This year’s PAX West was a whirlwind, as always. With three of our writers on site for most of the convention, we decided it was in everyone’s best interests to wrap our favorites up in one tidy article, spotlighting the individual achievements of each.
While we can’t cover every single game we played at the convention, we can certainly share our favorites in a variety of categories with you. From cooking to smooching to stumbling through darkened caves, these are the best games we played at this year’s PAX West.
BEST IN SHOW
Joesph Langdon: Monster Prom. Maybe it’s because the writing of this competitive dating sim (inspired by The Yawhg!) was genuinely hilarious. Maybe it’s because I love couch co-op. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because I got to win a challenge by shouting “Bad Dragon Dildo” in the middle of the show floor. I can’t quantify the myriad of reasons I have for giving Monster Prom best in show. Instead I’ll just say everyone should play it with their friends, with their family, and, if the opportunity presents itself, with the hilarious and entertaining developer Julián Quijano who clearly loves this game as much as we do.
Melissa Brinks: Battle Chef Brigade! It was super polished, super cute, and really, really fun. I’m not a huge match-3 fan so I was a little bit concerned about how much I’d like the cooking portion of the game, but it forces me to be more strategy-driven than I normally would be. There are so many things to juggle between gathering ingredients with hack-and-slash-esque combat, keeping the judges’ tastes in mind, and getting a high enough score in the match-3 sections to succeed that I really struggled with it in the best way possible. It’s a little bit hack and slash, a little bit Bejeweled, and a little bit Chopped in an effortlessly charming skin, making it easily one of the best gaming experiences I had at PAX this year.
Stephani Hren: As much as I love me some Indie Megabooth action, I have to give this one to Monster Hunter: World, the open-world answer to the longrunning action RPG big game hunting series. Because I want it, and I want it bad. When I left the console world behind I begrudgingly accepted that my Monster Hunter time would be relegated to a handheld only experience (at least until I fall behind on handheld consoles, too), but BEHOLD. The Capcom gods have blessed me with an upcoming PC release! And it’s got huge maps with no load screens! And they added more hunting-esque mechanics! And when the demo loaded my character was wearing pink bikini army–I was cute as hell! I’m going to charge blade the shit out of those monsters, just you wait.
Joesph Langdon: My favorite booth by far had to be Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, a narrative game about exploring North America, collecting stories, and strategically relaying them to strangers. Their designers set up a little campfire complete with liquid smoke pointed straight at your nose. I caught a whiff of it while playing and was instantly reminded of childhood promises of olfactory television (smellovision). Not to mention they had free fruit! Who doesn’t love free fruit!? Also the devs were very nice, and the game was super interesting.
Melissa Brinks: Full disclosure: I may have included this category because I wanted to talk about Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. I’ve been excited about this game since I first heard about it, but even if I hadn’t I would have been into the booth. The whole thing was set up with a campfire, which gave it this really nice ambiance and encouraged you to sit around and talk, which folds neatly into the themes and gameplay. Also, as Joesph mentioned, free fruit! Thank you for the vitamins in a weekend where I literally crushed Doritos on top of my mac and cheese.
Stephani Hren: I’ve got a weird choice for this one: Battle Chef Brigade. Unlike last year, Adult Swim got put down in the main expo hall–and they were right next to Gigabyte, who was out of control. When we showed up for our press appointment things were at peak loud, so it was super awesome to see that amongst the arcade style vibe they had going they also had a little makeshift room with a Japanese-style folding screen that kept it separate from the noise of the expo hall. There were cute plush chairs, a cute rug, and a cute little TV for us to play on. Megan Fausti, the charming writer of Battle Chef Brigade, even gushed about her chef crushes with us! And then she gave us cute Battle Chef Brigade aprons. It was a cute overload!
Joesph Langdon: Date or Die, a visual novel about dating and murder. Out of everything I played during this year’s PAX, Date or Die is the game I know I’m going to nab immediately just to see what happens next. The demo did an amazing job showing me the game’s delightfully fucked-up premise while also leaving me quivering with anticipation at what awful(ly exciting) situations the game will bring.
