PAX 2010 packs it in

I attended the Penny Arcade Expo at the Convention Center in Seattle for the second year in a row, booth babin’ it up for Fugazo, a Seattle area developer promoting their new WiiWare title, Frobot. So I had to spend most of the two days that I attended firmly tethered to the booth and shooting manic smiles at wandering attendees, but in the spare time that I did have, I made a beeline for Nintendo’s booth. Impressions below!

The vast majority of the booth was reserved for the promotion of Metroid: Other M. Three stations were set up for playing the game, a roped-off display showed off the Metroid egg and actual costumes worn by the model in the live-action commercial, and they were giving away Metroid: Other M t-shirts to everyone who tried out the game. I was confused as to why this much space devoted to the promotion and play of a game that was already available at retailers, especially when other unreleased titles were available right next to it, but being guilty of dressing up as Zero Suit Samus for Halloween a couple years back, I was sufficiently giddy about all the Metroid fanfare. I didn’t play the game at the show since I already own it, but did snag an ill-fitting large t-shirt. I was also disappointed to find that the rumors were true, and the 3DS and Zelda: Skyward Sword would not be gracing PAX with their presence. Taking a moment to collect myself after mourning their absence, I moved on to enjoy Nintendo’s PAX repertoire.

The first game I tried out was Donkey Kong County Returns. As an avid fan of the classic DKC trilogy from the SNES era, and excited by the news that Metroid Prime developer Retro would be at the helm of this new addition, I was eager to try it out. After selecting the first level of the game with the Wii remote and nunchuk combo, it didn’t feel instantly familiar. Sure enough, DK could run, chuck barrels, hop on baddies, do a rolling jump in mid-air, and slap the ground, just as in the original games. But the oh-so-difficult to encapsulate in words overall “feel” of jumping and running seemed a little tweaked ”“ enough to get me killed a few times on the first level of the game. But these changes are not necessarily bad; it would just take some getting used to. I enjoyed the interaction between the background and the foreground, and noticed that instead of trailing behind as in the older games, Diddy Kong now rides on DK’s back and adds a temporary hover effect to his jump (think FLUDD from Super Mario Sunshine). Used creatively and not overly abused, I imagine this will ease the difficulty of adjusting to the Wii controls. The Nintendo rep also informed me that you can enjoy two-player simultaneous play, Super Mario Bros Wii style ”“ but without the maddening element of getting in each other’s way, running into your friends and inadvertently sending them to an untimely demise, which I was very pleased to hear. Regrettably, in my rush to try out the next game in the booth, I completely forgot to try the mine cart level ”“ a long-standing and very fun staple of the DKC series. D’OH! In any case, I’ve been waiting for a high quality, current-gen update to this fantastic sidescrolling franchise, and right now it looks like Retro will deliver.

The second game I rushed to play was Kirby’s Epic Yarn. I tried out the first level and from beginning to end, I was sporting a huge dopey grin on my face. This game just defies all logical boundaries of cuteness. Granted, I’ve been sufficiently taken with the pink puffball’s adorable antics since Kirby’s Dreamland on Game Boy ”“ those memorable sound effects, music, art style and animation, and Kirby’s end of level “victory dances” are enough to get a “D’AWWWWWWWWW!!” out of even the most icy-hearted gamers among us. The gameplay itself felt clean and straightforward; Kirby uses yarn to interact with enemies and the environment ”“ grabbing baddies from afar, floating to the ground by transforming into a parachute, and frequently interacting with the background elements by latching onto it with his yarn. A second player can also join in for co-op play. The difficulty level didn’t seem incredibly challenging, especially when player 2 jumped in to help, but it was more of a tutorial level than anything else. Definitely looking forward to seeing more of this game.

Since I was promoting Frobot, I spent the vast majority of PAX playing the game and demoing it to others. Starring a 70s-styled disco robot who must rescue his five girlfriends using novelty weapons like the Jive Stalker (a Wii pointer-guided disco ball) and the Robo Hustle (a dash move which can be used defeat enemies), this title should be a welcome, meaty addition to the WiiWare library when it arrives within a couple weeks. It boasts a single player mode with 20 levels, which plays very much like a combination of Wii Play’s Tanks and Zelda, and a multiplayer deathmatch mode which was my personal favorite and seemed to be a big hit in our “multiplaya” tournaments. The puzzles in the single player mode get very challenging and often involve hitting a strategically positioned activator to open a door, or moving cubes around a room to press buttons so you can continue to advance, and the game features bonus hair pick power-ups which frequently require even more puzzling expertise to collect. And if you ever wished for a more fleshed out and exciting version of Wii Tanks, this disco inferno is just what the doctor ordered. Up to four players can use a host of weapons in a hectic Bomberman-esque showdown. If you’re a fan of WiiWare, check out Frobot’s website for more details, screens, and videos.

Overall, PAX 2010 was a big fun. Getting hands-on time with some promising new Wii titles was exciting, and I got more amusing cosplay pictures than you can shake a Wiimote at.

Did you visit PAX this year? What were your favorite games from the show? And what was the most accurate or horrifying cosplay you witnessed? Discuss!

Web developer living in Olympia, WA.