The Big Hidden Gems
From the more well-known Outlast II and Yooka-Laylee to the more obscure Night in the Woods and Manifold Garden, this year is packed with exciting new indie games. With so many hidden gems to keep track of, we've decided to compile our favorites here. Click ahead to see what's in store for this year.
There's a lot of great indie games coming out, but but what are you looking forward to this year? Let us know in the comments below.
From the mind of Maniac Mansion creator Ron Gilbert, Thimbleweed Park is the epitome of truly old school point-and-click adventure games. Rather than allowing you to freely interact with its world, you must first select a verb from the list that's permanently affixed to the bottom of the screen, then select the object you hope to affect with that verb. It's a decidedly antiquated way of doing things, but that's part of the charm. If Thimbleweed succeeds, it will deliver an experience that feels functionally identical to our nostalgia-tinted memories of games like Monkey Island while adding modern tech like dynamic lighting. And if we're lucky, it'll avoid some of the genre's more annoying pitfalls, like utterly inscrutable puzzles.
Thimbleweed's story ostensibly revolves around two washed-up FBI agents who've been sent to the eponymous town to crack a murder case, but the scope of the mystery (and the cast of playable characters) quickly expands from there. Though we haven't heard much from Gilbert and his team in recent month, the game is still expected to launch sometime this year.
Much like The Fullbright Company's previous game Gone Home, Tacoma is a story-driven exploration game that allows players to uncover new narrative tidbits at their own pace. Unlike Gone Home, however, Tacoma takes place in the near future aboard a nearly empty space station, which means zero-gravity environments and all new mysteries to consider. The station itself emits some strong BioShock vibes, with art deco detailing and elegant music echoing down its lonely corridors. Players control aeronautical engineer Amy during her first day on the job, which--as you might expect--doesn't go entirely as planned.
Much of the game remains a mystery, but your goal, ultimately, is to figure out what happened to Tacoma's crew and get the station back up and running. What will that entail, exactly? We'll find out later this year.
Night in the Woods
Paranormal intrigue, post-adolescent ennui, anthropomorphic animals--side-scrolling adventure game Night in the Woods packs plenty into its central mystery, which sees college dropout Mae Borowski venture into the woods outside her home town in search of the strange, potentially supernatural forces making life hard for the locals. Through exploration, dialogue options, puzzle-solving, music-related mini-games, and even some light platforming, you'll gradually build relationships en route to unraveling the mystery lurking in the woods.
Based on our experience with the game so far, Night in the Woods seems to rely primarily on the charm and humor of its characters, with gameplay taking a backseat to world building. But the distinct visual style, mellow music, and mature, relatable themes (life in a small town, struggling to find purpose and direction) should enhance the game's appeal for anyone who exclusively wore band t-shirts in high school. Night in the Woods is finally due out this February following an extended development cycle.
Below first broke onto the scene in 2013, backed by Microsoft during their E3 press conference. It looked amazing--atmospheric, mysterious, and the right kind of creepy. Unfortunately, its intended 2014 release was delayed to 2015, and then again to 2016. This time developer Capybara Games has elected not to state an approximate release window, but surely, surely, the game will come out this year?
If the 2D adventure game looks familiar, that's because Capybara previously made the similarly-styled Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, as well as Super Time Force. The latter was a timed Xbox exclusive, while Below looks to be a permanent console exclusive since it's published by Microsoft.
Regardless, its randomly-generated environments looks gorgeous, and if those two previous games are anything to go by, this roguelike will be amazing.
Thanks to its December 2016 Early Access release, you might have already played the third-person space adventure Astroneer. You explore new worlds, build a base, and generally marvel at the beautifully bright art style and gorgeous environments.
There are survival elements, too: you'll need to make sure you don't run out of oxygen during your travels, and power consumption is a constant concern. Power is used to mine materials from the game's planetscapes, as well as build new vehicles like a moon buggy. You can also construct facilities like the trade platform, which hints at an in-game economy and allows you to obtain new resources.
It's available in Early Access on Xbox One and PC right now, with a full release coming soon for those platforms along with PS4. Developer System Era Games says it's going to continue to iterate on the game over time and hopes to add new features like local co-op (multiplayer is limited to online play right now) and machinery that will carry out tasks autonomously. We can't wait to see what the final version looks like in 2017.
