PAX Australia PAX Rising indie games developer

The PAX Rising is the beating heart of PAX Australia, bringing together indie game creators showing off their raw passion for the medium. The strength of the country’s developer scene was on full display this year with previews of more than 80 games on the show floor. I’ve put together a guide to the 20 most exciting titles and what we know about them.

Best Friends Forever

Developer: Starcolt

Releasing: Feb. 14, 2020 on Nintendo Switch and PC

Best Friends Forever is a dating simulator in the vein of Dream Daddy where you date people who have dogs based on whether you like them as people or just like their pets. It is sharply funny, quite wry, and has a lot of Very Good Doggos.

Quantum Suicide

Developer: Cotton Candy Cyanide

Releasing: December 2019 on PC and Mac and PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 in late 2020

You and your team are on a mission to find a new home for humanity when your ship’s AI goes homicidally rogue. You’re forced to make tough choices about who will survive – and who you will romance. Great art and snappy writing help the mystery along. Unlike many visual novels with romance options, you can select your gender, and other characters will react accordingly. Originally a one-person outfit, Australian developer Cotton Candy Cyanide has been developing the game for four years and has expanded its scope to add a fully voice-acted Japanese translation alongside its English language release.

Necrobarista

Developer: Route 59

Releasing: Late 2019 on Steam, 2020 for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4

Necrobarista makes a definite visual statement with an anime-style cel-shaded aesthetic filtered through an almost PlayStation 2-style polygonal crispness. As a barista at Terminal, it is your job to help the dead find their final rest. Set in a modern fantasy Melbourne, Australia, Necrobarista does away with a lot of the stereotypical imagery associated with the country in favor of a more metropolitan, urbane, but unmistakably Australian tone that lovers of Melbourne’s café scene will recognize. While it’s ostensibly a visual novel, all the scenes play out in fully 3D-rendered cinematic style. The developers missed their Oct. 12 launch date but said that the game is essentially complete and will be coming out very soon.

Chaos Tavern

Developer: DragonBear Studios

Releasing: TBD

The couch co-op game Chaos Tavern tasks up to four players with running a magical tavern by serving customers food and drinks, fending off the occasional thief, and upgrading their establishment. As you buy more furniture and your tavern grows, your tasks expand from simply serving raw mana drinks and refilling kegs to brewing potions, cooking food, and banking coin. The narrower task list makes it feel less frantic than the cooking simulation Overcooked, though it still keeps the action flowing. Chaos Tavern also has a measure of adaptive difficulty, adjusting the pace based on how many people are playing.

Unpacking

Developer: Witch Beam

Releasing: Late 2020 on Steam

The peculiarly mindless consideration that goes into rearranging things in a space can be delightfully relaxing. Unpacking does away with all the actual physical work, tasking you with unpacking and arranging items from boxes after moving into a new house. It’s essentially a puzzle game – an open-ended 3D Tetris that is more home decoration than spatial stacker. Organizing things within the spaces can be very zen, taking on a meditative and contemplative air rather than a frantic scramble of spatial awareness. Chiptunes enhance the relaxation factor and the Items tell a story about who the people in the house are.

Wayward Strand

Developer: Ghost Pattern

Releasing: 2020 on Steam

As adventure games go, Wayward Strand is less about esoteric puzzles and more about inhabiting a fully realized place. Playing as student journalist Casey Beaumaris, you explore a fantastical 1970s floating hospital full of characters with their own stories. The story paths you discover will be guided by whom you choose to spend your time with during the three in-game days, which play out in about two hours. Where you are when also plays a factor as some conversations are only available at certain times. Despite the careful time management required, Wayward Strand exudes a relaxing and emotional mood that’s carried by its emphasis on character storytelling. Distinct graphics and cartoonishly proportioned characters give a quiet whimsy to what promises to be a heartfelt and genuine story.

Broken Roads

Developer: Drop Bear Bytes

Releasing: 2021 on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

An isometric CRPG with turn-based grid combat and expansive dialogue trees, Broken Roads takes the classic Fallout/Wasteland formula and adds an Australian twist. The team at Drop Bear Bytes visited towns in Western Australia to scout locations and adapt them to their post-apocalyptic setting. The game’s morality system revolves around four philosophical positions — nihilist, existentialist, machiavellian, and utilitarian — with each one offering its own skills and bonuses. Dialogue options revolve around both traditional trees and skill checks, and the game creates an oppressive, solitary mood.

