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PAX West 2018 Hands-on: Devolver Digital

12 Sep 2018

Devolver Digital – a game publisher a little less than a decade old, and one that has made quite a name for itself for publishing wild, violent, and experimental games. With everything from the stylish violence of Hotline Miami to the quest for true bird love in Hatoful Boyfriend under their belt, it’s safe to say their catalog has a little something for everyone…so long as you like to get weird.

I didn’t really notice just how much Devolver had grown until their first E3 “conference” in 2017, with its over-the-top performances and surreal humor punching holes in the games industry and fans themselves. For PAX West, though, they didn’t do anything too crazy. Instead, they just had what was probably one of the bigger areas on the main show floor, spread out across three booths and being one of the first things you saw when you entered the hall from the Washington State Convention Center skybridge.

I had the opportunity to try out multiple games at the booth, all wildly varying in genre, gameplay, and general quality. As such, I wanted to give you all a quick look at what one of the more intriguing publishers in the industry is bringing to the table in the near future.

Metal Wolf Chaos XD

So, imagine if the Vice President of the United States of America decided to take over the country by force, assisted by the US military. Then imagine if the now-ousted President, who happens to be related to the 28th President, Woodrow Wilson, decided to take the country back using a giant mecha. The whole story is also draped in hilariously over-the-top voice acting and more patriotism than you can shake an American flag at.

What you get is Metal Wolf Chaos, a game previously exclusive to the original Xbox in Japan. With a cult following in America, Devolver got into talks with FromSoftware (you know, the ones behind Armored Core and Dark Souls) to finally bring the game to the west. What resulted is this remaster heading to PC, PS4, and XB1: Metal Wolf Chaos XD.

The demo I got to try out put me in the shoes of American President Michael Wilson, attempting to drive off opposing military forces from a large canyon. Unfortunately, right off the bat, there was one major issue with the demo: I couldn’t get the sound to work. I don’t know if it was the headphones the booth was using or the game itself, but I couldn’t get it working and wasn’t able to flag down a PR rep to help, so I didn’t get to enjoy any of that sweet sweet over-the-top voice acting.

The gameplay itself was rather straightforward and simple. I had a loadout of eight weapons, accessed by pressing a button to open up my mech, tapping should buttons to rotate between the weapons in each arm, and repressing the first button to lock them in. Despite the variety, including one weapon that shot confetti, I stuck with a pretty basic loadout: a machine gun and a rocket launcher.

I began trekking my way across the canyon, taking down squadrons of samey soldiers and way too many helicopters that posed little to no threat. The goal was to destroy a few outposts around the canyon, and after destroying two, I accidentally jumped off the edge…and had to start over. Navigation controls in general felt a bit off, especially jumping, leading to a few more near plunges to my demise.

After about ten minutes into my second try, I came across a boss…another helicopter. I poured most of my ammo from half of my weapons into it, taking it down to about a quarter health…and then I walked off the edge into the canyon, as I was too focused on the boss to pay attention to the ground. Respawning back at the beginning of the level again, I gave up.

If anything, despite being prettied up for a remaster, Metal Wolf Chaos XD definitely feels like a 14-year-old game. There’s just a nagging lack of polish in much of the presentation that made it difficult to love. To be fair to it, though, the demo only presented a small segment of the game. If the full release opens up a bit more than just walking around a canyon shooting helicopters, I may be able to change my tune. As of now, though, the game seems kind of middling.

My Friend Pedro

Remember Flash games? Those little browser-based time wasters that had their heyday about ten years ago, and we played them all the time in high school while slacking off during computer lab classes?

Those were the humble beginnings of My Friend Pedro, an upcoming Devolver release that received a rather lengthy showcase during their 2018 E3 “conference.” Starting off as an entertaining little browser game and proof of concept, developers DeadToast Entertainment have decided to give the game a full remake, extending it and bringing it to PC and Switch.

Coming directly to this one after Metal Wolf Chaos XD, My Friend Pedro was as smooth as the former game was janky. The first few minutes of the demo slowly introduced the various moves your character could do, presented by the sentient banana Pedro. Between wall jumps, back flips, bullet time, kicking items at enemies, and more, there’s a surprising numbers of tools at your disposal to make bringing violent retribution to your enemies as beautiful as possible.

The most fun I had with the demo was learning how to string everything together as fluidly as possible. Much of the flourish hinges on entering bullet time, which is done at the tap of a button (in this case, the Shift key on a keyboard). In bullet time, you have the ability to target two enemies at once, locking one gun to a target by holding the right mouse button, then aiming at another and firing with the left. This system did take a few tries to get the hang of, but was quite satisfying when I pulled it off.

The only issue I had with the controls was the fact that entering bullet time was a toggle rather than a button hold. I kept finding myself holding down the Shift key by instinct when using bullet time, expecting to exit it when I let go, always leading to momentary confusion before realizing I had to hit the key again. There is currently no option to change this, so I will have to retrain my brain if I play the full game.

After a few stages of run-and-gunning, the demo ended with a vehicle chase. Taking to the streets on a motorcycle, I had to take down what felt like an endless stream of enemy vehicles while weaving between bullets. I still had access to bullet time and fancy flips here, but they were of little use to me in this segment. After experiment with that a few times, though, I wound up just driving circles around the screen firing automatic pistols at whatever showed up on the road. This segment was easily the weakest of the demo, and with the demo ending after this, it kind of soured my experience a bit.

Despite the finale, though, I had a surprisingly great time with My Friend Pedro. Great games often come from humble beginnings, and this one has the makings of a great title for the Switch. The only thing I’m worried about is the run-and-gunning becoming stale in the long run, so I hope to see more experimentation and change-ups to the formula in the full release.

Gato Roboto

This game isn’t one that I had the chance to play during my official booth tour. In fact, the game was announced on the day PAX West opened, so I didn’t even have the chance to anticipate it. The demo stations for it always seemed to have a line around them, but I managed to get on to one the Sunday of the show, just before heading out.

You are a cat in space. Being a cat, you manage to accidentally make the astronaut you’re riding with crash his ship on an alien planet by walking across the keyboard. Jumping away to explore the planet, you find a suit of power armor. Turns out you are a cat that knows how to use a suit of power armor, so you hop in and set off on an adventure to explore the planet.

Gato Roboto is a Metroidvania in the most classic sense of the word, so I was able to take to it like a fish to water. I found myself exploring an endearing monochromatic world, shooting up frogs and bees that got in my way, seeking out weapons and power-ups to continue making my way through the game’s maze-like structure. Its actual gameplay isn’t ground-breaking, but it handles the familiarity incredibly well.

You’re also able to jump out of your power armor and explore as a cat. Immediate 10/10, game of the year.

After a rather simple boss battle and a bit of backtracking, the demo ended with an elevator ride to what was presumably the next area of the game. I found myself wanted more at the end…which I guess means the demo did its job.

I wasn’t expecting a last-minute announcement to become one of my favorite demos at PAX this year, yet here we are. The solid throwback gameplay and very old-school presentation became a winning combo. No release date has been announced outside of just 2019, but it’s planned to release on both PC and Switch.

There was one more game I had the chance to try out at Devolver’s booth this year, but I think this game in particular deserves its own separate write-up. Please keep an eye out for it in the coming days!