Old Time Hockey
Old Time Hockey is an arcade hockey game from V7 Entertainment. It aims to be an homage to '70s bush leagues, with no helmets hits that might not even be legal by modern standards, according to V7.
The 5v5 game also has a story mode where you determine the fate of a down-on-its-luck bush league team, eventually leading them out of the dumps and into glory.
Of course there are fights as well; the announcement trailer shows that you can even smack your enemy with your stick. Old Time Hockey appears to have all the charm of an arcade game that doesn't take itself too seriously and is just about having fun.
EA's NHL series kills it every year with the best simulation around. But that's not what Old Time Hockey is going for--and that's exactly why we're interested in it. It is a treat that this game even exists, so here's to hoping it plays well. Look for Old Time Hockey on PS4, Xbox One, and PC later this year.
With games like Headlander, Pocket Mortys, and Frog Fractions 2 (masqueraded as Glittermitten Grove) under its belt, Adult Swim Games has firmly established itself as a formidable publisher. Askii Games' Katana Zero is one of its upcoming games for 2017, and it looks incredibly promising.
With punishing enemies and small, distinct arenas, Katana Zero appears to be in same vein as Hotline Miami, albeit in a side-scrolling format. Its levels are broken up into rooms where enemies lie in wait, and they act fast, shooting on first sight. You don't have a gun but you do carry a katana, and with proper timing, it's possible to slice and reflect bullets back at your targets. You also have the ability to slow down time to make your seemingly impossible task slightly more manageable.
Assuming its mechanics click, Katana Zero would probably succeed on its gameplay alone. However, its atmosphere cannot be ignored; it's brooding and bathed in neon light, and everyone you encounter means business. Topping it off is a dark, synthesizer soundtrack. It doesn't have a firm release date yet, but Katana Zero is one to look out for as 2017 rolls on.
Absolver is a third person martial arts action game that has intrigued us ever since its May 2016 reveal. You wander around smashing fools whenever they dare to challenge you. That goes for both NPCs and human opponents since the game features multiplayer quests as part of its interconnected open world.
The combat goes deep, too. Fighting in Absolver doesn't just consist of mashing every button on the controller until you win. Instead, you can choose any of four stances. Depending on whether you fight from the front or back, and left or right stance, you'll get a specific range of moves to utilize. Choosing an initial light strike then opens options for another light strike or a heavy strike to flow into, and so on. Parrying, dodging, and precise timing also play a huge part.
Developer Sloclap--made up of ex-Ubisoft Paris employees--cites the Souls series as a huge inspiration for Absolver--and if it can come close to those games' success, we'll have an indie hit on our hands in 2017.
Tokyo 42 has that shiny, near-future-that's-plausible-but-somewhat-uncomfortable feel about it, and that makes it the perfect setting for a cartoon-styled isometric shooter, obviously.
Inspired by the original Grand Theft Auto and the 1993 EA game Syndicate, Tokyo 42 is a minimalist action game with stealth elements. Its sneaking and outfit-swapping makes it almost akin to an isometric Hitman, and it looks just as cool as that sounds.
Tokyo 42's art style is particularly striking: it's full of bright pinks and greens and blues and neons, which adds to the neo-'80s feel established by the equally awesome soundtrack.
It has an open-world single-player campaign, as well as multiplayer modes which, of course, involve hiding from and then killing enemies with all sorts of gruesome weapons. Oh, and cats. For some reason. Snipers, assault rifles, katanas, and cats.
It's coming to PS4, Xbox One, and PC, and we can't wait to give it a shot when it lands in early 2017.
Perception is not a typical horror game. You play as a blind woman, Cassie Thornton, who must navigate a creepy mansion occupied by a force known as "the presence." The presence is unpredictable and can sound like a man or a woman. Also, it's constantly surrounded by moths. At all times, "the presence" is searching for you--and you can't kill it.
Perception's gameplay is especially unique, since the player can't rely on traditional sight. You have a walking stick and a smartphone and, importantly, you can hear. Sounds create a visualization of the environment that illuminates the mansion, allowing you to see where you're going and plan your next move. You should probably avoid constantly tapping constantly tap to light up the world, however, as the ever-watching "presence" will be alerted to your sounds, which adds an element of strategy.