PAX Australia PAX Rising indie games developer

Unfamiliar

Developer: Mana Tea Games

Releasing: Dec. 13 on Steam

Play a feline witch and explore delightful papercraft worlds without combat or conflict. Get lost in the relaxing music as you wander around a variety of gorgeously painterly backdrops, occasionally finding items and ingredients that you can use to craft outfits and accessories. There are gardening and harvesting mechanics, but the crux of the game is simply chilling as a cool cat witch, playing cat witch dress-up, and expanding your cat witch home. It’s an overall beautiful and relaxing experience. Unfamiliar is releasing this December on PC.

PAX Australia PAX Rising indie games developer

Exo One

Developer: Exbleative

Releasing: 2019 on Steam

Exo One is primarily a study in momentum. As a mercurial ball, you roll down hills, gaining speed and gathering potential. At the next hill’s crest, that momentum is unleashed as you transform into a flat aerodynamic discus that catches the wind and glides fast and sleek. Get above another downhill slope, transform back into the dense sphere, and pick up even more speed for the next great fling into the unknown. Soaring through one of a dozen or so alien planets of varying themes to hypnotic electric guitar, I found myself almost in a trance as I gathered speed and flew over the uncharted, surreal desert landscape. Glinting sand and shiny surfaces meld into the sense of motion, and exploring the sci-fi planet surfaces becomes joyous. Everything about it is gorgeous.

Dead Static Drive

Developer: Team Fanclub

Releasing: 2020 on PC and Xbox Game Pass

Dead Static Drive is a post-apocalyptic road trip game where you must survive a destroyed world full of dangerous monsters while driving around a classic muscle car. Its isometric view and sepia-toned graphics capture the dusty, sunset-soaked lands you pass through between loot-filled abandoned buildings. You rarely stay in one place for very long, instead relying on your car to be a mobile base of operations. Occasionally you meet people along the way, and it’s up to you whether to help them out – and maybe have them betray you – or leave them to their fate.

The Rewinder

Developer: MistyMountainStudio

Releasing: 2020 on Steam

A pixel art point-and-click adventure rooted in Chinese folklore, The Rewinder is a thoroughly gorgeous foray into the supernatural. Your character travels around solving the problems of the living and dead alike in a quest to return lost souls to Samsara – the Buddhist cycle of death and rebirth. You do this by investigating this world and those beyond and rewinding time itself. Changes made in the past affect the present and the future, allowing you to solve puzzles and learn information that you otherwise could not. It is thoroughly immersed in Chinese mythology and Buddhism, telling a deeply cultural tale in a visually arresting way.

PAX Australia PAX Rising indie games developer

Hot Brass

Developer: Walk with Kings

Releasing: TBD on Steam

Hot Brass is a top-down tactical police simulator with the twist that you’re trying to arrest the criminals peacefully instead of killing them. Violence is always a last resort and taking actions like shooting unarmed or surrendered criminals will result in an instant game over. Most situations offer you a non-lethal approach, with enemies typically surrendering for handcuffing when surprised or outnumbered. Some are more defiant and require a taser, and a few are determined to go down in a blaze of gunfire. Fully destructible environments widen your tactical options, giving you even more chances to end situations peacefully. Everyone is depicted as plain round tokens with symbols to denote that character’s allegiance and armament, giving the game an almost pen-and-paper RPG feel.

Speaking Simulator

Developer: Affable Games

Releasing: 2019 on Steam

Human speech is a miracle, requiring our species to develop fine motor control over dozens of face, lip, mouth, and tongue muscles. Speaking Simulator drives home just how complex a process it is. As a robot, you must infiltrate human society by learning how to speak like one of them. The only problem is your face and mouth area is controlled like QWOP. You have to successfully make speech noises by clumsily manipulating your robot’s bits individually and in sequence, leading to hilarious results.

