PAX Aus 2023: Showfloor Highlights – Mario, Sonic, Handheld PC’s and more

October 8, 2023

PAX has always been a convention with many draws for attendees, from peeks at creative new local indie titles that otherwise may not reach such a big audience, to spending time with like-minded fans playing board games, console games or just hanging out. We’ll be touching on these in other articles, but then there’s also a selection of the bigger brands, the blockbuster draws with a selection of sneak previews of big games on the horizon, and PAX certainly had some cool stuff to offer this year. Here’s some of the biggest draws we saw on the showfloor, as they packed in PAX patrons into lines to try them.

Super Mario Wonder

A new Mario game, as-yet-unreleased (although only two weeks away), was always going to be a massive draw, and Nintendo were well positioned to catch the attention of swarms of PAX attendees as it was situated near the hall’s main entrance, just past the indie area. The area was marked with life-size warp pipes, along with plenty of kids walking out with Detective Pikachu-branded hats.

It also helps that Super Mario Wonder is a remarkable update to the 2D Mario formula, that was sorely needed after the New Super Mario Bros aesthetic which has hung around since the DS days, if you can remember that far back. Everything in Super Mario Wonder sings with character, from Elephant Mario’s determined expressions as he flicks enemies away, to the levels themselves coming alive as Mario activates ‘Wonder Flowers’ which morph the environment in bizarre ways. Some of these Wonder Flowers are part of the main path of the level, while others may be off the beaten track, with exploration needed to unlock them and collect the Wonder Seeds they hold.

While the visual aesthetic and surreal nature of Super Mario Wonder‘s environments is the clear drawcard of the game, there are a few interesting changes to the gameplay as well. There’s a large selection of characters, ranging from usual standby’s like Mario and Luigi, to Peach, Daisy, various Toads, Nabbit and Yoshi. All of these characters (bar Yoshi and Nabbit, who are intended as ‘second player’ characters who provide an easier challenge) have the same abilities – which means no longer does Luigi have the higher jump, or Peach have her trademark floaty glide. Instead, ‘Badges’ are collected throughout the game which unlock these abilities, and can be equipped to grant them to any player. When playing in multi-player, these abilities apply to everyone. Beyond tried-and-tested abilities like these, there are also ones that put an interesting twist on things, like allowing characters to wall-jump straight-up, rather than bouncing away from a wall. Overall, it feels much like Super Mario Odyssey where a bevy of movement options are presented to the player, for them to experiment with abuse in any creative way they want.

Sonic Superstars

Taking up the bulk of Sega’s booth right next to Nintendo, the Sonic Superstars display was also a major focus of attention thanks to the giant LEGO Sonic out the front, along with regular appearances by a Sonic mascot posing for pictures. Once you got through the long line weaving around the booth, fans could try the latest Sonic game for themselves, which similarly to Mario is another 2D throwback, although this time using updated 3D visuals rather than the retro styling of something like Sonic Mania.

Saying it’s a throwback might be a bit much, however, as Sonic Superstars feels like a proper advancement in the 2D series’ formula, rather than an attempt to return to a bygone era. Levels are structured somewhat traditionally, with several paths both low and high that can be taken depending on how skillful a player is or which character they choose. However, characters can move in and out of the background, gain new abilities through collecting chaos emeralds (like turning into water), and warp around zones due to portals which open up at various points in levels. Dr. Eggman’s traditional end-of-zone boss fights also feel a little fresher, offering multiple tricks and twists, and can actually provide some challenge. It’s always nice to come away from a preview for a Sonic game feeling positive about the game’s release, and hopefully Sonic Superstars is able to cross the finish line in as good a state as the demo made it feel like.

ROG Ally

Also of interest on the show floor was Asus’ ROG booth, showcasing several ROG Ally’s, the defacto handheld gaming PC on display given Valve’s Steam Deck unavailability in Australia. The ROG Ally, of course, is a Switch-esque handheld console that’s also a decently spec’d gaming PC, allowing portable play of Steam games, Xbox Game Pass games and more. ROG also had an XG Mobile on display, an external GPU, showing how the ROG Ally can be connected into it and a display to provide a significantly upgraded visual experience on graphics-intensive games (although if you’re looking at getting your hands on one, you might want to make sure you have the budget for it, as the XG Mobile still has limited availability and a price-tag in the thousands).

Beyond the Ally at the front of the booth, ROG were also showing off not just their high-end ‘Strix’ series of laptops, but their TUF line, modelled after similarly-branded Asus ‘TUF’ products which can are meant to be able to endure drops, shakes and severe heat, cold and humidity. There were also a range of customised desktop PC’s, built in partnership with well-known PC builders like Scorptec, including an Asuka-red Evangelion desktop.

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown

At the Nintendo booth, showing up even earlier than a lot of other larger games being previewed was Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, also a return to its series’ 2D roots that nonetheless forges its own identity with a vibrant and attractive art style, and its own twists on Prince of Persia tropes. Platforming puzzles are plentiful, as are series’ staples like rising spikes, but there’s also a fresher take on swordplay and combat, now reliant very much on parrying and retaliating with cinematically impressive special moves. The Prince can rest at special checkpoints throughout levels, as he explores in a somewhat non-linear fashion, although we’ll need to play the full game to see exactly how it’s all structured. Nonetheless, it’s a very fast and fun take on the Prince of Persia formula, and should be arriving in January next year.

Bethesda Brushes & Brews

Finally, Bethesda were holding their own unique event on the second floor of PAX, with bookings open to all through their Eventbrite page, for a ‘Brushes and Brews’ session. These sessions with professional artists were hour-and-a-half long tutorials on how to create your own paintings based on popular Bethesda properties like Hi-Fi Rush and Starfield. You can see the early stages of my attempt to create 808 from the teacher’s example, perhaps things may have gone better for me if I’d also partaken in the ‘Brews’ side of this event,  which offered attendees free Moon Dog along with their painting. I have to say for me, 9am is probably a little too early though.