At least in its current form, there are no jump scares like you'd find in something like Five Nights at Freddy's. But the moody atmosphere is enough to keep you on edge as the tension builds. The game plays out across a series of chapters from different periods of time. As you hop through time, you'll learn about the horrible things that happened in the mansion.
Perception is being developed by, Deep End Games, which formed when BioShock studio Irrational closed.
Overland marries the tension and decision-making strategy of both XCOM and The Oregon Trail in a procedurally generated, post-apocalyptic road trip across North America. You’ll find and abandon survivors with different skills, maintain, upgrade and ditch your vehicles, and constantly gamble on locations and exploration decisions as you try to keep your fuel tank topped up and your characters well-supplied.
Adam Saltsman of Canabalt fame and his team at Finji are behind this one, and Overland is currently available as a “First Access” game on Itch.io with monthly updates and future Steam support. In its current state, Overland definitely exhibits tense, fight-or-flight moments in its turn-based scenarios, and captures the joy of apprehensively making choices in modern roguelikes.
It looks great, too. Overland’s art direction is minimalist and uses a muted color palate, but still manages to envoke an incredibly strong sense of place, a post-apocalyptic rural America that’s really easy to lose yourself in.
Oh, and you can recruit dogs as party members, which definitely makes it something to look forward to.
The visually-striking Manifold Garden features seemingly infinite M.C. Escher-inspired architectural worlds that are dizzying as hell, yet oddly calming. Touted as an exploration game, we know that there’ll also be puzzles that will require you to decipher the physics-based ruleset of each world in order to progress. You can expect puzzles to involve spatial awareness, gravity manipulation, and huge leaps of faith into the abyss. Portal and Antichamber immediately spring to mind.
Manifold Garden will be released sometime in 2017 on PlayStation 4, PC, Mac, and Linux. If you’re interested in a behind-the-scenes look and seeing how developer William Chyr puts these complex worlds together, he regularly livestreams his development on his Twitch channel.
Anyone who loves the action and non-linear exploration of Metroidvania games will agree on one thing: we need more of them. Hopefully Chasm will fill this void for PC and PS4 owners this year. The result of a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2013, Chasm’s defining feature is that, although its rooms were created by hand, they’re procedurally assembled, meaning the layout for the game’s six labyrinthine worlds will be different for each player. With any luck, this still means bosses, enemies, and ability-gated areas will scale well.
Chasm definitely has strong Symphony of the Night vibes, featuring fluidly-animated pixel art and familiar RPG mechanics like damage numbers, spells, and equipment. It’s easy to be skeptical about retro throwback games, but we’re hoping Chasm proves to be as as polished and expertly executed as recent throwbacks Shovel Knight and Axiom Verge.
Colorful 3D platformer Yooka-Laylee is a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie that starts the musically named duo Yooka (the lizard) and Laylee (the bat). Like Banjo-Kazooie, Yooka-Laylee is all about seeking out and collecting items in different worlds, and there are interesting, often cheeky characters--like a trouser-wearing snake--to meet or fight along the way. On top of that, the team has promised minecart challenges, arcade games, and quiz shows, the last of which is a callback to Banjo-Kazooie’s curveball ending.
Funded on Kickstarter in June 2015, Yooka-Laylee raised around $2.5 million. Key members from the N64-era team that worked on Banjo-Kazooie at Rare are even working on it--including director Chris Sutherland and composer Grant Kirkhope--so it’s setting itself up to be a worthy successor to the 3D platforming favorite.
Puzzle/adventure game Rime looks sort of like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker meets The Witness: visually striking with a pseudo-cartoon style and playful charm. It starts when a young boy is shipwrecked on an island during a storm, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. That means plenty of puzzle-fueled exploring (and running from wild animals through the ruins of a long-lost civilization, of course).
Rime was in limbo for years before its re-reveal in January, so this puzzle adventure is long-awaited. It also features beautiful sound design and music to fit the desert island setting, and its tone has already inspired comparisons to the work of Team Ico.
If you have ever watched a horror movie and thought, "Yeah, I would totally sneak into my neighbor’s house just to see what’s in his basement because that sounds safe and reasonable," Hello Neighbor is for you. The stealth-horror game features AI that learns from what you do--like throwing fruit at a window to cause a diversion--just like a real neighbor...only this neighbor is hiding something in his basement, and you’ve already worked up the courage to get inside and see what it is.
