Con Report: Best of PAX South 2016

It’s the second year of PAX South, and our second year of being invited to cover it! This year at PAX South, we saw another bumper crop of awe-inspiring titles. Now that we’ve had a chance to discuss and reflect on everything we saw, let’s pick our favorite games of PAX South 2016!

About the Awards

Whenever WOTS goes to a con, we find games that really speak to us. We try to bring those to your attention by finding our favorites and featuring them. Our categories often change from con to con, depending on what’s popular and what we feel is deserving of recognition. All of the games on this list are ones that you should check out – they’re our hand-picked suggestions after weeks of research and three crazy days on the PAX South 2016 expo floor.

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Together, we decide on a “Best in Show” for a particular category, and then if there’s a particular game one of us wants to highlight, we’ll give that an “Editor’s Choice” award. Our highest honor is the “Shut Up and Take My Money” award, which we give to the game that we have already decided we MUST own.

Best Adventure

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Winner: Night in the Woods

Infinite Fall & Finji | Home

agent86 Night in the Woods grabbed my attention at the Finji booth, and as soon as I started playing it I knew it was something special. The art style is striking but not overly cluttered. The “cat’s paws” interactive sequences are charming and fun. The dialog stands tall among some of my favorite game dialog of all time – it’s well written, feels “real,” and really sells the characters. I didn’t get nearly as much time with it as I wanted, but I got the impression that it is very character and relationship driven. I’m looking forward to sinking my paws and claws into it at release!

EBongo Night in the Woods was one of the few titles I didn’t get to play, as I was at the time embroiled in a “pine cone caper” with the denizens of Feist. After talking it over with agent86ix I was impressed by the juxtaposition of the “fundamental” art style and color scheming with an irreverent narrative that I would not have expected. It definitely sounds like my cup of tea, and I’m eager to give it a try as soon as I can my hands on it.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): The Little Acre

It takes something for a point and click adventure game to get my attention, because as I’ve aged I’m not blessed with nearly as much of it. Something about the attitude and art style of The Little Acre grabs me and drags me into its world of fantasy and kid hijinks. I definitely have a soft spot for the young protagonist “Lily” who feistily devises a new way to cause trouble every few minutes. If my family dog was half as effective in defusing mayhem, I would have a lot more date nights. The engaging characters and charming art make The Little Acre a story I want to know more about, and I recommend you check it out.

Best FPS

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Winner: Black Ice

Super Duper Game Company | Home | Steam

agent86 Black Ice has evolved significantly in the last year, and I was doubly impressed when I played it again at PAX South 2016. I got a taste of some of the wackier weapons, like a giant laser-shooting disco ball and some sort of explosive shotgun… thing. From what I understand, the game’s story and world are significantly more fleshed out. I could see myself investing quite a long time mastering its various items, weapons, and mechanics.

EBongo While gorging ourselves on all of the games of this year’s PAX, we didn’t have a lot of time to check out games we’d already played.. but Black Ice was one we just couldn’t pass up. The bright neon buildings and 3D-space-invaderish-robot-defense-drone-things make the setting a place that is just damn fun to shoot a gun. When you layer on the progression of better gear and harder enemies time passes and you want to just keep playing “one more hack”. If I knew hackers had to be taking on a level 100 building in Black Ice every time XBox Live got DDoSed I might not even mind. Ok I would probably still mind… unless they streamed it.

Best Platformer

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Winner: Flat Kingdom

Fat Panda Games Studio & Games Starter | Home | Steam Greenlight

agent86 After just a few minutes of Flat Kingdom, I was struck by how intuitive the game was. Flat’s various shapes are mapped to the face buttons of a PlayStation controller, and so pressing Triangle turns him into a speedy triangle, Square makes him slow but powerful, and Circle gives him round corners and a double jump. Like all genius game mechanics, it’s so simple and obvious once you’ve learned it, you wish you’d thought of it yourself!

EBongo The cool thing about a game like Flat Kingdom is just how accessible it is. Adults get it, kids get it, pretty much everyone gets it. The concept makes sense, and quickly becomes the stuff of tactile “game language” that your hands just know how to speak. I also really love the “paper-rock-scissors” system for attacking enemies. With the demo I was muttering “circle beats square… no triangle”, but I’m confident within a few hours I could become a geometric death machine. The late game mashup possibilities are nearly endless, so I’m very interested to see where this one goes.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Light Fall

Light Fall returned this year, with lot’s of new progress but the same “wind in your ears” feel to it that I can’t wait to play. The Shadow Core retains its status as one of the coolest platformer mechanics I’ve seen to date. I’m still drooling….

Best RTS

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Winner: Okhlos

Coffee Powered Machine & Devolver | Home | Steam

agent86 Okhlos somehow marries the dual stick shooter with RTS games in a way that I really wasn’t expecting. It makes managing a mob seem both chaotic and powerful at the same time.

