There are a lot of reasons to go to a large gaming convention. The game designers, the game announcements, the gamer celebrities, the cosplay, the extravagance, the pomp and circumstance… everything at a Penny Arcade Expo can feel larger than life. Yet, at the end of the day, it all does boil back down to one thing: finding good games. After going to PAX East for a day, I've realized that the Indie Megabooth is my favorite place to do exactly that.
I wrote a hype list for the Indie Megabooth last year, and I found it personally useful – a way to focus on what I wanted before stepping onto the show floor. With PAX East 2020 now less than two weeks away, it’s time to go through some of the stand-outs that I know are at the top of my list.
Why the Indie Megabooth?
In the last few days before PAX East, I fall in love with the hype machine. I start spending too much time distracted from work, hitting refresh on my social media to see what last minute addition might be arriving during the coming weekend. I mean, who wouldn’t? We know there’s a playable demo of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake and the new Animal Crossing, with there also being ton of indications that Baldur’s Gate III might have its first ever demo available on the convention floor.
Of course, the convention floor also means a metric ton of people and crowds.
You can bet that lines for both of those games to play any of them are going to be three hours long.
Here’s my hot take about conventions: major AAA companies already have plenty of hype. We know about their games, we get advertisements in our social media feeds, and there are entire forums dedicated to breaking down comparisons between the opening movie from the original FF7 and the one that was just released. Trust me, I want to pick up a buster sword as much as any of you, but is it worth three hours of waiting at an event filled with so many unknown gems?
The Indie Megabooth has offered for years something that major AAA companies just can’t manage because of their size and their structure. It takes up the same amount of space as about three major publishing booths, but is stuffed with some much content that it will make your head spin. This year, 78 games are waiting at dozens of small booths; at many times during the day, there won’t even be a line. I check out the Megabooth because of the possibilities. Many publishers get publicity just because of their name alone, but you come to this portion of the show floor to find things you never could outside of the convention. While the indie game scene is still growing, this convention might be the one chance these developers get a chance to showcase their work.
Remember that in 2020, 'indie' doesn't always mean pixel art. There's a wide variety of gameplay and art styles on display this year.
The game list for the Indie Megabooth 2020 is already up on their website. It’s a great resource, with each game getting a small video and description in an easily navigatible space. We recommend you check it out for yourself, but we’ve also put together a sample of the games available – the ones that speak to us, and we’ll probably be rushing to when the show floor opens.
Ambition – A Minuet in Power
Going in alphabetic order, I’m starting with a game that usually isn’t in my radar – a visual novel. This one stood out to me for a few reasons. One of them is its historical setting, taking place in tumultuous 18th century France. While still claiming to have an element of romance, it seems more focused on telling a story based on a woman’s rise to power during the tumultuous French Revolution.
While some romance can occur, Ambition seems more eager to explore the multiple possibilities of how your character might end up an aristocrat or revolutionary.
Take a look at the video for yourself: the ability to end up as an aristocrat, a revolutionary, or somewhere in between is really intriguing. While this isn’t my usual genre, it’s far too intriguing for me to pass up giving it a shot.
There are a lot of RPGs on the market: they are a little easier to make, a little easier to develop. Because of this, it takes something special to make them stand out these days. Chromatose is one of them.
I'm also interested in the game just because of how frenetic some of the choices in combat seem to be!
Playing as someone trapped in a coma, you discover that there are others who share your dream state, each with their own story and virtues. Aligning yourself with these virtues is what strengthens you in combat and opens up new options. Of course, you only have a certain amount of time to escape… and if the trailer is accurate, its up to you to try to save the other prisoners in this coma world too.
Door Kickers 2 – Task Force North
This game is like night and day from the last two entries, and it comes with a bit of a pedigree; the first Door Kickers earned best tactical game of the year in 2014. Its all about taking down the bad guy with your squad of soldiers, carefully analyzing and trying to predict the best way to enact a plan.
I’m excited to see what they have in mind for this sequel. Adding multiplayer, both co-operative and versus, is a nice touch. I’m excited to try and handle the mixture of trying to plan out a perfect approach and attack…and then how I’m going to handle it when those plans inevitably fail and I’ll have to adapt.
This one I’m putting on the list because of the mix of sheer zaniness and satire that this game is trying to balance. Embr is a game where you are volunteer fire-fighters. Well, not exactly volunteer. More like Uber drivers, managing to try and do a little good while surviving in the gig economy.
…Or maybe not that much good. From everything I’ve seen, you are essentially very bad at your job. You might even start some fires to try and make a living. It’s a bizarre mix of social commentary and possibly party game, and I need to give it a shot in person. Also, they get major points just for how wonderfuly satirical their teaser video is.
