I already shared some general throwback games we saw at PAX West, but we also played some titles that are very, very inspired by classics. The following games wear their inspirations on their sleeves, on their pants legs, and on neon headbands on their forehead.
Big Boy Boxing
I only played Big Boy Boxing for a few minutes, but it was impossible not to notice it at PAX West 2023. The booth for this game was a big boxing ring with a massive TV set up on one side so a player could step into the ring to show their stuff. All around the ring were more demo stations, so that even with such a flashy primary demo setup it was easy to walk up and play it through most of the show.
The simple description of Big Boy Boxing is that it’s a Punch-Out-like. Visually, it uses a super bright and colorful cartoony style that is really welcoming (and of course carried over to that booth setup). On the mechanics side of things, it was easy to pick up and play (especially after getting hands-on with Thunder Ray). It feels just like Punch Out, but the addition of attacks that can pop out from characters other than your opponent from the side or top of the screen is a fresh challenge for experienced players.
Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore
Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore is a frankly absurd passion project, and I was delighted that the creator laughed after I told him so. A few years ago he released an unofficial fan remake of two CD-i games from a legendary franchise. For the most part, he kept those games' archaic gameplay and design intact, for better or (more often) worse.
Arzette is a spiritual successor to those games made in an incredibly similar style, but with modern improvements that make things more, well, fun. The game plays out as a level-based platformer with some hidden items and paths that encourage players to go back after they gain new abilities. The real draw here is the aesthetic, which mimics the fluid, hand-drawn pixel art of the original games.
The demo let me play through a single level of Arzette, and I loved it. It felt good, had a great sense of style in enemy design, cut scenes, and environments, and ended with a boss fight preceded by some wonderfully terrible puns. This game is targeting a niche, but I’m hoping that its charm might even pull in folks who have never played the original games.
Another Crab’s Treasure
Coming from the developers of Going Under, Another Crab’s Treasure aims to bring the Soulslike formula under the sea. You take control of a lobster that can arm themselves with improvised weapons and shells as they traverse levels full of angry crabs.
Combat is built on locking on to an enemy, then dodging or blocking their attacks until you find an opening to go on offense. I only played for a bit, but the gameplay felt serviceable but wasn’t nearly as tight and responsive as some more “serious” Souls-likes.
On the positive side of things, the level design seemed more tuned toward the light-hearted, cartoony aesthetic. When you aren’t fighting enemies, Another Crab’s Treasure sort of feels like a mascot platformer of days gone. Instead of trudging through dark castles, you’re jumping around big open areas and throwing grappling hooks at climbable walls.
Olliefrog Toad Skater
I got excited for Skatebird but was surprised when I finally played it that it just didn’t feel like Tony Hawk. It was cute and fun in its way, but it was a totally different skating game, instead of being “Tony Hawk but with cute animals.”
Olliefrog Toad Skater is Tony Hawk but with cute animals. I’m not saying that as an insult or to diminish the work of the team. Rather, I’m massively impressed by how well they’ve recreated the feel of the skating games I grew up on in a bright, fun form. Picking up the controller to try this game was immediately familiar. Decades of muscle memory felt like they fit right in, and I’m now totally sold on this game.
It also didn’t hurt that the staff at the booth for Olliefrog Toad Skater were super cool, nor did the booth being decorated by having attendees doodle frogs on sticky notes. It was adorable.
… and more!
Still to come, we'll talk about some multiplayer highlights, some games we were already excited for before the show, games that looked great but seemed hard to demo, and some non-gaming highlights from PAX West 2023!