Whether I was balancing a laptop on my knees behind a demo display, or just throwing elbows in the wall-to-wall traffic jams of the Megabooth, PAX West was once again all about the indies. This year I spent time with a cute beat ‘em up brawler, a narrative-driven horticulture game, a fast paced restaurant sim, and a German point-and-click that takes 400 days to complete—the demo for which was the only time I’ve ever had a game translated to me in real time. And whether I was crying over the long distance romance of a puzzle platformer or trembling at the feet of a Junji Ito-inspired turn-based occultic horror game, I came away energized by the innovation on display. Here’s the best of what I played at PAX West 2019.
Creature in the Well
The satisfying ping of a pinball volley and that thrill of the ricochet is fully on display in Creature in the Well, and I am hooked on it. In this hack and slash dungeon crawler, the hero’s sword is used to charge up and launch orbs of light that gather energy as they are bounced and reflected off of nearby bumpers. Accumulated energy is used to open up doors into new areas, and new weapons contribute to the power and efficiency of your attacks. My favorite part is how the sword can be used to direct the line of fire as you knock out environmental hazards, which adds a bit of precision and skill to the typically unpredictable nature of pinball games. Of all the games I played at PAX, this one was absolutely the most fun.
As I wrote recently in a longer essay about my time with The Longing it’s impressive for its sheer ambition and commitment to a theme. Based upon a German legend, that of an old king slumbering in a mountain before he one day rises again to restore the country to its ancient greatness, it takes place in the labyrinth of cave passages, ruins, and catacombs that surround his throne. His loyal shade must wait out the full 400 days before the king awakens, and how he spends his time is up to you. But spend the time you must. The icing on the cake is the game’s superb art style, evoking the pen and ink illustrations of history and folklore books from the 1800s. It suits the game’s setting and subject matter well, supplementing its roots in Germanic legend. As I anticipate this beautifully bizarre release in the months to come, I’ll consider it practice for the real thing.
Cook, Serve, Delicious!! 3
I’ve been pretty obsessed with Cook, Serve, Delicious!! 2 over the past several weeks, and the demo for the upcoming Cook, Serve, Delicious!! 3 did not disappoint. At its heart the gameplay is largely the same; players prepare foods through a series of steps and actions not unlike the actual cooking process in real life, but performed through extremely quick keyboard-based commands. The new art style, which is a bit more ornate than the layout of its predecessor, had me worried that I would be more distracted and less able to quickly respond to the constant and demanding hum of food orders, but it was actually both visually stimulating and easy to parse. The best news? NO MORE CHORES! That’s right, no more balancing bathroom breaks and setting rat traps with your orders. These changes, though incremental, are a welcome polish on an already great game. As the series continues to refine itself with each installment, I expect its popularity, despite the game’s difficulty, will only grow.
A Fold Apart
When picking “best games of the show”, a good rule of thumb is, “go with the one that makes you cry”. A Fold Apart is a puzzle game that tells the story of a couple in a long-distance relationship and their efforts to stay connected. The demo revealed platformer-like gameplay, where the player folds or flips the page to bridge the gap or reach new areas as they try to reach the one they love. Genders can be chosen for both partners at the start of the game, and despite the light amount of actual dialogue or text, its themes of longing and loneliness are very touching. I walked away from this one with a tissue clutched firmly in each hand.
World of Horror
This game is so unbelievably sick it almost defies description. A lot of the appeal of World of Horror is in its vintage trappings: the old school PC graphics, the dated user interface, the labored combat sequences, and aging inventory conventions. As far as the horror bits go, it superbly showcases a collection of stories that are classic in their sensibilities but contemporary in their ability to scare the pants off you. It is continually refreshing to play this game and realize that there’s still something in this world that can frighten me; World of Horror is unafraid to indulge its occultic flourishes while following a familiar narrative format. While the demos I’ve played so far conflict in terms of establishing the core of its gameplay (this one didn’t feature the summoning circle for example), I can’t wait to see the bigger picture once the full game releases.
Super Crush KO
Playing Super Crush KO feels like an injection of pure serotonin. The game’s blend of brawler/beat ‘em up and run and gun seamlessly dips between the two by combining swift uppercuts, slick air pops, intuitively executed combos, and non-stop gunfire with a fluidity that does its fighting game roots justice. Personally, I loved pausing in mid-air and raining down bullets on my enemies; it felt like a bit of slow motion magic that made combat momentarily Matrix-like. With a love for Sailor Moon worn openly on its sleeve and an aesthetic best described as “pastel hoodie gay”, Super Crush KO had me at hello.
