The best part of conventions like PAX Aus 2022 are the games. Specifically, playing upcoming games from independent developers and small studios, and getting to chat with them about their games.
There were dozens and dozens of these games on show at PAX Aus 2022, from developers based in Australia, South East Asia, and abroad, making it impossible to play them all – although GamesHub contributor Meghann O’Neill and her son came very close, reportedly playing 109 games in total.
Amongst this excellence, there are always games you find that align perfectly with your personal taste, capturing your interest in just the right way, and sticking with you long after the show ends.
We’ve already shouted about the great lineup of PAX Aus 2022 Indie Showcase Winners, and highlighted the People’s Choice Winner out of that curated cohort, chosen by PAX Aus attendees. But there were plenty of games that we personally loved, too.
So here are GamesHub’s 13 favourite games from PAX Aus 2022:
- Mars First Logistics
- Sigil of the Magi
- Anger Foot
- Spirit Mancer
- Schrodinger’s Cat Burglar
- The Stranger Next Door
- The Godfeather
The first thing I noticed about Gunbrella was its distinctive colour palette. It’s mostly dark; reds, greys and browns, blue in the distance. Why is water fluorescent yellow? The harsh, industrial landscapes perhaps provide clues.
The ‘gunbrella’ of the title delivers what it promises; bullets and umbrella-based gameplay. This multipurpose tool is strong enough to be a shield and a hook for ziplining, as well as allowing you to float and dash. The timing for this dash takes practice, and there’s a lot to coordinate and master as you navigate platforms, enemies and puzzles.
The second thing I noticed was the music, with its sparse, irreverent beats, electronic timbres and wayward drops. And then the sound, where skeletons audibly crumble and blood is sloppily wet. Every aesthetic element in this world feels thoughtfully crafted.
Story elements in the demo are minimal, but meaningful. I had a doll in my inventory that was described as ‘don’t want to think about that right now’ and journal entries about ‘strange rumours’. The gameplay is fun, but I’d play more just to learn what’s next for this tiny man in a brown coat. – Meghann O’Neill
A demo for Gunbrella is available on Steam.
Tempopo, from Witch Beam, was a bright, shiny light on the PAX Aus 2022 show floor – an oasis away from the press of bodies and the stress of getting to appointments on time. It’s not just the gameplay that soothed me, it was also the music, and the slow, thoughtful puzzles in each level. In Tempopo, you guide an adorable bud through a variety of courses. To complete levels, you’ll place tiles to guide this bud around various locales, growing stray flowers in your path. Restore each flower, and you’ll have a clear path to an exit, triggering a new round of challenges.
Tempopo is, if anything, an anti-stress game – one that encourages you to make measured choices, try each of your options, and solve puzzles at your own pace. Failure is only a small blip in gameplay. If you fail, try again – with a new path, and new ideas at your side. It’s tricky to pull off challenges in the later phases of the game but it’s never frustrating, with the game’s soundtrack lulling you into a wonderful sense of calm. Tempopo is a perfect escape, and one that was much needed at PAX Aus 2022. – Leah J. Williams
Keep an eye on the Witch Beam website for updates on Tempopo.
Mars First Logistics
I love everything about Mars First Logistics, a game that already feels so confident in its identity, ideas, and execution.
The basic premise is that you’re given the opportunity to build custom rovers, vehicles, machines – and honestly, whatever monstrosities you can think of – with the goal of transporting a series of increasingly strange goods from point A to B, across the harsh (and algorithmically generated) terrain of the red planet.
Ian MacLarty of developer Shape Shop describes the game as a mix of the medieval siege-engine building of Besiege, and the off-road hauling of Mudrunner – and it certainly captures the entertaining nature of both of those games in a very smart-looking format.
The cel-shaded look of Mars and its structures is impeccable, as is the LEGO manual-like vibe on the building screen. At Freeplay: Parallels, MacClarty showed off some of the inventive creations possible with the free-form building tool, including a mechanical crab creature that was incredibly impressive, if a little impractical.
I feel like Mars First Logistics is going to be an absolute sensation when it comes out, and for good reason. – Edmond Tran
You should play the Mars First Logistics demo on Steam.
Sigil of the Magi
I’m not sure I’ve ever before played a turn-based strategy game with characters this cute. You should see the wizard’s little beard-ponytail and button eyes. You should see them fidgeting in grass, and gaining four armour. But also… how can something so adorable be so hard?!
Sigil of the Magi taunts you with its beatable-seeming map and five (or so) battles to win, interspersed with treasure and shops, on any given run. But confident play requires careful deck-building and positioning, min-maxing statistics and buffs, endlessly thoughtful decision-making and, generally, understanding how things work.
Initially I made a grave error, believing numbers represented stacks, rather than hit points. So, a sweet (but angry) warhound with the number ‘one’ above his head is one very injured warhound, still capable of dealing a full six damage, not one warhound who is one-fifteenth the strength of fifteen warhounds.
When you understand that previous sentence, and several other things about action points, card class and character abilities, your reward will be survival and complexity that escalates alarmingly. Alternatively, your adversaries are so cute, you could just let them win. Your call. – Meghann O’Neill
You can wishlist Sigil of the Magi on Steam.
