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Inside the Indie Megabooth at PAX. (Indie Megabooth Photo)

Now that I’ve had plenty of time to recover from four solid days of PAX West over Labor Day weekend (my twelfth PAX West in a row!), I’d like to share some love for my personal “best in show,” the games that wowed, surprised, impressed, surprised, and just plain entertained me the most.

Before we begin, I’d like to make one thing clear: I did not play every game at PAX. In fact, I didn’t even see every game that was at PAX. Despite being there for nearly every hour of the show from Friday through Monday, it’s just not possible to see everything.

My focus was on indie games, since they don’t typically have long lines and you can often have a good conversation with the dev(s) that actually made the game. I spent the better part of my weekend in the Indie MEGABOOTH just playing and talking to developers. However, even within the indie game scene at PAX, there were some things I wasn’t able to play. So keep that in mind if your favorite game didn’t make the list — I may not have even seen it!

Here are the games at PAX West that I’m most looking forward to playing, in no particular order. Click the title to head to the game’s website.

Pikuniku

Coming to Switch / PC in 2018

I’m a total sucker for puzzle games, and this 2D action co-op puzzle game stood out with a bright pink booth, clever puzzles, and a very distinct design.

While I was checking out this game, I was fortunate enough to experience a uniquely “PAX” moment. Keita Takahashi (creator of Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy who was at PAX to show off his own new game Wattam) stopped by the Pikuniku booth to check it out. He was enraptured and had a lengthy conversation with Pikuniku creator Arnaud De Bock about the game. I could tell that De Bock was clearly very flattered, so I reached out to him after the show to find out what he likes most about Takahashi’s work.

What I admire the most in Keita’s work is that you don’t really understand what you are doing at any moment. In all his games you feel like you are playing with a mysterious toy, full of joy and happiness. Also his designs use action and controls that are experimental/unusual. All this create an amazing and unique experience.

It was a big honor to have been able to talk with him for a few minutes about Pikuniku. And Keïta is definitely one of the philosophical dads of Pikuniku.

Witnessing that interaction between two game developers that clearly love their craft was one of the highlights of PAX for me.

Dunk Lords

Coming to Steam in early 2018
Dunk Lords

What if NBA Jam never went away, but just kept evolving? It would basically be Dunk Lords. Also it would be awesome. I can’t wait to trash talk my friends while I perform insane dunks in their faces.

A Case of Distrust

Coming to PC / Mac / Steam in late 2017

This mystery adventure game sports a sweet art style inspired by movie poster art of Saul Bass. As an old-school gamer, the vibe I got from this game reminded me a lot of the NES classic Déjà Vu. Amusingly, when I mentioned this to the developer Ben Wander, he admitted that he had never even heard of Déjà Vu.

Light Fingers

Coming to Nintendo Switch in Q1 2018

I loved the adventure/exploration feel and miniaturized art style of this board game style game. The developer describes the setting as “a magical clockworks game board,” which is a very accurate description of the feeling.

Tiny Metal

Coming to Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, PC, and Mac in late 2017

If you ever played any of the Advance Wars games on Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance or DS, you’ll know just what to expect from Tiny Metal, which bills itself as a “spiritual successor” to those earlier hits. Although this game failed to hit its goal on Kickstarter last year, it had a strong showing at PAX. The game looks great and captures the same feel as Advance Wars, but with lots of nice modern improvements.

Signal Decay

Coming to Steam TBD

The best way I can describe this game is by comparing it to two other games I really enjoy. To me it feels like “Monaco meets Frozen Synapse.” Signal Decay is a top-down strategic stealth game with a dystopian cyberpunk feel. Like Monaco, it can be played cooperatively with friends.

Deep Rock Galactic

Coming to Xbox One and Steam (currently in early access) in 2018

In some ways, Deep Rock Galactic reminded me a lot of the mid-90s classic Descent. Its setup is a similar “deep space mining operation” story, but instead of piloting a spaceship you’re part of a group of specialized dwarves. The mines are procedurally generated, and supports co-op play for up to four players.

Russian Subway Dogs

Coming to PC / Mac / Steam in late 2017

Russian Subway Dogs is an arcade-style game where you play a dog on a Russian subway platform, scaring passengers, stealing their food, blowing up bottles of vodka, and oh yeah there are also bears. This one is another game that had a failed Kickstarter in 2016, but seems none the worse for wear. I was thrilled to speak with developer Miguel Sternberg and have him show off the continued progress he has been making on the game.

Shoot Shoot Mega Pack

Out now on Steam, Humble Store, and Itch.io. Coming soon to Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and Xbox One

I had a ton of fun with the “sampler” demo of Shoot Shoot Mega Pack that was set up at PAX. It’s a versus shooter with basic mechanics very reminiscent of Combat on the Atari 2600, but much faster paced and with lots of cool rule sets that can vary and combine in each match.

Tiny Bubbles

Coming Fall 2017 to PC / Mac / Android / iOS

As mentioned before, I really enjoy puzzle games. Tiny Bubbles is a very clever puzzle game that employs bubble physics and color-matching in a way that is definitely different than I’ve seen in any other game. It was simultaneously relaxing and challenging. The Seattle-based team that is developing the game was originally inspired by the game designer’s grandfather, “an MIT scientist, professor of metallurgy and one of the chief scientists on the Manhattan Project,” who also apparently loved “the science of soap bubbles.”

Antihero

Out now on Steam / PC / Mac

Antihero is a board game in video game clothes. Set in a Victorian-era city, players compete to “recruit street urchins, hire thugs, start a gang, upgrade your guild, steal everything… and bribe, blackmail, and assassinate your way to victory.” Since players take turns completely independently of each other, it can be played asynchronously, notifying you when it’s your turn. If that doesn’t sound like an especially useful feature to have in a game, you probably don’t have children.

The Gardens Between

Coming 2018 to Steam / PC / Mac

Did I mention that I love puzzle games? The Gardens Between is built on what is probably the most unique mechanic I’ve seen in a puzzle game. The game stars a pair of best friends who traverse a wides variety of challenges across a bunch of tiny islands. But rather than directly controlling the characters, you control only time. Move time forward and backward, allowing the characters to interact with different items to change the landscape and progress through each level. Very clever. It’s like Braid had a beautiful baby with Monument Valley.

UFO 50

Coming 2018 to PC, “other platforms” later

Playing UFO 50 almost feels like playing an “NES Classic” style console, except all of the games are brand new. Fifty different games provide a surprisingly deep amount of retro fun.

Looking for more? Check out Ars Technica’s similar PAX West indie games list, which has very little overlap with my own.

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