The most promising indies we saw at PAX Australia

PAX Australia hit Melbourne again at the weekend, and as with most previous years, the PAX Rising indie section was by far the most enjoyable part of the show. Dozens of local and international studios demo-ed their wares to droves of roaming Pokemon cosplayers (actually, does wearing a onesie constitute cosplaying?), and what follows are merely ten of the games that excited us the most.

Most of these games will get hands-on reports in the coming weeks, so stick around if you're especially keen on sentient vacuum cleaners and acid spiked '90s fantasy FPSs.

Framed Collection 

Developer: Loveshack | Release Date: 2018

Released for smartphones in 2014, Framed is a clever puzzle game about re-arranging comic book panels to create non-fatal outcomes for the comic’s protagonist. It seems simple at first, but the set pieces become increasingly complex, with careful observation required to chaperone the Lemming-like noir star to the end of each page. Despite having its origins on touchscreens, Framed feels at home on PC, with the simple drag and drop interface transitioning well to a large screen. PC is getting both Framed and its sequel together in a bundle, which will hit Steam next year. Oh, and Hideo Kojima loves this game, if you needed any more incentive.  – Shaun Prescott

Amid Evil

Developer: Indefatigable | Release date: "soon"

If you love the hellish, illogical, speed-oriented design of vintage FPS levels, and if you love punchy fantasy weaponry ala Heretic and Hexen, this is a must. Amid Evil shared a booth with Dusk – both published by New Blood Interactive – and it’s easy to see why: they both share prominent ‘90s FPS DNA, but both seem to up the ante where speed and violence is concerned. While Dusk is a golden era Slayer LP, Amid Evil feels like Bathory – the gory European take on speed metal. I had the most fun playing Amid Evil at PAX, with its cleverly crafted levels and modern take on the polygonal aesthetic of Quake and other early “true 3D” shooters. This feels like a cult hit in the making. – Shaun Prescott

Rumu

Developer: Robot House | Release Date: Late 2017

In Rumu you play as a sentient vacuum cleaner. That should be all you need to know, because you’ve been waiting for a vacuum cleaner game for years, haven’t you? But for those yet to be convinced, here are the details: it’s a single-player narrative-driven adventure game. The nominal vacuum cleaner has become – or is becoming – self-aware, and the bulk of its time is spent rifling through an eerily unoccupied house. In this house “you’ll be faced with challenging moral dilemmas forcing you beyond your programming to uncover the truth about the love and loss of your elusive family”. We'll have more about this game later in the week. – Shaun Prescott

Aura of Worlds

Developer: Cognitive Forge | Release Date: mid 2018

A neat sidescrolling rogue-lite which is actually out now on Itch.io, though the complete version won’t hit Steam until “mid 2018”. I played this a bit in 2016, but ten minutes with the most recent build showed big improvements, especially in the movement and combat departments. The procedurally generated levels boast up to “50 unique enemies” and allow a great deal of improvisation when it comes to using objects – you can pick-up virtually anything and it feels like the game will encourage experimentation in a similar way to what Spelunky did. It’s also got a kind of charming knockabout art style that reminds me of Risk of Rain. – Shaun Prescott

Sky Noon

Developer: Lunar Rooster | Release Date: "soon"

Your first impression of Sky Noon might be that it looks like Overwatch, only everyone's McCree. Turns out it's absolutely nothing like that. In fact, it's closer to Smash Bros. than it is to a hero shooter. The way to win is to knock opponents off the map, which is a set of floating chunks of the wild west, and shooting them only pushes them back—nobody has hit points in Sky Noon. With a grappling hook for flinging yourself around the level and a lasso for dragging other players off course it's a shooter where movement and physics matter far more than shooting. Even dynamite is just a good way of knocking someone off a ledge in the Floating Frontier. – Jody Macgregor 

Necrobarista

Developer: Route 59 | Release Date: 2018

PAX Australia takes place in Melbourne, and plenty of the indies showcased at the con are made in the same city. Necrobarista isn't just made in Melbourne, it's about the place and the specifics of its cafe culture. The setting is a coffee shop in a disused tram depot in the suburb of Carlton, with the twist that it's the one night where ghosts return to the land of the living—and apparently thirst for coffee. Melbourne's coffee is pretty good, so fair enough. The story plays out as a visual novel, but a 3D one with dialogue projected onto walls and anime characters walking around it. – Jody Macgregor 

Hyper Jam

Developer: Bit Dragon | Release date: Early 2018

A fluid top-down competitive brawler which kinda looks like Hotline Miami as a Smash Bros clone. Both melee and ranged weapons are available, and some of the arenas have traps too, so you won’t be blindly swiping / shooting in the direction of your foes. Hyper Jam supports up to four players, and if you liked the music and style of Hotline Miami, Stranger Things, and any other game heavily influenced by the 1980s (or at least, the modern fetishised version of the 1980s) this will be your (hyper)jam.  – Shaun Prescott

Odd Gods

Developer: Inn Between Worlds | Release Date: TBA

An RPG about teens from the 1990s traveling through time, Odd Gods sounds like a straight-faced take on Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Instead of fighters and wizards you play skaters and grunge kids, and instead of alignments like Good and Evil they're defined by musical taste, divided by preferences for Mainstream, Alternative, or Underground. You also pick up a cast of companions from alternate history, like a musketeer from a timeline where the French Revolution never happened. Combat is turn-based but simultaneous, a bit like Frozen Synapse: you give commands to everyone and then watch them play out, hoping that enemy you fired your musket at doesn't duck behind cover before you get a shot off. Is it possible for a game to have too many good ideas? Odd Gods might. – Jody Macgregor 

Insignia

Developer: Uppon Hill Games | Release Date: TBA

Developed by a lone Western Sydney developer, Insignia isn’t shy about its indebtedness to the SNES era: its PAX booth favoured SNES Mini USB controllers over the more common Xbox 360 input. Meanwhile, the sidescrolling 16-bit worlds are lush and colourful, hiding what its developer Adam Younis says are light RPG elements (though no number crunching will be involved, by the sound of it). It’s still pretty early days for Insignia, but what I saw was very promising for a solo project. – Shaun Prescott

Winter's Wake

Developer: Josh 'Cheeseness' Bush | Release Date:  TBA

A text adventure is a hard sell among all the noise and flash of PAX, but Winter's Wake managed to draw players every day of the con. One even sat down to play for an uninterrupted hour and a half. Winter's Wake is a relatively standard story of a fantasy adventurer crossing the wilderness, but what makes it different is that it's first-person like Josh's prior game, superhero adventure The Spicy Meatball Saves the Day. A description of a crossroads hovers in front of you, and as you mouse left or right a compass spins and paragraphs of text about what's to your west and east appear. (You can look up and down as well.) Left-clicking interacts, and right-clicking brings up your inventory. Positional audio that lets you hear the waterfall to the south and wind in the northern trees as you turn your head it augments the sense of being there that well-written text provides. Taking off the headphones to hear hardware vendors shouting at people, you can see why someone wanted to stay in Winter's Wake for that soothing hour and a half. – Jody Macgregor