SxSW Gaming 2017 changed up the formula from previous SxSW Gaming events. This year, entry wasn't free! There were still a lot of booths occupied by award nominees from all corners of the globe, but there was also a section dedicated specifically to student game developers. All this mixed together to create a different SxSW Gaming experience from what we're used to. Let's take a look at the "best of the best" games that we picked from SxSW Gaming 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 two crazy days on the SxSW Gaming 2017 expo floor.
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: Tooth + Tail
Pocketwatch Games | Home
agent86 Most RTS games are long, drawn out affairs. Tooth + Tail is far more compact and speedy by comparison. I think it stems from the rapid depletion of resources. Since you can't just turtle forever, you've got to think very strategically at every engagement and the players have to break out of their comfortable bases and duke it out earlier rather than later.
EBongo While easy to pick up, Tooth + Tail clearly has a lot of depth to unpack. Resource and even simple territory control is essential, but "micro" aspects of training and rallying units also play a big role in overwhelming your opponent. If you are into strategy games, it has that excellent quality of drawing you in with the basics you can understand and then hooking you with all the possibilities of the different strategies you can build with the tool set.
# Best Game Art
# Winner: Far From Noise
George Batchelor | Home
agent86 Far From Noise packs a lot of unique artistic elements into a very tight experience. Most of the demo we played was from just one, fixed perspective. Subtle changes in the wind and lighting marked the passage of time, and various woodland creatures stopped in to visit. Despite the simplicity, Far From Noise turned our heads on multiple occasions, until we finally sat down to play it for ourselves.
EBongo We walked past the "game with the deer" at SxSW Gaming 2017 three times and couldn't figure out what it even was. Something about the juxtaposition of a precarious situation in the middle of a beautiful and serene setting kept drawing us back until we finally got our hands on it. The visuals are beautiful, but the "game as art" concept and the various deep contemplations it provokes made me appreciate it even more. If you enjoy beautiful games that make you think this one is definitely worth checking out.
# Best Plot/Lore Concept
# Winner: No Truce With the Furies
Zaum Studio | Home
agent86 Probably my favorite part of the modern "western" RPG is trying to talk my way out of an otherwise difficult situation. My favorite runs of games like Fallout: New Vegas and Planescape: Torment are those where I max out my speech and manage to run the game without ever injuring so much as a fly. Taking that classic western RPG format and making the entire game about dialog and story is such an appealing concept to me!
EBongo The demo we saw for No Truce With the Furies was early, and the developer ZA/UM was quick to apologize and excuse its unfinished status. I have no idea why. Certainly there is more development ground to cover, but even in its current state this "hard knocks" police procedural was the weirdest-coolest game we saw at SxSW Gaming 2017. As a game character, I've never been more interested to learn why I'm not wearing any clothes. The isometric perspective and diceroll dialogue options give a nostalgic Shadowrun-like feel, but the utter bleakness and semi-psychotic introspections give it added unique flavor all its own.
# Editor's Choice (agent86): Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine (or WTWTLW for short) is a story about stories. It's like if you took the concept of loyalty missions from party-based RPGs and turned them into a game all their own. You collect experiences via FTL or 80 Days style events, which you can then share with people in exchange for bits and pieces of their own personal lore. It's a fascinating concept that I'm excited to see the end result of.
# Editor's Choice (EBongo): event
# One to Watch
# Winner: The Hex
Daniel Mullins | Home
agent86 The Hex is funky and unique and so very, very meta. The bit of it we saw appeared to be a pastiche of Sonic the Hedgehog inspired crappy platforming with what looked like negative Steam reviews encroaching on the play area. Apparently each "level" of The Hex is going to be a send-up of a different slice of gamer culture. There's so much interesting stuff still TBD here, so I'm going to keep a close eye on it as it develops.
EBongo The Hex is so meta, and it knows it. Creating games within the game for each washed up video game cliche already creates some pretty entertaining variety, but peppering each flashback minigame with video game pop culture references cataloging its rise and fall take "meta" to a whole new level. The internet hate machine is not kind to a franchise that "jumps the shark" and The Hex transforms that scalding criticism engine into a lens to perceive how iconic game characters would feel if their rags to riches to rags rollercoaster ride were real. I'm extremely intrigued to see where this goes.
# Repeat Offender
# Winner: Mages of Mystralia
agent86 Mages of Mystralia left us with an excellent impression following PAX South. Their open-ended spell crafting system has been a ton of fun to mess with at both events. Talking to Dan Adelman at SxSW Gaming 2017, it's clear that they're listening to their beta feedback and trying to polish the game as much as they can before release.
