The Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX for short, is a huge video game convention in Seattle spearheaded by the guys who do the prolific Penny Arcade web comic. PAX 08 was this past Labor Day weekend, and I was lucky enough to get a chance to go to it. Read on and join me on my PAX ‘08 adventures!
Unlike E3, the PAX convention is open to the public, and there’s a lot for a gamer to see and do. There were concerts and movies to watch in the evening (I didn’t go, I was too sleepy). There were panels and speeches going on all day, too. Players could also enter game competitions or just play games with each other for fun! I swear I saw SO many stages set up where people were playing Rock Band! It was unreal!
But like E3, the PAX show had an exhibition hall where game companies set up booths to show off their new and upcoming games. Since that was my favorite thing to do at E3, that’s what I mostly did at PAX, too.
Since PAX was open to the public, a lot of the booths were set up to sell things, too. Behemoth, makers of the new super fun Xbox Live Arcade game Castle Crashers, were showing off their game as well as selling T-shirts and Castle Crashers action figures. It was a little expensive, but I splurged and bought a figure of the Green Knight! (my favorite)
Namco Bandai games not only had a booth to show off their games, but another booth to sell classic Namco goodies as well. Pac-Man hats, T-shirts, mousepads, plush toys, shotglasses, and more. I would’ve loved to bought some stuff there, but it was also very expensive and I have a lot of that stuff already! You can order Namco goodies online by going to www.clubnamco.com, though.
Another booth that was selling stuff was Pink Godzilla, who specializes in import games and rare titles. They had a giant pile of plush toys stacked up. I wonder how they got them up that high without toppling over!
I set up a few appointments with some of the game booths at PAX. I have to say that every PR professional and game developer I talked to were super friendly and helpful, even if I didn’t set up a meeting with them. I couldn’t have written this article without their help!
One of the first meetings I had was with Destineer. Surprisingly, they had one of the most talked about and played games at the show: Iron Chef America: Supreme Cuisine for Wii and DS. While it’s basically Cooking Mama with a license, they really utilized that license well with likenesses and voices of the stars from the TV show, like the announcer, Alton Brown from Good Eats. Also, since Iron Chef is a cooking competition, the stakes in the game are higher and it looks to be a more challenging game because of that. Mama isn’t around to fix your mistakes in Kitchen Stadium, so there’s much less room to mess up. So Iron Chef America will probably appeal to older players more. But by the crowds playing the game and hearing people on the streets of Seattle talk about it, Iron Chef America looks to be a fun game. One of the developers even said the DS version was the most solid title he’s ever worked on!
Another game Destineer had was Stoked for the Xbox 360. It’s a cross country snowboard game (no resorts, just mountains). Through Xbox Live, you could even have the weather in the game be like the weather on the real mountains in the game. Depending on the tricks you perform, the game will adapt to your style. One thing I liked was that when you crash, snow gets all over you and sticks to you for a while. But if you do a spin trick, the snow will shake off more quickly!
They also had WordJong Party for Wii, which looked like a cross between Scrabble and Mah Jongg. Up to four players can go at it, and some of the folks at the show looked really mesmerized while playing! On the DS, they had Animal Boxing, which looks to fill the void of cartoony boxers until Nintendo gets off its duff and releases a DS Punch Out game. One unique thing about Animal Boxing is that you hold the DS upside down and tap the top screen with the stylus to box. Finally on the DS was the uniquely named Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ. Mixing fairy tale and horror spoofs, play as a heat-packing Red or ninja Momotaro from a Japanese fairy tale. You can only move around left and right on the bottom screen and use the stylus to aim and shoot zombies coming at you. In this way, the game played more like an arcade classic such as Space Invaders or Tempest.
After that I met with TellTale Games, makers of the Sam & Max and Strong Bad episodic point and click adventures on PC and Wii. They were showing off Episode 2 of Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, based on the popular Homestar Runner Web cartoon. Even better was the Sam & Max adventures on the Wii. At first, I thought they were going to be episode games on WiiWare like Strong Bad, but instead, they’re putting all the episodes of Season One all on one disc! I can’t wait for that. Best of all, later on TellTale Games will have a Wallace and Gromit game. As a fan of both Wallace and Gromit AND point and click adventures, that one looks right up my alley!