Anger Foot, from Free Lives, surprised me the most at PAX Aus 2022. With its high-speed, enemy-kicking, door-smashing antics, it was an absolute blast – a real shot-to-the-arm filled with adrenaline and enough juice to keep me romping through cloistered corridors, hunting down enemies and fighting for freedom.
In this frenetic, neon-infused action adventure, you’re playing as an unseen protagonist, armed with an ammo-light gun, and a deadly kicking foot. Your job is to run through hallways, knocking down obstacles, and fighting through angry hordes as they joust through corridors, and swing for your head.
It’s mad – completely bonkers – but it’s also an eye-popping delight, and stood out impressively on the PAX Aus show floor. – Leah J. Williams
A demo for Anger Foot is now available on Steam.
You know what’s terrifying? PlayStation 1-era survival horror games. You know what else is terrifying? World War I – and Conscript is a game that mixes both those things to pretty good effect.
Solo developer Jordan Mochi took his love of history and survival horror games to create what was an incredibly evocative demo at PAX Aus 2022. Playing as a French soldier who begins the game by trying to seek out his brother, the game frames frontline trench warfare as the terrifying ordeal it very likely was.
Encountering just one or two opposing soldiers is something to be feared – and rightly so – especially when your primary weapon is a single-shot rifle that requires time and space to reload. But the flow of the game is a promising experience – the heft of your protagonist and the purposeful feel of combat is grim and satisfying.
A sombre soundtrack, unnerving diary entries, a clunky inventory system – it’s all here. Pre-rendered 3D art and pixellated polygons really help make Conscript feel of an era – a historical relic in itself – which all contributes to creating a very strong survival horror atmosphere. – Edmond Tran
You can play the Conscript demo on Steam.
Flying as a bird, in games, is always a beautiful experience. In Toroa, especially so. The game opens with a conversation between gods, about a shifting balance in the ocean. They want to escort you, Toroa (albatross) back to land, safety and your family.
Narrative designer, Lisa Blakie, says, ‘The story of Toroa is steeped in te ao Māori (the Māori world) and comes from a Kāi Tahu perspective. Kāi Tahu is my iwi that I whakapapa to. It explores themes that are core in te ao Māori, which are whakapapa (where we are from, where we are now and where we are going in the future), whānau (family and how everything is interconnected), and manaakitanga (looking after each other and strength in working together.)’
I soared on wind currents and splashed in water, while the spectacular cloud formations turned red. Then, I noticed swirling patterns drawn on the sea. Blakie explains, ‘The storytelling will also be shown in the visual language (via designs shown in the wind, ocean and other environments).’
‘Our audio designer, Byron Webb, is working with instruments that directly link with the space being presented in game, too. Pūrerehua come from the realm of the winds and air, and are therefore associated with Tāwhirimātea and are used when he is present or speaking in the game. The pūtātara plays at the start of the game under the ocean; this instrument comes from the realm of the sea.’
Toroa presents content in both the Māori language, te reo Māori, and English, without needing to explain its every aspect. It invites curiosity, alongside the fun of being an albatross; playing hide and seek in the clouds with gods, or swooping down to greet the magnificent Paikea. I feel I understood this experience while also thoroughly appreciating Blakie’s further insights. – Meghann O’Neill
You can wishlist Toroa on Steam
Cuisineer, from Singapore-based studio BattleBrew Productions, drew rampant crowds at PAX Aus 2022, with the attention it earned more than justified. This game is a hybrid rogue-like dungeon crawler centred around delicious, mouth-watering foods. As you explore deeper into each colourful, frantic dungeon, you’ll come across a range of items and ingredients – which can then be utilised in a hub town to cook meals, and look after your townsfolk.
Combat in this game is delightfully meaty, with each dungeon presenting unique obstacles to overcome. You’re pushed along in this journey, tempted by thoughts of finding more ingredients, and cooking more food – each dish more tasty than the last.
While Cuisineer has a split focus, the brief snippet of gameplay I was privy to at PAX Aus 2022 made clear that both the dungeoneering and cooking segments of the game are given shared attention, with each system feeding well into the other. There’s real satisfaction to be had in this gameplay loop, and it should buoy the game to impressive heights when it launches in future. Cuisineer is one to watch. – Leah J. Williams
You can wishlist Cuisineer on Steam now.
Sunny Syrup Studios, the Thai team working on Spirit Mancer, had their excellent pitch down pat at PAX Aus – the game is a 2D brawler that feels like a mix between Metal Slug, Mega Man Battle Network, and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. And if you’re a fan of any of those things, you’ll likely find a lot to love about Spirit Mancer.
Unpacking pixel artist Angus Doolan actually directed me to this one, praising the gorgeous pixel art that features in the game. And he’s right – the Spirit Mancer demo was bursting with colour, detailed art, charming character designs, and excellent animations that make you turn your head.
Mechanically, the game plays like a 2D version of a character action game like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta – I had a really great time playing with free-form combos as I juggled different firearms, melee weapons, and abilities that came from summoning monsters. The hook seems to be that everything is finite, however. You’ll have to collect firearms and capture monsters to summon as you go through the journey.
