PAX South 2017 Cements Itself as a Haven for Indies

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PAX South (Photo by: Kiko Villasenor)

The third annual PAX South convention in San Antonio, Texas, came to a conclusion a couple of weeks ago, but we can’t stop thinking about the games we played there. While it’s growing steadily in both number of exhibitors and guests, PAX South is still a small con when compared to its big siblings in Boston or Seattle. This presents a unique opportunity for both attendees and those showing off games. It’s easier to get hands-on time with less people on the floor, and it’s harder for those darling indie games to get lost in the crowd.

There were a few big names there, to be sure; lines for the Nintendo booth dwarfed one corner of the hall while fans waited hours to get their hands on the upcoming Switch console, and Capcom’s creepy booth looked like something out of Resident Evil VII: biohazard. But I found myself drawn, over and over again, to the section of the floor devoted to indie games and developers.

The PAX Rising (up-and-coming indie games) and PAX Australia (indie games from down under) booths were conveniently situated right next to each other, so every time I passed through, I was able to get some hands-on time with more weird, colorful, strange games. Here are a few of my favorites.

Lupinball is dodgeball with wolves. And fire.

One of the more competitive games we played, from Australian studio Craftven, is simple in concept: four wolves shoot fireballs at each other until three are knocked out and the last lupine standing is declared a winner. Each battle environment provides its own challenges, like blustering winds pushing everything to one side of the screen, and the attacks are color-coded to help keep track of what’s going on amongst the chaos. It only takes a few seconds for the screen to fill up with red, blue, and green balls of flame flying in every direction, making these matches a fast-paced experience. Yes, it’s as simple as it sounds, but the demo station always had four players at the controllers and more gathered around, and every elimination or victory was met with hoots or groans. Up to four players can battle online or locally, but Lupinball has “party game” written all over it.

Score goals and crack skulls in “the world's only graveyard-themed multiplayer sports game,” Graveball.

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you: that is indeed another indie game with “ball” in the title. The quote above comes from developer Goin’ Yumbo’s website, where it’s also revealed that Graveball “is being developed by a solo developer that is most likely in way over his head.” With that disclaimer, it’s pretty impressive that Graveball is a whole lot of fun. It’s like soccer, only you can use your hands—oh, and the players are monsters transporting a skull into their team’s endzone while beating the crap out of each other with whatever blunt objects happen to be lying around. It’s simple, but hilarious, and ideally suited for playing locally with some buds.

Orwell is eerily prescient in troubled times.

We sat down at the Orwell demo station after walking past it half a dozen times, each time stopping for a bit to watch the player. It’s reminiscent of Her Story in that its major mechanic is gathering information to form your own conclusions, which made it a must-play. There weren’t any representatives from developer Osmotic present, so we just dug in without any context. As an agent of an authoritarian government, you must scour available information of dissenters in the name of national security. This means social media, arrest records, private IMs, you name it. Sometimes the information will contradict itself; you need to figure out what the truth is. This one really stuck with me, so much so that we’re including it in this list even though it’s already been released on Steam.

Puzzler Semispheres aims to create a “meditative” experience.

Sometimes, when you sit down to play a game, you want hours of action and expansive worlds. Or you want to shoot some Nazis in the face. Other times, you just want a short, calming experience that taxes your brain more than your trigger finger, and that’s just the kind of game Semispheres wants to be, according to indie dev Vivid Helix. It’s a puzzle game with delightful ambient music and mirrored screens that require you to move orbs on both sides to their goals. This gets trickier over time, requiring sneaky tactics to avoid guards and move beyond barriers. None of the three levels we played were super challenging, but we were told Semispheres gets much more challenging, with over 50 levels in the final game (due out on Steam and PS4 on Valentine’s Day, and Xbox One later this year).

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