I also met with Hudson Entertainment. I’ve always been impressed with Hudson’s support of the Wii with great games and Virtual Console titles, and they didn’t disappoint at PAX. First they showed Deca Sports, which has been out for a few months already. It’s kind of a spiritual successor to Wii Sports, though I don’t know if it’s quite as good. But I will tell you this, Deca Sports controls and plays a heck of a lot better than Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. I tried archery, go-kart racing, and figure skating, and it was all pretty fun. Also on the Wii from Hudson was the upcoming Fishing Master World Tour. It played like the fishing mini-game from Wii Zelda, except a lot more fleshed out. You can fish all over the world, even in a water fountain in Paris. And the game keeps track of all the different fish you caught, and gives easy to read facts on each fish, so kids will love that.
Hudson also had a couple of upcoming WiiWare games on display. First is Bomberman Blast. It’s traditional maze chasing action, but this time up to eight players can play at once. You can have four people in the same living room playing four others online! There are also new power-ups specific to the Wii version. Best of all was an update of Alien Crush. Alien Crush was a Turbo-Grafix 16 video pinball game. You can play the original already on Virtual Console (I recommend it, it’s fun). But now they’re making an update of it on WiiWare with 3-D graphics, new tables and obstacles, and even bosses. One time while I was playing, an alien slimed my pinball and made it roll slower. Considering how long I played the demo, Alien Crush looks to be a real addictive game!
I also met with D3 Publisher to check out some of their titles. There were a ton of Naruto games based on the popular anime cartoon and manga comic being shown at PAX. Namco Bandai had the rights to do Naruto games on Sony’s systems. Ubisoft had Microsoft rights. And D3 has rights for DS and Wii Naruto titles. At PAX, D3 had Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution 2 for Wii. It’s a 3-D fighter for up to four players at once. It features a storyline and new characters created specifically for a Western audience, and more than two dozen fighters total. On the DS they had Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2. It’s an RPG in the Naruto universe. Using WiFi, you can battle with people and you can collect trading cards from players in all 50 states and Canada and Mexico. The more you collect, the more stuff you unlock in the game!
Other non-Naruto stuff D3 had was Bangai-O Spirits, recently released on the DS. I missed out on this Treasure-made shooter on the Dreamcast, so I’ll have to make sure and check out the DS version sometime. One unique thing about the DS Bangai-O game is that you can make your own levels and show them off in a unique way. The game turns your creations into sound files (sounds like a modem) and if another DS hears them, it’ll get transferred to the other DS and you’ll get to play that level. People are already posting sound files on YouTube where you can put headphones up to a DS and trade levels that way!
D3 also had Galactix, the space sequel to Puzzle Quest. Looks about the same except for a new board and more customization. Puzzle Quest fans, expect to get addicted all over again…IN SPACE! They didn’t have it on display, but later on, D3 will release a popular Japanese action game on Xbox 360 and Wii. In Japan it’s called Onechanbara, but in the US it’ll be Bikini Zombie Slayers. You play as a couple of underdressed women and kill zombies. Not much more to it than that. It’s definitely not family friendly, and may not be my cup of tea, but the game still cracks me up for some reason.
Sometimes, even if I didn’t set up a meeting, game developers and workers at certain booths were more than happy to show me games and answer all my questions. Even the silly ones. Such was the case with Namco Bandai. They were showing off SoulCalibur IV, a new Afro Samurai game, Naruto, and Tales of Vesperia. One of the folks who worked on nearly all the US Tales games even walked me over all the way to Nintendo’s booth on the other side of the floor to tell me about the new Wii sequel to Tales of Symphonia. Set two years after the first game, the sequel features new and old characters. While I can’t remember anything about the story, I know there will be some new battle features to make fights even more fun. You can even recruit any of the monsters (except bosses) to fight on your side. You can level them up and cook for them, and even make them evolve into even better monsters. And the game will be out by the end of the year.
