Con Report: Best of SxGaming 2016

Our second year of covering SxSW’s Gaming Expo is complete! Like all the cons we cover, it was a whirlwind ride of playing game demos, meeting cool people, and generally soaking in gaming culture. Without further ado, let’s discuss our favorite games of the con, and award our highly coveted “Best in Show” and “Editor’s Choice” awards!

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 our extensive experiences at the con.

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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 First-Person Shooter

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Winner: SUPERHOT

SUPERHOT Team | Home Steam

agent86 Man, what can I say about SUPERHOT that I haven’t already? It’s such a crisp, enjoyable, unique take on the classic FPS formula. The constant refrain of SUPER. HOT. from the booth only made me want to head home and load it back up again.

EBongo That continuous robotic chant SUPER… HOT… SUPER… HOT… – a great attention-getter for any indie devs listening. SUPERHOT is an FPS for casual and hardcore alike that is so refreshingly innovative, it will be the game other FPSs will be pointing to for a generation. For my money, this is the best use of bullet-time in a video game. Period.

Best Platformer

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Winner: Mekazoo

Good Mood Creators | Home

agent86 Mekazoo felt like Sonic – but not like modern Sonic – like classic Sonic. The tag-team mechanics took a bit of getting used to, but by the time the demo was over, I felt like I was zipping around levels like a pro. Mekazoo is also downright gorgeous to look at and listen to, which helps a lot.

EBongo When you are in the zone, Mekazoo has that awesome flow of speed and parkour that almost feels like flying. Chaining interactions and character swaps into forward momentum feels so good, I can see myself replaying levels to try and best my fastest times, or even just for the satisfaction of the execution.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): Odallus

If we’re talking platformers, no platformer at SxSW was more “platformer” than Odallus. We’re talking old-school Castlevania here, but with a distinctly modern vibe as well. If you miss the more action-oriented Castlevania installments, go grab this one!

Best Strategy

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Winner: Skyshine’s Bedlam

Skyshine & Versus Evil | Home Steam

agent86 You had me at “post apocalyptic turn-based strategy.” As a classic Fallout and Wasteland enthusiast, this is a genre I feel comfortable giving the thumbs up to. The Borderlands-esque art style helps too. With the new “Redux” version just released, it might be time to go all Mad Max up in here.

EBongo Having played a lot of Banner Saga recently, Shyshine’s Bedlam is a pretty cool rethinking of simplified turn-based tactics with a totally different setting. In chatting with the developers, its clear that they have collected a lot of user feedback to include in the “Redux” version – and coming to it fresh it sounds like the simplifications in combat will be excellent. Simple, brutal, turn-based tactics… yes, please.

Best Plot

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Winner: Pinstripe

Atmos Games | Home

agent86 Pinstripe tells the story of a lapsed minister who is sent to Hell. That right there is a concept I think I’d like to explore. The Hell represented in Pinstripe didn’t seem as “fire and brimstone” as Sunday School would have me believe, and there are a lot more jumping puzzles than I remember in my studies of the book of Revelations. The interesting characters I saw in the demo only served to make me more interested in going to Hell, which is not a sentence I thought I would ever write.

EBongo After an amazing Kickstarter success story Pinstripe is well on its way to entering the hallowed halls of Indie Game Awesomeness. Is Pinstripe the next Braid or Fez? I’ll have to play more to see, but as we chatted with developer Thomas Brush of Atmos Games it is clear why this game gets me so hyped. His energy and enthusiasm about this game and game development in general flows through every part of Pinstripe in that special awesome was that is the essence of good Indie games. I can’t wait to find out more about what happens in Hell.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): The Magic Circle

The Magic Circle tells the story of an overly ambitious game that just can’t seem to get a release. A big chunk of the plot is told via the floating avatars of the game’s creators, as they squabble over minutiae while their virtual world burns. It’s all very satirical and meta, which I adore. It also helps that they got some top-shelf voice actors – Doc Venture from Venture Bros, Garrett from Thief, etc. I was literally laughing out loud at some of the lines in just the few short minutes I had with it.

Best Game Art

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Winner: Kingdom

Licorice, Noio & Raw Fury | Home Steam

agent86 Kingdom is rocking that classic pixel art we know and love. From the bright shiny crown and our faithful steed’s misty breath to the otherworldly goblins that seem hell-bent on attacking, everything looks just low res enough while still exuding tons of detail.

