The 10 unmissable games we got to play at PAX West 2017

One of the highlights of the annual PAX West convention is the PAX 10, where ten stellar indies games are given a platform to help elevate awareness of their greatness. Through some combination of brilliant presentation, clever mechanics, and flat-out fun gameplay, these picks all offer experiences you won't find in the standard AAA title. While the official lineup from PAX West 2017 is undoubtedly solid, we thought it'd be fun to do our own PAX 10 list, highlighting the very best games we played on the show floor that can't come soon enough. Keep an eye on these ones - you won't want to miss them. 

UFO 50 

Release date: 2018
Platform(s): PC (but probably consoles too)
Developer: Mossmouth

Do you remember those bootleg multi-game cartridges they used to make for old consoles like the NES? They were usually pretty bad. Now imagine how cool such a cart would've been if, instead of fifteen different kinds of Donkey Kong clone, it had 50 unique games from a collaborative team of independent developers. That's UFO 50. Obviously, I didn't have time to try out all the UFO 50 games on the PAX West show floor, but the handful I did sample were all fun to play and presented in an aesthetically consistent way. My favorite game was Seaside Drive, a quirky shoot-'em-up that sends you drifting across a highway and gunning down enemy airships from a side-on perspective. It felt like an authentically weird NES game plus a few welcome decades of video game design sensibility. Connor Sheridan 

Donut County 

Release date: TBC 2017
Platform(s): PC, iOS
Developer: Ben Esposito

The storyline that knits together this whimsically compulsive indie involves a raccoon, a donut shop, and a crashed quadcopter, but it's really all about moving a hole around brightly colored levels, swallowing bigger and bigger objects until you've cleared an area. It's serving up that same, slowly building thrill that came with the classic Katamari Damacy games, but with a very millennial aesthetic. Like Katamari, some levels have a twist - dropping a kiln into a hole to create warm fumes to raise a hot air balloon, or trapping a snake to scare chickens and raise an area's 'snake alert level.' Everything you collect ends up in a Trashopedia too, so you can keep track of whatever you've destroyed - which is way more satisfying than it should be. Rachel Weber

Ruiner 

Release date: September 26, 2017
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Reikon Games

With its supremely stylish aesthetic, thumping soundtrack, and try-die-and-retry twitch combat, Ruiner feels like a fusion of masocore masterpieces like Hotline Miami and Furi by way of legendarily atmospheric anime like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. This adrenaline-amping action game makes you fight for your life in and below the 2091 metropolis Rengkok, as you shoot, smack, and stab your way through hordes of bioengineered hitmen and mutated thugs. Your masked protagonist's expansive skill tree allows for all manner of creative killing sprees; with some practice, you'll be deflecting gunfire with an energy shield, shooting a goon with a shotgun at point-blank range, then dashing to bludgeon someone to death with a pipe, all in the blink of an eye. It is, in a word, glorious. Lucas Sullivan 

Celeste 

Release date: January 2018
Platform(s): PS4, PC, Switch, Xbox One
Developer: Matt Makes Games

The next game from the designer of TowerFall looks and sounds very TowerFall-ish; it even has air dashing and wall jumping. But Celeste will solve one of the few problems I had with that fantastic four-player archer brawl: you don't need other players to have a great time. Celeste is a single-player platformer about a woman climbing a mountain, meeting eccentric characters, and repeatedly slamming into spikes even though you told yourself you were going to air dash half a second earlier this time goddammit. This is the kind of platformer that rewards hanging back a minute to size up the entire map just as much as it does split-second reflexes. I can't wait to dash into more spikes when it comes out (and yes, I realize that Celeste was also part of the official PAX 10). Connor Sheridan 

The Swords Of Ditto 

Release date: March 2018
Platform(s): PS4, PC
Developer: Onebitbeyond

Just like pictures of sloths in onesies or children saying swear words, it's impossible to look upon the Zelda-like co-op adventure The Swords Of Ditto and feel anything but happiness. The cartoon style is Adventure Time, the gameplay is pure Hyrule, but there's a humor that makes it extra-special with a steely RPG heart underneath it all. Summon a giant foot to stomp your enemies, send bombs flying with a golf club, then snack on a cookie when your health gets too low. Your quest is to defeat the evil witch Mormo by exploring dungeons, collecting special items, and occasionally stopping to buff your stats with stickers. Who doesn't love stickers? Fail and on your next playthrough the world will be just a little bit worse. Rachel Weber 

