Indie Highlights From PAX Australia 2019

The indie scene in Australia is one that’s continually evolving, and several home-grown heroes have used PAX (both locally and internationally) as a way to show off their creations to potential audiences. Some, like Untitled Goose Game from Melbourne-based studio House House, have gone on to become international phenomena, proving Australia has creativity and drive that is valued by the wider gaming community. Local funding from government organisations such as Film Victoria and dedicated university degrees in game development are further recognition of a scene that is only growing in strength. Melbourne is somewhat of a nexus for game development in Australia, and PAX AUS was crammed full of passionate indie devs getting their titles out there. Four members of WellPlayed braved the show floor at PAX Rising this year, sampling as many titles as we possibly could until security kicked us out. Here are our picks for 2019…

Release: 2020 | Developer: Vivink Studios | Publisher: Vivink Studios | Platforms: Switch/PC

Much like my coffee addiction, I also have an unquenchable thirst for indie platformers with adorable protagonists. Vivink Studios upcoming 2D platformer Ailuri is exactly that. With one of the prettiest art styles I saw at PAX, Ailuri won my heart over almost immediately. You play as Ailuri, a cute little Red Panda who gets separated from his parents. The game gave me strong Ori and the Blind Forest vibes, and if this game manages to be anything like that gem of a game, I can’t help but feel like Ailuri might become something special in the future. The game also seeks to raise awareness for endangered species, as the Red Panda and numerous other characters you encounter throughout the game are endangered. Animals this beautiful must be protected, and I can’t help but feel that is what Ailuri is trying to hammer home. Gameplay-wise the game played brilliantly, with enjoyable platforming and engaging mechanics such as the grapple that allows Ailuri to grab and launch himself from floating orbs interspersed through levels.

Dylan Blereau

Release: Out Now | Developer: Phase Two Games | Publisher: Phase Two Games | Platforms: iOS

Battle Hunters is a cool little RPG that combines real-time combat and strategy in a vibrant package. There is a crazy amount of characters to unlock and do battle with, and each of them features upgradeable stats and abilities. While it might have an old-school fantasy RPG sheen, with plenty of elves, knights and wizards, there also more space/time/genre-bending heroes including a futuristic female sniper and a non-copyright-infringing version of the legendary demon hunter Dante. It’s also a premium mobile game, meaning there is an upfront fee (currently $4.99 AUD), and after that you won’t be pestered for money. No pay-to-win shenanigans here; play the game, unlock the characters, earn the rewards. My first brush with premium mobile games was Ticket to Earth by Bit Circus (which is fantastic by the way), and it goes a long way towards legitimising mobile gaming beyond the shallow money-grabbing predatory whale-funded piles of garbage that the platform is mostly known for. Unfortunately it’s only available on iOS, but the developer did indicate he’d love to bring the game to Switch and Android platforms if the game proves successful.

Kieran Stockton

Release: 14/02/20 | Developer: Starcolt | Publisher: Alliance | Platforms: Switch/PC

There are a few things that come to mind when the words ‘dogs’ and ‘dating sim’ are used in the same sentence, and while Best Friends Forever isn’t quite what I was hoping for, it is probably the safer option. This is most definitely akin to a traditional, human dating sim, with all the same kinds of branching conversations and time management you’d expect. On top of that though, there are dogs! Each of the potential love interests in the game, as well as your main character, has a pup, and the dogs play just as big a role in the narrative as their owners. Your own pooch needs care and attention too, which is where the time management stuff comes in. This game certainly won’t change the minds of anyone who doesn’t like dating sims or visual novels, but it’s a cool idea and the writing is absolutely A+ fantastic, and hilarious to boot.

Oh, and how cool is it that a niche indie game being developed in New Zealand managed to score a Nintendo Direct feature?