EBongo I have an admitted soft spot for pixel art, but there are some games that execute it so well they are in another league. Kingdom’s parallax landscapes are jaw-droppingly beautiful. Having those beautiful vistas as a back drop to the game’s build and defend cycle contribute to why this game isn’t just good… it’s great.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Burly Men at Sea

Once in a while, I encounter a game with art and UI so innovative, I just want to experience it over and over for the sheer delight. Burly Men at Sea takes bright colors and an effortless art style and matches it with one of the smoothest touch interfaces I’ve experienced in a mobile game.

Best Kid Friendly Game

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Winner: Goat Punks

Alberto Santiago | Home

agent86 Man, Goat Punks was probably the one booth at SxSW where the kids were congregating most. Despite the fact that I’m a “professional gamer” I still came dangerously close to getting curb stomped by some 10 year old kids. I did eventually prevail, but I could see my kids giving me a run for my money…

EBongo Goats and mountains… it just makes sense. Goat Punks has that kind of pick-up-and-play accessibility that is fun for all ages, but the couch multiplayer and frequent turn-abouts make it a game that really hits it stride as a family/friends game night event. So often, winning feels almost within your grasp – but the mighty often fall and fall hard. Pick yourself back up my good goat, and charge that hill again.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Stikbold

With Minecraft-esque blocky avatars and “loser mayhem” mechanics that allow for sabotage by players who have been eliminated, Stikbold is bound to have a lot of kid appeal just at face value. The games dodgeball (and dodge.. balls) mechanics may be a little harder for the youngest to master, but then again they might want to lose on purpose for all of the fun that can be had throwing water balloons and casting fishing rods from the “losers bracket”. Although we didn’t play it at the Con, a promised story mode with co-op capability also sounds like a very kid-friendly enhancement.

One to Watch

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Winner: Aztez

Team Colorblind | Home

agent86 I’ll admit that I underestimated Aztez when I first saw it. Sidescrolling brawlers are not typically my cup of tea. But you take the sort of action you’d find in a Guacamelee and mix it with fast-paced turn based strategy a la Strange Adventures in Infinite Space, and… I’m listening. All we got to see on the con floor was the combat elements, but this is one that’s now firmly on my radar to track as the whole game develops.

EBongo The demo of sidescrolling combat for Aztez was solid. Attacks were visceral, power moves felt powerful, and their was plenty of depth in weapon combos, grapples, and enemy AI to form the basis of a strong game in its own right. The ambitions of Aztez to be something even more, in which this combat is only a small piece are what put this game on our watch list. It may take some time for this auspicious vision to be realized. Till then we’ll just have to day dream about air juggling Aztecs with our blood-thirsty face-clubs.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): Deliver us the Moon

An episodic hard sci-fi adventure/survival game in space? Hell. Yes. Deliver us the Moon just finished up a successful Kickstarter campaign, with the first episode set to drop this August. This is one I’ve got my fingers crossed about.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Fragments of Him

Somehow in 2016 I woke up and realized that “walking sims” are perhaps the perfect game type for me. I love immersive stories, and there are just so many ways a game can tell a tale that I think we’ve only just seen the beginning with games like The Stanley Parable and Firewatch. Enter Fragments of Him, a first person narrative game about a story told from multiple different perspectives after a complicating incident that sets the initial stage. It has the prospect of being a contemplative, emotional experience – and I’m very interested to see the finished product.

Repeat Offender

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Winner: Chrome Death

M. James Short/Newmark Software | Home iTunes Store

agent86 M. James Short returns once more to the Austin con scene to show his iOS title, Chrome Death. We actually interrupted a hardcore hack session in progress on the game, since he just hit the big time and made it to the iOS top charts! Congrats, man! It’s always great to see an awesome game return and get the recognition it deserves.

EBongo Some games just keep bringing you back, and Chrome Death is one of those that I am always happy to see when Newmark Software has it on show. M. James is one of the hardest working indie devs in the biz, and hearing all of the added plans he has in the works for Chrome Death have me excited about what is yet to come. Mr. Short was even nice enough to give me some tips on how to access alleys and increase my top scores… but I will probably never beat the amazing tallies set by the wunderkinds that stop by his booth every time Chrome Death is on display.

Best Tower Defense

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Winner: Eden Star

Flix Interactive | Home Steam

agent86 Eden Star is crazypants. This is one of those games where you just kind of go “that’s not possible.” It’s first person tower defense, a la Sanctum. But on top of that, it’s got base building elements similar to a Minecraft or Terraria. But wait, there’s more! It’s also a PvP land-grab shooter! With customizeable guns, robots… everything! My mind was literally so blown that I died during a sequence so easy, apparently a child could do it.

