It's time once again to peek behind the Steam curtain and catch a glimpse at some of the most innovative indie titles on the horizon...provided, of course, that you can find them.
The Next Fests are some of the biggest events for the small developer, but that doesn't mean these events are easy to navigate. Between the borderline AAA titles that attract the bulk of the attention and the inevitable flood of generic trend-chasing games, it's not always so easy to locate those exciting innovators.
So here's my little contribution: Seven games that you might have overlooked, but really shouldn't miss.
Gliese is a world of ancient mysteries that the denizens have always left alone - until now. Many generations ago, the world was almost wiped out by ill-understood forces. Now, a new threat has emerged - specters from beyond time, their power linked to a massive ancient structure located deep in the desert. It's up to a lone warrior to journey to that structure and put a stop to whomever or whatever is calling those specters before it's too late.
Monolith is an action RPG that could be safely likened to a few games, most notably some Zelda titles. Needless to say, this is an ambitious game - an attempt by an indie developer to create the kind of experience that has always been the domain of the biggest AAA developers. Looking at the lush and varied visual design, I think they have a real shot.
With the ongoing glut of deckbuilders, many developers have been looking for ways to stand out, and bringing dice into the mix is currently popular. This worked out very well for Astrea, and now Guidelight Games is bringing their own vision to the burgeoning style with SpellRogue.
Unlike Astrea, the dice are not abilities in and of themselves but rather "mana dice" that are used to power spells. The effects of those spells can vary depending on which dice are used - channeling a die with an even face might add an additional effect to a defensive spell, while spending a lot of small dice on an attack spell can pump up its damage. Each of the game's three sorcerers also has abilities that allow them to manipulate their dice pool, adding an additional tactical layer.
Video games have always been pretty weird, but the last few years have seen games really embrace that old-school surrealism and push it to new heights. Octopus City Blues - a game about a frozen world in which the last humans inexplicably live on a giant octopus - is a fine example of this style.
Octopus City Blues follows the misadventures of Kaf Kafkaryan, an ordinary man (relatively speaking) with a boring job and a weird relationship with beetles. Over the course of the game, Kaf is pulled into a conspiracy at the heart of his world and must find a way to untangle it. What follows is an adventure game with some light RPG elements and multiple paths and endings, all enhanced with creepy, unreal visuals with really push the limits of what pixel art can do.
There's a fair bit of variety in the shmup world, but they always come down to the same basic principle - move from one side of the screen to the other and shoot everything that gets in the way. Anisto throws a real curveball: This is a shooter with no shooting.
In Anisto, the player controls a series of mining ships that are part of a grand terraforming project. These ships are equipped with a range of tools used to identify, extract, and refine materials from asteroids. These asteroids are the "enemies" of Anisto, offering an opportunity but also a threat as they can easily smash an unwary player's tiny ship to pieces. If you don't need any pew pew in your shmup, this might be the game for you.
I'm a sucker for games with historical settings, especially when I know something about the history in question. In this case, we have The Last Soldier of the Ming Dynasty, a story set during the wokou pirate raids of the mid-16th century. Playing as a lone, isolated soldier stranded on a wokou-controlled island (presumably Tsushima), the player must try to take down the pirates and put an end to the coastal terror.
The most striking element of The Last Soldier of the Ming Dynasty has to be the visuals. The art style is based on classical Chinese paintings, giving the game a hand-inked look that is rarely explored in 3D titles.
World War I remains an underexplored setting in video games, and the approach taken in All Quiet in the Trenches deviates greatly from most war-themed games. Taking control of the commander of a group of German soldiers, the player is tasked with managing day-to-day life in the trenches and leading the men into battle.
What's interesting here is the narrative approach. All Quiet in the Trenches features a tactical combat system, but the game makes it clear that the player's actions in battle are not going to affect the progression of the war in any way. Rather, the narrative focuses on how both battle and the long stretches between battles affect the soldiers. You aren't trying to win a war as much as you are trying to get as many soldiers home alive and intact as possible.
Given how important Portal (and its sequel) are to indie games and to video games in general, it's a sign of boldness that multiple developers are trying their hand at making Portal-like games. One of the more interesting ones is Entanglement, which casts the player as an employee at an outwardly normal shipping/logistics company that employs out-of-this-world technology to make moving packages a breeze.
The key mechanics are based around quantum entanglement, a phenomenon that I won't even attempt to explain here. What's important is that the player can link two objects together and then use a device to manipulate both of them - transferring mass between them, for example, or causing them to move in equal but opposed ways. This opens up a lot of possibilities for novel puzzles and puzzle solutions.
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