This weekend, PAX East returned to Boston with a lively show full of panels and game demos. It was a return to form for the gaming expo after suffering a few difficult years during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Digital Trends was on the scene once again this year, sampling a wide range of indie games during the multi-day event. There was a lot to get excited about this year, from stylish roguelikes to a riff on Vampire Survivors featuring capybaras. After many hours of behind-closed-door previews and on-the-floor demos, we’ve put together this list of seven titles that stood out to us most during the show. You’ll want to make sure these games are on your radar.
New 2D roguelikes can be a risky proposition; it’s an extremely popular, yet very saturated market. To succeed in that space, a new game needs to bring something new to the table, like a unique twist, gorgeous graphics, or an interesting setting. Somehow Trinity Fusion wowed me with all three.
The game is set in three alternate universes, starring parallel versions of the same hero, each with unique attacks, abilities, and enemies, and in a different world. I alternated my time between Kera, a melee-focused warrior in a cyberpunk apocalypse, and Naira, a gun specialist in a world overrun by monsters. As the parallel worlds begin to fuse, enemies will begin to cross into other worlds, and the protagonist will start to merge, combining their powers. The possibilities get my mind buzzing, and I can’t wait to play more considering how crisp its visuals are and how well it already plays. Trinity Fusion will be available via early access on Steam and Epic on April 13, with a console release later in 2023.
It’s hard to define what will make a real-time strategy game that really grabs you. It’s some mix of progress with building armies, the fun of implementing successful strategies, and a world with a conflict that is interesting. Whatever that mix is I left my preview of Tempest Rising pretty sure that it had it.
Tempest Rising is very much a take on the Command and Conquer formula. Earth is divided between two warring factions, each with its own campaign. My demo tasked me with taking out a series of missile silos in order to bring in airstrikes. I started with a small fighting force, winning little skirmishes and discovering more units as I went. I blew up a silo with exploding red barrels, built a base to harvest resources from, and moved into a large clash with the main enemy force. It was challenging enough that I had to replenish my own troops while picking which targets to focus on. It was great fun, and the promise of a full campaign with hero units to purchase, and branching upgrade paths ala Wings of Liberty from Starcraft 2 is extremely appealing.
Goons: Legends and Mayhem
Finally, someone took the sport from Rocket League, and put it on ice!
OK, hockey has been around for a long time, but the fast, arcade-like spirit of Goons: Legends and Mayhem feels like something we haven’t seen much since Blades of Steel on the NES. I didn’t spend much time in its single-player mode, a hockey/beat ‘em up adventure, but a couple of two-minute-long games were unbelievably fun, with cheers from both teams for goals, and high fives after each match. The mix of classes, like the shot-oriented Sharpshooter, or the defense-focused Enforcer, made for interesting roles on the ice, with just the right mix of skill and chaos to be competitive and accessible in our games. It has all the makings of a perfect couch co-op game when it drops on Steam, Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch later this year.
Road 96: Mile 0
Road 96: Mile 0 is a follow-up to the 2021 adventure game Road 96, a fascinating narrative roguelike. Mile 0 takes the series in a slightly different direction, changing the formula with psychedelic rhythm-traversal sections. One level I played had me on rollerblades trying to outrun some suit, all in time to a track from The Offspring. As I dodged over, under, and around cars, he grew in size, eventually reaching a King Kong-like proportion.
The on-rails movement combined with some quick-time-event fueled spectacle gave me strong Sayonara Wild Hearts vibes, which is a good sign so far. Road 96: Mile 0 drops on April 4 on Nintendo Switch, Steam, PlayStation, and Xbox.
Extremely Powerful Capybaras
The elevator pitch for Extremely Powerful Capybaras is simple: What if Vampire Survivors was cuter, funnier, and had a four-player co-op? That pitch was enough to convince me and a group of three other PAX goers to give it a go. To start, we each selected our Capybara avatars. I was a shaman, specializing in range and AOE attacks, though I was admittedly jealous of the Bard’s sweet mustache.
Our group of four faced off against ever-increasing hordes of zombie-baras and walking fish (naturally), but regular level-ups granted us a constant stream of weapon upgrades. If one of us died, a number would appear next to them, and defeating that many enemies around them brought our friend back. It was touch and go, but we were one of the few teams to make it to the end of the 10-minute timer and defeat the boss. There’s a currency to buy upgrades, unlock additional classes, and more, though we will have to wait for the likely summer release to get our hands on the full release.
It’s refreshing when a game is upfront with its influences, such as Three Fields Entertainment’s upcoming Wreckreation. This arcade racer looks and feels exactly like one might expect a modern entry in the Burnout series to be. That’s no surprise, given the studio is made of ex-Burnout and Need for Speed developers.
In my two races, I found myself right at home speeding around the track using wrong-way driving, drifts, and near misses to keep my boosters charged up. Clipping the corners of my fellow cars to force crashes, and take out rivals was a thrill. It’s not all a simple throwback, however. Wreckreation is designed to be a customizable open world. You can change things like traffic density or the weather with a touch of a button, even add blocks or ramps to the track (which I used to great success in order to cause a wreck). Customization seems to be a chief goal, with a deep track editor, and car personalization. There’s no release window announced, but when this does drop it will be on Steam, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles.
I was 90% sure the Toxic Crusaders had been a Mandela effect fever dream of my childhood until I saw this tie-in video game at PAX East. How this R-rated 80’s movie, monster movie, Ninja Turtles-meets-Garbage Pail Kids knock-off ever got greenlit in the first place, is beyond me. But the fact that now, decades later it’s been turned into a beat ‘em up is a shocking twist in the saga, but amazingly, it’s also very fun so far.
I played with one other PAX goer, each selecting from the surprisingly large cast of Toxic Avengers. The extremely colorful, 16-bit-inspired art style immediately stood out, as did the interesting goons we fought. We went toe-to-toe with men in toxic containment suits, people with flamethrowers, dudes who looked fresh off the set of Grease, BDSM maidens with whips, and at least one giant lizard made of pollution. It was extremely fun, as we punched, kicked, and farted (seriously) our way through everyone. There’s a special joy in picking up a midsize sedan to smash on the head of your foes, especially when you discover an entire roasted chicken under it for some badly needed health. Suspicious health chicken is a video game tradition, one you can experience in Toxic Avengers later in 2023.