The cartoony art style only enhances the horror since it’s easy to let your guard down when the house looks so normal. But Hello Neighbor promises real scares, so definitely proceed with caution.
Tooth and Tail
Real-time strategy games like Command & Conquer and Starcraft II are impressive to watch but ultimately daunting for new players to jump into. You usually have to master a lot of different rules and mechanics to be an effective player. Pocketwatch Games aims to change that with its upcoming arcade-style RTS game, Tooth and Tail.
For greater accessibility, mechanics have been refined to the point where it's entirely possible to play with a controller--highly unusual for the genre, which typically calls for the flexibility and precision of a mouse and keyboard control scheme.
The world you fight in plays host to charming animal-based factions, but as anyone familiar with Redwall or Watership Down will point out, behind every furry face lies a set of sharp teeth and the determination to survive. Cute combatants aside, it's likely going to be the mechanics that make or break this new take on the RTS genre for new players. When will we find out? According to the Steam page, Tooth and Tail will be available to buy "when you least expect it."
Thunder Lotus Games wowed a lot of people with Jotun's hand drawn animations back in 2015, and the studio is back at it with Sundered. Scheduled for release sometime in 2017 on PS4 and PC (across Windows, Mac, and Linux), Sundered is a side-scrolling Metroidvania adventure set in a horrific world. According to Thunder Lotus Games' creative director William Dubé, Sundered will be a fight for survival and sanity as you trudge through caverns filled with eldritch horrors; early screenshots certainly fit his description, with hints of Lovecraft galore.
Not short on inspiration, Thunder Lotus Games has also taken a page from Rogue Legacy...sort of. While you don't respawn after death as a descendant of the former hero, you do respawn and get a chance to purchase skill upgrades using collectible shards gathered from your previous playthrough; procedurally generated dungeons seal the connection. With promising mechanics and a beautiful artstyle, Sundered is worth keeping tabs on.
On its surface, Nidhogg appears to revolve around head-to-head, side-scrolling duels, but in actuality, it's a tug-of-war with swords. Rather than simply killing your opponent, your real goal is to successfully battle your way across three screens and reach a final scoring zone before the other player respawns and stops you. Of course, your opponent has the exact same goal.
You can slash, punch, and divekick each other, but only the player who scored the last kill is allowed to run towards their zone. Naturally, this results in plenty of unexpected, last-second momentum shifts that turn the game into couch co-op magic.
Nidhogg 2 takes the same formula as the original game and amps up the presentation while altering the underlying mechanics very little. The game features a new, more grotesque art style, as well as a revamped soundtrack, new weapons, and a larger selection of stages. You'll even find online options and a single-player campaign of sorts that lets you battle AI and complete special challenges.
Xbox-exclusive platformer Cuphead's release date was recently pushed to "mid-2017." And that's a huge shame, because it's a game we've been looking forward to ever since its announcement on Microsoft's stage at E3 2014.
Cuphead's main appeal is undoubtedly its aesthetic: it apes the 1930s "hose pipe" animation style pioneered by early Disney cartoons and the very first post-comic strip motion pictures. This style also pervades the game's music, with piano-laden tracks more commonly heard in pre-talkie films. Even its run-and-gun gameplay looks pleasantly aged.
If its cooperative gameplay and platforming mechanics can live up to the stupendous look, then we'll have one hell of a game on our hands.
Supergiant Games, the creators of Bastion and Transistor, is making a slight departure from the direction of its past two games. Judging from early gameplay footage, Pyre will play like a fusion of sports, strategy, RPG, and MOBA games. It’s conceptually akin to any sports game where an object must be placed in a goal, but each character has abilities similar to DOTA 2's champions. And the real twist: it’s wrapped into a story-driven RPG. It may sound crazy, but after playing through the game’s opening sequence, it’s easy to see how its gameplay elements will make for hectic, exciting battles.
There is strong familiarity in Pyre’s music and art style. The music harkens back to the acoustic trip-hop with a western flavor found in Bastion, but it incorporates an electronic touch reminiscent of Transistor. The hand-illustrated art style will make a comeback as well, painting a majestic picture of nomads traversing plains in search of a home...while battling in supernatural arenas. The game is set for release in 2017 on Playstation 4 and PC.