Melissa Brinks: For me, Necrobarista. It’s a unique blend of atmospheric narrative exploration and a visual novel, like a mixture of Gone Home with interactive text. The premise was intriguing enough because I’m a former barista who is not a necromancer but does love a bit of magical realism, but the demo at PAX really showed me the interesting marriage between text and 3D visuals that it has. I don’t feel like I learned much from the demo, but that’s not a bad thing–it makes me want to get my hands on the rest of it as soon as I can.
Stephani Hren: Donut County. This game was stationed right next to Wattam (the latest game from the maker of Katamari Damacy)–and for good reason! It’s a bright and cheerful game where you play as a mysterious hole that moves around the level to swallow objects. The more you eat, the bigger you get, and soon enough you’re eating up entire buildings (and the people/animals inside of them). The demo gave just enough hints of the game’s overarching plot (donut deliveries? an underground prison where the swallowed townspeople are gathered? a hot air balloon on the run?) that I’m very intrigued to see where the whimsical gameplay leads.
GAME I WANT TO PLAY RIGHT THIS SECOND
Joesph Langdon: Death of the Outsider. Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the Dishonored series. In fact, Death of the Outsider, the upcoming standalone side story for the hit stealthy first-person action RPG, was the only AAA line I was willing to wait in all weekend. I was not disappointed. The addition of a side quest system tailored specifically for our assassin turned protagonist Billie Lurk, powers that emphasize planning and preparation instead of brute forcing your way out of scuffles, and altogether AMAZING feeling FX work (not to mention some aiming improvements). I could have this game yesterday and it would not be soon enough.
Melissa Brinks: Date or Die. Battle Royale meets The Bachelor is an excellent elevator pitch, and from the demo I’m absolutely sold. It was just tantalizing enough that I desperately need more like ten minutes ago, and it has that perfect hint of darkness that ups the stakes and keeps things interesting. I’m really looking forward to getting to know the characters more–I matched with Six, and while I love the premise of a character who is sweet and nice and also talks to ghosts, that’s just not enough for me! Give it to me now! Let me date and murder!
Stephani Hren: There were a lot of games at PAX that I’m excited for, but one of them immediately stood out to me as a game that I would gladly drop everything to marathon right now: Necrobarista. The style of the storytelling was so unique (a mixture of 3-D scenes and a text-based narrative), the music was my jam (literally), and its emphasis on exploration and the consideration of character perspective drew me to it. It’s so unorthodox, I need it!
Joesph Langdon: Necrobarista. I agree wholeheartedly with Melissa when she says you don’t learn a lot about Necrobarista from the demo. But what you do learn? It’s more than enough to hook the likes of me. Necrobarista’s narrative exists in a unique form of placing that I can only describe as the kind of play/pause explanations you get from a friend trying to get you into a new TV series. One moment things are moving forward, and the next you’re in bullet time, exploring the backstories of the world at your leisure. This plays perfectly with a game that seems to be all about time and what it’s like when you’re the only person who doesn’t have to worry about it running out.
Melissa Brinks: Keyboard Sports – Saving QWERTY! I’m a pretty dang good typist and I love typing games, but when I played this one the developer warned me that it wasn’t what I was expecting, and he was right. Keyboard Sports forces you to think of the keyboard as a controller, not as a keyboard, as you attempt to complete activities without treating your keyboard like something you use to create words. It’s a fantastic twist and also means that my skill for typing games can’t save me. I’m terrible at it, but the game is so much fun that it really doesn’t matter.
Stephani Hren: Ooblets. I know what you’re thinking: isn’t this game just some weird mash-up ripoff of Pokémon/Harvest Moon/Animal Crossing? And the answer is YES YES YES. What makes Ooblets so damn innovative is that Nonplayercat and Perplamps (the programmer/writer dream team behind the game) have decided to smash all of the best features of these classic video games together to make one badass time suck that’s destined to swallow my 2018 whole. Goodbye, free time.
GAMES THAT MIGHT BE WORTH GETTING A VR SYSTEM FOR
Joesph Langdon: Stifled. I played Stifled at the behest of my friends, who wanted to see the demo, but had no intention of strapping themselves in for a first-person VR horror game focused on immersion. I’m glad I did. There’s so many little features in the game that seem to tie together really well to form a thrilling experience. Accessibility for those with motion sickness is built into the camera controls, the sound design is thrilling, and (what I think it’s primary drawing point) the VR system’s microphone picks up the sounds you as a player make to both help you see (via echolocation) and alert terrifying enemies of your presence.
