Amongst all of Microsoft’s announcements and developments last month, easily missed was its bulky four-hour presentation of numerous indie titles. Streamed on Twitch, the [email protected] program hosted a boisterous bounty of brilliant indies across a rather long event that spanned plenty of trailers and guests. Whilst some games were well known for people with titles like Exomecha and 12 Minutes, the presentation had plenty of underlooked titles that could be great.
With so much AAA gaming being delayed to next year as large-scale studios struggled to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, indies made by teams already working from home or made by teams already used to working online will dominate 2021 and 2022. So with that in mind, here are ten titles from the [email protected] showcase that may be well worth your time.
To start, a title you might not have heard of, but one of the most promising games that’s been slipping under the radar is The Ascent, an isometric shooter RPG set in a cyberpunk setting of the planet Veles from the studio Neon Giant. For the showcase, we were treated to a gameplay trailer that could demonstrate how it could be a sleeper hit.
For one, its isometric viewpoint gives way for some classic looting and shooting, with the trailer showing enjoyably chaotic combat with numerous frenetic explosions to boot. Whilst looting might not be up everyone’s street, the setting gives way to plenty of grimy environments bursting with character as well as customizations and augmentations for characters to give new abilities. Players can also tackle the game solo or in three-player co-op either locally or online.
Additionally, the game seems to have plenty of story to inform an intriguing planet Veles to explore. The Ascent Group, the mega-corporation in charge of numerous services, collapses leading to disarray on the planets. Exploring numerous areas, players will see varied environments “from the deep slums to the higher luxury spheres.”
There’s plenty here for a unique cyberpunk shooter with a solid gameplay loop and even HDR support. The Ascent is currently scheduled for a 2021 release and will also be available on Xbox Game Pass on Day One.
From shooters to chill fishing games, one of the games with the most exposure was Moonglow Bay, an intentionally emotional game from Bunnyhug, a development team made up of the couple of Zach Soares and Lu Nascimento.
In this mellow voxel-art game, players will take control of a widow on the titular Canadian coast who takes up fishing following the death of their beloved. The story immediately promises plenty of emotional moments around relationships whilst also balancing a business around your daily fishing exploits and the daily rigours and tasks.
A game that tackles grief in such a light way isn’t often seen but Soares and Nascimento are keen to explore it with players building relationships with people in the town and growing the town’s infrastructure in a relaxed atmosphere. It helps the fish are aplenty with even some rare and mythical creatures to catch and there’s a co-op option available.
The game will be on all Xbox platforms and PC via Xbox Game Pass and Steam.
Ramping up the intensity a little bit, a survival game mixing sci-fi quantum elements with first-person combat and escalating combat. Voidtrain combines all these with the ever-reliable quality of train travel!
Facetious jokes aside, you’ll start with a simple cart, battling enemies and solving puzzles to upgrade your voidtrain and continue travelling through various worlds via quantum weirdness. The train will have plenty of customization, and worlds with fluctuating gravity to give players plenty to think about.
Developers Nearga has a unique idea on their hands here with plenty of opportunities to vary up the level design across its runtime. Add to that crafting systems, difficulty scaling and Void Cards that can add conditions to levels for big rewards, and there’s plenty of opportunity for a replayable and satisfying indie title. The game currently doesn’t have a confirmed release date but hopefully, we’ll find out soon.
Back to some more controlled and relaxing games and with the pandemic forcing people to get a bit more creative with their cooking skills, developer Chikon Club is looking to capture the relaxed nature of home cooking with their game due for release in August, Soup Pot.
In this, players will be interacting with gorgeously rendered ingredients to create whatever dishes they can from the game’s 100 recipes. Whilst some cooking games like Overcooked have found joy in madness and cooking under pressure, Chikon Club is aiming for a chilled atmosphere, with its log cabin and high fidelity foods providing the opportunity for players to expand their repertoire. Your kitchen will be stocked with numerous implements with which to experiment and in-game social media to give feedback on your recipes.
This looks like an excellent alternative and a game that could be worth dipping a bit of time into. Soup Pot is out on August 31st this year on Xbox Series X/S and Steam.
3D platformers can be hit or miss depending on your sensibilities, but Demon Turf by Fabraz looks like the best parts of the 3D platformers.
Playing as main character Beebz, you’ll face demons aplenty as you seek to become the demon queen. The game has plenty of mechanics that will be familiar for platforming veterans, with double jumping and moving platforms aplenty. Where Demon Turf differentiates itself is Beebz’ transformative abilities to change form, as well as “momentum-driven combat” and even self-placed checkpoints.
The art style also is eye-catching, mainly for the flat 2D character designs that shift when the character turns, creating a 3D effect for flat planes. There’s a genius twist here to the character design that contrasts wonderfully with the 3D environment and gives it a distinctive look.
