PAX West was filled with dozens of games, from many remarkable development studios. Conventions like PAX are great for teams of all sizes to showcase what they’ve been working on, from single developer studios to large scale teams with award winning titles. It’s very easy to get caught up in all the glitz of the convention and miss some of the most exciting upcoming games, so our team reflected on the abundance of games they played and have shared their favorites that you should add to your Wishlist in our PAX Picks.
JB's Pick: Extremely Powerful Capybaras
Gaming with friends is a happy place for me. I shouldn't have been surprised that my Pick of PAX was a multiplayer game. However, I was surprised that it has cute animals, alongside other adorable animals hellbent on trying to kill me. I was more surprised that my pick has silly cartoony graphics and a progressive difficulty where teamwork makes the dream work. I shouldn't have been surprised of these things, yet when the dust settled, and I had to pick my favorite game on the show floor that I played, I was absolutely surprised by my choice. Passing by the PM Studio's booth, I may have even scoffed at the game once or twice, despite constantly seeing the crowds huddled around the screen. I mean, what would you think if your favorite game of PAX was called Extremely Powerful Capybaras?
Announced roughly 7 months ago from PM Studios and Studio Bravarda, Extremely Powerful Capybaras was not only my Pick of PAX, but this booth was popping from the get go. It was a booth that made people stop in their tracks and not just watch the game itself, but the people playing the game too. It has all that one needs for a fun multiplayer RPG game.
When playing I needed strategy by evading the variety of Amazonian beasts coming after me. Teamwork was needed to keep my fellow capybaras alive from the ever increasing force hell bent on making your end a reality. And a fast-paced leveling system where we kept unlocking new weapons and skills by the minute. This action RPG is exactly what I love to see from the indie space. Truly, this has the makings of a cult classic. Currently only available on Steam, (there may be rumors of additional platforms, but I can't speak to that…) this is a great casual multiplayer game.
During my demo of the game my team and I may or may not have gotten too heated to follow the instructions of the PR team that helped us while we set out to wreak havoc on some stupid piranhas. Piranhas, zombie monkeys and killer mosquitos all tried to ruin our hot tub time! To stop the impending hordes, we had to utilize special powers and strengths to defeat them and send them back to the rainforest cafe from whence they came.
There are no attack keys, only dodge buttons in Capybaras, and once you're maxed out on abilities, you can only upgrade what you have, so you'll need to be careful about what abilities you choose. When playing with friends, you can't all choose the same powers that are available upon leveling up, so a full team will have to coordinate with each other so everyone gets a power they want. We eventually were able to call out our strategy to one another as we maneuvered around the battlefield. I found myself needing rescue from time to time, which can be completed by having a teammate kill a specified number of enemies while maintaining their position in your resurrection circle.
Extremely Powerful Capybaras is such a fun game you can play without a bunch of brain power. It’s a game, that as I get older along with my kids, I’m excited about, because I can involve them as well. Yes I can play with my 40 year old friends, but I can also play with my 3 kids, as you can invite up to 4 players. This is a winner in my opinion. Check out Extremely Powerful Capybaras from Studio Bravarda and PM Studios on Steam, there's a short demo of the gameplay available now!
Bradford's Pick: Demonschool
So, I'm a sucker for a game inspired by one of my favorite series: Shin Megami Tensei (and by extension, Persona). Demonschool, an indie effort by the Necrosoft Games team, draws those comparisons easily. From its plot that has high school students dealing with threats from a demon world, right down to its stunning art style and bumping soundtrack.
Demonschool's premise sets you in a sleepy little town where demons have taken over. As Faye, the last in a line of descendants of demon hunters around, you'll fight demons, build relationships with your companions (15 of them that are playable), all while living out your life as a university student. Each environment was beautifully detailed, the incredible art design popping on each map. My particular favorite was the town square I visited later in the demo. It was so full of life, with style oozing out of each pixel.
Where Demonschool really delights, though, is its combat system. It's split into two phases: planning and action phases.
