The 10th annual Penny Arcade Expo has come and gone for 2019. Of course, I couldn’t miss the show and while it ultimately wasn’t as exciting as year’s past in terms of big AAA games, there was still a lot to take in. Here’s a recap of everything I saw and played while I was there on Thursday and Sunday.
On Thursday, my main priority was to get into the Gearbox Main Theater Panel. Borderlands 3 was the big draw here, but rumors indicated that they potentially had a number of other game reveals as well. I also had an inkling that Gearbox would be handing out some free stuff based on their track record. While attendees were handed psycho bandit masks and a $5 off coupon for their new Tiny Tina board game, the majority of people there also got codes for Borderlands: The Handsome Collection and the newly released Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition. Score! If you want my thoughts on the rest of the show, check out my post here.
For me, however, PAX is about the games, so most of the day I’m there, you’ll find me on the show floor checking out the latest and greatest. Let’s take a look at everything, shall we?
I’ll freely admit that Sony had a number of games I wanted to try. Unfortunately, they decided to complicate the entire process and unlike other booths, they had an RSVP system requiring players to download an app, log in, and reserve a time to play. Honestly, I wasn’t interested in doing any of that. Days Gone was basically line capped at all times of the day, and while I’m not 100% sold on that game yet, I would have loved to get some hands-on time.
While that didn’t happen, I was able to watch some of the games they had on display, so here are some quick thoughts:
Control – Even at a quick glance, you can clearly see that this is a Remedy game through and through. In fact, you can even see the DNA of other Remedy franchises spliced into Control. It looks to be a game that somehow manages to combine all these elements together; action moments of Max Payne, super abilities of Quantum Break, and the supernatural moments of Alan Wake.
Frankly, I’m shocked that this game is so far under the radar. It’s almost like a “blink and you’ll miss it” style of game as I feel there’s been very little marketing of. At least, not to the level of Alan Wake and Quantum Break. I’m hoping for the best, but there’s still just so much I feel like I don’t know about it.
CTR: Crash Team Racing – I love kart racers and while I never got to experience the original games back in the day, I know this is a beloved franchise. I can see why. The racing looked wildly fun.
With that said, I can’t help but hope that CTR will have some of the smart additions that Nintendo made for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch. For those who don’t know, you can toggle an option that prevents your cart from steering off the road, a perfect solution for younger kids who may not be as comfortable with video games. It’s a great way to help introduce them to these types of games and help them get better at them over time.
Dreams – I love the work that Media Molecule does, especially with the first couple of LittleBigPlanet games. The creativity, the visual style, the push for community…it was all so cool. Dreams is a game that I can honestly say, I just don’t get. Marketing has been very inconsistent and without looking it up, I can’t say when or if this game is launching any time soon.
It was at PAX East in a lounge style set up, with developers showcasing the game on a big TV. Once again, Dreams pushes creativity in letting people design things from art to bigger things like minigames. As far as I know, this is a game that’s going to heavily rely on the community to create new things for others to do, as the game launches with a tutorial style campaign. That means how well it does or how long it survives will likely be dictated by players directly.
While Xbox appears to be in a sort of quasi-holding pattern as it prepares to announce new console hardware in a couple of months, the big elements to the Xbox Booth this year were the upcoming indie titles and Game Pass additions. The studio also brought some recently released titles like Forza Horizon 4 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider for those interested.
The indie scene is pretty hot right now so I couldn’t resist entering a non-existent line to check out some upcoming games. While they had the multiplayer title Killer Queen Black, the interesting looking Operencia, and more, I settled on:
Void Bastards – I picked this one in large part because one of the people playing was about to finish the demo and because I had read an article just recently about it. I honestly wish I could say more about it, but upon booting up the demo, I felt like it just plopped me in the middle of the game. I legit had no clue what I was doing, how to do it, or why I was doing it.
That said, I still had fun discovering things and I really enjoyed the visual style of the game. The initial map showed my ship in space and allowed me to travel to different places as long as I had the resources on hand to travel there. It looked like a cross between the Lylat System branching map in Star Fox 64 and what you see in Steamworld Heist. Upon landing at your destination, the game becomes a first person shooter with light RPG elements. I was exploring some sort of space station, looking for something, and trying to stay alive from these massive robots and also the hazards of the ship. I remember running out of ammo and eventually getting killed before leaving the ship.
