PAX East Switch Games
Image: Nintendo Life

PAX East 2023 is happening — right now, as you're reading this! — and Nintendo Life is there sampling lots of juicy upcoming Switch releases.

The Boston event is running from Thursday 23rd to Sunday 26th March 2023 and in this feature we'll be recording our hands-on impressions of the various games, large and small, that we play while we're running between appointments and roaming the expo hall.

From intriguing indies to chunkier third-party fare, we'll be covering as much as we possibly can over four days and noting down our quick-fire impressions below. We'll also include any gameplay videos and links to more in-depth coverage, plus trailers and other info as appropriate.

Enough waffle — onwards to the video games!

PAX East Hands-On Impressions

Born of Bread - TBA

Play as a flour golem who possesses a never-ending childlike wonder and a set of odd abilities. Team-up with a colorful cast of characters, explore the different regions of a wonderful world ripe with mysteries and engage in a fun and quirky turn-based combat system.

Our thoughts:

We found Born of Bread to be a visually appealing and engaging story-based adventure game, largely because it's heavily inspired by the Paper Mario series - and it wears this fact on its sleeve. It uses the familiar tap turn-based combat to tell an engaging and offbeat story, and at times felt a bit too like its mustachioed muse. However, if you miss that classic Paper Mario formula, with witty writing and loveable characters though, you'll feel right at home here.

Much like Bug Fables, the humor was the highlight of our demo. Each and every character had something silly to say and their animations were always expressive and hilariously detailed. We never expected to care so quickly for this gluten-based main character either, but why are we surprised? Everyone loves bread!

The 30-minute demo offered impressive visual effects on PC, but we'll be interested to see how it translates to the Switch version - which, as of now, does not yet have a firm date for release. We encountered a few technical bugs during the demo as well, but with a bit more polish we can see this one climbing up our list of most anticipated games this year.

Loop8: Summer of Gods - 6th June 2023

Step into the life of Nini, a newly earthbound teen who arrives in the quaint Japanese town of Ashihara in August 1983. Explore the town, befriend its people, and face off against the Kegai in turn-based battles where the outcomes depend on the relationships you’ve built and the decisions you’ve made. Use Nini’s special connection to the gods to reset the world, with each loop allowing Nini and his allies to relive the 8th month over and over until they get it right…or the Kegai overcome them entirely.

Our thoughts:

On the surface, Loop8 appeared to be a Persona-like RPG - with big battles, and a bright and picturesque depiction of Japan that's incredibly striking visually. However, once we began playing the 15-minute demo, we realized there’s also a very unique combat system in play that adds some originality.

If you're a visual novel fan, you'll be happy to hear it puts a major focus on the characters and interactions you have with them. Depending on how you build relationships, you'll be given new attacks and strategies to beat down demons in battle, something we only had a chance to touch on in our short time playing but that piqued our interest as something we haven't really seen anywhere else.

Unfortunately, because this style of combat is so unlike any other game we've played, it was difficult to gain a full understanding of the mechanics during a short gameplay demo, and it admittedly became a bit overwhelming. Although it is technically a turn-based RPG, it's so vastly different from any other game in the genre: you have to pay close attention to the dialogue during the battles, and use it to pivot your strategies and decisions - which almost requires you to retrain the way you think about playing a turn-based RPG.

Just like in real life, Loop8 revolves entirely around the relationships you create and we're curious to see how that translates to a full-length experience.

Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life - 27th June 2023

Put down roots on your new farm in the peaceful town of Forgotten Valley. Bring life to the land by cultivating crops and raising animals, find love among the town's friendly folk, and make lasting memories with a family of your very own in this reimagining of a beloved farming classic.

Our thoughts:

Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life felt to us like a very faithful remake of the GameCube title we both know and love - but this time, much easier on the eyes. When we went back and compared the two games graphically, the difference between brightness, contrast, and saturation was night and day.

We also noticed some new features we really appreciated, such as an in-game camera mode, two new marriage candidates, and more inclusive character creation with a non-binary option for players. However, there was an absence of impactful innovation that one might expect 20 years after the original. This lack of deviation makes for a nostalgia trip and stays true to the first version, but we selfishly would have loved to see more significant new features added to make the game feel more novel. While it looks very fresh and polished, it definitely still feels like you're playing a GameCube game, for better or worse.

The demo ran well for us on Switch, with no obvious lag. However, minor things such as jerky running animations, or a lack of meter on the watering can made the gameplay slightly less smooth than we'd hoped. While not glaringly obvious in the scheme of things, these small issues can become irksome over time; we're hoping some of this will be remedied before release.

The demo lasted about 15 minutes, and while we didn't get to see much in our 30 minutes of combined playtime, we were told that there will be brand-new items added, and we're excited to find out how expansive that new list may be. We're hopeful there will be updates and additions we didn't get a chance to see in the demo version - but regardless, Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life succeeded in bringing us back to one of our favorite childhood games and making us feel cozy all over again.

Mina The Hollower - TBA

Take control of Mina, a renowned Hollower hurtled into a desperate mission to rescue a cursed island. Whip foes, burrow through the ground, and explore a pixel-perfect world in Mina the Hollower, a brand new game from the developers who brought you Shovel Knight!

Our thoughts:

While we previously demoed Mina the Hollower at PAX West in September, it was fun to give it another go this week and discover some new details we'd previously missed. Playing it again gave us even more appreciation for the clear thoughtfulness and attention to detail invested in this 2D action-adventure platformer. We immediately related to Mina — the main character — as she burrowed her way through a dark and dangerous world as a small, sweet mouse who could easily fall prey to the monsters that abound.

