PAX West took place in Seattle, Washington this past weekend, bringing thousands of players together to experience upcoming games from beloved publishers and indie studios. I spent four days playing as many games as I could, and came away with this list of exceptional games you maybe haven’t even heard of yet.
Biomorph was pitched to me as “Metroid meets Kirby,” to which I responded, “let’s f-ing go!” I was delighted that it lived up to that description, and so it easily made my top five list for PAX. This is a pretty standard 2D Metroidvania where you explore the remains of a desolate, retrofuturistic fallen civilization, collecting weapons and power ups that help you become more mobile so you can explore new areas of the map. The twist is that as you defeat certain enemies, you’ll gain the power to morph into them, allowing you to use their strength and abilities to fight and solve puzzles.
As you progress through the game you’ll collect around 20 different creatures you can instantly morph into and out of mid-combat, greatly expanding the amount of combat options you have while also allowing for complex, multi-morph puzzles. The section I played only gave me two morphs – a raging bull-like mutant that can bash through walls and a tall ogre that has an incredibly strong punch – and with just those two options I could already see how complex combat and exploration are going to be. It’s got a cool ‘00s Cartoon Network style that reminds me of Teen Titans meets Hollow Knight, and the controls are smooth and precise. You can wishlist Biomorph on Steam and look for it later this year.
Magical Delicacy comes from Whitethorn Games, home of stress-free experiences and defenders of easy games. This is a side-scrolling cooking platformer about a witch trying to make a name for herself as a chef in a lively seaside town. It has a Metroidvania-style map you will explore to find cooking recipes, but without any combat or danger to speak of.
What I enjoyed most about Magical Delicacy was the intricacies of the cooking process. Every ingredient has to be gathered and processed individually, whether that’s chopping vegetables on a board before adding water to a pot and boiling it to make a soup, or rendering wheat into flour and combining it with spices to make bread. The orders you get are also flexible. When someone asks you for something sweet, not only do you have choices about which recipe you use, you can decide which ingredients to include in that recipe as well.
The characters are charming, the cooking gameplay loop is easier to get the hang of, and it leaves plenty of room for customization and player expression. You can learn more about Magical Delicacy on Steam and wishlist it before it comes out in 2024.
Brace Yourself Games, creators of Crypt of the NecroDancer and Industries of Titan, is one of my favorite studios simply because its library of games are all so unique from one another. I got a chance to try out the new hardcore rhythm game Rift of the NecroDancer, but the game that really stole my heart this year was Cobalt Core, a roguelike deck builder all about spaceship battles.
Cobalt Core is the kind of game you understand instantly when you see it, even though you’ve never seen a game quite like this before. Every encounter is a one vs. one dog fight where your job is to eliminate the opposing ship before they eliminate you. Using your deck of cards, you’ll fire weapons, engage shields, and maneuver your ship left and right to dodge attacks. The enemy ship telegraphs all of its moves at the beginning of each turn, so the strategy is all about maximizing your damage while mitigating as much incoming damage as possible with the limited number of cards (four) you can play each turn. I see this as the next Slay the Spire, Into the Breach, or Monster Train, so you’ll definitely want to add Cobalt Core to your wishlist before it comes out later this year.
You may have heard of this one if you’re a Devolver fan, but with both Gunbrella and Wizard with a Gun getting so much attention, this one feels like it’s still a bit under the radar. Pepper Grinder is like the Windswept Wastes from Ori and the Will of the Wisps stretched into an entire game, and it’s an absolute joy. With your gas-powered drill, you’ll blast your way through each level, carving a path from one sand trap to the next. It’s a kinetic platformer where you have to use your momentum to build up speed and shoot yourself out of one sandpit and into the next, and when you hit a perfect line, collecting all the treasure along the path, it feels incredible.
The levels are short and linear, with five hidden coins scattered in each one to encourage you to explore and replay each level multiple times. It’s one of those games that’s as much fun to watch someone else play as it is to play yourself, because you’ll pick up on a lot more details when you’re not laser-focused on your character’s movement. It’s filled with exciting chain reactions and intense, Celeste-like combo strings in every level. I can’t believe this was made by a solo developer. It looks incredible and it plays even better.
Journey to Foundation
Please don’t tear up my nerd card, but I was not familiar with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series before playing this game. I somehow missed the Apple TV+ show and the 80 years of cultural relevance that preceded it, but from what I understand, it sounds like an exceptionally cool sci-fi world to explore.
Journey to Foundation is a choice-driven first-person shooter VR game about an intergalactic civilization on the cusp of ruin. What really caught my attention about this game was a mechanic called Mentalics: psychic abilities that can be used in combat, but more importantly, can be used to manipulate NPCs and open up new dialogue options. As your powers grow throughout the game you learn all kinds of Jedi mind tricks that allow you to read and control other people’s emotions. It has a gripping narrative and interesting characters right from the start, and while left unimpressed by the gunplay and action sequences, the world-building and storytelling already have me hooked. Journey to Foundation launches on PSVR2, Quest 2, and Quest 3 later this year.