PAX West 2022 - Rogue Games
Hands-on at PAX West with Sprawl, Dust & Neon, The Last Case of Benedict Fox, Seafrog, and Cookie Cutter
Typically, when a member of the media has the opportunity to try out a demo at a show such as PAX West 2022, it’s a pretty predictable experience. You approach the stand, talk to the nice folks working for whatever company you’re demoing for, and they show you to a small isolated workstation or separate room so you can enjoy the demo without hogging time from other patrons in a quiet space where you can ask questions and converse with the developers. This did not happen to me as I talked to the good people at the Rogue Games booth. I was led instead to a massive, comfortable-looking black sofa sat behind a huge LCD TV adorning the wall of the Rogue booth. The setup looked downright voguish.
As I was taking my seat ready to start up my first demo, I was informed that the Rogue live demos were about to begin, and was asked in the same breath if I’d be the guinea pig for the first two games they wanted to demo. Who was I to say no? So, the first and second of the five games I demoed at PAX West 2022 were a bit of a blur as I could only play them briefly, with an announcer relaying my moves over a loudspeaker while onlookers watched. Regardless, I’m going to try my best to recount the experience as best I can and give accurate accounts of my time playing them. A huge thank you to Rogue for allowing me to demo their games live in the way that they did, it was a great time!
The first game I played was a fast-paced arena-style FPS called Sprawl. I was relieved upon booting the game up, as arena shooters are my bread-and-butter, meaning I wouldn’t outright embarrass myself in front of the small crowd watching the demo. Thankfully, Sprawl is actually quite good. I was wall jumping, wall running, exploding heads, and slicing up enemies to regain my ammo with ease.
Sprawl has a massive cyberpunk city backdrop, and as such, feels suitably oppressive and grim. The gunplay is very solid, invoking the fast, frantic shooting that industry classics like Doom and Quake are known for. I wasn’t able to play for very long, but what I got to play was incredibly promising and well polished. Like many other games in this genre, Sprawl is just a joy to play, so you’ll want to go back for more and explode more enemies into tiny crimson giblets.
Dust & Neon
The second game of my live-demo experience was a genre with which I am much less familiar. Dust & Neon is a stylistic top-down twin-stick roguelike shooter. Set in a futuristic Wild West, you play as the Gunslinger, a legendary sharp-shooter from the past brought back to life by a mad scientist to take control of the world from rebellious murderous robots. The core gameplay of Dust & Neon is a relatively standard twin-stick shooter affair: the left stick moves the Gunslinger around the map, while the right stick aims. You can dodge and use various bits of the environment around the map for cover as a hail of enemy bullets surrounds you. Being a roguelike, Dust & Neon uses death as a teacher. After each inevitable death, you are sent back to the hub world where you can purchase upgrades to your character as well as different weapons to take with you on your next run.
There are a ton of weapons to collect that will help dispatch your foes. Pistols, revolvers, sniper rifles, shotguns, and repeaters of all shapes and sizes grace your collection as you gun down various robots on each level. The coolest part about this is the unique reload animation that happens every time you have to put more rounds into each gun. Every bullet has to be manually reloaded (this is the Wild West, after all) and each time the gun is reloaded a rendering of the gun appears on screen, stylishly breaks open, and it shows how many bullets are being put into the gun each time. On top of being a flashy way to reload, it’s an interesting way to show the player how much ammo they’ve put back into their firearm. Dust & Neon kicked my ass, but it was a fun time and a very solid roguelike for anyone interested in the genre.
The Last Case of Benedict Fox
From here on out I had a bit more freedom to explore the games that I was trying . Having finished the live demo experience, I proceeded to play The Last Case of Benedict Fox. This was a side-scrolling Metroidvania set in a world of two halves. The first half is a massive, decrepit mansion; a sprawling, beautiful manor filled with mysteries and secrets waiting to be found. The mansion is the site of the grisly murder of a young couple, as well as the disappearance of their child. The second half is the exploration of the decaying memories of the titular Benedict Fox - a self-proclaimed detective. Bound to Benedict Fox is a Venom-Esq demon companion, which allows him to use a multitude of powers to explore the levels and unravel the mysteries of the mansion.
The game plays well, with responsive controls and difficult-but-satisfying combat. The best part of the game, however, is definitely the art direction. It looks like every aspect of the game walked straight out of a Tim Burton movie, complete with abstract characters and a foreboding atmosphere. The mansion is beautifully rendered, but impossibly eerie. The powers surrounding the demo companion are flashy and stylized. The whole game has a claymation vibe that I am definitely here for. If you’re a fan of murder mysteries and Metroidvanias, keep an eye out for The Last Case of Benedict Fox.
Seafrog is a simple game that’s very difficult to master, possessed of a great sense of humor. Described as a “skateboarding Metroid-like,” Seafrog sees the player take control of a mechanic lost at sea, trapped in a mysterious hole in the middle of the ocean. Seafrog - the title character - and their AI companion must build the fastest ship around to not only escape this predicament but be the fastest to do so.
Strangely enough, Seafrog is a side-scrolling skateboarding game, taking place throughout various ships in playground-style levels. Seafrog must use their momentum to reach different parts of the ship, unscrew and collect various parts for their own ship, and explore. The unique momentum mechanic allows for some interesting and challenging puzzles, with multiple obstacles like enemies and tricky jumps standing between Seafrog and their goals.
Seafrog is an adorable and difficult puzzle platformer that has some really interesting mechanics, and I was awful at it. Despite that, I wanted to master the systems in place rather than quit playing and felt really satisfied when I was able to successfully complete a maneuver in the way I had envisioned, as rare as that was. I’m excited to jump back in and see how many more obstacles I can clear.
Right from the get-go, I knew that I was going to enjoy Cookie Cutter. It’s a 2D side-scrolling Metroidvania/beat-‘em-up set to the backdrop of a beautiful dying cyberpunk world. You play as Cherry, an android on a quest to rescue her creator from a deranged mastermind. On the way, you will have to platform, solve puzzles, and beat the ever-living hell out of a huge variety of enemies. Along the way, you will unlock new abilities that allow you to decimate your enemies more efficiently as well as access new areas of the world. It plays very well, with a charging ability allowing Cherry to regain her health, along with a dash and parry ability giving the fights a dynamic risk-and-reward feel similar to Souls-likes. Platforming is solid and fast, with Cherry being able to quickly get across the screen to access different areas.
Not unlike The Last Case of Benedict Fox, however, what sets Cookie Cutter apart is the absolutely brilliant artwork. The entire game is hand-drawn, with smooth deliberately crafted animations being applied to not only Cherry but every enemy type as well. The art style is unique and easily recognizable, with the feeling of a disturbed Nickelodeon cartoon emanating from every animation. On top of this, the game is delightfully violent, with bombastic attacks ending in gory and satisfying finishing kills. Cookie Cutter is a wonderful experience and I absolutely will be buying it Day One, if for nothing else just to experience more of its excellent artwork and animations.
This wraps up the coverage of PAX West 2022, and the editorial team here at SUPERJUMP could not be happier with Jared's work covering this event. Who's ready for 2023!?!
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