Nerd Con: My PAX East 2017

This past weekend, 80,000 nerds and gamers from around the world gathered in Boston, Massachusetts for the annual Penny Arcade Expo, PAX East 2017. PAX East 2017 was easily one of the most anticipated gaming conventions in the new year, and one peek at the show floor’s layout will explain why. Almost all of the industry’s biggest players were present – Sony, Microsoft, Square-Enix, Bethesda, BioWare, and more. Even Nintendo returned to New England to demo its new Switch hybrid console and some of its upcoming spring games.

My PAX East 2017

by Justin Turner

While this 2017 outing marked my sixth Expo, I can honestly say it was one of the biggest, flashiest, and most crowded PAX gatherings ever. Nintendo was easily the biggest attraction of the weekend (as evident by its massive line and four-hour wait). Other companies had big, colorful showings too. The Blizzard Shop was a crowd-pleaser, with its ultra-detailed Tracer and Reaper statues proving a big hit with show-goers. Namco’s Tekken 7 tournament earned hysterical cheers and jeers from onlookers. The Omegathon was once again a staple PAX attraction. And, as expected, the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift VR experiences were a huge deal.

PAX East 2017

However, as with any gaming convention, the playable demos themselves are the biggest stars of the show. I managed to get my hands on a few of the big ones so, without further ado, here are my impressions…

PAX East 2017

Splatoon 2 for Nintendo Switch

Nintendo has a lot riding on Splatoon 2, which is one of this fall’s most anticipated games. Their paid ‘Nintendo Network’ online service is expected to launch alongside S2’s release. This game will be Nintendo’s biggest opportunity to convince gamers to pay for access to something that has traditionally been free on their consoles. While I can’t speak to the online functionality, I can tell you that the 8-player local play is an absolute blast. Nintendo had their booth set up perfectly for 4v4 action and had every control option available – JoyCon Grips, handheld mode, and even the Pro Controllers were present. The game functions exactly how Splatoon 1 did: two teams of four battle to see how much of the map they can color their color by the end of two minutes. The highest percentage wins.

It’s an observation – not a complaint – but I was struck by just how similar Splatoon 2 was to the original this game. At least in this demoed version, the character models and weapons seemed like they were pulled straight out of the first game. The one map that was playable was appropriately “Splatoon,” but I wasn’t enough of a Splatoon veteran to know if it was indeed a Splatoon 1 map. What is a complaint, however, is that the playable demo forced motion control on attendees. Nintendo advertised this sequel with optional motion control (something that was mandatory – and irritating – in the original), but the Nintendo rep told me they were specifically demoing the motion control for PAX this year, so I couldn’t use the alternate control method. Bummer…

PAX East 2017

Arms for Nintendo Switch

The second game I got to test out was something completely new – Arms, a fighting IP from Nintendo played from an over-the-shoulder perspective. I’m…. not entirely sure how I feel about Arms yet…
The game had five extremely animated, extremly Nintendo boxers available to try out in the single-player demo. I chose one of the characters not featured in many videos or artwork from Nintendo’s advertisements. (No idea what his name is, but he has some kind of barbed wire connecting his boxing gloves to his body… I can dig it.)

The Nintendo rep excitedly explained to me how to play – you pick up the JoyCons separately like with Wii Sports boxing, tilt left and right to move and dodge, and make punching motions to attack your opponent. The trick here is that it’s a lot more in-depth than anything on Wii; you can “curve” your punches for left and right hooks, you can block, and do a bunch of other moves and motions that the old-school Wii tech just wouldn’t allow.

Not to sound like a Negative Nancy or anything, but I had to ask the rep if I could try out the game again with motion controls turned off. Yes, it would nullify some of Arms’ uniqueness, but Nintendo did advertise that the game could be played without it. Nevertheless, I was told that they were demoing the motion control for PAX and it couldn’t be turned off on the show floor.

