Welcome to PAX Australia! The games had begun before the Expo even opened, with an epic game of “smack the beach ball over the sign“! Each goal was encouraged by massive cheers and an obscure angle shot was rewarded with oooo’s and aaaa’s. The beach ball felt solid yet agile, with several circulating at a time to make sure the gameplay was never predictable. I would give this game a 9 out of 10 for its unique multiplayer capabilities. What’s that, it’s 10am? Sorry, we’re busy playing. Oh alright… Into the Expo Hall!
The place was huge and people were only just filing in. I already felt like a kid walking around looking at all the booths, there was stuff to play everywhere. After dumping my juicy thoughts on Pikmin 3 and Zelda, this article is dedicated to the rest of the games that left an impression on me.
Saints Row 4 was the only 18+ game at the event and a special black wristband was required just to get in. The line looped around the entire block and almost caught up to the front, but because so many people got to play at once the wait wasn’t too bad (about 20 minutes). The black room looked ominous from the outside but had a very impressive setup. 11 consoles were ready with Xbox 360 controllers and giant headphones to enjoy a pleasant session at our own pace. The game itself is amazing, I’m in love with Saints Row after recently playing through Saints Row: The Third. It’s so much better than the first two games and Volition have really embraced the strengths of the franchise. The over-the-top approach is refreshing and it’s great to play an open world game that knows it’s a videogame. The demo gave me about 10 minutes but I already spotted many new things, including a hilarious sounding dubstep gun and a ridiculous black hole gun that sucked up every object in the vicinity. It seemed to take every object that was “destructible” including fences and cars from 20 metres away. The framerate also took a massive hit when it happened but it looked so awesome. Hilarious and potentially useless, but that’s what Saints Row is all about. I then triggered a race which didn’t even require a car. With superman speed I began running through checkpoints, picking up more speed with each one. Then it told me to jump and I thought “alright” not expecting much, but my dude launched about 50 metres into the air over a building and that’s when I knew I had to get this game. The engine felt similar to Saints Row 3 with a less stable framerate unfortunately, but I don’t know if that’s just because the demo had so many things crammed into it.
Super Mario 3D World was a game I was really looking forward to, I love Super Mario 3D Land to pieces and it’s my favourite Mario game. However my first reaction was bad, I had just played A Link Between Worlds and the controls here felt immediately restrictive. The first problem was the sideways Wiimote dpad, it feels terrible for 3D movement. It was really stubborn and I couldn’t freely jump around how I wanted. Toad would either run straight up or straight to the left / right, it felt on-rails to an alarming degree with my fingers feeling helpless. Later on I tried with the GamePad analog stick and it was a bit better, but I still felt restricted. Mario would always miss what I was aiming for and didn’t feel agile at all. This is odd because apparently Super Mario 3D Land had the same degree of movement but I never noticed it, there’s definitely something different going on here. There’s not much else to say about this demo, bad controls makes a bad game in my opinion. The level design was interesting but nothing stood out and my hype for this game is completely dead. The 4 player novelty was nice but I was too busy trying to control myself that I never appreciated it properly. Nevertheless, I’m sure it’ll have some surprises and a lot more polish when it releases later this year.
Sonic Lost World felt more like a Mario game, with an incredible degree of freedom and polish. It was only playable on 3DS, I was hoping to try the Wii U version but this still gave me a good idea what to expect. Comic Con in America was on the same weekend, and they seemed to get all the cool demos which unfortunately meant no The Wonderful 101 here either. I could only get a picture of the title screen because the 3DS was tethered in a hilariously awkward way, it would flop back onto the table if I let go of it. The title screen does a solid job, with text and a background combining to make a picture.
The demo had a 3D level and a 2D one, and I actually liked the 3D one a lot more which is definitely a first for Sonic. The controls were good and the run button actually gave Sonic a bit of precision. The level had simple geometry but it looked beautiful and was well designed. I jumped along moving platforms with ease and found it very easy to tell where Sonic would land, even when doing his infamous lock-on targeting dash that plagues the 3D games. The experience was organic and there was nothing stopping me from having a good time. The fastest bits involved hopping between walls while running sideways, and it WORKED. You could control the elevation based on where and when you jumped, and it wasn’t too punishing, with collecting rings being the main incentive (rather than death) for hitting the jump button perfectly. There were some classic 3D Sonic blind jumps, but they had a big ! sign right before a hazard and I never missed one. I find that design a bit annoying but at least it kept the momentum going. The framerate wasn’t great but it still looked really good, with a deep 3D effect adding a surreal dimension to the way these platforms rotated. The area felt heavier than anything from Super Mario Galaxy, with a much wider space more suited to Sonic’s speed. For some reason the framerate in the 2D level was a lot worse and it felt a lot slower. The 2D level involved a lot of stopping to solve puzzles which didn’t match the spirit of Sonic. Some doors wouldn’t open until you flipped 5 switches and platforms needed to be moved while waiting for enemy patterns to cycle through. Both levels went for about 6 to 8 minutes and had a lot going on.
