Every year since 2010, video game fans have swarmed Boston for PAX East, a multi-day convention dedicated to showing off upcoming releases. Gamers get to preview games in development, go hands-on with hotly anticipated games, and compete in tournaments. Here’s some quick first impressions of over twenty upcoming games that FOX43’s Joe Fourhman saw at the show.
The new “Animal Crossing” was easily the biggest game at the show, with fans waiting hours for a chance to check it out. The last time “Animal Crossing” appeared on a television console system (way back in 2008), we were all still on standard definition TVs, so this is the first time a core “Crossing” has turned up in HD. That by itself would be enough to recommend the game, but “New Horizons” has spent its missing years adding in piles of quality-of-life improvements. The inventory system is greatly enhanced, and you’re able to design your own backyard landscapes of hills and rivers. “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is out exclusively for Nintendo Switch this month.
“Fuser” is the newest music game from the geniuses behind “Guitar Hero,” “Dance Central” and “DropMix.” “Fuser” casts you as a DJ and lets you mix musical sections of popular tunes, on the fly. If you want to combine the guitar from “Old Town Road” with the vocals from “Rock the Casbah” and the drums from “Good as Hell,” go right ahead. And it all sounds phenomenal! Although you are playing for a high score - by adding elements on just the right beats and changing the mix according to audience requests - it’s fun simply creating never-ending, entirely new flavors of music from familiar artists. “Fuser” is aiming to release for PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Switch this year.
It’s hard to believe this one hasn’t been done before: you’re a shark, and you have all of the rights and privileges of being the ocean’s number one predator. In the PAX demo, you began swimming around chomping on fish and turtles, but you quickly moved on to attacking and eating people. There’s a sick kind of ballet to how “Maneater” lets you leap out of the water and effortlessly pluck people off of a fishing boat. It will be fun to see how the game drops in bigger fish to give you a challenge, when it hits PS4 and Xbox One this May (and Switch later in the year.)
“Spaceteam” originally came out for phones in 2012, putting a party game spin on the concept of a barely-cohesive crew trying to survive their spaceship’s imminent destruction. Turns out, this works flawlessly in virtual reality. The VR edition puts you at one of your ship’s control panels, where you must cooperate with other players to open the flange valves and twist the radon sensor and whatever other ridiculous tasks fly by on your viewscreen. You can play the game solo, or with a mix of VR headsets and phone players. “Spaceteam VR” is coming soon to all major virtual reality platforms.
A digital adaptation of a contemporary darling of the board game world, “Root” has players control various animal factions for dominance of their shared forest. The game does a stellar job of turning the board game into a living, animated environment… filling in the details that the tabletop version leaves to your imagination. In “Root” the armies play completely differently from each other, so there’s plenty to explore and lots of replayability. That also means the game can be a little daunting to master, so having this video game version should open the door for people to learn how to play at their own pace. “Root” is coming soon to PC, the Google Play store, and the Apple App Store.
“MisBits” is a collection of games and modes all centered on the idea of modular toys battling and building with each other. You control a bouncy-ball head, and you can commandeer any nearby body and weaponry to create bizarre combinations of abilities. At PAX, the game was showing off a soccer mode where teams of players competed to score goals, but the final release will contain more play styles. “MisBits” is fast and goofy… it feels like it’s trying to combine the silly-but-serious competitive angle of “Fortnite” with the easy creativity of “Disney Infinity.” “MisBits” heads into "early access" on PC this week, meaning where you can play the game, but the developers are still working out the bugs and changing features.
“Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories” takes place in Japan during a catastrophic earthquake, and you play a survivor exploring the city and helping out where you can. “Summer Memories” rides that line between the intense realism of collapsing buildings and unexpected aftershocks (there is a VR mode available in the PS4 version) and that unique-to-video-games flavor of incongruous weirdness. For example, you’ll make your way out of a frightening gas line explosion by escaping into a nearby building... where a line of young job applicants are upset that today’s interviews have been cancelled. “Summer Memories” features plenty of text-based dialogue choices that will customize how the story unfolds and how other characters react to you. The game is coming to PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC in April.
In this achingly charming game, you confront the difficulties of a long distance relationship using visual tricks inspired by folding paper. “A Fold Apart” tells the story of two separated partners that can meet back up by “folding” the landscape to re-connect their worlds. Each area is a new puzzle where you must figure out how to proceed while absorbing the story of the lonely lovers. “A Fold Apart” lets you select from several straight and gay pairings because it’s not so much the story of two specific characters, but instead a commentary on how everybody wants to be with the one they love. The game is coming soon to PC, Switch, Xbox One, PS4 and Apple Arcade.
