One of my favourite things to do at PAX is wander around in search of games I've never heard of. Even though I'm paid to know as much about games as possible, some slip through the cracks. Here are the ones that stood out to me in Seattle.
Ultimate Chicken Horse
This is a bad name for a video game, since it tells you absolutely nothing about what to expect, but within minutes, I was scrambling to find out when it's coming out. (It's not until next year, sadly!)
Ultimate Chicken Horse is a platformer, but before you hit the snooze button, stick with me. The game looks innocuous at first, as one-to-four players race to the end of the level, jumping over one. But when the round is over, a box appears.
Inside that box are items you can use to modify the stage and start weirding it up. Some rounds, you'll be adding new platforms or stairs, while others involve placing bombs, spikes, and other obstacles. After a few rounds, the map is nonsense in the best way possible, with people barely making it to the end.
Thing is, if no one does make it to the end, it means another round with yet another set of items. The game keeps upping the ante, as players consider whether to make the level easier to finish, potentially giving an opening to a friend, or trying to screw everyone over. (I always chose the latter.)
There's a brief multiplayer demo you can play right now, at least!
The Westport Independent
Any game that decides to invoke Papers, Please has my attention, and The Westport Independent is so clearly inspired by the dystopian immigration sim.
Rather than stamping (or not stamping) people's passports, however, The Westport Independent has you running a newspaper that's running against the clock, as the local government has already passed a bill that will shut you down.
Dubbed a "censorship simulator" by the developers, players are tasked with choosing what appears in the newspaper each day, and whether to side with pro-government rhetoric that may shield you from harm or do your best to sneakily inform the public what the rebels have to say. (The developers told me the rebels aren't exactly good guys, however, so choosing a side is very dicey.)
You aren't writing a newspaper, per say, so much as choosing what to omit. But the truths you settle on can change public perception. For example:
The struggle for the newspaper's editors is their moral obligation to inform the public. At the same time, the newspaper can serve all sorts of functions, including entertainment. If people don't want to read the paper, will they listen?
The Westport Independent was created as part of a game jam, but it's currently being expanded into something much more ambitious. If you want to get a sense of what they're building, an early version is available to download.
Not all rhythm games are about moving to the beat.
Future Grind is incredibly simple. Players control a speeding bike with a blue wheel and a red wheel. The blue wheel has to connect with blue lines, the red wheel has to connect with red lines, while the white lines are a brief reprieve.
You can imagine how complicated the game can get from there, especially if you're invested in Future Grind's elaborate trick system. I was focused on trying to survive without imploding, but when I watched the developer start showing off, prompting my wife to start laughing at me, it became clear how much depth lies beyond getting from start to finish.
Future Grind borrows from games like Super Meat Boy, which give players enormous challenges but allow instantaneous restarts and precise controls that ensure any mistakes feel entirely your fault. Soon, I was twisting, turning, and restarting with ease. I usually play PAX games for a few minutes, but with no one behind me, I spent a long time getting a handle on Future Grind. I could feel its claws starting to sink in. Not wanting to put the controller down is a very good sign.
Unlike the other games in this list, you can't play Future Grind right now, but fortunately it's coming to PC and PlayStation 4 early next year.