We were definitely challenged but not discouraged, with the well-crafted mechanics magnifying the satisfaction we experienced when we'd finally beat the boss at the end. Yacht Club gives you the ability to adjust difficulty in real-time with various items and features, allowing us to choose whether we wanted a leg up in certain difficult battles and areas, or proceed without assistance. We appreciated these elements, as they encouraged us to keep playing and growing our skills rather than getting frustrated and giving up.

While Mina The Hollower has been confirmed for Switch, there is still unfortunately no definitive launch date, as the devs work to keep polishing and perfecting. The newly added in-game sword inched Mina even closer to feeling like the Game Boy Zelda titles that inspired it, and we're happy to wait a little longer for this one to keep cooking in Yacht Club's kitchen.

Wargroove 2 - 2023

Return to the battlefield, sea, and sky with a cast of new Commanders, using your wits to wage turn-based war! An all-new Wargroove adventure for new recruits & veteran wardogs alike!

Our thoughts:

Wargroove 2 looks to be expanding upon its already tight and nostalgic tactical combat formula with some new modes and a beefy story. The sequel is packing in a new roguelite mode that lets you to take on batches of baddies while introducing permadeath into the mix. While we’ve yet to experience any of the story on offer in this new game, we’re eager to learn more about the drama that will take place in between the fray when this catapults onto Switch. We're still waiting in a launch date.

(Incidentally, there's a Steam demo live now if you're interested in checking out the gave for yourselves.)

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum - 25th May 2023

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is a story-driven action adventure. Take on a perilous journey as Gollum, chasing the only thing that is precious to him. Gollum is skillful and cunning, but also torn by his split personality. One mind, two egos – you decide!

Our thoughts:

Gollum garnered a significant amount of interest on the show floor at PAX East, with fairly long lines and wait times to play the PC build of the game. Although we were only able to play a roughly 30-minute-long demo encapsulating the first chapter of the game — mostly comprised of tutorials — it struggled to feel rewarding or immersive.

The game is slated for a May 25th release on all platforms - aside from the Switch version, which is planned to arrive later this year. For more in-depth thoughts on Lord of the Rings: Gollum, check out our dedicated hands-on article below:

My Time at Sandrock - 2023

Travel to the desert community of Sandrock and take on the role of a fledgling Builder. Use your trusty toolset to gather resources, construct machines, and turn your run-down workshop into a well-oiled production facility to save the town from the jaws of economic ruin!

Our thoughts:

For anyone who played My Time at Portia on Switch, the biggest question about this new iteration in the series is likely going to be: will it perform better - or at all? The team behind Portia was well aware of the struggles the first game experienced when ported to Nintendo's console, and made it a priority to focus on improving these issues in My Time at Sandrock. Not only that, but it plans to re-release My Time at Portia and correct many of the performance issues in the first game, as well. An admirable effort, though we wonder if it's not a little too late.

For Sandrock specifically, we tested a roughly 15-minute-long PC build and saw an overview that appeared quite impressive, a significant improvement on the previous entry in the series. To be clear: the games are not linear, and are intended to be very unique experiences from each other.

Not only were the visuals in the game highly detailed and well executed far beyond what existed in Portia, but there were many other updates, such as improved engine performance, strong voice acting, and new mechanics like knowledge graphs that branch out and allow you to designate collected experience points to various skills.

Although Sandrock looked very impressive on PC, we'll be eager to see whether the Switch port will be an improvement from the experience many had with Portia, which was less than perfect. Knowing that the development team is prioritizing performance this time around is encouraging, and we hope to see a strong showing when it comes to Switch later this year.

Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories - 6th April 2023

A brand-new story-exploration game from developer Froach Club, Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories is a story-exploration game about getting caught up in the outlandish happenings of a small town where melons are illegal. Silly and cute on the surface, but are things really as peaceful as they seem? Under this sweet surface lies a tale of crime and corruption. Explore this charming, pixelated narrative adventure filled to the brim with clever characters, endearing encounters, and dangerous delinquents. Will you be able to find your friend and save the day in this monochromatic mystery?

Our thoughts:

This was a game we admittedly overlooked while initially on the show floor at PAX East. At first glance, it appeared to be like any number of simple Game Boy-inspired titles one might see at various booths throughout these types of shows - basic and a bit predictable boring, bordering on boring. Thank melons we investigated further, because we may have fallen in love with it.

Upon playing the roughly 15-minute demo, we quickly realized this story-driven mystery adventure is impressively detailed and well-thought-out, down to the last green-tinted pixel. Not only that, but the disarming facade of cute animals and sweet fruits fades in and out once you begin to dig into the ominous undertones and relatively dark storyline that forms the basis of the game. Engaging with even the smallest of details in the game also provided us with rewarding interactions and easter eggs, and encouraged us to chat with every animal or analyze every object we could find, multiple times over.

The jazzy lo-fi soundtrack mirrors the game's vibes, innocuously serenading us at first, but adding in more discordant elements — such as a snappy, repetitive snare effect — that quickly change the mood from relaxed to somewhat jarring. All in all, this was one of the standout games at PAX East for us, and we're eager to play more in April. If you're a fan of games like EarthBound or A Short Hike, we think you'll have fun with Melon Journey: Bittersweet Memories.

Let us know below which of the above you're most looking forward to — and be sure to say high to the lovely Zion and Austin if you're at the show!