I was impressed with UbiSoft’s dedication to Cloudberry Kingdom, the game had two kiosks proudly set up for two player gaming, right next to their next-gen games. The controls are really good and I really enjoyed the game, I played through about 10 levels before asking the PR guy to return to the menu to have a sample of the games notorious difficulty. After asking “are you sure?” about 10 times I assured him my body was ready and we finally switched levels to the hardest difficulty.
Nope. I made it to the first platform and died about 50 times, I honestly can’t see how this is even possible. A good novelty but as far as challenges go this is a bit much. I’ll definitely be getting this game because it controls much better than I thought it would, looks great and runs smooth with two players. When one player died the other would continue on to the next checkpoint, or just die straight afterwards. There was even a special mode where two players were tethered together which has the potential for a lot of laughs and frustration. I’m looking forward to trying all the impossible levels just to experiment in different ways. I asked the bloke if it was coming out for Wii U, he looked unsure and picked up the piece of paper “… yep.” I’m curious to see if it uses the GamePad in an interesting way. It’s coming out at the “end of the month” which is now, so I figure the PR guy didn’t really know much.
One of the coolest places at PAX Australia was the Console Freeplay area, with a ton of consoles setup with games to “borrow” at the counter. All you had to do was swap a game for your ID and get a small sticker, the whole process ran really smooth. All the Wii U games were taken, so RABicle and I took Mario Strikers and had some epic matches. This was Next Level Games first Luigi game and I wish they’d do another one, especially with nobody making sports games for Wii U. Later on Infernal Monkey joined us and we checked out Kirby’s Adventure for Wii, it was so much fun that we got kicked off for playing too long (about an hour was the limit). It was cool to sample a game like that in an area where everyone could play, most people were renting games like Smash Bros and drawing in crowds and it was a great friendly atmosphere. We made the mistake of trying out SSX on PS3, only to spend 20 minutes in the tutorial before taking it back. Thanks EA, your games are unplayable.
The retro area was similar fun and it was an interesting struggle trying to use some of these ancient controllers. I felt like I had teleported in from the future as I checked my StreetPasses, and quickly put my 3DS away before someone accused me of witchcraft. This was a strictly retro area, with the most recent games being Super Smash Bros on 64 and Soul Calibur on Dreamcast. Infernal Monkey and I progressed through level-after-level in Mouse Trap with the giant circular joystick needing to be hauled with all our strength for a simple left or right turn, it made an otherwise simple game quite an entertaining ordeal. It was nice seeing people enjoying all different kinds of games and refreshing on the eyes to see some CRT monitors.
Nintendo Australia’s presence was significant. Sony didn’t even turn up, and Microsoft were too busy being secretive and aloof with the same Xbox One panel repeating each day that I never bothered to check out. Every Nintendo employee was StreetPassing every chance they got, and Nin*Joey had the biggest StreetPass Battle army I’ve ever seen of 9,999,999. All the PR guys explaining Pikmin 3 had actually played the first two Pikmin games, which meant they were some of the few dozen people in Australia who owned a GameCube. The Pokemon Nationals took centre stage and drew in a huge crowd, despite the boring final battles coming down to the same old Pokemon with conservative strategies. I’m out of the competitive Pokemon game until X and Y come out, but I still proudly got through the first round with Butterfree and Durant, who then put up a huge fight on the big screen in Round 2 to just miss out.
I didn’t see all the panels but Nintendo also delivered on this front with an Animal Crossing presentation (now available to view here). Isabelle gave us a special introduction, the developers answered questions in amusing ways and Totaka himself played us a song on guitar to end the presentation. What better way to spend Saturday night?
All throughout PAX Australia I was doing exactly what I did at home, playing videogames. It gave me the opportunity to play some new releases, some old ones but the difference was I was able to share experiences with a lot of people with similar interests. This event taught me I would make a terrible gaming journalist, because I was too busy having fun to think about content. Everyone had a great time and the 3 days really flew by with so much gaming on all spectrums, some good cosplay, a few competitions, interesting panels, and hundreds of StreetPass’s gathered. I felt humbled to be around so many enthusiastic people and hope to do it again next year.