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PAX 2008 Impressions: The Maw, Chronotron, City Rain and Puzzle Quest: Galactrix

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Amongst all the big games at PAX were a sizable number of smaller, lesser-known titles, many of them headed to the Xbox Live Marketplace, the Wii Shop Channel or the Playstation Store. Not only were titles like Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness, Schizoid and Audiosurf on display, several other downloadable titles made their presence known at PAX:

The Maw (Release date not available)

One of the inaugural PAX 10, Twisted Pixel Studios’ The Maw is a charming story about a boy and his pet. His always hungry, threat to the entire universe pet. But most of all, The Maw is a wonderful platformer headed to Xbox Live Arcade that feels like a marriage of Katamari Damacy and classic platformers like the Mario series.

The story involves a little alien named Frank who is trying to get back home. Along the way, he encounters a little purple blob known only as Maw, a creature with an uncontrollable hunger, but a very puppy-like personality. It’s up to Frank, with Maw’s help, to find a way back home … even if Maw eats half the galaxy in the process.

Frank controls Maw by an electric “leash” of sorts that doubles as a grappling tool. He can also stun enemies and feed them to Maw himself if the player so chooses. The controls are pretty simple to learn and make the game very fun, especially when you’re feeding the ever-growing hunger of Maw.

Unfortunately, while Maw is always hungry, he is a bit of a chicken, especially when dealing with things larger than he is. In order to help solve that issue, Frank will have to help Maw grow by constantly eating enough creatures. Eating different kinds of creatures will allow Maw to absorb different traits: for example, eating an electrified creature gives Maw the ability to produce an electric field around him, something he can use to both take down barriers and enemies in the area.

On some occasions, Frank will have to go it alone for a bit to reach a certain area, which is where the platforming action really takes off. For example, in the demo level, Frank has to hitch a ride on some flying bugs so he can make it around to the other side of a barrier. Once there, he must deactivate the barrier’s generator by blowing it up, allowing him to go pick Maw up and progress in the level. On top of playing well, the game looks fantastic, complete with great animations that draw out each character’s personality (especially Maw) and vibrant environments. Whenever The Maw hits Xbox Live Marketplace, it is destined to be one of the best-looking and most complete all-around titles on the service, as well as one of the few platformers available. Easily one of the five best games I played at PAX.

Chronotron (Currently playable online at ScarybugGames.com)

Another one of the inaugural PAX 10, Chronotron is a puzzle/platformer title about a little robot which can travel back in time. This ability comes quite in handy, as the robot will have to interact with past versions of himself in order to complete each of the game’s 40 levels.

The 2-D game is not very graphics-intensive at all, going with a simple art design that gives Chronotron an old-school feel and highlights the puzzle and platforming aspects. You can create as many versions of the robot as you wish on each level, but the catch is that you must safely get all of the robots back into the time pod. Failure to do so causes a time paradox and forces you to restart the level, so there is a level of strategy and skill involved, especially on Chronotron’s later levels. The game is currently playable online, but there is no word on if a version of Chronotron will be headed to the major consoles.

City Rain (Release date not available)

Demoed at Microsoft’s XNA booth, City Rain is an interesting mixture that’s part Tetris-style puzzle game and part Sim City-style management game. Developed by Brazil’s Mother Gaia Studio, the XNA title and 2008 Imagine Cup winner puts you in the shoes of a city planner. Your goal is to construct an ecologically-friendly city that meets the needs of its citizens by selecting the right pieces and building them. However, the game does this by tiles that fall from the sky.

There is a lot of strategy in City Rain. Not only are you competing for a high score, but you can lose the game by doing a bad job planning out your city. Not only do you have to balance residential, commercial and industrial squares, but knowing where to place parks, fire and police departments, hospitals and schools is also vital. Tiles drop as both single tiles and multi-tile clusters that can be rotated clockwise and counter-clockwise. What starts off easy quickly grows frantic as the pieces fall faster and space becomes a commodity. City Rain will challenge puzzle fans and simulation/management fans alike with its complexity and challenge.

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix (Release date: October 2008)

Puzzle Quest heads out into space, but D3’s title is not just the same old Puzzle Quest in spaceman’s clothing. A few new tweaks have been added to make sure this Puzzle Quest adventure is good enough to stand on its own.

First off, when it comes to game play, things have been tweaked a bit for the better. Those evil skull blocks from the original Puzzle Quest are no more. Instead, numbered attack tiles replace them – chaining them together will result in an attack whose power is determined by the sum of the numbers you just chained together. In other words, if your chain has blocks with 4, 3 and 10 on them, you will attack for 17 damage. Colored tiles are back and have similar purposes, except this time, they will do things like recharge your ship’s shields, engines or weapons.

Another big change involves the playing field. When you are fighting over a planet’s surface, blocks will drop down like normal. However, in open space, blocks will fall from the direction you made your previous move from. If you make a move on the right side of the board, for example, blocks will fall not from the top, but from the right side. It’s a neat little tweak that adds a bit more strategy to a game that was already full of strategy.

In addition to these core game play changes, new features – like the ability to travel to different planets and establish diplomatic relationships or the ability to collect, customize and build ships – are added to this title. Currently, the game is planned for release on Xbox Live Arcade, PC and the Nintendo DS, but other versions may not be too far behind.

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