EBongo Okhlos pairs great gameplay with a really entertaining concept. agent86ix and I certainly had some good times just attacking the various tropes of classic mythology, but I found the subtle “leader” mechanics equally delightful. The way the leader incites riots but does not participate, and the way the horde elects a new leader in event of leader death – little touches like these had me smirking even as the mayhem unfolded.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): Crush Your Enemies

I’ve got to give props to Crush Your Enemies. It’s deceptively simple – each map I played fit easily within the bounds of the screen. That said, the mechanics and strategy became deep quickly, without ever veering into overly complex territory.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): We are Legion

I wanted to give a mention to We Are Legion. With the simple concept of focusing on “macro” instead of “micro”, Legion hits on an entertaining (and likely more realistic) way of viewing a big battle. Seeing my the throngs of my amassed armies clash against the enemy like deal-crazy grandmothers on Black Friday is just plain fun.

Most Promising Plot

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Winner: Night in the Woods

Infinite Fall & Finji | Home

agent86 Night in the Woods was a shoe-in for this one, as the dialog is dripping with sarcasm and humor. I can also relate to Mae’s feelings upon returning home after being away, and the mysteries surrounding her home town of Possum Springs kept me wanting to see where the story was going.

EBongo After a brief discussion with agent86ix it was unanimous. To the most sarcastic plot goes the spoils.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): Karaski: What Goes Up…

Karaski’s promise of mystery and intrigue has me, well… intrigued! According to the devs, playtesters have walked away convinced the mystery should have been solved different ways. Piecing together clues and interrogating suspects in a very ambiguous situation sounds like my idea of a fascinating story-based game.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Banner Saga 2

Also worth a mention is the gripping, somber plot of Banner Saga 2. Fans of the first game will find that their choices effect the plot of the second game Mass Effect style, and in my brief experience with it I found there was already a lot of depth of choices and unexpected events that made me feel very connected to the story that was unfolding.

Best Game Art

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Winner: The Little Acre

Pewter Games Studios | Home | Steam Greenlight

agent86 The Little Acre is a beautiful game. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Every little bit of the art brought a smile to my face.

EBongo The happiness in the art of The Little Acre is palpable. It was pleasant and refreshing to engage with and it paired well with the “low stress” adventure puzzle solving. I look forward to seeing the rest of The Little Acre just as much as I look forward to to playing it.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): Epistory

Epistory‘s art has a very distinctive papercraft, origami style. I also like the use of typography as a visual and gameplay element – part of the scenery as well as part of the way you interact with the world.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Banner Saga 2

Banner Saga 2 continues the excellent art style of the original, and it really adds a lot of the immersion. The grim expressions on many faces, the slow deliberate progress of the caravan, and especially that flapping red banner in its stalwart lead position all get me feeling like I’ve got a maul cocked on my shoulder and some Dredge in my way that need a good pummeling.

Best Kid Friendly Game

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Winner: The Little Acre

Pewter Games Studios | Home | Steam Greenlight

agent86 My kids are generally pretty picky about what they’re willing to watch, but I think The Little Acre is going to be an easy sell. Lily’s adventures on the farm with her faithful pup trying to keep her out of trouble are completely charming. Meanwhile, Aidan’s exploration of the fantasy world in which he is trapped is imaginative and fun.

EBongo Being a gamer dad of two young kids means two things: First, there are only so many hours where murdering zombies/aliens/soldiers is an approved activity for the living room TV. Second, when I look at a game, I can’t help but unconsciously weigh the likelihood that it will play well with the under 10 crowd. The Little Acre threads the narrow gap of a game that can be enjoyable for both adults and kids, and it was the first game I showed off to my brood when I returned from PAX South.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): Color Thief

Color Thief is a puzzle game that focuses its story around a color changing chameleon who is trying to unravel the mystery of his (mostly) grayscale world. It’s bright and primary colored, but it’s also got some devilish puzzles up its sleeves. This would be a good one to play for the kids to watch, or to help them start to understand problem solving while using their imaginations.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Neighborhorde

Dallas Society of Play had a cool indie called Neighborhorde which married somewhat chaotic top down 4 player coop with the fanciful arsenal and enemies of a child’s imagination. Kids will probably get a chuckle out of battling it out against “feet”, and if you don’t think I’d laugh at weaponized “poo”… you don’t know me.

Best Tower Defense

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Winner: Infinium Strike

Codex Worlds | Home | Steam

agent86 Infinium Strike is a deep, layered, tactical tower defense game. Despite the initial feeling of complexity, I very quickly understood the various tradeoffs Infinium Strike was asking me to make. Making a game that focuses on strategy without coming off as overly difficult is a challenge, but from what I’ve seen of Infinium Strike so far, Codex Worlds is up to the challenge.