Melissa Brinks: In all honesty, I didn’t get a chance to play any VR at this show because I kept forgetting to sign up. But if I had, it would have been Moss, an action-adventure puzzle game in stunning virtual reality. I’ve heard amazing things about it, and Quill is an absolutely adorable character. The rich colors of the world and what I’ve heard about the game’s ambition make me cautiously optimistic that this might be the game that finally convinces me that VR is worth picking up.
Stephani Hren: I’m going to be real here: when it comes to new tech I’m very mass-consumer-y. I want my products to be done done done before I buy them. As it stands, the last time I tried a VR setup (the Oculus, back in 2015-ish) the goggles were super uncomfortable with glasses, so I’m hesitant to jump on the VR bandwagon. But if I was going to get on board, it’d be because of games like The American Dream, a satirical look at Americans’ obsession with guns. Who doesn’t want to trade in their hands for a pair of pistols and then relearn how to drive a car all over again?
GAME WITH CHARACTERS I MOST WANT TO SMOOCH
Joesph Langdon: Let’s just say it, we’re all here for smooching the characters from Monster Prom. There is not a single character in this game I would not kiss (or otherwise). Tied for top of my list is: Polly the party girl poltergeist whose eyes I would definitely spend 27 hours staring into, Damien the demon who had me straight up say, “Oh, FUCK” in front of the developer the first time he bared his teeth, and Yellow, the player character I would totally be in love with if I were not already playing them.
Melissa Brinks: Did I create this category solely so I could talk about how much I loved Monster Prom? Maybe. But look–I know I have a reputation for being heart-eyed about horseboys, but my real love is for werewolves, and this game’s werewolf boyfriend is just–he’s just–I can’t, I just can’t, okay? One of the developers described him to me as “a good boy,” and it’s just so true, he is a sweet puppy man and we’re getting married next Tuesday.
(All the other characters are also very smoochable but this is one of the only times a sweet werewolf boy has not turned out to secretly be a huge dick so just let me have this, okay?)
Stephani Hren: It’s unanimous, no other game can out-smoochable Monster Prom. Personally I was torn between Vera (she of the hair made of snakes) and Liam (he of the fangs and suspenders). Direct quote from me while I was playing the demo: “I want to step on Liam and be stepped on by Vera.” Other characters I would make kiss my Converse include: everyone. Literally everyone. Even Juan the cat. (Maybe especially Juan the cat?)
Joesph Langdon: Secret of Mana. This Secret of Mana, a remake of the 1993 action RPG, is a game I have exactly zero intention of playing, but I think everyone else should. Specifically everyone else not already in love with the original SNES classic. Gone are all of the clunky, annoying, aspects of early(ish) game design (except the absolutely wild menu system). Instead there’s a gorgeous, sparkly, and accessible game that I truly believe has the power to draw people into one of the truly nostalgic games that got me into gaming in the first place.
Melissa Brinks: Heaven Will Be Mine, for sure. This only gets honorable mention because I already invented two kind of silly categories to talk about other games and “best game about space lesbians” was a bit too niche. But you really can’t go wrong with the team behind We Know the Devil, and this Gundam-inspired visual novel about fighting and kissing during an intergalactic war looks incredible from just the brief snippet I played at PAX. Can’t wait to kiss Pluto.
Stephani Hren: Aegis Defenders surprised me! I’m bad at platformers, sidescrollers, and tower defense games, and yet somehow I loved it–but then, I’m also a sucker for couch co-op and a good mentor/mentee relationship. I also had the chance to demo Reigns: Her Majesty (follow up to the popular Tinder-esque game where you swipe left and right to make decisions while you rule a kingdom). It was a cheekier, more plot-driven follow up to the first game, and I’m super pumped for it to hit the app store.
Melissa Brinks is Sidequest’s editor in chief, co-creator of the Fake Geek Girls podcast, author of The Compendium of Magical Beasts, and an aspiring beekeeper. She once won an argument on the internet, and tweets at @MelissaBrinks.