In another aspect, Demon Turf is being published by Playtonic Friends, a new publishing arm of the studio Playtonic best known for the Yooka-Laylee franchise. The company announced their new publishing arm in February and this looks like an excellent first step.
Demon Turf will be out on PC, Switch and Xbox Series X/S this year.
Song of Iron
Plenty of solo developers have come up with some wonderful titles over the last few years. Whether it be Tomas Sala with The Falconeer, Thomas Happ with Axiom Verge or Zeng Xiancheng’s upcoming Bright Memory: Infinite, solo devs can truly produce some wonders.
From Joe Winter, Song of Iron is a side-scrolling Viking adventure where you slay enemies in gorgeously lit environments, featuring numerous enemy types and puzzles to solve in the world, with players also gaining magical abilities to defeat enemies.
There’s plenty on offer here, with the trailer at the event running in 4k at 60fps, topped off with a purposeful yet slower pace reminiscent of games like Limbo with a slight bit more colour and some vibrant combat. Add some varied environments from wintry tundras to claustrophobic caves and plenty of weaponry to switch between.
Winter’s project has plenty of potential and with the man having worked on AAA franchises like Halo, but this is something wholly new and intriguing. It’s currently scheduled for release later this year and we hope to see more of it.
Nobody Saves The World
Drinkbox Studios is back following their excellent ventures in creating the Guacamelee franchise with a new IP that promises plenty of fun levity whilst freshly twisting their signature art style. The devs themselves describe their next game, Nobody Saves The World, as a “twist on an action RPG”.
In Nobody Saves The World, you’ll be tackling a classic RPG world with top-down combat and playing as Nobody, who will be stopping an evil calamity by completing quests to gain and change numerous forms. Of course, this being a Drinkbox game, forms range from being a simple rat or a snail to more advanced rangers and magicians and even more preposterous forms like the bodybuilder.
There’s plenty to catch the eye, not least the gorgeous art style that carries over from Drinkbox’s previous titles with a fresh medieval twist and colour palette. Nobody Saves The World is adapting its art style, with a “More hand-drawn art style than Guacamelee”, giving it a gorgeously angular, yet fluid art style. Fans of dungeon crawling will definitely be fans of this one, with an overworld giving way to 25 procedurally generated dungeons.
The game doesn’t have a release date yet and may not for a while, but the game will be on Xbox Series X/S and Xbox Game Pass.
Back to games from talented Japanese studios. One of the biggest reveals was Astria Ascending, a new JRPG from developers Artisan Studios and one with plenty of intrigues.
Players will be thrust into a beautifully light 2D fantasy world of Orcanon, a world with serious Child of Light vibes and various races and cities to explore. In the world, a group of eight heroes known as the Demigods are charged with protecting the world from enemies known as “Noises”.
Beyond its alluring visual style and varied character design, there’s even more to get excited about. For one, its combat style harkens back to classic JRPGs with a turn-based combat system for your party and there’s plenty of talent behind its production, with the story provided by Kazushige Nojima (Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy VII Remake) and music provided by Hitoshi Sakimoto & Basiscape (13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim).
The game is currently slated for a 2021 release on all platforms and Xbox Game Pass.
Loot River is next up and my personal favourite on this list. There is plenty to like about this dungeon-crawling roguelike with a dark but beautifully refined pixel art style beyond the chance to play as a man in a plague doctor’s mask.
In this roguelike, the combat is punchy and brutal, with an intense atmosphere as you battle deadly enemies and bosses through procedurally generated dungeons. Beyond the creeping grimness that envelopes Loot River, the game features some subtle variations in colour design and a twist to its level design.
Whilst playing through the game’s real-time combat, Loot River has the key twist in which the platforms players use in the level can be shifted and moved around to fit together in a Tetris-inspired combination of blocks. Developers straka.studio have come up with a rudimentary but excellent variation on a classic roguelike.
Whilst a release date hasn’t been given yet, the game will be out on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and Steam.
It wouldn’t be a modern conference if there wasn’t a title whose difficulty or combat stylings were inspired by the Dark Souls series. Luckily, Death’s Door looks anything but conventional and derivative.
Playing as a Crow clocking into their regular job of reaping the souls of various people, the aim of the game is to seek out a thief who has stolen your assigned soul. The cutscenes as a Crow gets the bus with their work sword and greets security immediately give a silly yet intriguing world and tone to step into.
Beyond that though, Death’s Door has plenty of shaded environments to battle massive bosses ranging from miniature sentient castles to frog warriors in. Beyond the gorgeous planar level design and bosses to provide varied combat, one big inspiration obvious from the light colour palette and isometric viewpoint which developers Acid Nerve have acknowledged is Hyperlight Drifter.
The dark comedy is a beautiful contrast to the lighter colouring in the level design, as well as numerous upgrades and abilities to master. The title truly looks wonderfully polished already and was possibly the best of the showcase. Death’s Door will be available this summer on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC.
Words by Alex Green
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