PAX South 2017 Con Awards

It was obvious from the start that PAX South 2017 brought its “A” game. A huge increase in exhibitors, substantially more space, and excellent new events like Acquisitions Inc… all signs pointed to a Con that was beginning to hit its stride. We had a lot of fun and we got to visit with many friendly faces from years past – but most importantly we got to check out a lot of video games! As is now a sacred tradition, below you’ll find our picks for the best of PAX South 2017!

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 2017 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 Strategy

Winner: Has-Been Heroes

Frozenbyte & GameTrust | Home | Steam

agent86 Has Been Heroes manages to be both simple and incredibly deep at the exact same time, in what must be a violation of multiple laws of physics. You’ve got just three heroes in three lanes, plus a half dozen spells. Somehow, though, within 2 minutes of starting to play, it suddenly became the deepest strategy game I’d played in quite some time. Stack roguelike elements on top and I’m in tactical RPG heaven!

EBongo Personally, I don’t think the trailer for Has-Been Heroes does it justice. Something about the hands on experience really makes it click (even though agent86ix and I were playing on the Switch, and couldn’t keep the buttons straight). Real time combat with a pause function and a pretty deep combo layer make the core gameplay really enjoyable. Add in the roguelike randomization of spells and gear and you’ve got a solid title that you can sink a lot of hours into.

Editor’s Choice (agent86ix): Loot Rascals

The “turn-based roguelike” genre is one of the oldest in computer gaming history, and it’s always good to see a clever spin on its well-established mechanics. Loot Rascals has a cool day/night cycle that adds a layer of strategy to engaging enemies that I thoroughly enjoyed. It also puts some interesting spins on the subject of equipment – everything is a card, but cards have all sorts of restrictions and bonuses that impact how that equipment benefits you. There’s even a way to get cards back after you die, assuming other players are feeling generous.

Best Digital Board Game

Winner: Antihero

Tim Conkling & Versus Evil | Home | Steam

agent86 Antihero manages to cram a lot of high-quality turn-based strategy into a compact, fast paced experience. “Robust Tech Tree” and “Coffee Break Length” don’t really go together often, but somehow Antihero manages to pull it off with Victorian-era style.

EBongo We almost didn’t get our hands on Antihero because of the lines. Clearly, no one wanted to put it down. The game feels easy to pick up and play, but the upgrade system, territory control mechanics, and multiple win conditions mean that there is enough variety to keep you guessing. The “thieves’ guild” theme really works too. As I played the tutorial it didn’t take long before I was ordering gang beatings and urchin infiltrations from behind the steepled fingers of an irredeemable brigand.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Armello

PAX South 2017 stood out as a year of absolutely great strategy games, and while it got narrowly edged out, Armello was an impressive contender. With a ton of strategic depth, and a dash of chance, the core mechanics are solid. If you like games like Agricola where there are a ton of choices to make, Armello will be right up your alley (and you’ll probably whip my butt playing it too). I have to also mention that the artwork and cutscenes are extremely tasty. Layering that on top of the already excellent gameplay is sure to keep you coming back.

Best Game Art

Winner: Sundered

Thunder Lotus Games | Home | Steam

agent86 Sundered is a Thunder Lotus game. I feel like honestly, that’s all I should have to write here. At some point, we’re just going to have to give them a “Lifetime Achievement” award in the category of “Best Game Art.” The demo I got to play ended with the very beginning of a boss battle, and I’ll be honest – if I had continued, I probably would have just stared at the pretty skull spider thing as it killed me and ate my various fleshy bits.

EBongo Sundred continues a pattern of absolutely beautiful game art that helped put Thunder Lotus on our radar with their previous title Jotun. When I watched the horrifying hell beasts flaying agent86ix I smiled not only because they were shredding him, but also because the visual effects were like a classic 80’s cartoon come to life. He-man and Conan were nowhere near this dark though – they would have cried if they saw this stuff.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Gorogoa

When we played Gorogoa we sometimes didn’t know what we were doing. Okay… we usually didn’t know what we were doing. That didn’t matter though, because the visuals were so breathtaking I wanted to keep assaulting my depreciating grey matter just so I could see the another little moment where things would come alive and move us on to the next step.

