Oiffy and Wolf & Wood Interactive; published by Wired Productions) whose biting satire of technocracy could not be more relevant. Kurt (named for Vonnegut) is the last human worker in a massive, otherwise-automated shipping center of the megacorporation Jüngle. Players inhabit his first-person perspective as he floats around the complex, following a narrative that plumbs the depths of our reliance on technology, for better and worse.
Last but certainly not least comes Writer's Block (developed by Tic Toc Games). This roguelite in the vein of Sly the Spire challenges players to come up with the longest word they can from a random collection of letters, with each letter of added length dealing one additional damage to enemies. The twist is that different enemies will apply different effects to those letters. For example, some enemies will cause the player to take damage if they fail to use certain highlighted letters. Some enemies cause the inverse effect, dealing damage if their highlighted letters are used.
The conceit builds out into increasingly complex puzzles supplemented by artifacts called literary devices that provide myriad benefits and special abilities. The result is a deceptively deep, ever-evolving puzzle that had my brain buzzing throughout my hour with the demo.
Find release dates and storefronts for each of these games below, in order of appearance:
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge — Summer 2022 on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
- No Place for Bravery — 2022 on PC and Nintendo Switch
- Moonscars — 2022 on PC
- Demon Throttle — 2022 on Nintendo Switch
- Aron's Gift — TBD on PC
- Dordogne — 2022 on PC and Nintendo Switch
- Signalis — TBD on PC
- The Last Worker — 2022 on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PSVR and Meta Quest
- Writer's Block — August 2022 on PC