EBongo Mages funded their Kickstarter in less than 24 hours for good reason - because this game concept is awesome. We were already impressed at PAX South earlier this year, but even in the short time since that con it is clear that Borealys has been busy. Player feedback is being woven into the puzzlesauce. The full majesty of this games spell crafting engine is being made more accessible. Hearing this focus on continued refinement on what already looks like a great game makes me very excited about the final product.
# Best Best Party/Mayhem/Relationship Ender
# Winner: Invisigun Heroes
agent86 It seems like the party/mayhem space has a hankering for games where you can't see yourself or other players. I feel like in the last year I've played at least three games in this vein. Invisigun Heroes tweaks the formula further with some crazy abilities. I was basically terrible at it, fumbling my way around the map and eating more than my fair share of high-velocity death. With more practice, I could see some pretty crazy scenarios playing out and some last minute come-from-behind victories being won.
EBongo A lot of party/mayhem games sort of have just one gimmick that is fun, but wears thin fairly quickly. You might expect Invisigun Heroes would tread that path, if you've played other "you're invisible" party/mayhem titles. In fact, I found that "being invisible" was really just a small modifier to Invisigun's robust mayhem language. Numerous character "classes" exist, each with unique abilities, and environmental power-ups add another level of variety to the mayhem layer cake. The result is a modern reimagination of Bomberman where the invisibility feels perfectly natural. I can't see why any party game fan wouldn't love it.
# Best Kid Friendly
# Winner: Tumbleseed
AEIOWU | Home
agent86 Tumbleseed's kid friendly exterior hides a relentlessly challenging interior. Honestly, though, a lot of the games I played as a kid were pretty darn hard. I could very easily see all my kids attempting to set high scores on this one.
EBongo One of the cool things about gaming is that good ideas and pure fun appeal to everyone. Tumbleseed is one of those games that is perfectly, simple, fun. The art is cute and accessible, the controls and core concept are simple, but the difficulty ramp and ability choices still make it feel challenging and rewarding. Tumbleseed definitely stood out from the SxSW Gaming 2017 pack as one of the few gems that "everyone" can enjoy.
# Best Action
# Winner: Ape Out
Gabe Cuzzillo & Devolver Digital | Steam
agent86 Escaped apes versus gun-toting mercenaries. It's a tale as old as time. Ape Out is another game in the vein of Hotline Miami and Mr. Shifty where the action is frenetic and death is cheap. Smashing through glass walls and going totally ape (hah!) on guards kept me entertained. The slice we saw of it was relatively simple compared to similar games, but then again we couldn't quite finish the second level in the time we had, so I will reserve judgement. Level 3 could have introduced banana grenades, I'm just sayin'.
EBongo I don't know much about the backstory of Ape Out. I'm sure there is a justifiable reason for the Ape to bludgeon mass quantities of guards into an artistically bloody pulp. Putting his motives aside is easy, because splattering enemies is hilariously fun. The cymbal crashes and sharp color contrasts make every hit feel satisfying, and even though I failed a lot I always wanted to play "just one more round". Check out the awesome playable trailer demo if you want a taste of the action.
# Best New Concept
# Winner: Tumbleseed
AEIOWU | Home
agent86 I don't think I've ever played a roguelike quite like Tumbleseed. Heck, I don't think I've ever played a game quite like it. The controls take some getting used to - it's a bit like the tank controls in games like Katamari Damacy plus some sort of uber-difficult version of Marble Madness stuck on top. I haven't even touched on half the systems it has going... before this turns into a crazy long Tumbleseed essay, let's just settle on "it's unique!" and leave it at that.
EBongo The most delightful new gaming concepts are those that feel natural but utterly unexpected, and Tumbleseed is just that. Tell me that AEIOWU stole your idea for a cute seed rolling roguelike mountain climbing game, and I'll call you a liar. Its out there, its different, but despite its off the wall concept it feels so intuitive that you quickly internalize that you are a seed that must climb this mountain. There is just no other option.
# Editor's Choice (EBongo): Epitaph
New to SxSW Gaming 2017 was a large student developed gaming section - and Epitaph stood out in that crowd. Wrapping a ton of fighting and strategy elements into one package doesn't make Epitaph super easy to pick up and dominate - but it does make it a pretty cool and refreshing take on tactical position based strategy. There are a lot of good ideas woven in, and I especially love that a "puzzle mode" is included to slow things down for a new player who isn't totally ready for real time. The "come back stronger" death mechanic is the cherry on top of a crazy thoughts cupcake. How does it taste? Good... it tastes good.
