With PAX Aus 2023 done and dusted, and the vast majority of our hours spent wandering the always-wonderful PAX Rising area of the show floor, we thought the best balm to soothe our post-convention blues would be to reflect on everything we’d seen and look forward to the future.
To that end, we’ve put together a short (and absolutely not all-inclusive) list of the indie projects from Australia and New Zealand that really caught our attention at the show and deserve a spot in your wishlist ahead of their eventual releases. Take a geez:
Bears in Space
Kieron: They’re bears, and they’re in space. What more can I say?
Coming from Ipswich racket, Broadside Games, this over-the-top FPS really impressed me with confident it feels in its polish and presentation, marrying wacky and colourful visual design with balls-to-the-wall bullet hell action that I heard many onlookers compare to the vibe of something like the classic Timesplitters.
Even in the slice of the game playable on the PAX show floor there was a heap of variety on display, and the full game promises all manner of fun diversions, secrets, collectibles and unlockables with modifiable difficulty making it easier for those of all skill levels to get into and enjoy. Don’t sleep on this one.
Brodie: Kind of like Stray before it, Copycat is a feline adventure game that revolves around a nine-lived shelter cat named Dawn who’s adopted by a lonely woman before having their place within a loving home usurped by a stray copycat.
What begins as a story of unrequited affection quickly becomes a narrative about belonging and home. It’s also full of kitty cat shenanigans like pinching mouth-watering salmon straight from the plate, clawing at the toilet paper, and trying to acclimate to the wild by catching birds.
Stray was proof that games about domesticated pets have come a long way since A Dog’s Life, and I hope Copycat can, well, you know. It writes itself.
Kieron: Too few games go for comedy, but leave it to Bone Assembly (under the tender care of Jacob Janerka and Simon Boxer) to go absolutely all-in, elongated nips-out on making the most irreverent dungeon-crawling adventure you’ve ever seen – or thought you’ve seen before waking up, relieved and thinking it was all a dream, only to see again.
The PAX Aus demo setup for The Dungeon Experience was memorable to say the least. A mandatory induction via the very analog medium of cassette tape followed by a two-part demo that could be ended early if you weren’t having a good time, at which point your wasted minutes were made up for with a private saxophone performance from the level-1-mud-crab-turned-entrepreneur responsible for putting the whole adventure together.
I don’t know what else to say about this one other than it’s weird as fuck and I need it now.
Brodie: The Drifter might be the game that excited me the most from the PAX show floor. It’s a pulp-action thriller that draws inspiration from some of the best to pen the genre, from King to Crichton.
Drawing inspiration from the genre’s resurgence of late, The Drifter is a fast-paced point-and-click adventure about a drifter whose own grisly murder kicks off a strange, supernatural chain of events that sees his soul dredged back from the depths and leaves him on the hook for a crime he didn’t commit.
Set in a fictional Australian town, Mick Carter’s plight drips of the Ozploitation that rocked the film industry back in the 70s.
Kieron: I feel no shame in admitting that I was initially drawn to check out Letters to Arralla on the PAX Aus 2023 show floor thanks to a friend telling me it was “a game about vegetables with huge dumpies,” at which point I practically ran to Little Pink Clouds’ adorable booth.
Even better, upon arriving I realised that what I was dealing with was more than just (literally) juicy bums but a super-aesthetically-pleasing chill exploration RPG set on a fictional island off the coast of Victoria. Playing as a caked-up turnip you’ll take on the role of postie for the island’s Deliberry service, figuring out where each piece of mail in your care needs to go and being unabashedly distracted by all kinds of fun activities and interactions on the island. If the word “cosy” has become a permanent fixture in your vocabulary in recent years, you absolutely need to get around this one.
Brodie: Skate Bums is a dialled back, easier to master Olli Olli that relies less on twitch-mastery of fine motor skills and focuses more on accessibility and easy-to-grasp gnarly gnashing action, complete with ollies, grinds, and flip tricks to string together into combos.
With its cool, laid back quasi-Californian facade, the game could easily pass for a modern riff on Skate or Die, which is a game only oldies like me would recall.
With plenty of challenges and cool attire to unlock, including an elf outfit that for legal reasons is totally different to the iconic, green tunic worn by Link, I just think Skate Bums promises to be yet another great, snappy boarding game.
Kieron: The bold and uniquely unsettling darkwebSTREAMER made its return to PAX Aus this year as part of the cohort of projects given the Indie Showcase distinction, earning it pride-of-place on the PAX Rising floor and drawing massive crowds the entire weekend.
It’s no surprise either, with the team at We Have Always Lived In The Forest clearly onto something special here. With an intoxicating two-bit presentation, this dark RPG tasks players with becoming the top streamer in a world where the more dangerous, occult and forbidden the object you bring to your livestreams the more subscribers, fame and cash you’re likely to earn. With procedurally-generated dialogue and stories and endless possible – and spooky – outcomes this is absolutely one to watch.
Technically this one isn’t wishlist-able on any major platforms but you can join the Patreon here to support the game and get access to exclusive Discord channels and playtests!
Brodie: Sometimes life gets hard and I love to just slump into the couch and play match-three games. Matchmaker: Dungeon Heart adopts a risk-reward, offense versus defense approach to matching tiles—not dissimilar to the most recent Puzzle Quest—and weaves it all through a mystical romance-sim that’s a bit of casual fun.
After a powerful Lich collects and corrects your bones, restoring the life you lost in a battle against an insurmountable and all-powerful beast, you’re tasked with safeguarding the Torkadall dungeons as a means of repaying your debt to him.