Made by Rose City Games, the people behind The World Next Door, Garden Story looks to split the different between old school Legend of Zelda and Stardew Valley. Solving puzzles to save a town while also making friends with the townspeople as a way to progress the story and the plot.
There’s one or two games in this list which hit this blend of nostalgia, warm family-friendly feelings, and adventuring puzzles. The reason why I chose this one was just because we’ve covered one of their games before, so I know there’s some magic there.
Legend of Keepers
This one tickles my fancy just because of the sheer snark involved. I used to love Dungeon Keeper. I love Darkest Dungeon. Since this looks like a mash up of the two games, why wouldn’t I love it?
Can I turn my foes into icepops using a yeti? I'm in!
Taking the role of a Dungeon Master with a bit of tongue-and-cheek humor, you have been hired to protect treasures and dungeons. While the art isn’t as refined or distinctive as some other games in the same genre, it will still hit a home run if it innovates as much as the awesome trailer says it does.
Rainbow Billy – The Curse of the Leviathan
While the small brief says this game is Wind Waker meets Pokemon, it feels like there’s a bit more behind it than just a mash up. With a truly distinct art style that seems to blend Cuphead with typical adventure games, this looks like something special.
The plot seems to be all about bringing color back to your world, but you do it through enlisting help by characters that look like animal sidekicks in 1930’s Disney cartoons. There’s a lot to love here, and there seems to be a lot of polish as well. If the gameplay can stack up, I’m an instant fan.
So while the last few entries felt cute and colorful, Rising Hell is an assault on your senses. An action platformer where the stage scrolls vertically, you have to fight your way through endless legions of demonkind.
Punching and clawing your way through hell sound like a fun? Rising Hell looks to be a challenging platformer while also introducing new ideas.
This one caught my eye for Eric, our resident metalhead. At the same time, I’m also just really curious because the music sounds fun, the art aesthetic is solid… but while the game is meant to look like the cover of an 80’s band, it’s made in Indonesia. I’m really curious to see how it all works out.
This game is going to make me cry, and I’m not afraid to say it. Playing as someone who manages a ferry for the dead, you have to manage your barge to make sure it can manage the travels. This isn’t Charon on the river Styx however – instead, the world is bright and colorful. The spirits you are ferrying are anthropomorphic and their animations have heart and soul in them.
Taking "setting off towards the sunset" to a whole new level.
The fact that there’s a two-player co-op mode is just icing on the cake. Then again, I’m not sure I CAN play this with someone else, because I’m going to want to keep drying my eyes for some reason as I make friend after friend and then have to let each of them go.
This game was in our last year’s summary because our editor was in love with their previous game, Halcyon 6. I was disappointed last year by this game, but not because of what it was showing, but because it wouldn’t be available for another year. Now that I’ve seen the game’s new trailer, I am no longer sad that I had to wait.
I’ve never seen pixel art this detailed and elegantly smooth. The amount of work that’s been put into making this feel polished is amazing. For those that don’t know, Star Renegades is another game by ------ that’s set in space, but this time you are part of a resistance movement that’s suffering heavy losses. I’m excited to see how they build on the RPG system they used in Halcyon 6; this could be my game of the year.
Warhammer Underworld Online
It feels weird to put a game with the Warhammer label in the ‘indies’ category, but here we are! Warhammer Underworlds: Online takes place in the Age of Sigmar setting, trying to capture the feeling of a smaller boxed game in the Warhammer Universe.
Warhammer Underworlds is a tabletop miniatures game where you are facing off in an arena-like situation, with typically only three to six players on the board. Games are meant to be fast and to the point, so I really enjoy the tabletop version. However, starting a collection still costs about $70 for a starter set, so seeing a digital version where I might be able to collect much more cheaply and find opponents online is fascinating.
The Indie Megabooth Is Its Own Little World – Explore It!
I wish I could do a summary of almost every game in the Indie Megabooth, but I had to draw a cap after the first eleven. I’m hopeful that the ones I’ve picked out showcase the wild diversity of theme and style that you can find in the megabooth; from serious to humorous, from intense to casual, there really is a game here for everyone.
The Indie Megabooth is the worst kept secret of PAX East, and one I can’t share enough with others. If you are going this year, you owe it to yourself to find this tightly-clustered group of games in the middle of the show floor. When the lines get too long or you are ready to be adventurous, take an hour or two to start at one end of this megabooth and wander. But be warned: you might find you’ve suddenly spent a whole day there instead.