After 3 years of absence, PAX Aus came back in a huge way last weekend at Melbourne Convention and Expo Centre. It was a massive weekend of video games, pop culture, and table top gaming, and with a sold out Saturday – may have been bigger than the last. Although it was an amazing event, in particular with some great panels to attend (more than one person could ever squeeze in), I can’t help but feel that PAX Aus was forgotten about from a ‘big names’ standpoint. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing time and played some cool games. But there were some really notable absences.
Let’s get into the good stuff first, though.
Shuhei Yoshida had an amazing panel where he was interviewed about his history with Australia, PlayStation, indies, and so much more, and it was brilliant. The man has seen so much of the industry. He told stories of the PlayStation’s early days – when fewer than 80 people worked together to create what became the PS1. He spoke about how the Japanese indie market had a long way to go to compete with the west, and he gushed over his favourite game of all time – Journey. It was so insightful listening to this veteran be so passionate about how he and his team, and PlayStation, are finding ways to get more eyes on indie games and get more indies on their platform.
He spoke candidly about realising late in the PS4 era that people had an opinion of PlayStation not fostering a positive environment for indie games, with Jim Ryan then specifically putting him to task to solve this issue. He really loves this industry, and you can tell he really loves independent games and the stories they can tell, ones that are often unable to be told in triple-A games marketed at huge audiences. As one of the biggest influences in our industry, he remains a true gamer at heart.
Gunbrella, from developer Doinksoft and publisher Devolver Digital, was a big standout. Devolver always bring their A-game to PAX – to be fair, Devolver bring their A-game no matter what they do. Being a 2D side-scrolling action game set in a gorgeously designed pixelated world with a noir-punk aesthetic, you play as a gruff woodsman with a gun umbrella – hence, Gunbrella. The gameplay feels smooth and slick, with movement being fast and frenetic with a solid control scheme. The Gunbrella can be used to traverse zip lines, float for additional reach and airtime, and, obviously, shoot enemies. It’s also used as a shield to deflect incoming fire.
Utilising the twin sticks, you can precisely aim in 360 degrees. So it’s possible to utilise your traversal skills alongside precision aiming to take out your enemies with style. The game reminded me a lot of a favourite of mine, Katana Zero (also published by Devolver Digital). Despite their different colour schemes – Gunbrella is very much a natural, more muted colour palette with almost western vibes – the art direction is similar. And the use of comedic text, as well as text effects, gave me big throw back vibes to the 2019 action platformer from Askiisoft. I’m excited to see more and play more when Gunbrella launches in 2023 for Nintendo Switch and PC.
Blowfish Studios always bring a host of games to PAX Aus, and this year was no different. I was able to get hands on with a really interesting and captivating new title called Vlad Circus: Descend into Madness. Set within a spooky mansion, you control Oliver Mills, a man traumatised by an event years prior where the circus that he’s a part of is burned to the ground. The ex-clown dons his costume again in an attempt to bring the band of freaks back together again, and the rest of the troupe arrive at the mansion for just that.
As you explore the mansion with its great pixel artwork, with harrowingly moody music and lighting, and mysteries to unfold, you begin to suffer madness and hallucinations. At one stage, upon walking into the kitchen, you witness a pack of rats feasting on a cat’s corpse, only for it to disappear from view moments later. It’s moments like these that allow the artists to create these highly detailed and grotesque pixel art close ups, and the artwork in this game really shines. Vlad Circus reminded me somewhat of the classic, Another World, in the way the characters move, and also the art style, but with a much more horror-themed vibe.
You’ll also have to manage your stress throughout the game to stop Oliver’s descent into madness. After the short demo, I was already convinced this is a must play, and I was left with so many lingering questions and desperately want to know what happens next. You can Wishlist this one now, and it’ll be available on all platforms when it launches next year.
So these were just a couple of the notable games and experiences from PAX Aus 2022. But despite many great games at the event, I was let down by an absence of some of the bigger developers and publishers. There was a serious lack of triple-A content at PAX Aus. Now, I love indie games a lot, and I love their focus here, but the main floor was missing booths from Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo, as well as Ubisoft, Square Enix, and EA. Instead, it consisted mainly of AMD, Intel, Twitch, Logitech, VR stations, and other hardware. (In fairness, Capcom’s Street Fighter 6 playable area was popping off all weekend.)
In 2019, Xbox had a huge booth for Sea of Thieves. CD Projekt Red had Cyberpunk 2077. PlayStation were showing off Death Stranding. Nintendo also showed up and had huge lines for their booth. I’m slightly perplexed at why these big companies neglected to show up at PAX Aus this year. Nintendo could’ve shown off Bayonetta 3, or even just have had Splatoon 3 stations (even though the game is now out). Xbox could’ve had Halo or Forza Horizon Hot Wheels. And PlayStation could’ve teamed up with Square Enix to show off Forspoken or Final Fantasy 16. Sega did show up with Sonic Frontiers, but they didn’t have Like a Dragon Ishin like they did at TwitchCon.
TwitchCon, New York ComicCon, and PAX Aus all happened essentially over the same weekend. I’m not sure if that’s something that always happens, but early October is definitely a solid pre-holiday celebration. Maybe some companies didn’t want to fork out for multiple events. Further, with Covid obviously still affecting many people and making development more difficult, publishers were potentially less eager to make demos available or send staff out to these events. I get that, but without the big three hardware manufacturers at PAX Aus, it was slightly disappointing. In fact, Square Enix’s showing may have been the most confusing. With two big games on the horizon, all they had was a Final Fantasy 14 booth.
Either way, PAX Aus 2022 was a huge success – the sold out Saturday was a massive turnout, especially! Everyone seemed to be respectful to each other and looked as though they had a good time. The event had so many incredible cosplayers, so many great panels and events on, gaming for every type of player, and so much to explore. It bodes well for the future of the event, and I’ll be sure to make my way back to PAX in 2023 for another long weekend of gaming, celebrating this industry that we love so much. My only hope is that, next year, there are more blockbusters with which to get hands on.
Finally, I think a huge shoutout is deserved for those who put on the event. As far as I could tell, it was run so smoothly, and everything (from the outside looking in) went off without a hitch. All of the enforcers were great and accommodating, all of the exhibitors were professional and friendly, and the public seemed happy about the event. Huge congratulations to those in charge for a successful weekend; I’m already looking forward to PAX Aus 2023.
If you attended the event, let me know how it went for you in the comments or on Twitter.