The folks at Sega’s booth were also very friendly and helpful. At their booth they had Yakuza 2 and a new Bleach game. But I checked out a couple of their more family-friendly games like Dinosaur King for the DS. It looks to combine two things kids love: dinosaurs, and Pokemon gameplay. Battle dinos with rock-paper-scissors style rules, while the top screen shows 3-D dinos with exciting battle animations. Blaze Spin, for instance, had my T-Rex grab an Allosaur by the neck, and spun him around while breathing fire. OK, so it’s not too realistic, but there is an encyclopedia where kids can learn about their favorite real life dinos, so it’s at least somewhat educational.
Another kid friendly RPG Sega had was Sonic Chronicles. It features classic RPG gameplay in Sonic’s colorful world with all your favorite Sonic the Hedgehog characters. While the battles are turn based, BioWare put some Sonic spin into the fights. If an enemy escapes, Sonic can use his speed to chase them down in a quick running mini-game for instance. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until next year to see Sonic’s DS RPG.
Time for a PAX PIX to break up the walls of text. PAX was so big even Darth Vader showed up!
Even though I didn’t have a meeting set up with Nintendo, the folks there were also super nice and showed me some great demos of their games. At their DS section, if you had your own DS handy you could download demos and videos of upcoming games. At the station that was showing off a new Pokemon Ranger game and Kirby Super Star Ultra, I talked with a lady who agreed with me that Kirby games are better than most Mario games. So I asked her to marry me. Ha ha! Just joking on that last part!
But seriously, Kirby Super Star Ultra is a remake of the incredibly enjoyable Super Nintendo classic. When people recommend Mario to introduce young kids to video games, I tend to suggest Kirby instead. Kirby games are easier and less frustrating than Mario games, and are usually just as fun. In Kirby Super Star, two people could play at the same time cooperatively. When little brother Jeff was very young, he LOVED to play Kirby Super Star with me, and even today we’ll break out the Super Nintendo every now and then to replay it. When it comes out at the end of September, I’m definitely picking up the DS remake!
I also played some demos of a few Wii titles I’m looking forward to. One was Wario Land: Shake It. Featuring classic 2-D gameplay with beautiful hand-drawn graphics, Wario’s new adventure uses the Wii remote in various ways. You hold the Wii remote sideways to control Wario, and when you grab money bags, shake the remote to get coins to pick up. A quick flick of the remote will make Wario slam the ground to unlock secrets, and you can tilt the remote to aim cannons and projectiles (though that was a little harder to do). Even though Wario doesn’t get to use crazy powers like in past Wario Land games, it still looks like a lot of 2-D fun with Shake It. Hopefully it’ll open the door for Nintendo to make more 2-D games like Mario and Metroid!
I also played a bit of Animal Crossing: City Folk. I love the other Animal Crossing games so when this comes out during the holidays, I’m afraid I’ll get addicted all over again! While walking though the town felt very familiar, you can take a bus to a new city area for even more fun. In the big city, I met a new animal: a skunk (or badger) named Kicks who offered to shine my shoes (and change their color). Gracie’s was like a fancy and expensive version of Tom Nook’s. Gracie the fashion giraffe wasn’t around, but one of the Able Sister porcupines was there. At Gracie’s, you can buy special clothes (I bought a Hot Dog shirt), and even whole sets of furniture. On display was a candy themed furniture set with graham cracker flooring and a strawberry shortcake bed! An auction house had a talking gyroid where you can put items up for bid for your online friends to buy. And Lyle the shifty otter who sold you insurance in the DS game is back, running the home office of the Happy Room Academy! Uh oh! There was so much more to see and do in the big city. I can’t wait.
Time for another PAX PIX break! This costumed lady had weird contacts that made her eyes look all scary! Yikes!
