After being wowed by the show floor and fumbling through some JRPGs, my next venture was at the Limited Run Games and WayForward booth, where I checked out three games and resisted the urge to pick up any of the excellent collector's editions they had for sale!
I wasn't sure what to expect from Lunark going into this demo, and I'm still not quite sure what to make of it coming out. Lunark is a deliberate throwback to the “cinematic platformers” of bygone eras. Think the original Prince of Persia or Flashback. It's a 2D side-scroller where you are navigating through environments, but with animations and physics that try to be more true-to-life than Mario and his ilk. I've never really played these sorts of games before because every time I've tried I've been turned off by their clunky controls and relatively slow pace.
Lunark has clunky controls and a relatively slow pace. However, it's also got a super eye-catching color palette and sprite work that manages to be super expressive, despite each character and object having so few pixels. I loved the way that the game tutorialized its platforming controls. Instead of fourth-wall-breaking pop-ups teaching you how to move, your character takes remote control of a robot and runs him through a platforming gauntlet. That means that there is an in-game explanation for why the controls are being explained, and it allows your character to make a bit of a meta-joke about the controls being a little clunky.
After the tutorial section, I explored a cave for a bit. There were a few enemies I could punch or shoot (both of which were slower and clunkier than in most other games), but mostly this was about finding my way through the environment and activating switches to create new paths. It sort of felt like wandering through an area in a Metroidvania game at a very, very slow pace.
I'm still not totally sold on Lunark, but now that I've spent a little time at the controls I'm more forgiving of them than I have been with any other cinematic platformer. This is clearly a work of passion by the developer, so I think that alone makes it worth giving a shot.
I didn't actually intend to check this one out, but the WayForward team member who was talking me through Lunark suggested I look at it while I waited for a chance to play River City Girls 2. I've heard the name RWBY before, but like One Piece: Odyssey, this demo was really my first introduction to the world. Unlike One Piece, this demo was really cool.
RWBY: Arrowfell is a side-scrolling action platformer that is way more my typical pace than Lunark. It's fast, snappy, very combat-focused, and features four playable female protagonists. Heck yes.
Each of the characters has a special ability that is used to navigate through the levels. If there's a big gap to cross, switching to the character with a horizontal jump boost will get you there, while another character can summon floating platforms for scaling vertical obstacles. You can swap between characters on the fly and level up their stats individually. That setup reminded me a lot of one of my favorite games from last year, Astalon: Tears of the Earth.
Fans of the RWBY anime will dig the fact that this game actually fits into the canon of the show. They've gone so far as to narrow down exactly which two episodes of season 7 the story of this game takes place between. For folks like me who haven't watched the show, it still looks like a pretty solid, interesting action game.
River City Girls 2
The last WayForward title I checked out was River City Girls 2. I was a huge fan of the first game, so I went into the demo of the sequel expecting to dig it. Unfortunately, this one didn't feel like it really demoed super well, but the chat I had with the developer while we were playing still has me excited for the full release.
The problems I had with playing River City Girls 2 on the show floor mostly stemmed from the fact that we were playing the just-announced four-player mode. It's super cool that the game supports that many players, but the way that the booth was set up had the four of us all standing pretty close to the TV with me on the end, which meant that my view of things was at a super weird angle. Add on to that the fact that the game scales up the number of enemies based on the number of players, and there was just so much happening that I really struggled to keep track of what was happening.
On the plus side, all of the other changes they've made sound awesome. There are way more playable characters to choose from in the sequel, each with its own move sets. The world has also grown to three or four times the size of the city in the original game. On top of that, there's now a day and night cycle to the game. It sounds like there are a few things that will only happen at certain times of day, but for the most part, that system is aesthetic and designed to make the world feel more alive. In the same vein, cars parked along the street can come and go between visits to an area. Those small changes will help make exploring the world feel more dynamic.
Next, I want to tell y'all a little about some of the multiplayer player games I checked out at PAX West 2022. I'm not really a competitive gamer, but I tried out a bit of Munchkin Digital, Rawmen, and Deceive Inc., and one of them really got its hooks in me. Stay tuned for thoughts on those games later this week.