But Spirit Mancer both looked great and played great – the team behind it have done an excellent job, so keep your eyes on this one. – Edmond Tran
Schrodinger’s Cat Burglar
The Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment is that thing where you have intrusive thoughts about Mittens while you’re out; maybe she’s fine, maybe radioactive particle decay and poison killed her somehow, and so Mittens is both alive and dead until you put your key in the door and hear a lonely “miaow”. Here’s another thought. What if, while you’re out, Mittens is a criminal mastermind?
The tutorial of Schrodinger’s Cat Burglar suggests this is a simple mug-dragging, pressure-pad-based puzzle experience. Press ‘E’ to hack and uncover an intriguing story – but there’s a twist. Thanks to a minor incident with a Dual Event Synthesizer, two versions of Mittens have become ‘plausible’, in the quantum physics sense.
Being two cats provides lots of complications for puzzling, especially when you consider that Heisenburg Energy (which I tried to understand, but failed) requires the cats to be merged. Most amazingly, when one ‘plausible’ cat is observed (by security cameras), she becomes ‘observed’ while the other becomes ‘theoretical’, affording her special powers, like the ability to walk through walls? I’m trying not to overthink it.
The PAX Aus demo was a very satisfying and polished experience. With paws tapping madly on a keyboard, ears flattened and tail swiping, this quantum cat burglar is definitely animated by someone who understands both humour and cats. Worrying what your pet might be up to while you’re away has never been so hilarious. – Meghann O’Neill
You can find out more on the Schrodinger’s Cat Burglar website.
Gubbins, from Studio Folly, stole my PAX Aus 2022 with its sheer sense of colourful fun. It’s an endearing game – one that feels made of sunshine and rainbows – and with its neat twist on the Scrabble formula, it’s an exciting prospect for puzzle game fans.
In Gubbins, you’re given a simple task – to create words using given tiles. Sometimes, they’re single letters. Other times, they’re common word endings like ‘ing’ or ‘er’. Place them on the board, and watch your crossword come to life. But while the game is rather Scrabble-like, the real difference arrives in the form of the Gubbins themselves – small creatures that can blow up or change your game. Some Gubbins are helpful, and will aid you in word completion. Others will send your letters flying, or scramble your best laid plans.
No matter the outcome, gameplay remains absolutely delightful thanks to a gorgeous, cartoonish art style and a light-hearted buoyancy you can feel with every new round. Gubbins is set to be your new favourite mobile game in 2023. – Leah J. Williams
You can keep up with Gubbins via the Studio Folly social media pages.
The Stranger Next Door
I love when developers double down on the PAX Aus experience in creative ways. I will always remember the text adventure Winter’s Wake from 2017, and the developer’s shirt reading, ‘You see a developer. He looks tired, but is eager to talk to you about his game.’ I immediately understood that shirt.
At PAX Aus 2022, The Stranger Next Door was riffing on this metanarrative concept, via a fake social media platform, and branching narrative experience set (you guessed it) at PAX Aus.
On the booth’s demonstration device, players were contacted via message and, in a way that timed suspenseful delivery perfectly, were shared credible photos of the surrounding areas, only with a shadowy, enlarging, ghost-like figure in attendance. Perhaps most terrifying is how this thing got from the convention’s Classic Gaming area to the Handheld area in five minutes, given the massive crowds.
I usually play games for coverage at home, rather than on a show floor – but I’m glad I did in this instance. As for the real game, due for release later this year, PAX Aus was given only a glimpse of it. So far as I’ve seen, a new neighbour paints symbols on their house, and friends speculate as to why – this is the crux of the game.
Developer, Fae Daunt, describes The (real) Stranger Next Door as, ‘exploring themes of otherworldliness, both in the creatures you see and the characters themselves, who view themselves as outsiders,’ and it is set to evolve over five days of (optional) real time. I’m surprised by how evocative the PAX Aus build was, even over a few minutes. Sign me up for more. – Meghann O’Neill
You can follow the development of the game on The Stranger Next Door Twitter account.
The Godfeather, from Studio Hojo, is a wonderfully silly power fantasy sim where you play as a wily bird who joins with a secret cabal of underworld pigeons. Your goal in this shadowy organisation is, essentially, to cause chaos – to rain hell and poop down from above, splatting humans below you, and causing spills on the streets. Aim your tush in this top-down puzzler, and let forth your bowels – each successful drop will cause horror in the world below, and contribute to your rise through the mafia ranks.
We need more silly games. Games that aren’t afraid to be crass, or over-the-top, or absurd to their very core. The Godfeather is exactly this – a game buoyed by confidence and deliciously slapstick humour. If you’ve ever wanted to be in a freewheeling bird’s shoes, swooping folks and being an absolute menace, keep this game on your radar. There’s much satisfaction to be had in watching the world of humans collapse beneath your watery poops. – Leah J. Williams
You can wishlist The Godfeather on Steam now.
Did you fall in love on the PAX Aus 2022 show floor? Did we miss one of your favourite games? Tell us about it on Twitter: @GamesHubDotCom.