Kieron Verbrugge

Release: 2020 | Developer: Ategig | Publisher: Ategig | Platforms: PC

Party brawlers and PAX Rising are almost a synonymous duo. Every year there’s a handful of new games that aim to push friendships to the limits and see who can claim bragging rights, at least until the next party brawler. Brimstone Brawlers from Brisbane studio Ategig is one of those games (I mean one of the words is in the name), and the gaggle of WellPlayed writers that braved the PAX AUS show floor tackled the game in a winner-take-all battle. The up to six-player battles in Brimstone Brawlers take place on dynamic maps, some that are just as much your adversary as those attempting to end you. Every character has their own unique skillset and some will click with your playstyle and others won’t, and you can pick up items such as weapons and perks to enhance your odds of victory. In our first donnybrook I went the Plague Doctor, but I was nothing more than cannon fodder. However in the second I chose the Battle Priest, and even though he was slower, the power of Christ was too strong for everyone else to contend with. Brimstone Brawler is currently set for a 2020 release on PC and will feature both local and online multiplayer, and as someone who likes to dominate his mates both in-person and online, I can see this becoming a regular in my party playlist.

Zach Jackson

Release: TBA | Developer: FEED | Publisher: FEED | Platforms: Switch/PC/Mac/Linux

I’ll be the first to admit that a good pun is more than enough to get me interested in a game (who can forget classics like Clay Fighter 2: Judgment Clay?), but Cybermonk also has an interesting physics-based premise to boot. In an isometric top-down arena, two teams of two are tasked with moving rotatable mirrors into place which reflect laser beams into their goal to score points. With multiple mirrors and obstacles in the field of play, your strategy is generally to make sure you’ve got the right setup to reflect your own beams (which periodically fire and then move positions), while simultaneously griefing the other team. It’s got a significant pace to it, and the name of the game is thinking on your feet and keeping an eye on those angles of incidence and reflection. My team was comprised of me and a random teenager, and we were up against some stiff competition in the form of WellPlayed’s Managing Director Zach Jackson and one of Cybermonk’s developers. Even if it felt like the Sydney Kings versus the Harlem Globetrotters, my young friend and I formed a strong non-verbal bond and wiped the floor with them. Whatever else happened that day at PAX, at that moment we were gods. I’m interested to see how diverse the gameplay is compared to the little snippet we got to experience, but we’ll have to wait as currently there is no announced release date.  

Kieran Stockton

Release: February 2020 | Developer: Onerat Games | Publisher: Another Indie | Platforms: PS4/Xbox One/Switch/PC/Mac/Linux

If there’s one buzzword games use that will have me intrigued no matter what the genre is it’s Lovecraftian. It could be a Lovecraftian farmer dating sim or a pixel art Lovecraftian and Dark Souls-inspired action-adventure, which is what Elden: Path of the Forgotten from Melbourne-based Onerat Games is all about. The first thing I realised after playing Elden for five or so minutes was that I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. This was a case of fake it ’til you make it. It was only until I spoke to Onerat’s only dev Dylan Walker that I understood that I largely wasn’t meant to know. You see, you play as Elden, whose mother has been taken by ancient horrors and it’s your job to save her. Along the way you’ll find pieces of the story via indirect sources such as illustrations and over time you’ll start to understand just what is going on. The combat is also fairly unforgiving, and in true Dark Souls style Elden will need to choose how and when to attack. It’s not normally the type of game I’d be into, but the art style, unique storytelling, challenging combat and apt soundscape really made Elden: Path of the Forgotten stand out.

Zach Jackson

Release: Early 2020 | Developer: WhaleFood Games | Publisher: Blowfish Studios | Platforms: PS4/Xbox One/Switch/PC

Sports games are an acquired taste at WellPlayed, with only a couple of us being passionate digital athletes (lead by yours truly). So when I say that all four of the WellPlayed crew played a game that involved football (also known as soccer), it’s kind of a big deal. KungFu Kickball from WhaleFood Games and Blowfish Studios is a fun and chaotic take on the world game, and one that even the most fervent FIFA haters will get around. In its 2v2 (or you can 1v1) pixel art madness, players must kungfu kick a ball into their own goal (a bell) more times than the other team, all the while trying to avoid being ninja kicked in the face, which is no easy task given how fast-paced the matches are. It was easily one the most fun games I played at PAX AUS and better yet it’s coming to consoles (all of them!) as well as PC with local and online multiplayer in early 2020.