“Liberated” is a mix of the storytelling techniques of comic books and the action of video games. Telling a story of revolutionaries versus a restrictive society, “Liberated” is presented as an actual comic, with animated covers and panels. Inside the panels, the word balloons will regularly give way to game scenes, where you must stealthily pick your way through patrolling guards or solve puzzles to hack into secure locations. The game’s look is another mash-up: the techno-fear of cyberpunk with the grim shades of noir. “Liberated” is slated to come to NIntendo Switch and PC in the second quarter of this year.
“Ambition” presents an ambitious premise: you play as a young woman in Paris just before the French Revolution, who finds herself alone amid the brewing war of nobles and commoners. The hook is that your story builds with randomly generated elements that create different dialogue and exploration options (the further hook is that it looks fantastic, borrowing stylistically from anime while maintaining period-accurate fashions and settings.) Much of the game looks to be about manipulating all sides of the conflict, as your character navigates her world to either selfish or selfless ends. In a great example of translating real world situations to traditional video game elements, your character can select clothing options that come with rankings of modesty and luxury. How you dress will affect how the other people in the game accept or reject you. “Ambition: A Minuet in Power” is heading to PC “in due time.”
If you read Franz Kafka’s short story “Metamorphosis” and did not think “wow, this would make a cool video game,” you’re obviously not a game designer. The literary classic (yes, the one where the guy wakes up one day and discovers he’s a cockroach) is about to be turned into a game that appears to mostly be about how rough bugs have it. Using a first-person perspective, the demo began at the height of a normal human, but gradually shrank until nearby chairs and drawers became the size of mountains. That’s when you notice the creepy bug legs sticking out in front you, with appropriate skittering noises. Once reduced to insect size, the world becomes a navigational puzzle. How do you make it from point A to point B with stacks of giant books and clockwork gears in between? Of course, the bigger question of “why am I a cockroach” will have to wait until “Metamorphosis” arrives on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC later this year.
“Bite the Bullet” looks like an old school run-and-gun game, but it’s been dressed up with trimmings borrowed from the worlds of competitive eaters and celebrity chefs. Yes, you’ll be shooting down strange alien enemies, but after the fight you get to consume their corpses to use as building materials for your own gastronomical upgrades. “Bite the Bullet” has a lot more going on under the hood than you’d think, with entire subsystems devoted to your character’s caloric intake and body mass. The more you eat, the more powerful you get, at the cost of speed and mobility. Cameo appearances from real world folks like Crazy Legs Conti and Chef Ming Tsai round out the weirdness. The game is coming to Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC in 2020.
Malevolent aliens are infiltrating human society. They have ghastly plans, human disguises and have already placed key figures in jobs where they intend to hollow out Earth from within. Their biggest problem is mastering the intricacies of human speech. As one of these aliens in “Speaking Simulator,” you are given a sentence to speak aloud, while maintaining a low level of suspicion. You have to follow the prompts to drop your chin, expand your cheeks, and move your tongue to tag buttons hidden inside the mouth of your mostly convincing human costume. It’s intentionally difficult, because it’s funny to realize you’ve lost control of your tongue and there it is flopping around outside your lips. “Speaking Simulator” is out now for Nintendo Switch and PC.
While we’re talking about games that are maddeningly goofy on purpose, take a look at “Totally Reliable Delivery Service.” This one lets you control dorky little workers who are tasked with delivering packages across a cute cartoon city. The trick is that the basic actions of picking up boxes and driving trucks have been obfuscated behind awkward controls and overblown physics systems. The goal is to get the packages delivered as quickly as possible, which becomes a Herculean task of managing wobbly forklifts and even wobblier people. Deliveries begin this April on PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Switch.
This new installment resurrects the “Desperados” series, which has not been seen since 2007 (and in classic video game logic, this third game is actually a prequel to the first one.) Using a birds-eye view of the environments, you direct a team of Old West archetypes through various infiltrations and heists. Enemy guards have a field of vision that constantly swings around the map, forcing you to create distractions or carefully time your approach. The opening level begins with series anti-hero John Cooper as a child, learning the ropes of bounty hunting from his father, but it quickly jumps forward to John assembling his crew. “Desperados III” is a game about waiting for just the right moment to strike, and coordinating efforts of characters spread across the map. The game is expected to release this year for Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
“Paper Beast” invites players to explore an odd world of, well, paper beasts. This VR game ran a demo at PAX that showed off both a story mode and a sandbox mode. In the story, you’re alone in an alien landscape… until these impossibly constructed creatures show up. Despite their unique anatomy, they all move and act like real animals. Some are curious about your presence, others scurry away as you approach. There’s no obvious directive in front of you, forcing you to relax and let the game unspool itself. When one beast gets attacked by vine-like strands, you do not need to be told to free the poor thing, you just intuit that as being what you should do. In the sandbox mode, you can sculpt the land and drop in whatever combination of plants and animals you like. Then you let them all interact, like a petting zoo with no walls. “Paper Beast” is a fascinating experiment in virtual animal behavior, and it comes to PlayStation VR this year.