Date: March 30, 2023
While making a game is never easy, it seems safe to say that letting players shoot things and blow stuff up is a relatively simple proposition. But what about games where you don’t kill everything on sight? Creating a satisfying series of puzzles, or keeping the simple task of jumping interesting, strikes us as somewhat more difficult — which is why the fantastic puzzlers and platformers on offer at PAX East impressed us so much.
Below, in no particular order, are our favorite indie games from PAX that test either your problem solving skills, your jumping skills, or both!
- Developer – Kyle Banks
- Publisher – Mooneye Studios, Kyle Banks
- Release Date – 2023
In this gorgeous looking puzzle/exploration game, you play as a dog accompanying their owner on a journey of self discovery. You solve puzzles based on color and perspective, and the game manages to be both soothing and subtly poignant in its presentation. It’s an interesting twist that you essentially spend the whole game playing as a side-kick (albeit one whose really getting the majority of the business done), and the sort of sideways-storytelling lets you immerse yourself as a not-so-neutral observer to your human companions experience.
The puzzles we solved at PAX were very well designed: we wrestled with them for what felt like an appropriate amount of time, and they made us feel smart when we finally figured them out. What more can you ask of puzzles? The games peaceful landscapes and calm soundtrack make this the perfect game for someone looking to be engaged, but without sweating too much onto their controller. It’s got a demo, so go try it if you like what you hear!
Shumi Come Home
- Developer – SomeHumbleOnion
- Publisher – Mooneye Studios
- Release Date – Q2 2023
Keepin with Mooneye Studios’ theme of cute, relaxed games, Shumi Come Home is another game that lets you explore a beautiful, vibrant setting with no time pressure or character death. Shumi takes itself a little less seriously than Farewell North, however, with goofy dialog and strange, silly characters. You play as an adorable little mushroom just trying to get back home, and in order to do so you’ll need to hop, glide, and swim your way through the forest, completing puzzles and quests while interacting with the forest’s strange inhabitants.
The platforming in Shumi Come Home feels solid, with tight, responsive controls and fun jumping puzzles. The dialog was cracking us up when we tried out the demo — it has a laid back, not-trying-too-hard vibe that makes its particular brand of humor all the more effective. This was one of the games where, when our time ran out, we really wished we could keep playing — good thing there’s a demo we can play to tide us over until the game comes out later this year.
- Developer – Rogue Sun
- Publisher – Wired Productions
- Release Date – April 20th 2023
Way back in 1991, a 2D Amiga game called Lemmings came out, in which you had to guide a group of titular creatures through a series of obstacles to an exit. It was a deceptively simple game that’s earned plenty of retrospective accolades, and spawned a number of low budget imitators. Yet for some reason, no one’s really managed to recapture its magic — until now.
Tin Hearts is a clear spiritual successor to Lemmings, but features expansive, three-dimensional puzzles that are incredibly well balanced. In our time with the demo build, we often had to stop, scratch our heads, and take a careful look around one of the carefully-crafted 3D environments that Tin Hearts’ puzzles take place in. But none of the puzzles ever took us too long to figure out, and each had a satisfying “ah hah!” moment that all good puzzles games provide. Once we figured out what to do, we zoomed in and admired the attention to detail on the little wind-up soldiers as they marched their way towards the level’s exit.
Supporting the game’s puzzles is a narrative that’s woven deftly through the puzzles, with the narrative sometimes even unfolding in the midst of the puzzle solving. Tin Hearts also features VR support — given that the puzzles all require placing blocks, tilting surfaces, or otherwise manipulating objects in 3D space, it seems like the perfect game for VR. This was one of the many titles that we immediately wishlisted after playing, and we’re very excited for its April 20th release.
Do Not Feed the Monkeys 2099
- Developer – Fictiorama Studios
- Publisher – Joystick Ventures
- Release Date – May 25, 2023
Do Not Feed the Monkeys 2099 is a “digital voyeur simulator” where you peer through camera lenses and straight into the bizarre, comedic, and esoteric lives of strangers. You have to try to piece together the various mysteries of their lives while still tending to your own needs and juggling an increasing number of tasks ranging from feeding yourself, to paying taxes, to making sure to attend day jobs — all of which exist at odds to vigilantly watching the “cages” through which you are viewing the cryptic lives of others.
For fans of the first game, Do Not Feed the Monkeys 2099 is just as clever, satirical, and funny as its predecessor, while the social commentary is taken to even further extremes. Fictiorama Studios sought to take the contemporary criticism levied in the original, and ask “what will the future look like,” and so far, they have succeeded immensely. Between sharp writing, tricky puzzles, engaging gameplay, and occassionally hilarious moments, Do Not Feed the Monkeys 2099 looks like it might be one of the best things to come out of the modern surveillance state.
- Developer – Hot Chili Games
- Publisher – PID Games
- Release Date – Q2 2023
Elypse is a 2D precision platformer where you have to traverse a mysterious and broken world using your abilities – namely, your abilities to dash and fire energy bolts. From these two simple mechanics, an increasing amount of complexity is created via creative use of the environment and obstacles to create a fun, challenging experience. And that’s all there really is to it (in addition to a fascinating story and world). This is a game that understands the appeal of doing just one thing, and making sure to do it as good as possible.
On the scale of precision platformers, Elypse is not as difficult as Celeste or Super Meat Boy, but instead opts for a more “zen” game, where you enter a flow-state and can just continue on without too many level restarts. In short, it feels satisfying the whole way through, and combined with the grim-psychedelic visuals this game becomes a true sensory treat.
- Developer – Batterystaple Games
- Publisher – Batterystaple Games
- Release Date – Currently in Early Access
30XX is a side-scrolling Megaman-inspired platformer which improves and expands upon its predecessor, 20XX, in every way. The movement is smoother, the powerups are more powerful (and stackable), the amount and depth of content is far greater. In short, 30XX creates the definitive Megaman-like title, all while looking great and adding a lot to the genre. And that isn’t even to mention the seamless, fun co-op that let’s you and a buddy take control of Nina and Ace, who have their own unique move-sets.
But the true cherry on top of 30XX is it’s incredible level-editor, which seeks to do what Mario Maker did for its title franchise, but with Megaman. Currently, you are able to create impossibly huge levels using any tools, objects, terrain, and AI patterns you desire, letting you truly create anything within this game. And yes, this does mean that there is potentially infinite levels, allowing the game to utilize the creative might of its players to bulk up its catalog and create fun and interesting content forever.
That wraps up our look at our favorite puzzle and platformer games at PAX East 2023. If you’re curious about any of the titles and have a question or two, drop us a line in the comments, and we’ll see if we can satisfy your curiosity!