Best Plot/Lore Concept

Winner: Nefarious

StarBlade | Home | Steam

agent86 If there’s one game plot point that we can all agree has taken a major beating over the past few years, it’s the “damsel in distress” trope. Well, Nefarious is having none of that. Basically every variation on “evil villain seeks defenseless hostage” is in full effect here. Plus, I have to give mad props for turning things around and giving the player a chance to mess around with enormous lasers, giant death robots, and flying spiky UFOs. Let’s face it, the bad guys have all the fun toys.

EBongo Have I played the “bad guy” before? Sure. The things agent86ix and I have done in the Saint’s Row series go far beyond “profoundly immoral” – but one “bad guy” I’ve not played before is the bumbling schemers of the style encountered in the Mario and Sonic games. Enter Nefarious where you get to do exactly that, with similarly futile results. The “good guy” has better things to do than fight you, and the “princess” seems like she might be getting kidnapped for attention. Between satisfying platforming and action puzzles you are constantly rewarded with tongue-in-cheek jokes about the incompetent baddies of the great action/platforming dynasties of yesteryear. My hopes aren’t high, but I really want to play through and beat Nefarious to see if I can break the curse and finally let the “bad guy” win one.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Haimrik

Wow, a tongue-in-cheek word-oriented fantasy with plenty of Monty Python blood fountains. Has someone been reading my diary? The cool folks at Below the Game came up with an incredibly unique story line and from what we’ve seen so far there are already numerous hilariously unpredictable developments. I don’t know yet whether the titular Haimrik is lucky or cursed, but it seems probable that he is both in equal measure. For a game with such awesome word puzzle mechanics, I’m really pleased that it has a robust plot to support it.

One to Watch

Winner: In the Shadows

Colorspace Studio | Home

agent86 Most of what we got to play of In the Shadows was focused on early levels and explaining the basic mechanics. That said, the “real puzzles” that I got to see were quite clever and utilized some interesting mechanics. Braid really popularized the modern indie puzzle platformer, and it’s great to see more games challenging my wits as much as my reflexes.

EBongo I’ve struggled to manifest a good comparison, but in my mind In the Shadows is somewhat like the spawn of a wild night between Limbo and A Boy and His Blob. There are some occasional happy colors, and even something approaching “whimsy” at times, but darkness and shadows taint it. Developer Colorspace Studio describes the game as an exploration of childhood fears, and it definitely comes across. The demo left me wanting to more thoroughly explore the setting and the backstory to see just how dark things get, and lets face it – I’m going to need some time to work out some of the harder puzzles. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out to see how In the Shadows develops.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Minit

Since I only got to play a few minutes of Minit (pun wholeheartedly intended), I suspect there is a lot more to see in the game. The beautiful simplicity of it means there could be a lot more too it and I’m really curious to see where it goes from here. I’m hopeful that it will continue to tap into the low-fi pixel art nostalgia that made the PAX South 2017 demo a delicious appetizer.

Repeat Offender

Winner: Battlesloths 2025

Invisible Collective & Rooster Teeth Games | Home | Steam

agent86 Technically we’ve never seen Battlesloths 2025 before. Technically, what we saw at RTX last year was just Battlesloths. But the Groucho Marx ‘stache and glasses aren’t fooling me, no sir! Now that Rooster Teeth has picked it up to publish, the team at Invisible Collective has seen fit to take the game from “Best Sloth-Based Combat Simulator in the World” to “Best Sloth-Based Combat Simulator in the Universe.” We’re talking hundreds of hats, environmental obstacles, crazy weapons, Hell (which is in Australia, btw), and so much more. When you need a custom UI to hold all your sloth hats, you might have enough sloth hats. Still, though, add a few more to be sure.