Kieron: At its core, Jumplight Odyssey is a game about being the captain of the enormous interstellar ship, the SDF Catalina – and a captain’s work is clearly never done. The sheer depth of the game’s simulation of starship captaincy is seriously impressive. Everything from your ship’s resource management, construction, manufacturing, defenses, crew roles, away missions, relationships and morale and a heap more all factor into the success of your runs within its roguelike structure, as you fend off attacks and work your way across the galaxy and toward the Forever Star.
Brodie: Modelled after the likes of Getting Over It and QWOP, Ascending Inferno is a tough, physics-based platformer that focuses on flicking a soccer ball up through a synthy looking world inspired by Dante’s infamous circles of Hell.
It’s going to be a hot commodity for the speed running community, and I found the demo immensely frustrating—but that’s the beauty, isn’t it?
Brodie: Crash Course Builder is the surprise packet of the show for me. It takes the game show spectacle, vivid colour palette and keen jumping beans of Fall Guys and injects it into a high-octane, obstacle course racer in karts that hits like a Bit Trip game with a pumping, synth soundtrack to keep all parts in time.
There’s a robust demo available already, and although I didn’t get a chance to sample it, there’s apparently a creation suite for players to craft their own tracks, so there’s even a little hint of Mario Maker to Crash Course Builder that definitely makes it one to watch.
Kieron: At first glance, Ailuri might remind you of something like Ori and the Blind Forest with its gorgeous, hand-drawn visuals from artist and studio lead, Liezl Ronquillo (of Pokemon Yeah/Nah fame) and themes of the destruction and survival of the natural world.
Although it’s every bit as charming and beautiful to behold, Ailuri definitely struck me as something all its own with huge, contained levels, a customisable sanctuary that grows over the course of the game, huge environmental variety and the inclusion of couch co-op. It’s truly wonderful to behold in motion and even more so to play – so it’s a good thing that there’s a playable demo available to check out right now.
Brodie: It’s hard to know exactly how this game, which glorifies a certain bygone brand of biff, will be viewed by AFL House in a time where the head remains sacrosanct and is protected above all else.
But one thing is undeniable and that’s that Footy Bash is a heap of competitive fun as it serves up an Aussie Rules equivalent for casually violent titles like NBA Jam and Blood Bowl.
For those wanting to really work through a bit of white line fever, I can see this savage arcade take on Australia’s great game being a big hit here, particularly in the dyed in the wool footy states.
?Huge tackles ?Spectacular speckys ? Fun guaranteed
Come see us at #PAXAUS on October 6-8 and be there for the unveiling of Footy Bash! Join the fast paced 4-player action and Bash your way to victory! ? Stay tuned for teasers and updates in the lead-up to PAX. #IndieGameDevpic.twitter.com/rFKv1bdh7Y
Kieron: Of all of the games I’ve contributed to this list, Denari was maybe the biggest surprise. After checking it out at PAX Aus 2023 at the CODE NZ area on the show floor it went from being completely off of my radar to one I’ve well and truly got my eye on.
Starring a young orphan named Taiu who’s been given telekinetic powers, Denari is an isometric hack-and-slash adventure with incredibly unique-feeling actioned powered by Taiu’s special abilities. In-between fast and fluid physical attacks, counters and dodges, players can also do all kinds of cool mind-power shenanigans like redirect enemy projectiles, knock back groups of foes and more. With art from Tamihana Greaves and music from David Mason there’s a lot to look forward to here.
Brodie: As someone who loved edutainment games like Word Rescue growing up, Spelly Cat jumped out at me as a great all-ages word puzzle game that sees you guide a cat mage through randomly generated challenges.
The game’s clever nature is evidenced through it being set within the lands of Abecedeia, which is just delightful.
Kieron: Combat wombat. Can you even imagine a better marketing tagline than that?
This one’s always been loosely on my radar (mostly because of said tagline) but after getting a proper feel for it, I’m completely sold. The best way I can describe this game is some kind of mix between Kena: Bridge of Spirits and the modern God of War games, with a huge and fantastical, natural world to explore and a beefcake of a protagonist in Brunt – who happens to be a badass anthropomorphic wombat lady.
It’s not often we get to see games starring iconic Aussie mammals dripping in this much production value, and I’m super keen to play the full thing when it arrives.
Harry: It’s not often we see survival horror in any capacity these days outside of a few studios, so it’s always a treat to see one come from the indie scene.
If last year’s SIGNALIS didn’t do enough to satiate your need for traditional top-down survival horror, then CONSCRIPT has you covered. From classic controls and item crafting, to inventory management and conservation of resources – CONSCRIPT has all the sensibilities of the subgenre’s early days. Better yet, it has a wholly unique setting in the first world war, dropping supernatural scares in favour of more tangible real world horrors.
Survival horror games are a dime a dozen these days, even in triple A, so it’s exciting to see new things being down with this longstanding subgenre. There’s even a demo available on Steam right now!
Harry: A small and unassuming booth neatly tucked onto the edge of the New Zealand indies section offered what was undoubtedly my highlight of the show.
It’s hard to find the right words to describe Rose & Locket. The premise of hunting down the seven deadly sins in an effort to save your daughter is undeniably badass, but it’s in game feel and presentation that Rose and Locket excels the most.
An initially odd control layout gives way to a scheme that felt natural and intuitive after a few minutes. Hot-swapping between weapons, fanning the hammer, hurling dynamite and dodge-rolling through encounters feels as good as it looks – and it looks damn good.
While the demo was fleeting, its rich atmosphere, fantastic premise and playful iterations on the 2D perspective have me excited to see what the full game has to offer when it launches.