It was a safe bet this summer would be great for indies, but I was not prepared for the explosion June’s kick-off week has turned out to be. Several hours-long shows delved exclusively into the independent realm while others were basically indie showcases in all but name. Even the most high-profile event of the week, Sony’s PlayStation 5 reveal, got in on the action.
This year’s multitude of indie stages have displayed over a dozen hours of marvelous content so far, making it hard to catch everything. Since a lot of people just don’t have that kind of time, I watched the shows for them and tallied up thirty-five indies that really shined.
Like my list of indies to keep an eye on this year, these games may not speak to the heavy metal slayers or space shooter enthusiasts — though there were plenty of those games to see, too. Each title below has only a short synopsis of my impressions to keep this from turning into a novel, but you can find out more by following the included links. If summer continues like this, there’s a lot to be excited about.
IGN Expo: June 10 – June 15
Rustler (Grand Theft Horse) struck me immediately for its completely irreverent approach to the medieval RPG.
[Steam Summer Festival Demo Update] The personality-laden demo showcases the game’s humor in style and doesn’t shy away from referencing (or pretty much straight-up copying) its obvious inspiration, Grand Theft Auto. However, the controls were a little unwieldy and my horse frequently ran head-first into obstacles. Though the world was engaging, the fun was mixed with a little too much frustration to recommend the game at this point.
Demon Turf follows the story of a 2D demon on her way up in the 3D platform-heavy underworld.
Mortal Shell channels Dark Souls no doubt, but collecting bodies to inhabit on your run may turn out to be an interesting twist.
The Iron Oath looks like a fantasy strategy game with brutal turn-based combat juxtaposed with lovely pixel art.
Bravery Network Online depicts a post-apocalyptic world in which bravery has become an ultimate, and super stylish, sport.
Indie Showcase: June 11
Windbound really hits some Breath of the Wild notes but with the added challenge of a survival game.
Dreamscaper delves into the protagonist’s subconscious to fight, and die, against physical manifestations of her waking problems.
Black Book recounts the trials of a young witch seeking the power to save a loved-one which, judging by its eerie world, won’t be for the faint of heart.
[Steam Summer Festival Demo Update] They absolutely nailed the tone for this game. It’s more than a little creepy and often made me do things I wasn’t sure I wanted to. Head into the demon cave you say? Sure, why not! However, the strangeness is not all good. There may be some issues of either localization or just communicating with the player…or both. Often I had to make decisions that seemed to have a correct answer but I had not been given a way to figure out what it was. That lead to feeling either cheated in some situations or like I succeeded by pure dumb luck in others. I do like the look and the feel of this game, so I hope these issues are dealt with as the game gets closer to its release date.
The Big Con rolls every 90’s cartoon into one and spits it out as a money-seeking teen adventure.
Gamedec combines two things that are super hot right now: Cyberpunk and a branching narrative.
KeyWe sets Kiwis, the bird not the fruit, loose in a post office and their determined little faces just look so cute.
[Steam Summer Festival Demo Update] Just when I thought this concept couldn’t get any better, I discovered I could put hats and other accessories on the birds. Tiny bird hats! Unfortunately, the demo had no single-player mode ready — but promised that content at a later date — so I don’t have a sense of the gameplay. I can only say that everything looks great.
El Hijo is a stealth take on the classic Western staring a young boy in search of his mother.
A Juggler’s Tale promises a narrative-driven adventure about escaping strings that hold you back set in a fantastically pleasing setting.
[Steam Summer Festival Demo Update] This game absolutely hinges on the quality of its narrator, and I’m not sure that quality is there just yet. I’m on board for the story, the mechanics felt fine, but the lyrical cadence in the trailer was just missing this demo. Despite all that, I am keeping this game firmly in my sight because it has the potential to be great. With another year until it launches, the developers will have plenty of time to tune up the vocals.
Unto the End throws you into a hard world of deadly combat and challenging encounters that will take more than button mashing to get through.