# Best Puzzle Game
# Winner: The Pedestrian
agent86 The Pedestrian takes ordinary, everyday objects and forms them into mind bending puzzles. Having just completed The Witness, I can appreciate a puzzle game that is a bit more... "clear" in its iconography.
EBongo I dig puzzling and platformers, so The Pedestrian was a pleasant SxSW Gaming 2017 surprise. Using simple iconography in the style of a crosswalk sign might sound a little flat - but in fact the puzzles built to some impressive intensity even in the first few minutes. Arranging frames like puzzle pieces reminded me a lot of Framed, but in this case its still on you to pull of the platforming once you have the frames in the right spot. Some Pedestrians were harmed in the making of this award.
# Best Co-Op
# Winner: Overcooked
agent86 I love co-op games because I find playing with my friends towards a common goal way more fun than playing against them. Co-op games often don't require that much coordination or organization in order to win, though. In many cases, "co-op" just means "well, we made the enemies 20% harder, and more than one person can shoot them at the same time." Overcooked is one of those rare games where everyone has to come together in order to succeed.
EBongo Having previously heard about Overcooked prior to SxSW Gaming 2017 I expected it to be good. I did not expect it to be this good. agent86ix and I have accomplished some amazing video game feats of skill, but we can not yet say that we have mastered the manufacture of virtual three-ingredient burritos. At least, we can't say that yet...
# Best Music/Rhythm
agent86 Metronomicon proves that rhythm and RPG go together like peanut butter and chocolate. RPG battles are often dry affairs, but adding rhythm elements makes them far more interactive and engaging. Meanwhile, rhythm games are often very one-and-done, with not a lot of connective tissue to bind them together. Like Puzzle Quest blended match-3 and RPG, Metronomicon shows us that the right combination of flavors makes all the difference.
EBongo Games were meant to be played while listening to awesome music. Metronomicon lets you listen to awesome music and feel like you are a part of creating it - wielding it as a weapon against your foes. There are classes, ability mechanics, boss fights... tons of good stuff - but there is also music so awesome that you need to own the soundtrack. Did I mention it was awesome?
# Best Stealth
# Winner: Shadow Tactics
agent86 Hardcore stealth really requires a few key elements to get right. A good hardcore stealth game needs to give the player good feedback about safe ways to approach a given enemy encounter. It also needs to be clear and easy to save and load so that you can experiment and undo mistakes. Finally, you've got to feel powerful when you're doing it right. From what I played of Shadow Tactics at SxSW Gaming 2017, it nails all these key elements and a whole lot more.
EBongo Even though I've done a lot of "hardcore" gamer things, I never think of myself as a hardcore gamer. At face value, hardcore stealth like any other hardcore genre doesn't overly appeal to me - but games like Shadow Tactics make me want to be hardcore. A game this good makes me forget that I hate losing, that I hate failing, that I don't like pressure. It demands great things from me, and I oblige - because every super-sneaky rabbit I pull out of my hat feels amazing.
# The "Shut Up and Take My Money" Award for Best in Show Overall
# Winner: Shadow Tactics
agent86 Hardcore stealth is kind of my jam. I mean, in the past couple of months I've played Hitman, Dishonored 2, and Volume. The small slice of Shadow Tactics I got to play at SxSW Gaming 2017 just blew me away, though. I want to play SO BAD. It's very well executed stealth, with multiple swappable characters, and all kinds of crazy ninja action.
EBongo There is a certain kind of stealth game that I really dig, and Shadow Tactics is that kind of stealth game. You are tough enough to shuriken your way out of a few missed steps, but being a sneaky bastard feels so much more rewarding that it makes you want to replay sequences just to go flawlessly undetected. The control scheme for executing ninja awesomeness feels natural and accessible enough that for a few minutes at a time I can forget that I am not actually a dextrous elite assassin. This is what every stealth game should aspire to be.
# Editor's Choice (EBongo): Overcooked
When you watch someone playing Overcooked it seems so easy. "Just put the tortilla on the plate" you think. "Why are you dropping that meat on the floor" you think. When you play Overcooked it starts out that way, and quickly devolves into a Hell's Kitchen level panic filled shitshow. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for me its like a Destiny raid where every completed burrito drops Vosik's shield a little lower. No single task is that hard, but the level of coordination and communication required to do it all well feels very rewarding when you succeed. Now I just need to put together my raid team.