EBongo We’ve enjoyed our fair share of “mayhem” type games at conventions, or at least I have… whenever I’m pounding agent86ix into the ground. Few, very few, rise to the level of chaos and randomness of Battlesloths 2025. For starters, you could spend all damn day cycling through sloth head wear. This may not seem essential, but if you think having an animated-inflatable-advertising-windsock-guy on my head while we battle doesn’t give me an edge, I guess you don’t know much about competitive gaming. I’m not going to lie – I lost a lot of pizza in this game, but I also stole a lot of pizza in this game. I stole sloth pizza. I stole agent86ix’s sloth pizza. It was a good feeling, and I’m really stoked that Rooster Teeth discovered this little gem. I’m even more pleased that Invisible Collective included online multiplayer so that I can steal agent86ix’s pizza from the comfort of my own home.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Light Fall

It’s almost here. Our buddies at Bishop inform us that later this year, Light Fall is going to finally be a thing you can throw your money at. I’ve spent a lot of time with different demo versions of this game, and every time I see it there is something more to love. The Shadow Core is likely to go down in platformer history as one of the coolest platforming mechanics this decade – and as I raced through the PAX South 2017 updated demo I picked up on a lot of small tweaks Bishop has made to make the platforming feel even faster and more effortless. These folks know what they are doing, the wait will be worth it…. I need this game now.

Best Party/Mayhem/Relationship Ender

Winner: Lupinball

Craftven | Home

agent86 Rounds of Lupinball go from “sedate stroll in the park with some friends” to “oh god it’s all on fire whyyy” rather quickly. Just once you think you’ve seen everything in the 4-player party mayhem space, here comes a well crafted, interestingly balanced game like Lupinball. I’m terrible at it and I still enjoyed it. Two furry paws up!

EBongo When you play Lupinball you try to have a strategy. Then fireballs. Lots of fireballs. All the fireballs. Varied arenas, and plenty of random mayhem from your fellow wolves lead to a wonderfully chaotic party game. Its simple and fun, and really hard to put down.

Best Kid Friendly

Winner: Trove

Trion Worlds | Home | Steam

agent86 Our childrens’ children may still play Minecraft, but even if they don’t, they still will probably play some game heavily inspired by it. Trove seeks to break out of the crowd of voxel graphics sandbox crafting simulators by offering a more MMO style take on the subject. There’s a massive persistent world to explore, complete with dungeons, crazy biomes, and stuff to kill and/or explode.

EBongo If your kids love Minecraft like mine, I’ll bet that what they love about it includes a lot of creating. It is a great platform for creativity, but it falls short in the amount of custom user generated content it provides without modding. Trove steps into that niche nicely with a robust content creation integration, and enough people and process to keep the content fun and friendly instead of an internet garbage fire. In the demo we road a spider, we glided with flaming wings, and we could jump forever. I can say without hesitation that my children would love to inhabit this world.

Best Action/Adventure

Winner: Mages of Mystralia

Borealys Games | Home | Steam

agent86 Mages of Mystralia is the kind of game idea that you’d expect a famous “big thinker” game developer to talk up and then never deliver. It’s another game that seems like it’s too ambitious to actually exist. The only problem with that is that it does exist, and I played it. On the one hand, it’s got a lot of Zelda esque action/adventure elements. On top of that is a fully functional spell creation system that feels like it is almost but not quite its own programming language. I’m completely fascinated by the possibilities!

EBongo I’ve gotta admit, when we sat down with Louis-Félix to check out Mages of Mystralia I wasn’t prepared for what he was going to lay on us. Sure, the game has killer collaborations with Ed Greenwood (Forgotten Realms) on story and Shota Nakama (FF XV) on music – but when he showed us the spell system my jaw dropped. Mages has by far the most complex user-customized spell system I’ve ever seen, and the possibilities of it are still blowing my mind. Oh the things I’m going to do with those spells…

Editor’s Choice (agent86ix): Sundered

It seems this year’s PAX South is a con of impossibilities. Sundered is somehow both a procedurally generated roguelite and a Metroidvania game. One genre is very carefully plotted out and paced, and the other is created from whole cloth on every playthrough. We only got a very small slice of the game at the con, but I think I am beginning to understand how both things are possible at the same time. At any rate, with a planned release date this summer, we (hopefully) won’t have long to wait to see the result.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Minit

