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The Coolest Games We Played At PAX West 2023

Dungeons of Hinterberg

It’s been a few years since Game Informer has had a presence at PAX West, but 2023 marks the grand return of the outlet at the fan-favorite expo. Each year over Labor Day Weekend, thousands upon thousands of enthusiastic gamers descend upon Seattle, Washington, in order to witness the spectacle of the fun booths, grab some amazing merchandise, meet some like-minded friends, and, perhaps paramount to all of that, play some of the hottest upcoming releases. 

As you might imagine, any time members of the Game Informer staff attend an event, we strive to play as many games at these events as possible. As a result, we get a decent view of the show and beyond. In addition to PAX West’s actual showfloors, we’ve been attending offsite meetings and heading into Nintendo Live, the Nintendo-hosted fan fest that is happening in the same building. Check out the coolest games we got our hands on during PAX West, Nintendo Live, and our private meetings below.

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Big Boy Boxing

PC, Consoles TBA

Punch-Out!! inspiration abounds in Big Boy Boxing, a new hand-drawn, boss-rush boxing game from indie studio Soupmasters. Walking past the booth at PAX West 2023, the expressive animations immediately caught my eye, immediately harkening back to everything from early-’90s animation to games like Cuphead. That DNA is apparent throughout my hands-on time, as I fight through several different fights. What started as a Super Smash Bros.-style fighting game evolved into this, complete with animated cutscenes and memorable opponents. Pattern recognition is key as you face off against the game’s 24 boss battles, each of which brings a completely different approach you must take to beat them. I fought against two early enemies before being thrown into the deep end by the developer, which demonstrated just how difficult the boxing title could become. I’m looking forward to taking down each rival and claiming the championship belt when Big Boy Boxing arrives next year.

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Cobalt Core

PC, Consoles TBD

Cute pixel-art anthropomorphized animals are just the beginning of Cobalt Core. This turn-based, roguelike deck-builder puts every pivotal choice in your hands as you guide your squadron through the star system. Each turn, you play a card from your hand, which includes ways to attack, move, or shield yourself. It may sound simple, but you need to take enemy spacecraft, each with its own weaponry and attack cadences, by using only the cards you happened to draw. Moving just out of the way of an incoming blast, only to return fire and take down your opponent was exhilarating in my short hands-on time with Cobalt Core. Each character in your active party brings their own set of cards that get shuffled into your deck, making party composition extremely important; some characters are more offensive-minded, while others may be more defensive or even mobility-focused. Any skepticism I had from words like “deck-builder” and “roguelike” quickly dissipated as soon as my first battle began, and now it’s planted firmly on my Steam wishlist for whenever it ends up coming out.

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Dungeons of Hinterberg

Xbox Series X/S, PC

Announced during Xbox Showcase during Summer Game Fest, Dungeons of Hinterberg looked immediately appealing. Now that we’ve gotten our hands on it, we’re glad to know it plays great as well. The gameplay loop of exploring the overworld, finding a dungeon, completing said dungeon, and spending your evenings progressing relationships with various townsfolk scratches several itches and has the potential to sink its hooks in at a rapid pace. Add in fun combat that changes based on the biome and Dungeons of Hinterberg is one to keep an eye out for. Dungeons of Hinterberg arrives sometime in 2024.

For more on Dungeons of Hinterberg, read our full hands-on preview here.

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Foamstars

PS5, PS4

To say that Foamstars is a Splatoon clone would be to discredit the upcoming 4v4 hero-based shooter from Square Enix. While the Splatoon inspiration is very clearly present, Foamstars almost feels more like a hybrid between Splatoon and Overwatch, incorporating core mechanics and gameplay tenets from both. Yes, you’re spraying your color of foam everywhere and that makes it easier to speed through it (though, you’re surfing instead of swimming), but the individual hero loadouts and weapons, complete with shoulder-button abilities and ultimates pull in loads of callbacks to Overwatch and other similar hero shooters. Though I have concerns that this shooter will be able to find an audience in the crowded shooter space, Foamstars is among the most fun I had during my time at PAX West 2023, and I truly cannot wait for any additional opportunities to play Foamstars in the future.

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For The King II

PC

Dungeons and Dragons serves as the closest point of comparison for IronOak’s digital tabletop sequel, For The King II. Serving up five distinct campaigns for players to embark on by themselves or with up to three friends locally or online, For The King II gives you many of the thrills of Dungeons and Dragons, but without the need to painstakingly plot out your campaign or befriend a creative dungeon master. After the queen is corrupted and turned evil, the people form a resistance to fight back and take her down. As such, your party isn’t made of warriors or heroes, but rather villagers. You build your party from classes like Hunter, Farmer, Stablehand, and more, each with their own distinct abilities; for example, the Scholar can replenish the party’s all-important Focus resource, while the Herbalist can find herbs in the wild and serve as a healer.

The hex-based map grants each character a certain number of actions, but the game really sings once you get into combat. Featuring two lines of characters, complete with mobility, positioning is key as shielded characters can guard those behind them or area-of-effect attacks can damage several lumped-together party members. With several adventures to choose from and various dungeons, game-modifying Scourge Haunts, and more, For The King II looks like a great way to experience all the thrills of a tabletop experience like DND, but without any of the work. For The King II arrives sometime this year.