Hot Lava 

Release date: March 2018
Platform(s): PC (but probably consoles too)
Developer: Klei Entertainment

It can feel like you 'just needed to be there' during the heyday of Counter-Strike's obstacle course and surfing maps to fully enjoy them. Without precise knowledge of the engine's innermost movement physics, momentum glitches, and precision jumps, it's hard to make any headway. Thankfully, Klei Entertainment is crafting a first-person platformer that welcomes beginners like me while retaining the high skill ceiling that speedrunning parkour experts crave. The theming is fantastic: you play as a bunch of lovable, GI Joe-looking action figures, nimbly leaping, swinging, and sliding between platforms precariously placed above scalding oceans of molten magma. Whether you're sprinting for the fastest completion time or just endeavoring to finish the tricky-but-fair courses, the simple act of moving around in Hot Lava's playful world (and watching your fellow players attempt the same jumps and grinds) is joyous fun. Lucas Sullivan 

Tunic 

Release date: 2018
Platform(s): PC and consoles
Developer: Andrew Shouldice

Plenty of games count Zelda as a direct inspiration (hello again, Swords of Ditto). Tunic's hero-in-green (though in this case they're a fox), top-down perspective, and Z-targeting-ish combat all make its shared lineage immediately apparent. But those elements are largely there to evoke something much more unique to the original Zelda: the feeling of being a little hero in a big world that you don't really understand. Signs and instruction manual pages (yes, your hero collects pages to the manual of their own game) are all written in unintelligible script with a few recognizable glyphs - you don't know exactly what lies within this cave, just that you'll probably want to take a sword - and combat techniques are left unspecified for you to discover. It's a secret to everyone. Connor Sheridan 

Wattam 

Release date: TBC 2018
Platform(s): PS4
Developer: Funomena

If anything, Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi's projects are getting weirder as he gets older, ensuring that Wattam is like nothing else. The signature bright colors and squishy, cartoonish style are still there, only now, there's pooping trees and a Mayor with a magic hat and flowers and bits of meat... all running around together holding hands and climbing each other. You swap between all the characters, seeing what happens if the mouth eats the meat, or the flowers join hands, or the Mayor pulls a gift from under his hat. It's like someone letting off confetti cannons deep in your brain, and progression is all about experimenting and playing. With the most adorable poops you'll ever see. Rachel Weber 

Yoku's Island Express 

Release date: TBC 2018
Platform(s): Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Villa Gorilla

I'm forever indebted to Swedish indie studio Villa Gorilla for combining two of my most beloved genres - pinball and Metroidvania - into such a delightfully cheery and colorful game. Yoku's Island Express follows the 2D adventures of a dung beetle named Yoku, who inherits mail carrier duties for a tropical paradise from a pterodactyl postmaster (in what has to be one of the greatest motivations for any game ever). It feels like playing Rayman with pinball flippers: the hand-painted artwork is enchantingly vibrant, the character designs are adorable, the music is catchy, and the challenge depends on how much a completionist you are when it comes to snagging bubble-encased pieces of fruit. Think of it as exploring every nook and cranny of the world's biggest pinball table (with the nifty ability to adjust the dung ball's momentum as Yoku rolls about!). Lucas Sullivan 

Brass Tactics 

Release date: October 19, 2017
Platform(s): PC (Rift)
Developer: Hidden Path Entertainment

When you need to feel like Daenerys at her war table, only virtual reality will do. When you want to make it fun, you call in an ex-Age Of Empires developer. This is hands-on real time strategy that has you picking up and dropping towers on a giant 3D map, then pointing your tiny soldiers - different units like the cavalry or the airborne wasps - at enemy soldiers or structures to destroy. Every building you create rises up like the Game of Thrones opening titles - an inspiration for the whole look of the game - and the units are like perfect Warhammer miniatures. But how does it actually play? I thought I'd spent 15 minutes playing through a level; when I finally, reluctantly, peeled the headset off my face, 50 minutes had passed. Rachel Weber