After three years away, I finally made it back to PAX East – and in official MAGFest capacity to boot! I had the distinct pleasure of helping run MAGFest’s social media over the weekend as well as kicking off their brand new blog, which you can check out here. While everyone else was busy making sure that the MAGFest Jamspace didn’t catch on fire and that all of our wonderful guests were there and properly mic’d, I spent the weekend WATCHING those shows… and getting my hands on some sweet sweet vidja games. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the livestream, and/or if you’re curious about the newest and hottest games, I’ve got you covered. If you want to jump between the music and the games in this article, just CTRL+F this page for #games or #music.
Cramming almost a day and a half straight of live music into a three day weekend is no small feat, but the MAGCrew with lots of help from geekbeatradio & BOSTON8BIT came through. There were all sorts of great non-chiptune acts – The Doubleclicks and Sarah Donner played on Sunday providing some wonderful acoustic filk-y goodness, HUMANWINE played some absolutely haunting tunes, The World is Square was adorable as always and The Videri String Quartet was so well attended due to mind-blowing skill we actually had to open the doors to make sure we didn’t make a fire hazard…but this is Chiptunes = WIN, not VGM = WIN!
Astro Logic kicked off the chiptunes on Friday with a simple 1xLSDJ setup – proof that you really don’t need more than a Game Boy and a copy of LSDJ to throw down. DonutShoes came in as a unique combo of computer-based chiptunes with live sax and trumpet accompaniment. Bifflecup’s set that followed might more accurately be called the “Diamond Machine and Friends” set as both Astro Logic and Diamond Machine joined Bifflecup on stage for a combo of Game Boy and violin.
Saturday, we had Robot and the Wizard as the first chiptune act, a couple of dudes who put on a very calming and atmospheric guitar/computer based chiptune duo. The duo train continued with a combination set of MC Facepalm and Sam Mulligan – and Facepalm’s intense nerdcore rap balanced against Sam’s goofy happy Game Boy/guitar combo was perfect. T-T)b is basically a better dressed ANAMANAGUCHI circa 2010, and I mean that in the best possible way. Crunk Witch definitely took the award for most animated during their set – somehow, Brandon Miles finds the energy to jump around the stage like a grasshopper on cocaine while still being able to hit Freddie Mercury-esque notes. Professor Shyguy came out and used his patented crowd-mingling techniques to great effect even before Mega Ran hopped up on stage to spit some covers. After a quick break, we had Death’s Medicine kick off the Chiptune Dance Party with some downtempo club-style tracks. Glenntai followed shortly thereafter with his signature silly banter interspersed between his music he wanted so desperately to screw up but fought fate and kept it together despite his lowest expectations. Nanode took the prize for being both the youngest performer and probably youngest attendee of the Chiptune Dance Party (to say nothing of shaming the rest of us by being that good at age 18) and Diamond Machine finished out the night bringing us all full circle with rockin’ Game Boy jams.
Now, you might have noticed that even only sparing a sentence per performer, that was a giant wall of text – and truth be told, the whole event was a wall of music. Most of the performers were locals and I’ve gotta say that it makes me sad the Boston scene isn’t as cohesive as it used to be because they’ve got a hell of a lot of good acts just begging to be put back in the spotlight. If you’d like to learn more about the chiptune acts that played at Jamspace, check out the links below:
If you’ve never seen the expo hall at a PAX event, I’m not sure mere words can confer the mayhem present when you look down upon it. The makeup of which booths go where is a complicated swirl of independent groups and big name companies that surely only makes sense to a mind capable of planning spaces in four dimensions, but somehow it all fits every year and everyone finds their way around. I got my hands on nine new (or in a few cases, new to me) games this year, so I’d like to tell you about them. In no particular order:
This was the only AAA game I cared about at PAX East. I’m not ashamed of that fact. The last several Kirby games have been on point in terms of content, difficulty and pacing as well as use of Kirby’s myriad of abilities and Planet Robobot does not fail to do the same. As with the last few Kirby games, most of the game is done as a traditional 2D/2.5D platformer, with the addition of one gimmick to shake up some of the levels. If you somehow haven’t guessed it by now, this game’s gimmick is a robot suit a la the first episode of Gurren Lagann. The robot suit still has the ability to copy abilities, granting you LUDICROUS POWER to muck about the level with. Since the plot and aesthetic of this game is basically “what happens if The Borg take over Pop Star” all the enemies are slightly cybernetic – which is great, because it allows some really cool redos to Kirby’s classic foes. (Spoiler, yes, the first boss is Whispy Woods. Continued spoiler, the fight is no longer the same.) If you’re a Kirby fan, buy this. If you’re not a Kirby fan, you’re wrong, and you should buy it anyway.
