The world of independent game development has blossomed into a plethora of varied experiences, showing off levels of quality that rival studios with much bigger budgets and more people working for them. This is mainly in part to vastly superior distribution methods, with a lot of credit going to Steam and programs that support indies like the Xbox Live Arcade. We’ve seen games made in the simplest of programs like Flash or Unity become million copy sellers. Indie games often touch on themes and gameplay designs that goes against the norm of big developers, sometimes being that perfect storm for players looking for something unique. This is why indie games are so important to the game industry as a whole, which is why I’m going to share ten upcoming indie games worth checking out.
Let’s work our way from games that are close to releasing to games that may still have a tentative release window or may not have a release date at all. This is a small snapshot of the indie games world, with many more releasing every day.
Outlast 2, Red Barrels Studio – March 2017
Outlast, alongside the other horror games popular with Youtube personalities like Amnesia, is a defining moment in the history of horror games. Outlast stripped the player of being able to defend themselves and plopped them knee-deep in an asylum filled with twisted experiments and scary naked dudes. Outlast was so influential that elements of it trickled into Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, the original series to coin survival horror. Red Barrels Studio will continue scaring the pants off of their players with Outlast 2.
Outlast 2 looks to be carrying similar mechanics to the first game, with the horror branching out of the halls of the asylum to the broader areas of rural Arizona. Early demos show players fleeing from crazed farmers, where eerie lights cast a cascade of shadows over the cornfields. Nothing is scarier than being in a cornfield in the dark, especially when those looking for you have sinister plans. Outlast 2 also seems to address morality, religious violence, and sanity, a perfect set of themes for fear.
Look for Outlast 2 on PS4, Xbox One, Windows PC, and Mac systems in March.
Yooka-Laylee, Playtonic Games – April 11th 2017
Yooka-Laylee is a dream project come true both for the developers and fans of the Banjo-Kazooie games. While 3D platformers used to dominate the sales chart, the pacing of sales for first-person shooters eclipsed the genre entirely. This forced publishers to alter the way many platformers were made, the ugliest of which was Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts on Xbox 360. Years later, many of the team that worked on Banjo-Kazooie banded together for an idea that they would take to Kickstarter, Yooka-Laylee, which saw an successful fund-raising period and met many stretch goals.
The game looks to bring back the cheerful, humorous tone found in that golden era of N64 games. Not only that, but with the advances in technology, the developers are able to create much bigger worlds and give their characters more animations than ever. The new buddy duo would look right at home with Crash Bandicoot, Mario, Spyro, and the gang from years ago. We look forward to running around in this nostalgic romp when it launches in April.
Yooka-Laylee is coming to PS4, Xbox One, Windows PC, Linux and Mac in April 2017. A Nintendo Switch version is also in the works.
Little Nightmares, Tarsier Studios – April 28th 2017
Horror is often explored in traditional genres like first-person shooters or third-person action games. With games like Limbo and Inside exploring how terrifying and provocative the 2D space can be, Little Nightmares is taking things a step further by offering a relatively 2D playing space with depth like that found in Little Big Planet. Using the space of this strange environment, players will have to sneak around powerful foes while solving environmental puzzles. There is a short demo out with plenty of Youtube gamers getting in on the action to give us an idea of what to expect.
So far, Little Nightmares might just be the most off-putting horror game I’ve seen in a while. Its art style is crisp and unique, touching on all sorts of uncanny fears with its dreary atmosphere and character design. It’s also important to note how the character stands out in every angle due to the yellow coat. Smart design. Can’t wait to see how the rest of the game turns out!
Little Nightmares is coming to PS4, Xbox One, and Windows PC.
Rime, Tequila Works – May 2017
Recently announced to be coming to Nintendo Switch, Rime is inspired by the minimalism from games like Ico and the more recent Last Guardian. Rime stars a young boy exploring a strange island, all while trying to survive the machinations that stalk the area. Solving environmental puzzles and climbing to reach higher areas are the main skills players will be utilizing, but there is a much deeper theme and story being presented. Players will have to keep their wits about them as they unravel the puzzles and make their way to the central tower that ominously looms in the distance.
There’s a ton of mystique to everything we’ve seen about Rime and we can’t wait to get our hands on it. This seems like a great early game to come to the Switch, which is probably the console I’ll end up picking it up on. That and the helpful fox that will travel alongside the main character is incredibly endearing and adorable.
Rime is coming to Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC in May 2017.
Cuphead, Studio MDHR – 2017
Cuphead is doing that tried and true work that was the foundation of animation in the 1940s. Inspired by cartoons from Disney, Studio MDHR has been painstakingly creating their new game’s assets one frame at a time. Cuphead is a run and gun arcade shooter with a focus on crazy boss fights with absurd characters. Players can join up for some cooperative fun, or brave this challenge alone.