OK, back to Nintendo. Not only did they show first party Wii games, but they also had some third party ones as well (like the aforementioned Tales of Symphonia sequel). One game I looked at was kind of like Metroid Prime: Corruption. It was called The Conduit, and featured FPS gameplay with alien enemies and weapons. But it focused more on shooting than Metroid’s exploration and puzzle solving. Even though it’s probably not my cup of tea, The Conduit looked really polished for a Wii game. The developers, High Voltage Games, haven’t found a publisher for it yet, but hopefully they will soon because the Wii needs more games like this for variety.
But probably the best demo at Nintendo’s booth was Wii Music. While many claimed this was disappointing at E3, I’m glad I didn’t knock it before trying it because what I played at PAX was really fun. There were two different demo stations for Wii Music. The first was a virtual drum set. Shake the Wii remote and nunchuck along with button presses to hit the different drums and cymbals. It was a little tricky at first. The neat thing was hitting the bass pedal with the Wii Fit Balance Board. It was a lot easier than the pedal on the Rock Band drums, which tends to make my foot cramp up after a few songs.
The other demo station let you perform music in a band. I played the Legend of Zelda theme song, but before we played we had to select a few things. First, you can choose what style of music to perform. So if you’ve ever wanted to perform the Zelda song in a jazz or reggae style (with varying tempos), here’s your chance. Then you choose what part to play, such as melody, harmony, accompaniment, or rhythm. Then you can choose your instrument. The person who was playing along with me was on Xylophone while I picked the NES Horn. It’s like a clarinet with a NES controller attached to it. And it made 8-bit sounds. No trombones, unfortunately. That’s what I played in high school band.
To play the NES Horn, just hold the Wii remote like how you would a clarinet. Push the 1 and 2 buttons to play notes, and hold the Wii remote high to play louder. There were other traditional and crazy instruments to play, too. Such as a rapper, or dog and cat suits to make meowing or barking sounds. Wii Music is more like a music rhythm toy rather than a music rhythm game. Why? Because after you perform, you rate yourself how you did. And the game won’t kick you out of the song if you sound bad or mess up too much. So it’s better for younger players or people less musically inclined. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less fun. You can save songs you’ve performed, design a CD cover, and send a music video to your Wii friends for them to view, judge, and edit themselves! And that’s only a snippet of the full game. I can’t imagine what all the full Wii Music will offer for music buffs. It may not beat out Rock Band and Guitar Hero, but I bet it’ll still be fun.
At the end of Saturday, I meant to go to a panel to show how to get people to notice your blogs more. But going down to Seattle’s wharf area sounded like more fun at the time (sorry Andrew). So I skipped out on the panel and ate me some fresh grilled salmon for dinner by the bay. Yum! At the wharf I saw these really cool big red cranes! So I took a picture. Yes, I may be almost 32 years old on the outside, but on the inside, I’m like, four.
On the way back to the hotel, I saw this really cool building that looked like it was upside down, so I took a picture of that, too. Seattle has a lot of really cool buildings.
At PAX there were tons of games at the Exhibition Hall. There were so many that there’s no way I could see them all in two days. But I tried to see as many as I could, especially those that interested me. So I apologize if I missed seeing your favorite game. I’m just one person.
Anyway, at Gamecock’s booth I played a game called Mushroom Men for the Wii. It looked like a typical 3-D platformer where you control a walking alien mushroom. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing, but I liked how you explored giant locales in the game, like a shelf above a TV, or around a folding chair. It was kind of like Chibi Robo that way. I also appreciated how they displayed their game demos in mock arcade cabinets. As a classic arcade machine buff, I really thought that was cool.
As I was admiring the Mushroom Men arcade cabinet, this lady dragged me over and held me at gunpoint and forced me to get my picture taken! I-I swear! I had never even heard of the game Velvet Assassin before! Oh well.
SouthPeak had a ton of games, too. But one that caught my eye was NinjaTown. It’s a real time strategy game with colorful graphics and cute ninja characters. The DS controls were easy to figure out, so maybe it’ll be a good game for younger RTS fans. Family friendly RTS games are probably tough to come by. Too bad I don’t really like RTS games personally, but I sure did like the characters in NinjaTown!
