2016 was a truly exceptional year for indie games: Stardew Valley, Darkest Dungeon, Hyper Light Drifter, Gonner, Broforce, Firewatch, Abzu… we could go on, but that’s not what we’re here to do.
First, you should go and buy all those games, but second, you should put some money aside for the even more amazing haul of indie games that are coming in 2017. Here are some of our favourites to look out for, recently updated to include a number of new Xbox Live titles.
If there’s any animal we didn’t think it would be enjoyable to play as in a game, it would be a snake, but that’s exactly what Snake Pass tasks you with doing.
Playing as the titular creature, you roam around different environments searching for collectables, but the game’s real genius is in the movement mechanics. As a snake you’re unable to jump, so you’re forced to wind and coil your way up various structures to reach higher points of interest.
It takes a little time to get used to this unique movement method, which forces you to slither from side to side in order to build up speed, but once you do it’s immensely satisfying to navigate Snake Pass’ worlds.
Aaero is the unholy lovechild of Rez and Amplitude; a bright neon explosion of sound and color that almost requires you to enter a trance-like state to get through its more intense moments.
At its core, Aaero is a rails-shooter crossed with a rhythm game. You start by using the left analogue stick to follow a ribbon around the sides of the screen which will ebb and flow with the rhythm of the music.
Before long enemies will start to appear, and these are dispatched with the right analogue stick, and trigger presses that gain added damage bonuses if timed correctly with the beat of the level’s song.
Built in Unity, it’s an impressive release from the two-man team at Mad Fellows Games, and well worth keeping an eye on for later in the year.
Ruiner is not the kind of game you’d expect from a team of ex-Witcher developers, but the isometric brawler is a fine addition to this year’s crop of indie games.
Set in a cyber-punk future, the anime-inspired game sees you punch, shoot, and generally fight your way through a series of cell-shaded urban levels.
The whole game is fast and frantic, and like a good twin-stick shooter challenges you to take risks to keep yourself safe while taking down as many of your enemies as possible.
We played the game on PC, but it will also see a release on Xbox One as part of the initiative.
Tacoma is the newest game from Gone Home developer Fullbright. Like its predecessor, it’s a narrative-focussed game in which you explore a derelict environment trying to piece together what happened.
However, unlike Gone Home, which was set in a realistic portrayal of rural America, Tacoma is set in a space station of the same name, which gives it the feeling of a combat-free System Shock.
It’s not just the setting that’s received a technological upgrade. While Gone Home relied on you piecing together its story through diary entries and recordings, Tacoma instead projects ghosts into its environment, which you can watch reenact past events.
It might be a radical departure from the sombre realism of Gone Home, but Fullbright’s ability to tell a good story makes this one to watch.
Rime hasn’t had the easiest time in the four years since we first saw it at Sony’s Gamescom 2013 press conference and it’s gone from being a Sony exclusive to a title that will be playable on , , PC, and even when it launches this coming May.
There is, however, a lot to look forward to. When we got hands on with the game we were reminded of excellent titles such as The Legend of Zelda, Journey, Ico, and even the Studio Ghibli animated films through the game’s lovely aesthetics, gameplay, and its open world.
Considering this is a title coming from Tequila Works, a relatively small independent development studio in Spain, these comparisons set up high expectations.
The game has players take on the role of a small boy who wakes up on a mysterious island. The player must use light, sound, perspective and time to solve puzzles and uncover the location’s secrets.
Though we didn’t get to play as much of the game as we’d like, we greatly enjoyed the soothing low-pressure approach to solving puzzles as well as the beautiful music and atmospheric environmental sound effects.
Night in the Woods
Think Life is Strange crossed with Oxenfree and Wind in the Willows and… well, no, that’s not really what Night in the Woods is, but it’ll give you a good idea of what it might be.
Centered around a small town, to which college dropout (and anthropomorphized cat) Mae returns to rediscover old friends and settle back into her old life, Night in the Woods appears to capture a feeling of aimless drifting with a creepy, foreboding sense of something dark going on just behind the curtain. It’s going to be absolutely brilliant.
Some games are brilliant because of their mechanics, others are great because of their writing. Pikuniku manages to be both in the most absurd way possible.
You play a little blob-guy who can kick people, which sounds simple - but the simple interaction leads to the best stories.