Having never really been in to the “speed running” thing, games with time limits tend to give me anxiety (and games that give me anxiety don’t usually hand around long). Minit is such an interesting twist though – in that you quickly start thinking turns ahead, and a given failure rarely feels that frustrating. The dream team of indie devs behind this game show impressive skill in the subtle ways that they channel the player through this low rez little journey. After completing the demo I just want to play a few minutes more…

Best New Concept

Winner: Haimrik

Below the Game | Home | Steam

agent86 Haimrik replaces the “pixel hunt” of a traditional adventure game with an interactive storybook full of potentially useful words to exploit. Instead of typing “TAKE FLASK” or clicking the Hand on the Flask, you’re literally pulling a flask from between the lines. It’s one of those concepts that’s both intuitive and clever at the same time.

EBongo The core mechanic in Haimrik is a spin on “story become real” that I never saw coming. In fairness, my imagination doesn’t involve many blood fountains or sisyphean arm mutilations. Still, the idea of Haimrik, and the execution thereof, are incredible. You start to look at words as tools and weapons, even before you’ve finished reading a given page. When Haimrik walks past a crossbow (going to need that) and arrows (better pick up those) you might feel pretty well prepared – until the game switches to a first person perspective and you have to hide behind cover and down a dragon. There are so many cool ideas here mashed into one game that Haimrik definitely stood out from the pack.

Editor’s Choice (agent86ix): Beat Cop

Beat Cop mixes up Police Quest and Papers, Please into something that I find irresistible. I’m not sure if it’s the “morality as a game mechanic” aspect, or the “meticulous attention to detail” aspect, or the 80’s and 90’s cop drama nostalgia that it peddles, but whatever it is, it’s drawn me in.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Russian Subway Dogs

When you think “based on a true story” – a game about dogs who ride the subway in Moscow is probably not what you had in mind. The source material doesn’t really matter though Russian Subway Dogs is a fun little romp through real life Russian subway stations with a simple “score attack” style combo system. It is the kind of light-hearted fun the world needs more of.

Best Puzzle Game

Winner: Gorogoa

Jason Roberts & Annapurna Interactive | Home | Steam

agent86 Gorogoa is so wonderfully mind-blowing. Each of its handcrafted panels is full of patterns within patterns, and recognizing how they fit together and come apart kept me so engaged I lost track of time. I desperately want to finish this game and unravel all its secrets.

EBongo agent86ix and I didn’t even know Gorgoa was a thing until we saw a massive line of feverish fans waiting to play it. When we finally got our hands on it, there was no question that this game stood out as the best puzzler of the show. Working as a team we still couldn’t defeat the demo, but by the point time ran out we were already so deep in surreal artistic euphoria that it took several minutes to unbend my mind. That’s some sweet puzzling.

Best RPG

Winner: Divinity: Original Sin 2

Larian Studios | Home | Steam

agent86 The western style RPG has had its share of ups and downs over the past couple of decades, but I for one am glad to see the genre alive and healthy. Divinity: Original Sin is easily one of my favorite RPGs of all time, and I’m so glad it did well enough to justify a sequel!. From what we saw of Divinity: Original Sin 2, it seems like Larian has been paying attention to what we players want, and they plan to give as much of it to us as possible.

EBongo Look, this game has not only “plant based disguise”, but also “rock based disguise” and several others. Jokes aside, it is clear that Larian has listened to their fans and improved on every axis of what made the original Divinity game a hit. I look forward to picking this one up and tag teaming fantasy baddies with my trusty sidekick agent86ix.

Best Co-op Game

Winner: Dauntless

Phoenix Labs | Home

agent86 Co-op games rate highly with the WOTS crew. There’s something so satisfying about working together with a team of your friends to do something that seems impossible. That said, it tends to be difficult to get together a quorum for long, challenging raids. Dauntless aims to tackle this by making its core gameplay experience center around the massive boss fights that make raiding worth the time and effort.

EBongo If video games have taught me anything, its that I like getting together with my buddies a killing big digital monsters. Gravemind – dead. Onyxia – dead. Atheon, Oryx, Aksis – dead, dead, dead. I love the teamwork needed to take on these beasts, and judging by our time with Dauntless it has got some serious contenders to add to the list. Facing off against a behemoth named Pangar I’m not going to lie – I was daunted, extremely daunted. That thing was loud, and huge, and while I’m sure my war maul had some awesome enchantments on it, Pangar was not impressed. In the end we couldn’t bring him down, but the tense cooperative combat, and the thrill of tracking and hunting was an enjoyable romp that left me hungry for another crack at it.