EA had a ton of games, too, but I couldn’t check them all out. One display that was always really crowded at PAX was for Spore. Some of my little brothers are really looking forward to that one.
I hear a lot about the Fallout games, but I don’t know much about them myself. But at PAX they had a funny Fallout 3 display so I took a picture of that, too.
Not only is PAX about video games, but board games as well. Many makers of collectible card games were on hand, such as Wizards of the Coast. They had all their usual Magic stuff, as well as a new card game based on the cute online PC MMORPG Maple Story. Another board game company called Bucephalus Games had something that caught my eye. Playbook Football was a board game where you used multisided dice and cards to make offensive and defensive football plays! And it came with a really well-made wooden board and pieces, too. Very high quality stuff. And at only around 50 bucks (according to the facts sheet), it looks like a good deal, too. And it was pretty easy to learn how to play, so football fans of nearly all ages could probably enjoy it.
I talked with some folks at XNA and they said that when the new Xbox Live Dashboard comes out, you’ll be able to buy lots more user created games. And at the PAX 10 booth, they had ten hand picked upcoming Xbox Live and Flash games that you could play and vote on. Wish I had more time there so I could play them all, like The Maw.
Ubisoft had a bunch of games, but the big one always up on stage that people were playing was Rayman Rabbids TV Party for Wii. THQ also had a glut of titles, but the one I played looked like a lot of fun. It’s called de Blob, and in it, you control a blob and run over paint to change colors, then touch buildings and plants to change their color from black and white to vibrant hues. I’ll definitely look more into that one when it comes out later in September.
Finally, Sony and Microsoft’s booths were always crowded, so I didn’t get a chance to check out all their games. But I did catch snippets of two games right up my alley: the Viva Pinata sequel and LittleBigPlanet. But not enough to write about them.
The last thing I did at PAX was attend GamerDad’s Gaming With Children panel. I won’t talk about it too much so as not to steal his thunder when Andrew writes about it himself. But it was a good speech and if you were at PAX and are visiting this page because you were at the panel, then I was to give you a big welcome and I hope you stick around. We have lots of fun stuff here. The only bad thing about GamerDad’s speech was the theater they put him in looked more like a parking garage than a stage. Oh well.
On Saturday night I was supposed to meet some online friends at the local Seattle GameWorks. But unfortunately, there was a private party there that night so we couldn’t meet. However, after the GamerDad speech on Sunday, I went to GameWorks for dinner and played a few games before it was going to be closed for ANOTHER private party! The cool thing is that at GameWorks, they had a Taiko no Tatsujin (Taiko Drum Master) arcade machine! I’ve always wanted to play the Taiko game in the arcade, it’s one of my most favorite music rhythm games. Only problem is the experience wasn’t as much fun as I thought. But it wasn’t the game’s fault, it was mostly the arcade. For one, the machine wasn’t taken care of very well. The sticks and drums were all ratty and nasty. I think that along with better consoles, negligent arcade owners are killing the arcades. Also, when you would swipe your card, a second player could join in at any time, so some people there were mooching off my card points. When some yahoo said “Come on, swipe your card again so we can play,” I was like, “Screw this.” If they’re not going to take turns paying for it, I’m not going to let them mooch off me. Then there was a player who was really good, but he only wanted to play by himself so he could do Oni mode. And he didn’t want to take turns either. So I didn’t get to play Taiko as much as I wanted. Oh well. At least I got to try Arkanoid R without interruption.
But PAX overall was still pretty fun, like a mini-E3. Although it was kind of expensive. We’ll see if I go again next year. But as always, the best part was all the nice folks there. From the PR and developers, to the GamerDad crew, and even my dad (I brought him along to PAX), it was great being with them all.
Here’s a picture of some of the GamerDad crew who went to PAX. From left to right, there’s Andrew’s wife Linda, Andrew Bub (The GamerDad), Alan Au, Cary Woodham (aka Klonoa on the message boards…that’s me!), and Colleen (momGamer).