EBongo Infinium Strike makes blasting crap in space look really, really pretty. Even losing results in some satisfyingly epic explosions. If blowing up the Wrog is wrong, I don’t want to be right…

Best Co-Op

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Winner: Enter the Gungeon

Dodge Roll & Devolver | Home | Steam

agent86 OMG Enter the Gungeon co-op on that massive screen! Totally was not expecting that. Also I love how the second player is basically intentionally relegated to the role of “sidekick” and gets made fun of at every turn.

EBongo I’m pretty sure agent86ix is going to be on nerf duty, but he’ll probably still out-gun me. Either way, I can’t wait to get into Enter the Gungeon with the fully assembled WOTS bullet death squad.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): Mutant Alien Assault

Mutant Alien Assault seemed really straightforward when I first picked up the controller, but very quickly it was clear that communication and effective coordination were co-op keys. The wide range of objectives on each level kept things fresh. My donut of death hungers for alien blood!

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Neighborhorde

The laid back 4 person hack and slash of Neighborhorde isn’t especially deep, but it is especially chillaxed. This chill accessibility makes for a tasty coop cocktail when playing with younger gamers that aren’t quite ready for the full weight of guns and dungeons.

Best Party Mayhem Game/Relationship Ender

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Winner: Ultimate Chicken Horse

Clever Endeavour Games | Home | Steam

agent86 Ultimate Chicken Horse is a game I can definitely see stealing my next gaming party. It seems so easy at first, and then you’ve got crossing, double crossing, triple crossing, bacon cheese-crossing and so much more. I lost track of the number of times I snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. My gecko shall rise again!

EBongo The concept of a competitive platformer would almost seem impossible, if I hadn’t just seen Ultimate Chicken Horse pull it off with style. What starts as a few basic hurdles quickly escalates to obscene levels of splat-forming that usually end with someone taking things too far (a buzz saw above the spawn? come on!).

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Gurgamoth Lives

Its been a while since I’ve liked a game that I was so bad at, but Gurgamoth Lives has that kind of magic party game chaos that makes me believe I can do better the next time even when all evidence clearly suggests the contrary. agent86ix and several other PAX South attendees were kind enough to repeatedly introduce my cultist to every pointy body-destroying object they could find… but on the few occasions I turned the tables I couldn’t help but cheer. Gurgamoth Lives is a great choice for any couch coop get together where pandemonium and pulpy explosions are appreciated.

One To Watch

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Winner: Final Station

Do My Best Games & tinyBuild | Home | Steam

agent86 Final Station has some intriguing systems tucked inside its two game modes. I ran into some issues with the difficulty – mostly I moved on by throwing myself at enemies and hoping for a checkpoint. However, I do think it’s got some really cool ideas, and I’m anxious to see where the game is after a bit more polish.

EBongo Zombies don’t like me. Maybe they are jealous of my skillz.. Final Station was no exception, and as I tried to “live and let un-live” I still got my flesh eaten numerous times. The concept, gunplay, and pixel art are all intriguing and I’m interested to see where this one goes. Reload before you go down those ladders…

Repeat Offender

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Winner: Enter the Gungeon

Dodge Roll & Devolver | Home | Steam

agent86 Enter the Gungeon was definitely a highlight of PAX South 2015, and it was no less impressive this year. Dave mentioned that they’ve got something like 175 guns ready to go, with 180 unique items. Plus, there are all sorts of unlocks, bonuses, and minigames on tap. I’m excited that very soon, I will have a Gungeon of my very own to explore!

EBongo Returning to PAX South this year Enter the Gungeon was probably my most anticipated game, and it did not disappoint. Co-op is an amazing addition, and the bulging stable weapons has my finger already itching to murder some bullets… with bullets.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): Black Ice

Black Ice had been in Early Access for a good 6 months before we saw it last year, and in another year’s worth of development it’s only gotten bigger and better. Garrett said he’s shooting for 1.0 in 2016, and we’re psyched to see him hit that milestone!

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Knight Squad

We saw some old favorites at PAX South, and some we had to pass by to make time for the new, though it vexed us. The struggle is real folks. That said Knight Squad is one of those games that when a free controller is held up, I literally don’t have the physical capacity to say no. I drilled. I sworded. I ripped. When all was said and done several Grails were sitting on my shelf as well, and my only regret is that duty called me away before I could knock helmets with more fellow PAX South knights.

Pleasant Surprise

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Winner: Automata Empire

Nonadecimal Creative | Home | Steam

agent86 I was really not expecting to play any exclusive, never-before-seen games at the IndieGameStand party on Saturday night, but Automata Empire was there for its first public appearance! It is easily one of the most unique RTS games I’ve ever played, and I’m looking forward to playing more.