Rain World, brought to you by Adult Swim games and Boston chiptune’s own BR1GHT PR1MATE, is a game where you take control of Slugcat, a small squishy creature just trying to stay alive in a horrible world. Your goal is to collect enough food between cycles of rain to be able to hibernate in a shelter and make it to the next one. Your journey is fraught with terrifying creatures such as mutant lizards and centipedes with naught to defend yourself with but the occasional rock and stick. This game is tough, but if you’ve recently honed your reflexes by playing a game like Hyper Light Drifter, and if you spent your youth playing games that required precision jumping, you’ll make it through. The game should hopefully be out this or next year, so keep an eye on it.
Ever since Tribute games became their own studio, they’ve been making solid games – and Flint Hook is no exception. You’re a space pirate armed with a grappling hook, a gun, and a belt that slows time (in addition to various sub-weapons). You must make your way through procedurally generated pirate ships using your grappling hook to snake your way through screens like something out of Spider-Man, slowing down time with your belt to find enemies’ hidden weaknesses and grab that booty before hightailing it out of there. If you’re a fan of both Spelunky and Metroid, you’ll like this game.
SPEAKING OF METROID, we’ve got Axiom Verge. This game (and its stellar soundtrack) have been out for a while, but I managed to somehow keep missing it. I hate to just say “This game is Metroid!” because maybe that sounds like I’m dismissing it as some shoddy clone, but let me assure you that while the actual gameplay itself is very reminiscent of the Metroid franchise, the story is something quite unique and will keep you going. I can’t sing this game’s praises high enough. You really shouldn’t even still be reading this, you should be throwing Tom Happ your wallet right now.
Pyre is what happens when you’ve had a couple of beers, you’re playing NBA Jam, and you think to yourself “Alright…but what if this was an RPG?” Without spoiling too much plot, your avatar character works with the three characters pictured in the promo art to play what effectively amounts to tactical basketball – you bounce back and forth between the three characters, and the objective is to get your character, with the ball, into your opponent’s goal. There are a number of challenges – layout of the level, the fact that enemy players can zap your character into oblivion temporarily (although you can do the same to them) – that make this more than just a simple sports game. Between each match, you have a chance to get to know the characters better, and to choose between trying to find goods to buy and sell, to give one character free XP to try to power level them, or to study a book (which is the crux of the plot) in order to unlock new abilities for your team. Because there are so many tiny things you can do that offer vastly different results, you’ll be playing back through this game over and over just to find it all.
I like survival horror. I like excessively British settings. I like 1984. I like Equilibrium and The Giver. But none of that was able to help me with We Happy Few, despite it being all of those things. We Happy Few is not a game for casual gamers – it will fight you if you try to treat it like Bioshock, and you will lose. The plot of the game is teased out to you very slowly, but you soon learn you’re in a world dominated by people who take literal happy pills, and you have to get to the bottom of what’s going on behind the scenes. Craft your own items from things you find in your ruined town, but beware of doing it near other people – the other residents have become rather detached from reality and may fight you. Don’t fight the law enforcement unless you want to have a bad time. Do sweet parkour jumps up broken buildings. The game comes out on both PC and console soon, so keep your eyes peeled – fans of procedurally generated survival horror games, this is Christmas come early for you.
The fourth game in the Momodora franchise (and the second available on Steam), this has all the delightful SNES-style graphics you could ever ask from a 2D action platformer. This game is notable in the franchise for having much larger sprites – not only does this change the scale of the game somewhat from its predecessors, but it also allows for much more expressive sprites than before taking it away from Cave Story and making it much more like Mercenary Kings. I know the 16-bit sprite-art Metroidvania market is flooded these days, but you won’t be disappointed with Momodora by any stretch – the combat is rewarding, and while the plot is slow to come, the art and soundtrack are so great you won’t mind it taking a while to make sense what you’re doing.
I did literally just say the market on Metroidvania games is flooded, and Chasm continues that trend. Additionally, you’ll notice that several of the games I’ve mentioned so far also feature procedurally generated levels, and this is no exception – although honestly I didn’t even realize that that was the case until I was in the pause menu and noticed the seed number down at the bottom of the screen. This DOES mean that it’s possible to play the same version of the game as your friends by entering the same world seed, which is great. Honestly, it’s hard to improve on the design laid down by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but Chasm does it by taking basically anything that was bad or at the very least annoying and just…getting rid of it, or otherwise replacing it with a better system. The enemies feel very good in this game – especially the boss fight. If you lost hours to SotN or the GBA/DS Castlevania games, you’re gonna want to hop on this real quick.
Hey, we had this game at MAGFest 13! 20XX is, unabashedly, a clone of the Mega Man X franchise. Unlike MMX, the game is both co-op and is a roguelike – meaning that one of you gets to be a jump’n’shoot, the other gets to have a sword, and you go through each level to find new powerups each time around: it means you’ll actually want to play it over and over again. It’s still in early access right now, but the game feels great – and with the promise of daily speedrun challenges, this may be the new sleeper hit for Mega Man X speedrunners everywhere.
Even after all that, that’s nowhere near everything that happened at PAX East – heck, I barely even covered what we did in Jamspace! Even so, this should be enough to keep you going for a little while…and keep an eye out on MAGFest’s official YouTube for when the stream rips get uploaded there.