The Best Indie Games of PAX South 2019

The Best Indie Games of PAX South 2019

Katana Zero, Tunic, and more showcase some of the best indies at PAX South 2019!

PAX South, like all the other PAX events, is a great time to take a look at what's coming from our vast community of independent developers. While events like E3 tend to focus on all the latest from major publishers, the expo hall at PAX events gives indies a chance to shine. I enjoy just wandering the space, seeing what catches my eye.

Since you probably couldn't be there, dear reader, here are a few of the titles that made an impression on me at PAX South 2019. Some are out already, some are being ported to new platforms, and others won't be available for a long time. All are worth your time.

Katana Zero

I've been raving about this game since 2015, but it looks like it'll finally be coming out in 2019! Katana Zero makes you into a samurai-like assassin who has been the recipient of a drug that speeds up his reaction times. This means our hero can plan out a series of actions in a split second. When you inevitably die, everything rewinds, because obviously your original idea didn't work. Once you successfully clear the room, your actions are played back in real-time, making you feel like a badass.

As you're planning, you can cut your opponents open with your katana, dodge roll out of danger, throw various objects, slash bullets back at foes, and slow down time to make the aforementioned actions a bit easier. What makes Katana Zero work is every hit feels meaty: there's a split second pause to really emphasize the impact. As you're working out your murder chains, Katana Zero can feel a little like Hotline Miami. That's appropriate, considering Hotline Miami publisher Devolver Digital has picked up Katana Zero.

Katana Zero is coming to PC (Steam) sometime in March 2019.

Boyfriend Dungeon

It's not a secret, but I really enjoy visual novels and dating sims. That's why I'm all for romance shenanigans in BioWare titles or Fire Emblem. Enter Boyfriend Dungeon, which asks you if you'd like to date your weapons. Not in athe creepy way like, sleeping next to a sword in bed, but in a healthy way. See, in the world of Boyfriend Dungeon, people can turn into weapons.

If you really want to dive deep into dungeons for the best loot, you'll not only need to use your favorite weapon to hack and slash, you'll also need woo them back in town. This means many conversations and a few dates. Each weapon has a different personality in their human form, and a different play style in combat. So choose wisely.

Boyfriend Dungeon is such a weird and wonderful concept, and I loved sitting down to play it at PAX South. It's coming to Steam in 2019.

Fantasy Strike

Fantasy Strike is the work of Sirlin Games, a developer founded by Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix lead designer and former Street Fighter 2 tournament player David Sirlin. The idea here is lowering the barrier of entry to fighting games. Combos are easier, special moves are button and direction presses, and the lifebar is clearly segmented so you always know how much damage a move does. The strategy and the footsies of a game like Street Fighter are retained, but sitting down and playing for your first time is much easier.

Despite the cuts, I found Fantasy Strike to be a damned good fighting game. After only a few minutes, I had everything down and was ready to get to the meat and potatoes. The simple controls mean you have more time to focus on zoning, mixups, and counters, as opposed to worrying about execution. I was skeptical, but my playtime made me into a believer.

Fantasy Strike is available on Steam Early Access, with planned releases on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch in 2019.

Tunic

You might remember this cute little fox from Microsoft's presentation at E3 2018. From developer Finji comes Tunic, a game about a little hero in a big, scary world. Tunic is very much like a modern translation of the original Legend of Zelda, from an isometric point of view. (Which I guess makes it more like Landstalker for Sega Genesis, but I doubt many remember that game.) Explore dungeons, find new weapons to forge a path forward, and defeat enemies. There's also a load of secrets, including… the game's manual?

One thing that sets Tunic apart from its predecessor is generally difficult combat. For such a cute game, the combat here is pretty punishing. You'll have to slash, roll, block, and parry your way to victory, which can be hard once Tunic starts throwing more enemies in your direction.

Tunic is coming to Xbox One and Steam whenever it's done.

Streets of Rage 4

Yes, I played a very early build of Streets of Rage 4! Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap proved that developer LizardCube and publisher DotEmu knew how to properly remaster a classic. Streets of Rage 4 starts from the same core—bringing back Sega's Streets of Rage—but moves forward into a new era. Axel's waistline points to some having passed since the events of Streets of Rage 3, but he and Blaze are still ready to beat up some bad guys.

The build I played featured the new 2D hand-drawn art style, but contained a number of placeholder assets, including the old sound effects and soundtrack. While what was there is definitely the old Streets of Rage, LizardCube has rethought a few things. For one, enemies can no longer fall out of view. Instead, they'll bounce off an invisible screen wall, allowing you to hit them with juggling combos. Another change sees special attacks still taking from your health bar, but leaving an additional green zone. This represents health you can regain if you do normal combos and don't take any damage.

Basically, Streets of Rage 4 is thoughtful sequel to the original games. It's the same, but not so much that you couldn't consider it a proper follow-up. The bad news is that Streets of Rage does not currently have a release date or any release platforms. You'll be waiting a while.

Dicey Dungeons

This is the latest game from VVVVVV and Super Hexagon designer Terry Cavanagh. You play a sentient dice on a grand adventure to… well, Cavanagh didn't exactly say where the dice were going. Dicey Dungeons is an RPG where you build a deck of various moves depending on your chosen class. The catch is your move cards only activate if you fulfill their dice roll requirements. Yeah, that's two layers of luck.

Dicey Dungeons is all about choosing the right moves and hoping your dice rolls back them up. Along the way, you'll face a host of enemies, all designed with whimsical delight by artist Marlowe Dobbe. (The soundtrack is by Chipzel, the composer of Super Hexagon and Crypt of the Necrodancer.) Dicey Dungeons is coming sometime in 2019 to PC, Mac, and Linux, through you can check out the paid alpha right now.

The colorful crew of Shot One | Red Moon Workshop

Shot One

Yes, Windjammers 2 is coming from DotEmu, but there's always room for more Windjammers-style action. Shot One is a definite throwback to the NeoGeo title, featuring a colorful cast of characters throwing around a frisbee. While Windjammers 1 and 2 use 2D art and a more human cast, Shot One features fully 3D characters, including a cat in a mech suit, a werewolf, and an ancient mummy.

Unfortunately, Shot One is really early in development, with the developer saying the game is still in the alpha stage. We'll be waiting for this one for some time.

If you enjoy reading about great video games, you'll find a neat collection of more in our ever-growing list of the best games of 2019. It's easy to lose track of new releases, so use this list to make sure you don't miss the games we think are essential.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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