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Lords of the Fallen

PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC

Ever since Demon’s Souls and the subsequent Dark Souls series established the Soulslike subgenre of action/RPGs, fans of From Software’s wildly popular series have seen several developers and publishers experiment in the genre to varying results. In 2014, Lords of the Fallen emerged as a surprise winner, delivering a strong entry in the Soulslike space. Fast forward nearly a decade, and we’re getting an all-new entry in the franchise with the same name as the first title. This new Lords of the Fallen adds a two-world mechanic that has you transporting between Axiom and an alternate dimension of Umbral. The Soulslike formula is in full effect, with Vestiges that serve as checkpoints, health recovery stations, and fast-travel hubs, and the signature combat and customization the subgenre is known for. Fans of this style of game have plenty to be excited for with Lords of the Fallen, which is scheduled to arrive on October 13.

For more on Lords of the Fallen, read Wesley LeBlanc’s recent hands-on preview here.

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Mina the Hollower

PC

The studio behind the excellent Shovel Knight series is no stranger to developing retro-facing experiences that expand upon the formula of the original inspiration. Mina the Hollower is the next great example of that, taking heavy inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, but infusing it with various elements of other action/RPGs, most notably, Bloodborne. Playing through a mid-game level, I was able to appreciate the way the various systems and upgrades cross-pollinate, allowing you to craft your play style how you want. Mina the Hollower was easily one of the best games I played during my time at PAX West 2023, so it’s a shame that we don’t yet know when it’s going to come out.

For more on Mina the Hollower read my hands-on impression here. You can also watch our documentary on the making of the game right here.

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Persona 3 Reload

PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, PC

The Persona franchise has exploded in popularity over the last decade and a half, and the game that is responsible for steering the series down its current path is finally getting brought into the modern era. Persona 3 Reload essentially transposes one of the most important RPGs of the 21st century to the technology and format of its most recent entry. Persona 3 Reload rebuilds Persona 3 from the ground up, with new voice lines, various quality-of-life improvements, an expanded and re-recorded soundtrack, and additional control options. Various modernizations of Persona 5 Royal make Persona 3 Reload one of my most anticipated games of 2024.

To read more about Persona 3 Reload, check out our full impressions in our hands-on preview here.

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Persona 5 Tactica

PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

With several spin-offs already in tow, the Persona 5 subseries continues to grow at a rapid rate. We already have an extended cut of the original RPG, a dancing rhythm game, a Musou-inspired action game, and several cameo appearances in other franchises. Persona 5 Tactica is one of the more unexpected entries in the series to date, bringing the Phantom Thieves of Hearts into the tactical realm of turn-based strategy. After a politician goes missing in Tokyo, the familiar cast of Persona 5 is transported to what looks to be a part of the metaverse, but it sure does seem like there’s more than meets the eye with where Joker, Ryuji, Ann, and the rest find themselves. With rock-solid turn-based tactics mechanics – including the powerful Triple Threat attacks – I’m so excited to have another adventure with the Phantom Thieves when Persona 5 Tactica hits modern platforms on November 17.

For more in-depth impressions, be sure to check out our full hands-on impressions here.

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qomp2

PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Switch, PC

Billed as “an artful reimagining of Pong,” Atari publishing the sequel to the cult-favorite title is a match made in heaven. Rather than moving a paddle around like in the original game or embarking on an RPG adventure like in Pong Quest, qomp2 puts you in control of the ball. With a press of the button, you reverse the vertical direction of the ball in order to navigate obstacles and progress through the various courses. You can also pull in the trigger to charge up your ball, with a small burst occurring when you release; this lets you pick up speed and even break or move barriers. I loved trying to redirect the ball to hit just the right trajectory where I can avoid the obstacles and get to the next part of the stage. I only played the first few stages, but it was enough to hook me. Qomp2 is in development from the Mr. Run and Jump studio, Graphite Labs, so I suspect the quality will carry through the rest of the game.

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Rift of the NecroDancer

Switch, PC

The NecroDancer series started on a high note and has expanded to include various expansions as well as an official Legend of Zelda crossover game. With the latest offering, Rift of the NecroDancer, the studio is taking the series into some self-referential territory – not just of itself, but of the genre as a whole. Playing through the core songs feels like a unique twist on the Guitar Hero-style lane-based rhythm genre. Monsters approach you, and its your job to attack them as the bombard you in rhythm with the song that’s playing. While some monsters are defeated in a single hit, others behave differently when you attack them in time with the music; bats, for example, fly to the next lane on the next beat, while some skeletons require you to attack them again on the half-beat. The result is some seriously complicated note highways in the main portion of the game. On top of that, the minigames feel like they’re ripped straight out of the fan-favorite Rhythm Heaven series, including one that asks your character to do various yoga poses on beat with the other characters on screen. With those moments feeling like love letters to Guitar Hero and Rhythm Heaven, respectively, in conjunction with my high opinion of the NecroDancer series, Rift of the NecroDancer has quickly become a 2024 release I’ll be keeping my eyes on.

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Super Mario Bros. Wonder

Switch

As soon as we learned Super Mario Bros. Wonder had a surprise presence on the showfloor of Nintendo Live 2023, we knew it was a no-brainer to include it on this list. As one of our most-anticipated games for the rest of 2023, Super Mario Bros. Wonder plays just as well the second time around. This time, my entire session was spent in co-op play. Brimming with creativity, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the true next evolution of the 2D Mario series following the long-running New Super Mario Bros. franchise, and feels like the most creative 2D Mario game in nearly three decades. Super Mario Bros. Wonder arrives on October 20.

For more, read my full hands-on preview here.

Did you make it to PAX West 2023 or Nintendo Live? Which games were you most impressed by? Even if you didn’t go, which of these games sounds most appealing to you?

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