The rest of PAX West 2022’s standout indie games: Rhythm madness, bloody combat

Enlarge / The Nintendo Corner at PAX West 2022; it’s hard to get a full shot of the entire showroom, especially the one that includes the eight games featured in the article below.


SEATTLE—In-person video game conventions are back! Type of!

Nerdy conventions and other physical events began to reappear in public venues late last year, but what a difference a year makes. PAX West 2021 was my first in-person convention since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but the event was a ghost town, full of empty, darkened spaces and massive cast gaps from showcase companies. Last week’s PAX West 2022, on the other hand, finally looked like the real deal, and it was thankfully greeted by an vigilant, mask-wearing crowd.

Some game companies have apparently dropped out of attendance at the local convention, with Microsoft and Sony not hosting PAX West booths (although each was present at last month’s boisterous Gamescom 2022 in Cologne, Germany). Therefore, this post-PAX “coolest games to come” feature is far from complete, due as much to missing companies as to specific games that don’t demonstrate well in crowded convention halls. Even so, we played enough variety to feel comfortable shouting out PAX West’s strong highlights.

Necrodancer’s Rift trailer.

Necrodancer’s Rift
Release date to be determined; TBA platforms | Official site

The studio behind 2015’s indie hit Crypt of the Necrodancer clearly cares about new ideas in the well-known rhythm game genre. This is proven by the promising PAX West gameplay world premiere of the new spin-off Necrodancer’s Riftwhich essentially feels like a collection of the greatest hits from other popular rhythm game concepts, only bolstered by the genre experts at Brace Yourself Games.

This week’s demo includes three modes, and each one directly compares to a previous achievement: Guitar Hero, rhythm heavenand Punch !!. The first looks deceptively familiar. The musical notes fall from the top of the screen to a line at the bottom, and when they cross this line, you must press the button corresponding to the rhythm to erase the note.

What if the grades were monsters—each with their own personalities and movement patterns, jumping or moving as they approach the clear line? This modification of the Guitar Hero the formula seems appropriate for Necrodancer series, which originally combined top-down monster battles with rhythm-based taps, and already in the new demo, the spin-off version of this concept looks incredibly fresh. Each monster has a unique pattern as it descends to the beat of catchy tunes, and the fun kicks into high gear as multiple types of monsters fill the screen. It may take two or three taps to clear, moving right or left after each tap. Another could constantly switch from one lane to another during its descent.

crevasseFamiliar Combine Boxing Mode Punch !! fight with rhythm-based responses, and I’m shocked no one has thought of that before. Punch !!, after all, revolves around memorization and pattern recognition, which is similar to the hardest rhythm game challenges, and I was immediately charmed by the feel of dodging, blocking, and countering with catchy songs as reference points. If Nintendo is not going to make a Punch !! sequel anytime soon, so this already seems like a good alternative.

Meanwhile, the mode that mimics rhythm heaven feels a bit less unique, but that’s not a complaint. The sample level I played feels a lot like Nintendo’s niche hit, especially in terms of the upbeat melodies and detailed, adorable button-press animations. It’s unclear if BYG has any other modes or surprises in store for the final version of crevasse; the game is apparently in early development, so we’re a long way from such confirmations, let alone a release date or confirmed platforms beyond Windows. But already, we’re excited about the possibilities of this spin-off.

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