Another day, another PAX East 2023 update!
Day two of PAX brought a bevy of interesting indies to Boston’s exhibition center. From farming sims to card battlers, there were plenty of novel experiences to discover—and discover I did.
I won’t belabor the intro. Here were seven stellar indies I played from the show floor:
What it is: A whimsical adventure game with a gratifying gameplay hook
Who’s making it: Embers Game Studio
Why it’s great: Strayed Lights kicked off my second day of PAX, and it was a fantastic opener by all metrics. This small little title takes inspiration from a number of heavy hitters, including Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Shadow of the Colossus, Journey… and even Ikaruga.
Those aren’t my words; they came straight from a member of the Embers development team. The French-based studio aims to deliver an emotional narrative that puts actions before words. They’ve even enlisted the help of Austin Wintory—the composer of Journey—to lend his efforts to the cause.
Strayed Lights features a mix of exploration, combat, and light platforming. Perhaps the crown jewel of the experience is its parry system, which has players swap between red and blue color palettes to defend against enemies and cleanse their corrupted souls.
It’s fun, it’s gorgeous, and it’s hitting stores soon.
When it’s coming out: April 25, 2023
What it is: A wholesome mashup of Animal Crossing and Roller Coaster Tycoon
Who’s making it: Prideful Sloth
Why it’s great: Go-Go Town! wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s a life-sim game for life-sim fans, but those expecting a simple Animal Crossing clone would do well to look a little closer.
For one, it puts far less of an emphasis on micromanagement. Instead of managing your home, you’re managing an entire town. NPCs aren’t just there to meet and greet—you can hire them to harvest resources, deliver them across town, and run your shops.
It’s life-sim with an added touch of business management. And yet, the experience remains refreshingly stress-free. The developers are promising co-op as a major feature, so this is shaping up to be a go-to for anyone looking to unwind with a partner or family member.
When it’s coming out: Targeting Q1 2024
Born of Bread
What it is: Paper Mario if Mario were a bread-based Twitch streamer
Who’s making it: WildArts Studio Inc. (developer) and Dear Villagers (publisher)
Why it’s great: There are plenty of Paper Mario-likes on the market or in development. (Heck, I played another on day one of PAX East 2023.) But Born of Bread earns special credit for being meticulously faithful to the look and feel of Nintendo’s RPG franchise.
My hands-on time was brief but memorable. As the recently leavened protagonist Loaf, I navigated a royal castle, got flung to a nearby forest, and had to clear a path back to town. Along the way, I teamed up with aspiring writer Lint, battled various critters (complete with contextual button prompts), and leveled up my HP and MP meters.
There’s a lot more under the hood I didn’t get to see. I’m curious how character progression works, as well as how Born of Bread will handle its equivalent of Paper Mario’s “badges.” There’s also a Twitch-inspired mechanic where Loaf can complete audience requests mid-battle for extra MP, but it wasn’t in the demo for me to try.
Unknowns aside, I’m cautiously optimistic. We haven’t had a great Paper Mario title in years—but maybe this one will fill the gap.
When it’s coming out: Summer 2023
What it is: A charming, accessible, and deeply strategic card-battling roguelike
Who’s making it: Deadpan Games & Gaziter (developers) and Chucklefish (publisher)
Why it’s great: Move over, Marvel Snap! Wildfrost is shaping up to be my newest obsession.
I played a quick “run” of the latest Chucklefish-backed indie and swiftly got my derriere handed to me. The game masquerades as a cuter take on Slay the Spire, complete with friendly art and a snappy tutorial. In reality, Wildfrost is a devilishly challenging roguelike that’ll push those brain cells to capacity.
The goal is simple: Defeat all enemies along a pair of lanes while protecting your own hero cards. You can deploy heroes to either lane, along with various supporting troops. There are also instant-use items that will deal damage or inflict status ailments to enemies of your choosing.
It starts off easy enough, but quickly ramps up. Thankfully, there’s a hub town you can return to and build up over time, a la Grindstone, to aid you in future runs.
A demo’s out now, but you won’t have to wait long for the full game. According to a Chucklefish rep, the game is launching very, very soon.
When it’s coming out: Q1 2023
What it is: If Slay the Spire’s combat, Diablo’s loot, and Resident Evil’s inventory system decided to elope
Who’s making it: Jaspel (developer), IndieArk & Different Tales (publishers)
Why it’s great: People are sleeping on Backpack Hero. The game’s been in early access since August 2022, and based on what I played at PAX, every roguelike fan should be snatching it up.
Picture a Slay the Spire-like, but instead of collecting cards, you’re collecting loot and storing it in your massive backpack. It’s not too massive, though—you’ll have to pick and choose what you keep and what you leave behind.
Enter the whole Resident Evil thing. To keep your best weapons, accessories, and consumables, you need to fit them within the blocks allotted by your pack. As you gain access to higher-level gear, you may have to fulfill certain requirements to maximize its power. (In my playthrough, I had a cleaver that gained the power of each additional cleaver placed diagonally from it.)
Level up your character, and you expand your pack, opening you up to new forms of loot and strategy. It’s an addicting loop—one that should scratch many a roguelike itch.
If that sounds up your alley, I’ve got great news: It’s only $17 on Steam.
When it’s coming out: Available in early access (full release TBD)
Death Roads: Tournament
What it is: Another card battler, except this time it’s Mad Max
Who’s making it: The Knights of Unity (developer), The Knights of Unity & Surefire.Games (publishers)
Why it’s great: You already know how card battlers work by now, so I’ll cut to what makes Death Roads: Tournament unique. And there’s plenty.
Each aspect of Death Roads serves as clever flavor for its dystopian road rage. Your cards represent car parts, such as wheels and engines. Playing each card costs a certain amount of “handling”—go overboard on your maneuvers, and you risk skidding out into walls.
Positioning is the name of the game. By getting the right flank on an enemy, you can fire your guns or ram them, depending on the card. By revving up into higher gears, you can take your cards’ abilities to the next level, opening up new strategies.
It’s a complex card battler with tons of moving pieces, but car-heads and Max Mad fans will find plenty to like here.
When it’s coming out: March 28, 2023
What it is: A psychedelic narrative adventure with great art and intoxicating secrets
Who’s making it: Bed Head Games (developer) and Critical Reflex (publisher)
Why it’s great: I can’t end this list without talking about Flawless Abbey. I stumbled upon this game in a distant corner of the convention hall, and I’m glad I did.
A narrative adventure-puzzler, Flawless Abbey is equal parts beautiful and haunting. You play as a dream “diver” who must investigate a labyrinthine tower in search of someone—and presumably something. Along the way, you’ll solve puzzles and discover more of the world and lore through audio companions.
That’s about all I can tell you—not because of spoilers, but because I myself can’t quite parse what the hell I experienced. The best I can do is offer up a comparison point: Doki Doki Literature Club. If that game melted your mind, then Flawless Abbey might just hit the spot.
Flawless Abbey drew me in with its art style, only to ensnare me with its captivating world-building and tantalizing mysteries. I can’t wait to see and hear more of this one.
When it’s coming out: TBD
Thanks for reading! Looking forward to some of these games? Let me know in the comments!
For more on PAX East 2023, check out my impressions of day one, day three, and day four.