I believe one of the developers was standing behind me watching and with how badly I performed, I’m sure I didn’t make him too proud. Following my play session, the man, who was dressed up with a trenchcoat, sunglasses and hat similar to the main character offered me a Void Bastards pin, which I gladly accepted.
In addition to Sony and Xbox, I stopped by the Nintendo side of the aisle, watching Smash Bros tournaments at their makeshift stage as well as checking out the new Yoshi game. For me though, I was shocked to see Mortal Kombat 11 entrenched within the Nintendo booth. Scorpion and the MK11 logo had a huge banner on display and naturally, I wanted to see how this version measured up to the Xbox/PC/PS4 versions.
Mortal Kombat 11 (Switch) – Fair warning, I am a Switch owner and while I love the little console, I really didn’t expect much from this version of the game. I was surprised to find out that the game actually holds its own very well. I played in handheld mode, so there were some technical limitations that one wouldn’t necessarily find when the console is docked.
Yes, the framerate is lower and the visual clarity isn’t quite as good, BUT, the gameplay is rock solid. I played two matches against the AI, which was a relief considering my struggles with Samurai Showdown, and the build even features some stages that hadn’t been previously shown off. I didn’t have a tough time using the handheld controls, and the game actually looked pretty good. Sure, it can’t stack up to the other versions, but the fact that the game plays this well and you can take it on the go should be pretty appealing to many.
Outside of the “big 3”, I managed to log some time with a few other games as well.
Samurai Shodown – I’ll be honest, I’ve never played this classic SNK fighting series, though I do know how important it is to fighting game fans. Even though I didn’t have a baseline to compare it to, the line at this booth was consistently short, allowing me to get two matches in. The game looks fantastic and it’s a little more violent than you’d expect with Street Fighter IV style visuals. The characters are all very interesting and unique, and
The first match was rough as I faced off against someone who clearly had experience with it. I picked the ninja looking guy called Galford, who had a dog assist character. There wasn’t really a way to see the moves list and some of the controls used terminology I wasn’t familiar with, so here I am fighting this dude while also trying to learn the game. I got whooped.
The second round came on Sunday when I went back with my cousin. Playing with someone you know, who also doesn’t know the game made things a lot easier as we could take more of our time exploring different moves. This time I picked Charlotte and things went a lot better. In fact, the first round we actually KO’d each other at the same time. Overall, I had fun, but I’m not so sure if it’s something I want to dive into. Moves can be very damaging, so players will need to deflect attacks, as well as play a bit more defensively or matches could end very quickly. Still, it seems to be very faithful to the franchise so I have no doubt it’s going to gain a big following.
Yacht Club Games – While I didn’t get a chance to actually play anything at their booth, the team brought 3 games with them to show off. King of Cards, the final Shovel Knight expansion featuring King Knight, Shovel Knight Showdown, a very interesting and clever battle/beat-em-up mode, and the very cool and retro looking Cyber Shadow.
Fling to the Finish – This one surprised me because it pits two teams of two against each other in a race to make it to the end of a level. The catch? the racer wasn’t a car or vehicle, it was two bouncy animal balls connected by an elastic band. Each player controlled their end by using half of the shared controller. I don’t know how well this would do outside of a convention setting like this or a party, but man, it was hilarious to watch and the people playing looked like they were having a blast.
The Messenger – I know this game is already available, but the booth was decked out in a style that reminded me of the beach so naturally, I had to stop in. It seems the reason for it is that this Ninja Gaiden-esque side scroller is getting some DLC known as Picnic Panic. This is a free update that adds a new campaign and plenty of surprising twists like a surfing level.
My Friend Pedro – Ever since I saw this announcement during the Nintendo Direct, I had to know more. Thankfully at the Devolver booth, each arcade cabinet had a TV installed for people to watch. This game looks absurd and so much fun. Flipping, shooting, pulling off crazy gunkata style tricks all while talking to a sentient banana. What more could you want?
What was your favorite thing from PAX East 2019? Let me know in the comments.