[Steam Summer Festival Demo Update] First and foremost, this game is every bit as beautiful as it is brutal. Its gritty realism shows right through the minimalist style. Your decisions have a lot of weight and you should be prepared to die a fair amount. There were times when the game strays from challenging into exasperating territory, but the feeling of vanquishing your foes is pretty sweet. Especially if you took advantage of the game’s unique opportunities for cool combat moments.
Bartlow’s Dread Machine asks what video games would have been like if they’d been invented at the turn of the 20th century.
Eldest Souls thrusts the player into a tough-as-nails boss-rush with a delightful pixel-art style to soften the blow.
Garden Story stars Concord, a grape determined to save his city from the horrible rot seeking to destroy it.
The SoulKeeper: Chronicles has vikings, knights, dragons, and a whole lot of dark fantasy tropes that have captured my attention.
PS5 Reveal Event: June 11
Stray only got a short cinematic trailer, but it looks like you play a cat with a backpack exploring a robot-filled future.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits has the winning combination of gorgeous graphics and huggable minions all tied together with a promising story.
Solar Ash comes from the creators of Hyper Light Drifters and looks every bit as captivating as the studio’s first title.
Little Devil Inside made me wonder if Tim Burton had gotten into video games at first, but looks like a solid action-adventure.
Bugsnax looks exactly as ridiculous as it sounds but many people were buzzing about its oddness even days after the show.
Guerrilla Collective: June 13 – June 15
Lake leans on a thoughtful narrative about life and picturesque small town setting to drive its delivery gameplay.
West of Dead is a devilishly stylish twin-stick shooter set in the wild West that is coming out this Thursday.
Liberated gets points for that sweet comic book art framing its dark tone and narrative.
[Steam Summer Festival Demo Update] If this game doesn’t win some awards for art direction, I’ll be shocked. It also managed to bring me into the story in a very short period of time. When I was forced to switch sides and play as a member of the corrupt authorities, I actively did not want to help them win. To accomplish that in a brief demo is a great feat of storytelling.
Gestalt: Steam and Cinder pairs splendid 16-bit graphics with a narrative-driven story in a cyberpunk world.
[Steam Summer Festival Demo Update] This turned out to be one of my favorite demos so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s one of my favorites of the whole festival. The gameplay is smooth and cool. You can switch between a shield-lowering revolver and a damage-dealing blade and learning how to combine the two effectively is the real trick. The world, characters, and narrative seem well-thought-out as well. Check this demo out if you get the chance, it would be a shame to miss it.
No Place for Bravery opened its trailer with a lot of blood, so I’m expecting a gory meditation on the toll adventuring takes on heroes.
PC Gaming Show: June 13
Carto may turn out to be just the game we need right now with its laid-back approach to adventure and unique puzzle mechanic.
Trash Sailors is a wonderfully hand-drawn survival co-op game in the Overcooked vein.
Weird West really does look incredibly weird and thoroughly Western.
Future Games Show: June 13
Dustborn employs its comic book style to highlight the power of words in a divided, near-future United States with robots and misfit superheros on a mission.
Call of the Sea turns back the clock to the 1930’s in a puzzle-adventure game centered around a woman searching for her missing husband.
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One takes the well-known detective back to the days before anyone knew his name.
The Almost Gone at first glance looks like a simple puzzle game that’s easy on the eyes, but it appears a little darker just under the surface.
[Steam Summer Festival Demo Update] Pastel colors and simplistic style normally indicate a feel-good puzzler, but not here. There is a serious and heavy sadness to everything in this game. Made worse by the fact that it’s all relatable. The mystery is several-fold. The narrator doesn’t know what is happening, the surroundings are not quite right, and the dialogue concerning objects in various rooms is quietly heartbreaking. It’s something you have to be in the mood for, but The Almost Gone is superbly designed and undeniably engrossing.
It really doesn’t seem like it, but that’s just the abbreviated version of all the indies shown off this past week. If you have a lot of time on your hands and want to attempt to catch it all, check out my events calendar. Even though it seems like a mountain of summer content is in the rear-view mirror, there are still months ahead of us. That’s months of events, news, and announcements coverage you’ll find here, so stay tuned!