Demos I Played at PAX West 2022

I finally went to PAX for the first time! It was a lot of fun, definitely met my expectations and was also somehow even larger than I thought it would be. I went on Saturday, admittedly because Reggie Fils-Aimé was at a panel that day, but that also was likely the busiest day so unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try out much because of the long lines. However, I do have a few to write about 🙂

Rift of the Necrodancer

This is a game that I didn’t even realize was announced until I saw people playing the demo at PAX. I played the original Crypt of the Necrodancer and I really liked the concept of it but ultimately I think the dungeon crawling and rogue-like aspects weren’t for me, so seeing a “pure” rhythm game from the same developers definitely piqued my curiosity.

I’m not sure how far along they are in development, but I was able to play two stages, one mini game, and one boss fight. No release window as far as I can tell though, so it might be a while before we see the full game.

In a PAX full of indie Doom-clones and 2D side scrollers (like seriously, your local Metroidvania fangirl here got some Metroidvania burnout there), Rift of the Necrodancer stood out so much and I really hope it ends up being a good kind of weird game and not a bad one. @samred called it “It’s Guitar Hero + Rhythm Heaven + Punch-Out, each with clever twists,” and yeah that seems pretty accurate. It feels really unique.

The standard stages consist of enemies coming down a guitar hero-esque track, with different enemies having different movement patterns. For example, the bats would jump to an adjacent track after the first hit. Skeletons would walk up and down the track. The short video clip on their Steam page does a good job of demonstrating the gimmick.

The boss fight involved dodging at the right timing via telegraphed attacks and then attacking on time with the beat. I found that this just required a bunch of trial and error, and it was moderately challenging, but it was pretty fun once I get into the rhythm of it. I’m definitely excited to see how later boss fights would play out and what other mechanics they could add.

The mini game was, uh, rhythmic yoga?? It makes more sense in context, sorta.

The artstyle is pretty neat too. It’s a big shift from the standard pixel art of Crypt. It’s very clean and stylish, I’m a huge fan. It feels pretty unique too. And of course, the music is amazing.

All in all, the devs have a good track record and the game felt smooth to play. I liked this one a lot.

The Last Case of Benedict Fox

I did not like this one. The concept was cool and the artstyle is up my alley, but I struggle to find any other good things to say about this demo.

I was really interested in this one after seeing it in the Rogue Games indie-panel because I like Metroidvanias and I also really like this kind of aesthetic and detective stories. However, the game felt super clunky and sort of terrible to play. The controls felt super unresponsive, somewhat laggy.

One issue that I brought up as feedback to the developers was that the method of using the healing item was super confusing. I know this sounds petty, but apparently it also happened to the players before us in line. You’re expected to use the potion Dark Souls style where you use the left/right d-pad to select it, and then up to consume. However, the location of it is on the upper right of the screen, which is not easy to notice, but the bigger issue was that if you go into the menu, you can view the potion and its description/appearance, but you can’t actually use it. So here I am wasting time in my timed demo trying to figure out how to use a potion because I’m assuming that I can consume it in the item menu.

To be honest, the tutorial as a whole was pretty bad. The game’s combat is pretty awkward – you only have 4 health in the beginning of the game, which is quite punishing, and you have a tiny knife that has no range. I’m also pretty sure there was no dodge button. I kept trying to awkwardly kite and kept dying until we found that there was a parry when looking at the controls menu. At this point we realized that the game was built around close combat and parrying, but did not even realize that was a mechanic. Then we ran out of time.

To be completely honest, I do worry that the only reason I didn’t like it is because I was bad at it and found it too difficult. And maybe that is the case, I don’t know. Either way it’s ultimately still a demo, so I think there’s a ton of room for improvement.

Moonscars

I did not actually play this one, but I watched my fiance play through the demo and I got his thoughts on it. I also really liked the aesthetic and artstyle of this one a lot. But since I didn’t actually play it myself, I hesitate to make a solid assessment of this game.

Moonscars is yet another Metroidvania souls-like which btw as an aside, I’m getting pretty sick of all Metroidvanias being stupidly difficult and souls-like, like it’s just gotten boring at this point (again, the burnout) — but anyway.

The controls of this game looked pretty smooth. It was fluid and fast paced, almost reminded me a bit of Dead Cells? But that might just be because we were at the Dead Cells booth earlier. It had the similar ground based stylish combat with flash telegraphed attacks from the enemies. There is also some focus on parrying in this game.

There was a surprising amount of dialogue too. I’m not sure how story focused the entire rest of the game is, but there was way more plot than I was expecting for a game like this. It seemed pretty neat.

This one is actually releasing really soon (in two weeks), so I guess I’ll keep my eye on the reviews of this game.

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