In the planning phase, you'll move each character around, spending action points to attack enemies, pull off combos with your team, and position yourself out of harm's way from an incoming attack as well. Moving a character next to an enemy will attack them, with some attacks pushing the enemy back a few squares on the battle grid, while others such as Namako's, swaps places with an enemy instead, stunning them for a turn.
You can only move on the Y-Axis of the grid, or diagonally. Each character can also sidestep to put them into position to carry out an attack by using each character's unique skills, such as Knute's Attack Buff to help dispatch enemies quickly, or Faye's knockback to put some distance in between her and an enemy (or push them into another if you've lined them up well enough).
You can use a character multiple times during the planning phase, but each time it uses Action Points. Teams share a pool of action points and the more you use someone, the higher the cost of each move. Don't like the way things are shaping up? You can also rewind moves before you put your plan into action.
Where this all plays out is in the Action Phase, where your team then carries out each move. It's a beautiful dance that shows your planning in action, as you whittle down the enemy forces. You don't usually have to kill every enemy on the battlefield, either. The goal is normally to hit a certain kill threshold and then position a character on the map to close the demon breach, sucking in the last of them from this plane of existence.
It's a masterful concept, and one where it rewards strategic thinking and using your team's abilities to the best they can be rather than just running in guns blazing, so to speak.
If you're a fan of Italian Horror, SMT or just straight up good tactical RPGs, give Demonschool a look when it hits PC, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4/5 and Nintendo Switch in the coming months.
Steven’s Pick: Cricket: Jae’s Really Peculiar Game
It wasn’t that long ago that I professed in my column that my most anticipated RPG of 2023 was none other than a remake of a popular 90s game. That anticipation has been hidden inside me for decades, cradled by the warmth of nostalgia and fed with the knowledge that games like Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars don’t come along very often.
That was my belief then, and more than 25 years later, developer Studio Kumiho has done something remarkable with their game Cricket: Jae’s Really Peculiar Game. They’ve opened my eyes to a world that brings the joy, heartbreak, and satisfying gameplay that Super Mario RPG awakened all those years ago, and they’ve updated the mechanics in exciting ways.
I passed by the Cricket booth as part of the PM Studio’s Publisher Showcase several times, and despite the unique animated art style, I wasn’t sure that the game was worth my time. Luckily, I had an appointment to test out several games from the publisher, and during that demo I was forced to sit down with this charming JRPG indie gem. PAX is a fantastic game convention, but one thing it doesn’t do well, is give players the ability to really dig into games like Cricket: JRPG because it’s a slow build, as most RPG’s are, in terms of story and learning how the gameplay works.
Jimmy Spencer, the Lead Programmer and Designer of the game sat with me and helped me speed through the process a little, but once he explained that the mechanics are modeled after Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger I began to fall into a familiar groove.
Cricket: JRPG is about a boy named Jae, and his friends as they set off on a journey to the moon to reverse time and bring back Jae’s deceased mother. Each of the character’s will have their own wishes that they want granted upon reaching the moon (which we all know has the ability to grant wishes). The premise is heartfelt, but there’s far more to Cricket than just tugging a few heartstrings, with some heavily comedic tones which includes an overworld where you can interact with plenty of unsuspecting NPCs.
Combat is setup like a familiar JRPG, but like Super Mario RPG, if you press one of two buttons during a short time window of your attack, you’ll do more damage. Of the two buttons, one is more forgiving, which lets you get a damage bonus even if it isn’t timed properly, while the other requires very strict timing, but you deal maximum damage. Equally so, you can time your opponents’ hits, and press a button when they attack you, which will mitigate more damage. A team attack meter builds as the battle goes on, and you can perform group strikes. You can also use your meter to slow down time during an attack so you can ensure your assault or defensive button presses are on point.
The team at Studio Kumiho have been working diligently on the game since 2017, and now that they’ve secured a publisher in PM Studio’s, they were excited to show off what they have ahead of their full release next year. Cricket: JRPG is such a unique game that I can’t wait to get my hands on. You can learn more about it and wishlist it now on Steam.
And there you have it! Those are our PAX West Picks. Whether you attended or perhaps just caught some videos online, jump into the comments and let us know if there were any games from PAX that interested you.