Editor’s Choice (agent86ix): Streets of Rogue

Sometimes co-op is better served by a more frenetic, less organized experience. Enter Streets of Rogue, a roguelike co-op action game full of weird and wonderful things. Cops arresting people, gorillas mad on steroids, explosions, drug addicted bankers, more explosions, punching, eating fresh fruit from trashcans… probably more explosions(?) Chaotic co-op is good co-op, in my experience.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Hyper Universe

While we don’t know much about MOBAs, we know a lot about what is fun in gaming and Hyper Universe is right up that alley… or lane, I’m not sure of the terminology. You’ve got tanks, you’ve got healers… a whole host of bizarre over-the-top characters to choose from – but most importantly you’ve got a fun 2D tug-of-war that is fast paced and easy to get into.

Best Music/Rhythm Game

Winner: Just Shapes & Beats

Berzerk Studio | Home

agent86 Let’s run down the checklist real quick. Are there shapes? Yes. Are there beats? Yes. Is there much else? No. Okay, Just Shapes & Beats has its act together. Co-op, bullet hell, music-based insanity is what happens when you mash together some shapes and some beats. Not much to say about the shapes; they’re certainly geometric and colorful, although I will say that the boss we saw in the demo was exceedingly clever. But what beats these are! Chiptunes always make me a happy camper, but somehow these crazy people also got the song from Mortal Kombat into their game!

EBongo If you want to call yourself a music game, you better have some great music. Just Shapes & Beats led in with some excellent chip tunes with throbbing bass tracks that had every head in the significant crowd nodding to the beat. The gameplay was basically Thomas Was Alone trapped in a musical bullet hell with three other friends all constantly dashing for their lives. I thought 4 player co-op might make it easier, but in the end it meant a lot of rescuing was needed (usually me). Did agent86ix mention they got the Mortal Kombat song? It bears repeating.

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

Winner: Mr. Shifty

Team Shifty & tinyBuild | Home | Steam

agent86 Mr. Shifty is almost certainly the best thing to come from tinyBuild thus far. It’s obvious that this isn’t Team Shifty’s first rodeo. The core mechanics are slick and polished despite the early nature of what we had a chance to play. Apparently I only got to see a slice of the first third of the game, and I can’t wait to see what the final version brings!

EBongo Mr. Shifty hits you like a teleporting punch to the face. Even before things get hectic, teleporting around and laying waste to floor after floor of an office building is just a hell of a lot of fun. When things get real, Shifty forces you to attack and teleport carefully, but when things go right you feel well… probably almost as awesome as if you could really teleport. Enemy types are varied and interesting, traps and level layout are fun an challenging, and the trident has got a solid nomination for video game weapon of the year. This game was a great surprise, and definitely deserves the top spot. Shut up and take my money…

Editor’s Choice (agent86ix): Has-Been Heroes

We’ve already established that Has Been Heroes rocked my socks. It feels like part Plants vs. Zombies and part Final Fantasy Tactics. I’m very certain that I failed to grasp some of the finer points in my short demo, since I was convinced I’d lost the round before the Frozenbyte guys stepped in and laid waste to the enemy army. Clearly Has Been Heroes has more to teach, and I’m excited for the chance to learn it.

Editor’s Choice (EBongo): Dauntless

Talking with the folks from Phoenix labs, it is very clear they get how to design a fun co-op experience. We swapped stories about our favorite raids of the past, but something we kept coming back to was how it gets harder and harder to devote that kind of time as we’ve gotten older. I was really pleased then to hear that Dauntless is designed around 30-40 minute hunts so you can get in, get wrecked by some ten story abomination, and get back to working on your Penny Arcade fan fiction. Just me? Regardless – Dauntless was definitely a stand out from PAX South that I hope to sink some significant behemoth butt whipping time into when it get released.

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