EBongo Automata Empires’s complex “mathy” movement patterns immediately caught my eye, and as I understood better their rhyme and reason it resembled SpaceChem as an RTS. Empire’s mathematical “micro” is likely to be just as entertaining as the combat. I’m so glad we bumped into this one at the IndieGameStand event.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): Omnibus

I had played the demo of Omnibus in the hotel prior to our meeting with the folks from Devolver. I thought I knew what to expect… However, I didn’t really try out the “free play” mode or the multiplayer mayhem. Both of those were very awesome when we played them on the show floor!

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): We Are Legion

There are those games when you walk around PAX… games you didn’t expect to find that found you. Somewhere in the maze of aisles we found We Are Legion, or it found us. I’ve already mentioned that its a good lightweight RTS, but in also just has the refreshing taste of something undiscovered. I later discovered that its developed by Pwnee Studios of Cloudberry Kingdom fame, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a total surprise – but don’t ruin it. I discovered this game’s awesomeness.

The “Finger Pricking Good” Award

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Winner: Den Vanstra Handens Stig

Newmark Software | Home | Steam Greenlight

agent86 The initial title for this award was “most discussed” or “most thought provoking,” but then I came up with this pun and we just decided to roll with it :) This game was easily our most discussed title – we spent hours debating Den Vanstra while at PAX South. Is it a game? What does it mean? What message is M. James Short trying to give us? Are we going to get hepatitis or HIV first? I could write quite a bit about it, and I’m sure I will soon. For now, you can puzzle along with us.

EBongo As we were hanging out at the booth watching the AI progress, a passing PAX attendee came up and started getting the pitch on the AI, the button, and the blood sacrifice. Before he even heard the needle was removed he was mashing the button. The reactions of people to the game were just as intriguing as the game itself, and as agent86ix mentions – we had no shortage of discussions about it.

Best Insane Physics Sandbox

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Winner: Omnibus

Buddy Cops & Devolver | Home | Steam

agent86 Omnibus is hilariously silly. I love the destructible environments and the crazy objectives. The boss fights are insane! The cherry on top is that 4-player battle royale mode.

EBongo Physics games are usually not my thing, but playing Omnibus really won me over. The ridiculous trick names reminded me of button spamming combos in the long lost days of Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Possibly the best aspect of the game though was the 4 player head to head mode full of over the top collisions and occasional “turtle-on-its-back” resurrections that will have everyone in the room cheering and jeering as the mayhem unfolds.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): Clustertruck

Clustertruck has a very simple premise, but it’s executed beautifully. And by “beautifully” I mean “they threw a highway full of tractor trailers into each other.” I have a weird definition of beauty, I guess. Definitely a game you should play with an audience!

Best Mobile Game

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Winner: Dungelot: Shattered Lands

Red Winter & tinyBuild | Home | Steam | iOS

agent86 I have logged many hours in the original Dungelot, and the new monsters, items, bosses, etc in Shattered Lands have me itching to tap a whole bunch more skeletons and bats.

EBongo A dungeon-crawling meta layered on top of Minesweeper-esque tile exploration? Yeah, it seems pretty innevitable Dungelot: Shattered Lands was going to top my list for mobile games I’ll be sinking hours into. Cow boss, I’m coming for you.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): Crush Your Enemies

Did I mention earlier that Crush Your Enemies has a mobile version? It totally does. The straightforward and clear design of this RTS make it a perfect match for marathon phone strategy sessions.

The “Shut Up and Take My Money Award” for Best Overall Game

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Winner: Zombie Night Terror

NoClip & Gambitious | Home | Steam

agent86 We walked up to the Gambitious booth and were told that Zombie Night Terror was “Lemmings meets Night of the Living Dead” I thought they were joking. After seeing and playing a few minutes, though, I realized what an apt description that really was. Zombie Night Terror has all sorts of tactical, puzzle-filled strategy that makes me hunger for braaaains… err, I mean, more time to play it.

EBongo As we compared notes on all the great games we’d seen, we were in surprising agreement that Zombie Night Terror stole the show. The art style and gameplay felt polished, and even in the short demo I could see some of the best ideas from Lemmings mashed up with new takes on “horde management puzzling” – all with excellent tie ins to the zombie-attack theme. Did some of my zombies die? Well… yeah, but you got a break a few eggs to make an omelette.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): Enter the Gungeon

Enter the Gungeon won several of our Editor’s Choice awards at PAX South, and I’m seriously hoping I get to play it soon. It looks flat-out amazing, and I fully expect it to be one of 2016’s most talked about games.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Banner Saga 2

Another highly decorated title by WOTS, I’ve no doubt that Banner Saga 2 will enjoy many accolades just like it’s predecessor. If tactical combat, beauty, and choice driven stories are things you like you’ve got to check this one out. If not, you might still be a good person… I mean there is that chance, but there’s no way for me to be sure.

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