Continuing in the trend of “games that easily could be a children’s film,” SpiritFarer exhibits a winning combination of heart and magical whimsy. Set aboard a ferry for the deceased, the game is equal parts puzzle-adventure and management sim. Rooms can be built, a garden grown, and adventures embarked upon as the ferrymaster Stella and her merry band travel the world and learn how to self sustain through mining, farming, cooking, fishing and crafting. Along the way, Stella also cares for the spirits of the dead, fulfilling their final wishes before saying goodbye. With a direct but life-affirming approach to the topic of death, the game’s optimistic vulnerability is as wholesome as its charismatic and upbeat characters. I enjoyed what fishing, planting and cooking I was able to do during the demo, but even more so the pleasant day-to-day of the ship’s management. It’ll be interesting to see how well the game’s assorted fetch quests and build missions (one spirit tasked me with crafting a special room on-board) will balance with the narrative elements. But for the moment, I am enchanted.
The PAX West demo for Mutazione was illuminating in that it revealed a lot more of its dialogue-based gameplay. Set in a post-disaster village where a young woman has come home to take care of her grandfather, the game explores the developing relationships between Kai and her neighbors as she tends to the seven abandoned gardens scattered across town.
In the previous time I spent with the game, I collected seeds, found the perfect conditions and space to plant them in, and then used different songs and interludes to encourage their growth. This time, however, I also discovered that each specimen has its own resonance and melody, which (once fully grown) can be played back in harmony, like a little succulent choir. I love almost any game with an element of gardening, and while the system in Mutazione isn’t particularly complex, it’s still soothing and rewarding. I don’t fully understand where this game is headed yet, but with an eclectic paper cut-out aesthetic and the warm small-town feel of Night in the Woods, it’s on my permanent radar.
With Burly Men at Sea, developers Brain&Brain exhibited a talent for narrative innovation and visual minimalism that has extended to their latest effort, Wooden Nickel. Delivered entirely through the format of an Old West newspaper, the player sifts through each story and watches them play out in the dailies, the headlines and animations soothing in their signature silhouette simplicity. While the demos for this game, as with Burly Men at Sea, have limited space and opportunity to showcase its full potential (each tale unfolds over several days), the slices it offers so far are promising. I look forward to the quiet afternoon I eventually spend with this game.
LUNA The Shadow Dust
Amid LUNA The Shadow Dust’s amiable art style and exquisite, haunting soundtrack is a simplicity that makes its gameplay as intuitive as it is charming. This animated point and click game is completely wordless, with the puzzle of each panel delivered solely through visual cues. As the boy and his companion work their way through an ancient tower at the edge of the world, they must work out each obstacle by relying on one another’s unique strengths. Think Machinarium with soft, storybook visuals. In one room, I was only able to pass through by viewing a sequence of murals in a specific pattern; in another, I had to create a path to the ceiling so my little friend could climb through a hole and release a trigger on the other side. The puzzle solving symbiosis often relies on the play between shadow and light but will also require the player’s interpretation of the game’s unfamiliar imagery and symbolism. It is strange, but beautiful, and I suspect will have strong cross-generational appeal.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.
League of Legends: [Interview] Isurus Gaming on Bootcamping in Korea and Worlds: “At the end of the day, each team wants to be better than yesterday.”
The League of Legends World Championship is like Christmas to all LoL fans around the world, because the best teams from every region gather to compete for the Summoner’s Cup. Liga Latinoamérica (LATAM), however, is a region that’s never had much success at Worlds. Teams that represented LATAM never have made it past the play-in stages, and the fans are avidly waiting for the region to step up their game.
Enter Isurus Gaming: the top dogs of LATAM, but definitely the underdogs in the 2019 LoL World Championship. While all the other Western teams went over to Europe to bootcamp before Worlds, Isurus decided to come to Korea for their bootcamp. On the 20th (KST), we’ve had a chance to talk to all the players about their time in Korea and the upcoming tournament.
Can you please introduce yourselves?
Buggax: Hi, I’m Buggax, the top laner for Isurus Gaming, and I’m a big fan of teemo players (?)
Oddie: Hi, I’m Oddie, the jungler for Isurus Gaming, and I’ve recently hit Challenger on the Korean server.
Seiya: Hi, I’m Seiya, the mid laner for Isurus, and I’ve been playing League for about 10 years now.
Warangelus: Hi, I’m Warangelus, the bot laner for Isurus, and I’ve once lost 3 finals in a row in LATAM.
Slow: Hi, I’m Slow, the support player for Isurus.
KouZZe: Hi, I’m KouZZe, the sub bot laner for Isurus. I’m a big fan of Uzi, and love playing Lucian.
Yeti: Hi, I’m Yeti, the head coach for Isurus, and I’m probably the best Qiyana player in the galaxy.
Isurus Gaming qualified for the Worlds Play-in Stage. How do you feel?