PAX Australia PAX Rising indie games developer

The Vigilante Proclivities of the Longspur

Developer: Irreverent Pixel Feats

Releasing: October 2021 on Steam PC

Tony Stark meets LucasArts in The Vigilante Proclivities of the Longspur, a point-and-click adventure game about Marlowe Reed – billionaire industrialist by day, armored superhero also by day. As the titular Longspur, Reed dons a suit of high-tech armor and fights in a world full of super humans. Longspur looks fantastically nostalgic but aims to tell a more serious story of transhumanism and technology. The gameplay is mostly traditional point-and-click fare, solving puzzles with items to reach new areas and subsequently new puzzles.

PAX Australia PAX Rising indie games developer

Guile and Glory: Firstborn

Developer: Elston Studios

Releasing: Currently in early access on itch.io 

Guile and Glory: Firstborn is a top-down, turn-based grid combat RPG set in a narrative-rich classic fantasy world. During combat you are unable to directly deal damage to enemies and instead must rely on spatial manipulation to force enemies into obstacles and traps like spikes and pits.

PAX Australia PAX Rising indie games developer

Kana Quest

Developer: Not Dead Design

Releasing: Q1 2020 on Steam

Learning a language is hard. Games are fun. At the intersection of the two is Kana Quest, which asks you to place blocks to make matches like in Dominoes – except instead of numbers you use letters of the Japanese alphabet, kana. You pair up like phonemes to create chains, so that every symbol has a friend. It’s a little niche, but for those who are learning Japanese, the relaxed vibe and beautiful pixel art make for a great way to supplement your studies.

Ring of Pain

Developer: Simon Boxer and Twice Different

Releasing: Q2 2020 on Steam

Ring of Pain is an intriguing concept on paper: a roguelike dungeon escape card game. To reach the exit, you must travel through rooms and encounter various dangers, choosing whether to fight or flee. Fight and win, and you can gain useful items. Run and escape, and you’re more likely to reach the next sporadic health recovery spots. So far, so roguelike. The hook is that each room you are presented with a circle of cards that can be either harmful or (very rarely) helpful. You choose which way you rotate through the ring, and which of the gorgeously grotesque cards you will interact with. 

Sacrificial Lamb

Developer: Massive Monster

Releasing: TBD

Sacrificial Lamb was perhaps the earliest-in-development game shown on the floor this year. It’s technically an unannounced prototype, although it looks quite well realized. It’s a top-down survival game where you play cute little lambs as they go about their day worshipping the devil. You have to collect resources to build your camp and sustain your basic survival needs while also collecting other cute little critters to sacrifice to the forces of evil. The cartoon presentation and humorous approach give the game a light-hearted feel, making it play like a darkly funny mixture of Don’t Starve and The Shrouded Isle.

This Starry Void

Developer: Chironex Studios

Releasing: 2020 on Linux, Mac, and PC

Eschewing the traditional medieval swords and sorcery setting, the old-school dungeon crawler This Starry Void instead takes place in space. Instead of controlling a traditional party, you instead play as a single character that can swap out their arm at any time for a number of other tools and weapons. Also filling in for party variety is a helpful robot who can swap gear to take up different support roles. This Starry Void is a crafted narrative experience, exploring concepts of intelligence and sentience. The final game is expected to be 20 hours long, and the two-person team at Chironex is also looking into adding procedural content post-release.

PAX Australia PAX Rising indie games developer

Misadventure in Little Lon

Developer: True Crime Mysteries

Released: Oct. 6 on iOS and Android

The AR mobile game Misadventure in Little Lon tells the 1910 true crime story of the murder of Ernest Gunter. You are cast as a journalist who must gather information taken directly from real testimony and newspaper articles published at the time of the murder. Players in Melbourne can visit 12 sites where major events in the case happened and watch the story play out. There is also an off-site version that takes you through the story without having to travel to the locations. Touted by its developers as the first game of its kind, Misadventures in Little Lon is a fascinating fusion of augmented reality, meticulous research, mystery gameplay, and true crime. The developers are in the early stages of planning their next interactive true crime experience.

Lachlan Williams
Writer. Critic. Linguist. Model. Professional tsundere. Australian.

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