Zach Jackson

Release: Late 2019 | Developer: Little Reaper Games | Publisher: Little Reaper Games | Platforms: PC

Who would’ve thought, another indie platformer with an adorable protagonist made my list? Little Reaper is an indie side-scrolling platformer by Little Reaper Games that sees you play as the Ollie, the Little Reaper. Ollie is the Grim Reaper’s assistant, and when Grim heads off on holiday, it’s up to Ollie to fill in. Ollie accidentally shatters a jar of souls however, sending him on a journey to retrieve them. The game is clearly inspired by Nintendo 2D Platformers, and I found myself quickly falling in love with Ollie throughout the demo. The game plays like how you’d expect a platformer to, however having to use the souls you collect to power platforms and other obstacles were something unique I hadn’t experienced before. While Little Reaper doesn’t have a set date, I don’t believe the game is too far away.

Dylan Blereau

Release: 2019 (PC)/2020 | Developer: Route 59 Games | Publisher: Route 59 Games/Coconut Island Games/AGM PLAYISM | Platforms: PC/PS4/Switch

Upon being first introduced to the premise of Necrobarista, I was immediately hooked. A game about death and coffee? I love those things! For real though, a visual novel set in a Melbourne cafe in which the dead can have a brew and a chat with Melbournian hipsters sounds so perfect. The demo I played at PAX made it clear to me that this game is going to be weird as hell, but with an anime aesthetic, should I have expected anything less? Even though my only ever time spent in Melbourne was during PAX 2019, it’s extremely cool to play a game that is set in Melbourne, with copious amounts of coffee involved also. If anyone has ever heard me ramble on the WellPlayed DLC Podcast, you know how much I love coffee, and I can’t help but think I’m going to love the zany world of Necrobarista too. 

Dylan Blereau

Release: 2020 | Developer: Hungry Sky | Publisher: Hungry Sky | Platforms: iOS/Android

Cats and adorable puzzle games. If that doesn’t sell you already, well, you can honestly go fuck yourself.

Kieron Verbrugge

Release: 2020 | Developer: MistyMountainStudio | Publisher: Gamera Game | Platforms: PC

The Rewinder is a 2D side-scrolling point-and-click adventure based on Chinese mythology. You play the role of an agent capable of travelling between the physical plane and spiritual plane of memory, tasked with guiding lost souls to their rebirth in samsara. There’s a strong focus on classic puzzles as well as item-based puzzles in the spirit of Monkey Island. Throw in some time-travelling shenanigans and a gorgeous pixel art presentation and you’ve got a fairly unique package. We’ll be keeping our eyes on this one.

Kieran Stockton

Release: Late 2020 | Developer: Witch Beam | Publisher: Witch Beam | Platforms: PC/Mac/Linux

I have absolutely all the time in the world for a game that can manage to tell a story in a way that’s simply not possible in another medium. Unpacking is one of those games. Through a single concept as simple as unpacking a main character’s belongings, there’s a whole lifetime of stories being told. Each level represents a different stage in the character’s life and sees you unpack their stuff into each new room or home. There’s no ‘challenge’ or ‘score’, you’re almost completely free to unpack however you like, but with every object you unbox and every move you complete you’ll see more and more of the character’s personality and life experiences play out. It’s a unique and ingenious concept, and Brisbane-based Witch Beam might just be my new indie heroes.

Kieron Verbrugge

That’s a wrap for PAX AUS 2019. Even though we split up to cover more ground, we couldn’t possibly get our hands on absolutely every indie on the expansive show floor. If you think there’s one we missed then feel free to let us know. If you’re keen to relive some more PAX indie action, check out our coverage of a Fallout-inspired CRPG set in the Aussie outback Broken Roads and interactive tear-jerker Wayward Strand too. See you next year.