Buggax: It’s my first time heading to Worlds, so I’m very excited. I have much faith in this squad, so I’m anxious to start the tournament.
Oddie: Although my competitive career isn’t long, this is my second time going to Worlds. I didn’t perform well back then, so this year’s a chance for redemption.
Seiya: I also have a lot of regrets during my past Worlds appearance, so it’s a second chance for me as well.
Warangelus: I just want to show the World what I can do.
Slow: This is my third time going to Worlds, and I also want to show that I can perform on the international stage.
KouZZe: This is my first time going to Worlds, so I hope to learn a lot from this experience.
Yeti: There’s high hopes for this squad from the fans, and every year, LATAM gets a little bit closer to making that big upset at Worlds, so this is our best opportunity to make history for our region.
How are you guys enjoying Korea? What do you like and/or dislike about here?
Buggax: Compared to our region, the quality of the solo queue is much better. If the players on this server know that the game’s not in their favor, they just open and don’t like to waste time and move on. I’m not a very patient person, so I love that aspect about the server, and I feel like I’m at home when I’m playing solo queue.
Oddie: I love playing solo queue, and love playing against other players in every region I go to. All the players here are mechanically good, and as I climbed to Grandmaster-Challenger elo, I can see that there’s a clear difference in skill as to other regions.
Seiya: We get to practice against teams from other regions that we’d normally wouldn’t be able to practice with, such as Vietnam and Japan, so I think that’s awesome. We’ve also visited LoL Park for the Regional Finals, and it was mind blowing, because the facility is something that we can only expect in LATAM in years. Going to LoL Park made me realize why the esports scene is so vibrant in Korea.
Warangelus: Everyone likes to surrender so early in solo queue, and as a bot laner, I can’t do anything until I get 2-3 items, so in some games, I can’t do anything.
Slow: Watching the Kingzone vs DAMWON game at LoL Park made me think about our finals, so it was very nostalgic.
KouZZe: Although the food in Korea is good, I don’t like spicy food, so it’s a bit of struggle.
Yeti: Back home, if you were to talk to someone and say that you work in esports, they’d most likely be confused, but I like the fact that there’s a social acceptance here where having a job in esports is more of a norm.
What was the biggest obstacle that you faced during your bootcamp here?
Seiya: I can’t say for sure. We didn’t really have trouble finding scrim partners, and the quality of practice is much better than what we would’ve gotten back home.
Oddie: I think it’s a matter of reputation. If we get past the play-in stages, more teams would want to scrim us, and things will just get better.
Buggax: At the end of the day, each team wants to be better than yesterday.
Is there a specific player and/or a team you’d like to face at Worlds?
Warangelus: No, because Kingzone lost (laughter). Deft is the best mechanical player I’ve ever seen, and I’m extremely sad that I can’t play against Deft.
Seiya: I want to play against FunPlus Phoenix, and Doinb, but we’ve got to get to the group stages first. It’s also everyone’s dream to play against Faker on the international stage, so I’d also love to meet him.
Oddie: I want to play against Clid, so we’ll be working hard to get to the group stages.
Yeti: As a team, it would be very exciting to play against DAMWON, because DAMWON is looking to be the top team in the play-in stages, so I think it would be a very good experience. Whether we win or lose against them, it’s a win-win for us because even if we lose, we’d be able to learn a lot.
Buggax: Speaking of DAMWON, I want to play, but at the same time, not want to play against Nuguri. I think Nuguri is an incredibly talented player, and although I’d love the challenge, it’s not a bad thing to evade a tough opponent. If I do end up facing him though, I’d want to ask him before the match if we can just play tank champions.
Slow: I think BeryL is a really good player, so I’d love to play the 2 vs 2 matchup against Nuclear and BeryL.
KouZZe: As I said before, I’m a big fan of Uzi, so would love the chance to play against him.
Western teams (i.e. TL, C9) headed to Europe for bootcamping before Worlds. What made your team decide to come to Korea for bootcamp?
Yeti: At the end of the day, wherever we went, we were going to struggle with getting scrims against the top tier teams. If we went to Europe, we were most likely going to scrim against teams in EU Masters, but if we came to Korea, we would be able to scrim against teams from Japan, Vietnam, and teams in Challengers Korea. It was all about finding the best options as a team, and coming to Korea was a lot cheaper as well, so it was a nice change of atmosphere.
Seiya: I personally wanted to come to Korea for practice, because I’ve been to Europe many times. I think that while it wouldn’t have made too much of a difference, I’ve gladly accepted the administrative decision that the org has made. People have been saying that European teams are the strongest, and Korean teams aren’t as good as before, but I don’t believe that’s the case. Korea is still an incredibly strong region, and we felt would learn more from Korea than Europe.
