We do a pretty good job of letting you know about the larger games on the horizon. Even if we didn't, most of the major publishers have their marketing down pat. You know when Evolve and Batman: Arkham Knight are coming. You know about Battlefield: Hardline and you can expect another Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty, Madden, and FIFA like clockwork.
So it falls to us to let you know about some of the smaller titles, the ones on the fringe that don't get the same kind of press those major games do. PAX tends to be the best place to find out about many of these titles and PAX South was no exception. So here's a few of the smaller highlights from this smaller show.
Super Slam Dunk Touchdown
Do you like sports? Even if you don't, do you have an opinion on which sport is the best? Super Slam Dunk Touchdown is an 12-bit style free-for-all pitting hockey, football, football 2: shoulderpads and leatheregg, basketball, and roller derby against one another. It's a 3v3 match-up, with players choosing an athlete from one of the sports above and attempting to score on a hybrid soccer goal/basketball hoop/goal post. Both goals are protected by an AI lacrosse goalie.
Each athlete has a different way to handle the point-scoring item; it switches between football, baseball, basketball, and hockey puck. The football player can tackle fools, while the basketball player can shoot over the goalie's head. Hockey players can charge shots, while soccer players can steal. Everyone brings something to the table and the development team at Tipping Goat plans to add more sports in the future.
Not only was Super Slam Dunk Touchdown pretty fun in person, the developer had the game running at PAX South with six GameCube controllers. It felt oddly retro. The game is still in early development, so you can actually download the game from Tipping Goat's website right now.
Just Shapes and Beats
I love flippin' music games. Just Shapes and Beats is what it says on the tin: you and up to three friends navigate a musical minefield, where hot chiptune beats create shapes that try to kill you. That's it. It's a little bit music game and a little bit bullet hell. You can move, but your only other input is a short dash. Avoid the shapes and don't die. If you do, your friends can bring you back to life by simply running over your floating corpse.
On the bright side, you don't have to be perfect over the course of the entire song. Just Shapes and Beats has checkpoints; if you die after passing a checkpoint, the song simply rewinds back to that checkpoint. Unfortunately, checkpoints won't help you in the elaborate boss battles.
Unlike a similar title - Soundodger - every level in Just Shapes and Beats is hand-crafted and many of the songs are from indie chiptune artists. Developer Lachhh & Friends told me that an editor so you can craft levels for your favorite tunes is already forthcoming, meaning even more awesome bullet hell action is on its way. Just Shapes and Beats has no release date sadly.
Hive Jump is a 4-player co-op shooter that drops players into a multi-level procedurally-generated dungeon with a ton of alien bugs. The game had a Kickstarter drive this past September and the developer, Graphite Lab, just barely crossed their funding goal. What they've made since then is an almost Contra-like run-and-gun shooter with an odd twist. When a player dies, they're replaced with what visually looks like the same character, but with a different name. The idea is another soldier teleports in as a replacement to finish the fight (All the names are pulled from a list provided by backers.) I'll remember you forever Ozamataz Buckshank.
The twist is that dead players can teleport in forever as long as the transponder backpack is still active. This is a backpack carried by one of the players. When it's dropped, the monsters will swarm it and if they succeed in destroying it, your limitless supply of lives is at an end. It's a unique idea that keeps the entire team focused on protecting whoever has the transponder.
There's also a wide variety of weapons and grenades you can purchase between levels with your ill-gotten monster guts.
A little bit of Gunpoint, a little bit of Klei's Mark of the Ninja, Ronin places you in the motorcycle helmet of a young heroine looking for vengeance. It's a turn-based action platformer that happens to feel like a real-time game once you get good with the movement system.
Ronin can scale walls, leap far distances, and cut foes down. At its core, Ronin is about using stealth to attack foes and achieve objectives. Leap from shadow to shadow, use your grappling hook to find the right position, hide on ceilings and garrote guards from above, and most importantly, don't get seen, because one hit means the end of you. I had a ton of fun with Ronin, even if it did feel derivative at times.
Another 4-player action game with an 80's anime aesthetic. The primary gameplay mode of Capsule Force is a 2v2 mode. On each level there are two platforms; when you jump on a platform, it moves towards your objective. When your partner joins you on the platform, it moves towards the objective even faster. If you and an opponent share a platform, it stands still. Don't like that? Blow the offender out of the sky! The idea is to move multiple screens towards your objective - a tiny galaxy - and claim it to win the game.
Capsule Force lends itself to rather short local multiplayer matches and in my time at PAX South I found the little title rather endearing. It's coming to PlayStation 4 and Steam sometime this year.
Videoball shares the title for most minimalist game on this list with Just Shapes and Beats. It's graphics are deceptively simple, instead focusing on tight, pure, competitive action. It's a bit of air hockey, with circular pucks on the playing field that you can't move by touch. Instead, you have to shoot them; charging your shots sends the puck flying farther. If you hold down your charged shot to the max, you can also create barriers to defend your goal. Shoot fools, avoid the puck, score goals.
Videoball is a 2-4 player local multiplayer title - like I said, it was a bit of an indie trend at PAX South - but it's probably the most polished title in this list, other than its aforementioned partner. Oh, and Videoball is the latest game from Action Button Entertainment, the personal studio of Tim Rogers.
A King's Bird
I played this pre-alpha title from Serenity Forge on my last day at PAX South. It felt very Journey-esque, controlling this silhouette of a young woman as she attempts to free a series of trapped birds within the level. The young woman can glide and control the wind itself; using both abilities in tandem allows you to move about each level.
On the relatively loud show floor, The King's Bird was a calm respite. It was especially enchanting towards the end of the demo, when the young woman could take autonomous flight, with the scores of white birds freewheeling around you. This is another pre-alpha game, to the point where I couldn't even find a YouTube video for it. So... no release date.