Having checked out scores of indies at PAX last week, I’m ready to share the absolute best of the best. And to do that, I’m stuffing the site with top 3 lists spotlighting the wildest, most thoughtful, and brightest games of the bunch. Each list doles out much-deserved accolades to a different category.
Puzzle-seekers and mystery-solvers rejoice! PAX had more than a few games that pushed me to my wit’s end and left me wanting more. But only three could make it to the top of the list.
The first puzzle of this deceptively simple game was just trying to wrap my mind around its core concept. It doesn’t sound difficult. My job is to shepherd a little minion from one screen to the goal on another screen, dodging deadly obstacles and enemies along the way. So far so good. However, when lil guy crosses over from one screen to the next, the button to control it changes.
My first major struggle with this came when trying to wall jump up a canyon spanning the bottom left to the top left screen. But as I shifted over the border, I continuously slipped before my brain could shift into a different gear. Getting to the top was on of my hardest-earned accomplishments at the event.
Pacific drive is a game so steeped in mystery that I’ve played it and I still couldn’t tell you what it’s really about. But creative director Alex Dracott didn’t seem surprised by my mystified look after I’d finished the demo. “It’s the stories,” he explains, “that we live for.” And though my story ended in electric disaster, it’s not easy to forget.
Starting at an obliging gas station, I learn the game is deeply tactile. Fixing anything on the car requires I pull out the right tool from my inventory and use it on the damaged part. And driving is a familiar series of turning the key in the ignition, shifting into drive, and steering with precision. That last part is difficult out on the road as I run across fields of electricity on the road and before long the entire atmosphere drowns in red light. The tense music and sudden mood lighting tells my to step on it, but I can’t outrun my fate.
Moving away from creepy road trips to something a little more upbeat, I went hands on with the fantastically queer competitive match game, Spirit Swap. I had the option between checking out the multiplayer and peeking into the story mode. Wanting to know more about the unfairly attractive characters lining the screen, I opted for the second choice.
The gameplay is explained in-game as a manifestation of my witchly powers. I spot mischievous spirits in my enchanted box, and banish them from my world by combining trios of alike symbols. But it seems like these tricky interlopers have started to infiltrate a nearby city in unprecedented numbers. So, it’s my job to check in with all my friends — who all have their own concerns — and have them help me get the spirit infestation under control. From what I played, it’s a meditative, eye-catching treat of a game.