Buggax: Also, I believe that Korean solo queue is a lot better than EU, so even if we got practice against the best teams, Korean solo queue was well worth our trip here.
Let’s talk Worlds. What are you most excited about this tournament?
Buggax: LATAM, as a region, has never made it past the play-in stages, and I believe that we have a really high chance to make past the play-in stages this year, so I’m excited to show what we can do.
Oddie: This is our first time bootcamping before a big international tournament, so I’m excited to see the results of our practice.
Seiya: There aren’t many words to describe how excited I am about it, other than the fact that it’s Worlds.
Warangelus: Because of our poor performance at MSI, it’s a chance at redemption, and I’m most excited to show off the results of our training.
KouZZe: This is my first time at Worlds, so everything about it is very exciting, but I think the thought that we really have a chance to make it to the group stages is what I’m most excited about.
Yeti: For competitive League of Legends, Worlds is the most exciting time of the year.. The best teams gather to play for bragging rights, and as a coach, to be a part of that is like waking up on Christmas morning.
Let’s try something a little fun. If you had to choose a champion that you’re so good at, that with it, you can beat anyone, which one would it be? Since a lot of eyes are on all the teams at Worlds, feel free to lie about it to throw people off.
Buggax: There are two champions that I’m really good at, Gnar and Gangplank.
Oddie: My go-to champion is Kindred. His kit is very different from a lot of other jungle champions, and finding his passive marks around the map is like a mini-game in itself, so it’s a lot of fun.
Seiya: Poppy, but no one will know until I pick her at Worlds.
Warangelus: I’m actually the best Garen in the World. No one can beat our Garen-Yuumi bot lane.
Slow: Our Garen-Yuumi combo is the best in the world.
KouZZe: I’m the best Lucian player in the world.
Yeti: I don’t know about Oddie’s Kindred (laughter). No comment on the Garen-Yuumi bot lane, and I’ve never seen KouZZe play Lucian (laughter). For me, like I said before, I’m the best Qiyana in the galaxy.
Team in unison: He has a 40% win rate in Gold (laughter), only because Qiyana was banned in his games.
Going back to talking about Worlds, what are your expectations as a team, or as an individual for this tournament?
Seiya: It’s every League of Legends team dream to win Worlds, but realistically, since our region has never made it into the group stages, we, as a team, have set our goals to make it past the play-in stages.
(To Yeti) From the head coach’s perspective, how well do you think your team will perform if the team makes it past the play-in stages?
Yeti: Historically speaking, there were instances where teams that made it past the play-in stages have made it into the knockout stages at Worlds. If we make it into the group stages, we’re definitely capable of making it into the semifinals.
Which regions do you feel confident against in the play-in stages?
Buggax: We’re confident that we can beat all the other regions, but these kinds of thoughts can lead to cockiness, so we’re going to treat every match like it’s our last.
Warangelus: I think we’re definitely better than Brazil [Flamengo eSports] (laughter).
Yeti: I think we are also stronger than Taiwan and Vietnam. Ever since Flash Wolves lost a lot of their star players, the region doesn’t look as strong. As for Vietnam, I feel that they’re a region with only one good team, so in that regard, they’re similar to us.
*Context: Isurus Gaming is on very good terms with Flamengo eSports.
Thank you very much for spending your valuable time for this interview, and would you like to say anything to your fans, family, friends, or to your competition, like Flamengo eSports, at Worlds?
Buggax: It may sound generic, but this year, we’re getting some very good practice in Korea, five solid players, and a very good staff supporting us. I won’t make any promises that I can’t keep, but one thing I’ll promise is that I’ll be giving it my 110% at Worlds.
Oddie: Thank you for all the support, and we’ll give it our all to deliver good performances for our region.
Seiya: I’ve been playing in this region for a very long time, and over the years, I’ve let the LATAM fans down many times. However, I really feel that this year’s different, and I’m confident in myself and this squad that we’ll be able to do well, so please keep rooting for us.
Warangelus: It was my dream to play against Deft, and I just can’t believe that he didn’t make it to Worlds (laughter). This message is for Deft: we’ll make sure to knock out DAMWON out of the tournament, just for you.
Slow: Thank you to all our fans for their support. I have much faith in my team, and everyone in this organization has been nothing short of amazing, so I’ll make sure to perform at my best.
KouZZe: Thanks to all my fans, family and to my amazing girlfriend. This team has sacrificed a lot to make it thus far, and I’m confident that we’ll do well at Worlds.
Yeti: Whether we succeeded or failed in the past, there were a lot of critics and memes, but there was a ton of support on the other end of the spectrum. I just want to tell the fans to enjoy this part of the year, continue your support as we head into Worlds, and overall have a fun spectating experience.