PAX East 2017

Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers

Now here’s a game I can get behind. Ultra SFII is advertised to be (if Capcom is to be believed) the final version of Street Fighter II. I can see why Capcom chose this game over Street Fighter V or an all new version to bring to the Switch. Nintendo owes a lot of its success to Capcom for their support over the years and a lot of that success came from the multiple arcade-perfect releases of Street Fighter II that were released on the Super NES. This game – and the Switch as a console – clearly aims to reinvigorate some of that 90’s nostalgia in players. It worked on me, that’s for sure.

The game launches May 26th as a Switch exclusive – for $40. I don’t even care about the high price tag. I don’t even care that the character sprites are reused from the 2008 Xbox Live HD remaster. Sign me up for some delicious Street Fighter goodness. My demo began without a Player 2. Somehow, the rep didn’t let enough people in for my round of demos, so one of the (very attractive) Nintendo models/representatives asked if she could play with me. Of course, my response was “Sure, if you don’t mind getting annihilated!” She giggled, I giggled, and then I proceeded to obliterate her with Hadokens and Dragon Punches until the screen exploded with sweet, 2D, 90’s special effects. Good times were had by all.

The game looks and functions like you’d expect from a Street Fighter game. I was honestly a bit curious how the JoyCon/Grip control scheme would feel considering there’s not a true D-Pad on either side, but I didn’t get the chance to test it out. The Street Fighter demos were, quite smartly, equipped with Pro Controllers with full D-Pad support. As cool as it would be to bring your Switch to parties and hand your buddy a small JoyCon for some old-school Street Fighter battles, I’m willing to bet the Pro Controller’s superior buttons are the way to go on this one.

Tekken 7 for Playstation 4

This one was a pleasant surprise. I grew up mastering the original Tekken trilogy on the harder difficulties back in the day, but I fell out of the loop with the second trilogy’s crazy amount of characters and watered-down lore. But when I saw the latest version being demoed (and heavily cheered by onlookers), I had to give it a shot.

I’m happy to say that Tekken 7 is still Tekken, for better or worse. 1v1 battles were featured in the demo and it seemed like almost every character was available to try out – including guest character Akuma from the Street Fighter series – but I’m not entirely sure. I chose Bryan Fury (an old favorite) and my buddy tried out Akuma (because hell yeah, Akuma). It functions exactly like Tekken 1 through 6. It’s fast, fluid, and pretty as hell.

My one gripe (because I’ve got to have a gripe) is that the frame rate suffered. Not during battles, but during the animated loading screens, matchup screens, and character selection, oddly enough. The game doesn’t release for another few months, so it was probably just a product of an unfinished demo. Only time will tell.

Sonic Mania for PC

Finally, the last game I played was the ultra-popular, retro-stylized Sonic Mania. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s an old-school, Genesis-era, 2D Sonic the Hedgehog aimed at players who grew up in the 90’s. If the pre-release hype is anything to judge them by, Sega is nailing it so far.
Developed by Headcannon and PagodaWest Games, Sonic Mania looks and feels even better (somehow) than Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Sega Genesis. I used an Xbox One controller on an Alienware laptop, but the controls were tight and responsive. I demoed two levels – the classic yet remixed Green Hill Zone and some Vegas-themed neon level. Both were beautiful, featured catchy chiptunes, and fast side-scrolling action. I liked it a lot.
No complaints here, except for the fact that I’ll have to wait until the summer to play it. Sonic Mania launches on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch this May.

(Check out more of Justin’s photos!)

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So that’s it, folks. I only had a chance to play those five games. Bioware was there with Mass Effect: Andromeda multi-player at the Microsoft booth, Yacht Club Games was showing off Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment on Switch with co-op gameplay, and Bethesda had a huge-ass Quake Champions booth where they announced that the game would launch free-to-play, but I didn’t get to try them out, so I can’t have much of an opinion of them!
BUT!!!!!!! I had a great time at PAX with some of my closest friends, I bought a lot of retro games, and spent a lot more money than I should have, and I got to play some killer games that aren’t even close to releasing yet. And really, that’s what the Penny Arcade Expo is all about.

Justin “Super Baldilox” Turner, @SuperBaldilox

You can also follow Justin on his Twitch Channel!

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