PAX Aus Indie Roundup

PAX Aus had so many indies showcased over a bunch of different stalls. I think over a hundred turned out this year? Which is massive, so massive that I didn’t get to play every last one of them. Which is terrible because the quality on show was absolutely amazing and I played so many cool games. Games in development for years through to games that had been made in game jams over the course of a couple of days. Games from all different genres, from people with different backgrounds, but each one was super passionate about what they did.
So, here’s a few really cool indies you might have missed and that I would whole-heartedly recommend.

Necrobarista (Route 59)

Necrobarista is a game that caught my attention years ago, with its visual style and dark themes reminding me of another favourite visual novel series of mine, Zero Escape. Though the real clincher for me was finding out it was based in a fantasy version of Melbourne. The idea is that the game takes place in a supernatural Melbourne cafe, where the dead come to spend their last night on Earth. It’s a dark, moody experience that allows exploration and examination of the world to progress and to learn more, which is something I really appreciate. Between the anime inspired art design and the amazing script-work that draws players in, I was left with chills after my time with it. It’s coming to Steam in 2019 and Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch in 2020.

Lethal Lawns (DimeStudios)

This game caught my attention because it was displayed with a really cool big 4 player arcade cabinet. Curious, I stepped up and asked what it was about, and before I knew it, three other people had done the same thing and we were all asked to engage in the blood sport that is mowing lawns for money. The premise is that each player has their own company and they have to do the best at mowing lawns, whatever it takes. Including viciously destroying the competition with said lawnmower. It’s a crazy physics based time, with the strategy having to be torn between whether you go for the money other players drop when they’re killed, mowing the lawn and staying out of other players way, or being a more offensive player. Or a mixture thereof. It was super easy to pick up and play, and the Steam version promises more levels, more game modes, and customizeable gameplay. It’s also out on Steam right now.

Kana Quest (Theodor Kipen)

Another game I first tried a couple of years ago, I was instantly intrigued by it. I love the idea of learning a new language, but the Duolingo Owl now just kind of scares me because he just gets real mad when I don’t check in. Instead, this game offers a more fun way to learn how to read Hiragana. Though it won’t teach you the actual language itself, so it’s a great tool in conjunction with other tools to help you understand the meaning behind the words. Although, the most interesting part is that whether you’re interested in the Japanese language or not, Kana Quest’s puzzle gameplay is perfect because it’s just a darn good puzzle game, that bills itself as a sort of combination between Candy Crush and playing dominoes.

Unpacking (Witch Beam)

Cleaning stuff, packing stuff and unpacking it in real life is something that I really gotta be in a specific mood for. Yet, when it comes to games, it’s always something I’ve really enjoyed. Games that let me design rooms and spaces are things I’ve always found super relaxing, but they’ve never been the main focus of the game. Well, in Unpacking, it’s just that. The game follows the story of the main character moving houses as they progress through life, from being a kid who only has to worry about their room, through to an adult with their own apartment. It also explores the story of a life through objects, what we keep, what we get rid of, what we accumulate, and how it relates to our life experience. And it’s all done entirely through these objects. Also, it’s just very cute, visually speaking.

Wayward Strand (Ghost Pattern)

This is a game I’m particularly fascinated by, with its absolutely gorgeous art style and its deep, emotional story that I only got inklings of watching people play the demo (I didn’t get hands on myself, there was a pretty big line of people, deservedly so). Players take control of Casey Beaumaris as she explores a flying hospital ship in an alternate 1970s Australia. The game is a classic point and click style and encourages players to explore and get to know the residents of the hospital as well as uncover the mysteries onboard. It also promises a unique experience every time you play, with events taking place in real time, meaning one playthrough most likely won’t allow players to discover every last secret. The game is set for release in 2020 on PC, OSX, iOS and Android.

Speaking Simulator (Affable Games)

As a human being that doesn’t really understand how regular human being conversations work, Speaking Simulator utterly delighted me in how goofy but relatable its concept is. And considering players take the role of definitely not a robot in human form trying to communicate and assimilate with other humans, I don’t know what that says about me. The demo I played was the Not A Robot on a date, I had to manipulate the tongue and the mouth at the same time to form sentences and maintain a conversation while making sure I didn’t take too long or make too many mistakes, which would create suspicion and overload the AI, which would lead to all sorts of other malfunctions. It’s absolutely ridiculous, but it’s also a heck of a lot of fun trying to make it all work and watching the weird and wonderful results. For example, in frantically trying to follow the on screen prompts, I knocked out half of my teeth. But this was fine, because I said the words good, the teeth flying didn’t really cause suspicion or anything. It’s all good. It’s also coming to Steam in 2019.

Nekograms (Hungry Sky)

I saw the sign for this game from a distance on the convention floor and it immediately drew me in. Because it was pictures of cute cats and I am a very biased games journalist. Upon further examination, I became even more biased, because this is a game about providing cozy naps to cute cats. I literally could not ask for more in a game. The game itself is presented on a grid, with both cats and cushions, the cats move side to side, the cushions move up and down, and from there players have to assign every cat on scree to a cushion. The puzzles become increasingly complex as other junk items are added to the grid, and the cats get longer. It’s good. It’s puzzles. It’s cats. It’s perfect. It’s also coming to iOS and Android hopefully some time in 2020.

Best Friend Forever (Starcolt)

This is one of the biggest games at the convention and one everybody is talking about. And for good reason. I had some hands on time with it and found it to be utterly delightful, with players allowed to choose a portrait, name themselves, a few other options, and then get going. As well as a personality quiz on the Tindr style app, Woofr. From there, the player moves to their new town to begin their new life. Best Friend Forever is part visual novel, part dog caring simulator, with players able to choose a dog to love and care for, and a person to also love and care for, but in the human kind of way, where people like, fall in love and stuff. If you’re into that. Mostly I’m just here for the dogs, though I was intrigued by the cast on offer. Best Friend Forever is set for release on Valentine’s Day 2020 (February 14th), and will be available on Steam and Nintendo Switch.