EBongo Eden Star is so ambitious, in a blind taste test I think most gamers would guess it was AAA. Resource gathering and building in 3D, high def would be fun in its own right – but layering on top of that Tower Defense and FPS mechanics and the stew starts getting pretty tasty. Flix even showed off large scale enemies and teamwork FPS mechanics (to counter them) that are in the work and coming soon. The coolest part is, you can play all of this insanity in Early Access right now.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Kingdom

In simpler, darker, times you could hire a peasant for a few gold coins and recoup your investment in just a few minutes. It feels good to don the crown, and appoint yourself ruler in Kingdom… until those damn trolls come and harsh the vibe. The game is beautiful, and the core loop is fun. Hail to the King (or Queen, as the case may be).

Best Party Mayhem Game/Relationship Ender

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Winner: Stikbold

Game Swing & Curve Digital | Home Steam

agent86 Let me just get this out of the way – I suck at Stikbold, and it was still a blast. I lost every round squarely in the first 2 minutes. Still, though, I could cause all sorts of mayhem and/or havoc by throwing water balloons or trying to “fish” for players.

EBongo Do I like Stikbold better because I repeatedly beaned agent86ix? Well it doesn’t hurt. The throw and dodge mechanics are simple and straightforward, but the mix of “loser” participation and other general mayhem thrown into every round make it one of those competitive free-for-all games that will have you cheering.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): Super Sky Arena

Remember StarFox 64‘s multiplayer? Assuming you played much of it, you’d know how unfortunately one dimensional it was. Nintendo seems like they’ve no intention of exploring the basic concept further, so leave it to indies to take that metaphorical ball and run with it! Super Sky Arena is 4-player low-orbit starship combat mayhem.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Goat Punks

We liked Goat Punks for kids, but in truth it has a frenetic core loop that would be just as fun at any adult 4-up game party. As it becomes clear that one lucky goat is nearing victory there is only one natural outcome – band together and destroy them. Fireballs, springy mushrooms, and the nuances of navigating real time goat alliances and denunciations make this a solid “mayhem” title.

Best Insane Physics Sandbox

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Winner: Home Improvisation

The Stork Burnt Down | Home Steam

agent86 Home Improvisation is one of those concepts that, as soon as you hear about it, you wonder why nobody’s made it a game before. You’ve got your crazy Ikea-inspired modular furniture, but you’ve lost the assembly instructions. What are you going to do? In my case, I made a franken-chair that was probably comfortable if you were a giraffe.

EBongo Putting furniture together without instructions is hard… unless you have a peg gun. Home Improvisation starts as tongue-in-cheek commentary on the IKEA world a lot of gamers live in – but after the first chuckles are over, what’s left is a genuinely entertaining physics game. Whether you want to go for “perfection”, race vs. a friend, or just build insane Homer Simpson-esque contraptions – once you pick up your peg gun, you’ll find it hard to put down.

Best Mobile Game

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Winner: _Prism

Clint Siu | Home iTunes Store

agent86 _Prism has that low-key geometric puzzle vibe of a game like The Room, but in a more abstract and calming setting. At first it seemed simple, but each new level introduced new and brain twisting mechanics to the mix. If you’ve got a compatible device and you love puzzle games, go for it!

EBongo Geometry puzzles with touch manipulation mechanics? Where do I sign? _Prism was as fun to interact with and experience, as it was to puzzle out. The transformations and manipulations have a great zen feel – and the end result has a perfect blend of interaction and “chill” relaxation.

Editor’s Choice (agent86): Rise and Destroy

There’s just something soothing about destroying everything. There really ought to be more games like this – pick a set of silly kaiju, and go to town on some unsuspecting city.

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

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Winner: The Magic Circle

Question | Home Steam

agent86 This was the game that EBongo had to physically pull me away from. I just wanted to sit there and play it. (Although I did offer to let Kotaku’s Evan Narcisse have a turn). The story is intriguing, and the gameplay is very much my speed – most of the gameplay is hacking objects and enemies and making them do your bidding. I can really get behind the whole “huge corporate project gone terribly wrong” angle as well.

EBongo “Hack the game” is an underused game concept, but certainly titles like Hack N Slash have explored the concept before. The Magic Circle takes the idea and runs with it in such a unique way it has to be experienced. Get out and play this game now. When everyone else wants to talk about plot spoilers (or the games excellent voice acting) – you’ll say you were playing The Magic Circle before it was cool…

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Pinstripe

Pinstripe has its hooks in me, deep. I want to follow this minister into Hell (and hopefully back). I want to go on this adventure. When this game emerges from the evolutions its successful Kickstarter have made possible it will surely have more tasty frosting and sprinkles – but what is already in the demo is a thing I must play.

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