During E3 a few years back, Microsoft showed a sizzle reel of indie games coming to the Xbox One. Cuphead was such a small part of this presentation, but instantly captured the eyes of consumers and critics with its unique visuals. In fact, shortly after this presentation, I was given the chance to interview the developers. It was the first interview I did as a video game journalist, so I have a lot of hope for Cuphead and wish the developers the best of luck when it releases sometime this year.
Cuphead is coming to Windows PC and Xbox One sometime in 2017.
Vampyr, Dontnod Entertainment – 2017
Years ago, Dontnod Entertainment went through some troubles as they were rejected by publisher after publisher. They had two games in mind, a story driven adventure and a much larger action game. What was initially was called What If?, was eventually picked up by Square Enix and became the instant classic that we now know as Life is Strange. Life is Strange has been given glorious praise by critics and fans alike. While it’s a simple game that can easily be compared to Telltale Games, its discussion of themes like depression and excellent use of time travel rose it above most games released at the time, let alone other adventure games.
What lies in store for those same developers is that larger game they envisioned before, known now as Vampyr. This action RPG takes place in Victorian London, with the main character struggling with his duality of once being human and now being a creature of the night. From early screenshots, players will presumably be able to sneak up on foes to drain their blood or fight them with fisticuffs or other weapons. Immediately, I’m reminded of the smash hit Bloodborne, as both of these games have a similar look and themes. This is definitely a project to keep an eye on.
Vampyr is coming to PS4, Xbox One, and Windows PC sometime in 2017.
A Hat in Time, Gears for Breakfast – 2017
Similar to how Yooka-Laylee is bringing back the 3D platformer, Gears for Breakfast is throwing in their hat as well to revive the rarely explored genre. With an adorable little girl, players will explore a colorful world jumping and sliding their way to victory. With tons of humor and genuine fun that fits the style of Nintendo’s glory years, there is a lot to enjoy for players of all ages. A Hat in Time was also successfully funded through Kickstarter, so it will be interesting to see if this game can continue the trend of excellent games to come out of crowdfunding.
While there hasn’t been an overwhelming amount of info about the game, there is a playable beta build that looks super promising. It will be interesting to see if games like A Hat in Time and Yooka-Laylee bucks the trends set by the gray swathed shooters and gravel-voiced solider dudes.
A Hat in Time is coming to Windows PC and Mac Systems in 2017.
Eitr, Eneme Entertainment – To be announced
Dark Souls is probably one of the most influential games of the past decade. It established norms and techniques that accentuated its bleak and detailed world, while proving that extreme challenge won’t turn away all players. Eitr takes the mechanical ideas of Dark Souls and puts it in an isometric RPG similar to Diablo, but with a much slower, more methodical approach than Blizzard’s loot spree.
Eitr‘s world maintains that hopelessness of its inspiration, taking on Norse mythology in a unique way. Combat is visceral, even as its presented in pixel art, with tons of rolling, hacking, and strategies. There isn’t much more than some footage of the first level or two and with no release date announced we can only hope that Eitr launches sooner rather than later.
Eitr is coming to PS4, Windows PC, Linux, and Mac Systems.
Disc Jam, High Horse Entertainment – To be announced
While I never had the chance to play the arcade original, Disc Jam still looks like an absurdly good time. Reminding me of Pong on steroids, Disc Jam will have players compete by guarding their goals while trying to score on the opposite side of the court. Players can use special abilities to help things along, all while a pumping soundtrack keeps the energy high.
This strange arcade sports game could continue carrying the torch that Rocket League holds aloft. While traditional sports games continue to sell, plenty of gamers outright avoid them, but these more arcade-centric games could open up some interesting opportunities. Disc Jam could also make for a hell of an E-Sports game, one that would be easy to watch and become engrossed in.
Disc Jam is coming to PS4 and Windows PC.
Perception, The Deep End Games – To be announced
Horror games are all about shocking the players senses, either through visceral visuals or acute audio design. The best horror games combine these ideas with mechanics that compliment them, while leaving that creeping feeling long after the controller is put down. Perception is an interesting horror title, as its main character is stripped of sight. Yes, players will be playing a blind woman who uses her hearing to paint a picture of what’s around her.
Developed by former developers who helped create Bioshock and Dead Space, Perception is a unique horror experience that will have players hiding from strange creatures known as The Presence. Players will be exploring the darkness of Cassie’s past, while also talking her disturbing dreams. While there is no idea on when the game will finally be in the hands of players, there is some solid footage of journalists trying it out. I can only hope I get a chance to try it out soon.
Perception is headed to PC and PS4 when it launches.
This is such a small sampling of the wonderful world of modern indie games. So many more titles are being developed every day by wonderful, determined minds, eager to show off their creations. There is a great chance there is a small unheard of game, that could release out of nowhere to make waves across the industry. That’s the magic of video games, especially with all the ways to publish things digitally. Indie developers struggled to get their game on cartridges and discs, but not that’s simply not a worry anymore. Physical releases are more of a celebration than a necessity.
Indie games continue to be just another cog in this glorious machine we call video gaming. A gold-coated cog that fits just so perfectly.