The six best games from PAX East

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PAX East wrapped up Sunday evening, and after spending three days having my senses assaulted by blaring speakers, flashing lights and screaming fans, I feel like I got hit by a bus that was cosplaying as the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine. With many companies waiting for E3 to make their big announcements, there didn’t seem to be as many huge titles on display this year, but it gave smaller independent games more time in the spotlight. Here are some games–both big and small–that cut through the noise and resonated with me.

Guacamelee! (PS3, PS Vita)

Even though I played it at last year’s PAX East, Guacamelee! was my favorite game of the show. The Metroid-vania style 2D action-platformer features a bright, colorful art style inspired by Mexican folklore and stars a masked luchador who wrestles his way through multiple dimensions. And you can turn into a chicken! With solid controls, fun melee combat, tight platforming and a great sense of humor, Guacamelee! will give you a good reason to finally dust off your PS Vita.

Outlast (PC)

Capcom was showing its console ports of Resident Evil: Revelations, but its scares couldn’t compare to Outlast, a survival horror game from Red Barrels studio. You play a journalist  investigating a mysterious insane asylum in what is like a playable version of American Horror Story: Asylum. The game was demoed in a dark booth that instantly transported you off the hectic show floor. The asylum is so dark that at times you have to resort to using your camcorder’s night vision to find your way, and it’s genuinely terrifying when you see something move out of the corner of your eye. I may or may not have yelped in fear at one point. (OK, I did.)

The Last of Us  (PS3)

Uncharted developer Naughty Dog is embracing horror with The Last of Us (pictured above), a game set after a fungal outbreak has devastated the country, leaving zombie-like foes roaming the wastelands. The game is brutal and surprisingly difficult, demanding planning and strategy in order to survive. Naughty Dog’s trademark gorgeous graphics, amazing voice acting and focus on characters are all present in what will likely be the PS3’s last great game.

The Wonderful 101 (Wii U)

Nintendo’s booth was pretty lackluster, featuring a bunch of Wii U and 3DS games that are already out. Thank god for The Wonderful 101, Platinum Games’ Wii U-exclusive action game. It’s hard to describe the frenetic multi-character combat, but the game’s world and art style are definitely inspired by the Gamecube classic Viewtiful Joe. The flailing Wii U needs good exclusive games to stand out, and The Wonderful 101 looks like it will deliver something unique.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

After so many iterations, I thought I was done with Sam Fisher and his shadowy shenanigans, but this next Splinter Cell put on an impressive demo that has me reconsidering. Ubisoft’s other big offerings, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Watchdogs, are certainly impressive, but they only showed videos that offered little new. Blacklist gave a guided demo that showed off the gorgeous animation and myriad approaches you can take, and it was all quite impressive. Consider Splinter Cell no longer blacklisted.

Motocross Madness (XBLA)

Now this was the surprise of the show. The downloadable racing game features tight controls and fantastic track design with branching paths. Performing tricks during jumps gives you boost in a fun risk/reward system that keeps races dynamic and competitive. And the fact that you race as your Xbox Avatar—including whatever crazy outfit you are wearing—adds a ton of personality.

All of these games will be out in the next few months, which should provide a great deal of entertainment as we wait for the next generation of consoles to usher in a new era of gaming. If the games at PAX East are any indication, we should look for indie games to move things forward as much as the big hitters.

Follow Aaron on Twitter @airlinem.

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