The developers’ humor comes across wonderfully with emergent, physics-based gags - they’ve been posting gifs on Twitter for a while now, and one of the latest features a frog that you can kick into a hole, because why not?
The dialogue mostly consists of people either freaking out at you (the mayor screams AAAAAHHHHH at you the first time you meet) or sweet, nonsensical thought-trains like one character that really likes stairs.
If you haven’t already heard of artist-run studio KO_OP, keep an eye out - they’re going to be huge. They’ve already worked on the new Lara Croft Go game, The Mirror of Spirits, which was revealed at the recent PlayStation Experience event, and they’ve also been hard at work on GNOG.
GNOG is a puzzle game about exploring huge heads that are full of secrets to discover, like an interactive children's toy.
It’s beautiful, which is unsurprising for an art-focused team, and it tickles the same kind of pleasure glands as games like Hohokum and Monument Valley - simple, gorgeous games with color, vibrancy and intelligent design at their heart.
The new game from Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi and Journey producer Robin Hunicke has the potential to be something truly special.
It’s a sweet toybox of a game where everything is a new friend, where the button prompts are strange and unexpected verbs from “bomb” to “poop”, and where the bright, colourful world takes you by surprise every few seconds.
It’s more of a playroom, a space to be silly in and to experiment with, than a typical game - but we get the feeling that it's exactly what we might need in 2017.
A combination of brilliant thoughts that no one else might have ever come up with, Cuphead is an action game that focuses on what might be called “boss battles”, but with everything done in a memorable art style that’s heavily inspired by 1930s animation.
It’s bloody difficult, too, with the developers focusing on a Dark Souls level of combat where the player can fully engage with frame-perfect attacks and hitbox exploits, if they want to. But even if they don’t, it’s hard not to fall in love with something when it’s as stylish and unique as Cuphead.
Knights & Bikes
Surfing on the wave of nostalgia that brought us shows like Stranger Things is Knights & Bikes, a game that perfectly captures that childhood feeling of exploration and wonder.
When things go wrong in their little hometown, it’s up to best friends Nessa and Demelza to save the adults - and the world! - from mortal peril.
There’s something incredibly special and heartwarming about everything in Knights & Bikes, from the hand-drawn art style to the amazing music and the fact that all of it, every part, seems like something you would have done as a kid: cycling around the woods, keeping mysterious detritus as “treasure” and making up fantastical adventures in your head.
The pitch here - and what you’ll be hearing from people talking excitedly about it - might be little more than “Zelda, but with a fox”, but Secret Legend is more than that.
Combining the intricate combat of Dark Souls with the mystery-filled intrigue of early Legend of Zelda games, Secret Legend aims to straddle the fence between the nostalgia of your early childhood and the excitement and innovation of modern games.
Old Man’s Journey
2017 might be the year of the quieter, more introspective indie game, and Old Man’s Journey fits the bill perfectly.
Bright, pastel colors evoke a Mediterranean seaside feeling in a world that you gently, slowly explore as a sweet old man who just wants to sit down for a while. Each stop you take along the way unravels more of his sad, sad story, told entirely through beautiful, heartbreaking art.
Playing Old Man’s Journey feels like a soothing, soft balm that undoes all of the world’s hardness; you can feel your muscles relaxing and your mind unwinding as you’re coaxed into the gentle world on the screen.
To The Moon, a touching and excellent game that told a story of yearning, love and loss, is a game that will leave even the most heartless players sobbing by its end.
Style-wise, Finding Paradise - the sequel - is very stylistically similar to To The Moon, with the same kind of detailed pixel-art and melancholy music that made it so memorable.
Capybara Games - the studio behind Sword & Sworcery - will be releasing Below probably, hopefully some time in 2017.
It’s already looks amazing - it’s a top-down action-adventure roguelike with a teeny tiny protagonist - but there’s a lot of mystery around it still, because mystery is cool, and the developers haven’t revealed much about the game yet.
We do know it’s going to be super difficult, and include permadeath, and probably a billion reasons to swear and throw your controller.
If you love your games fast-paced and tricky, you will get a kick out of Flinthook’s main mechanic, in which you grappling-hook your way through platforming rooms, grabbing coins and zapping enemies along the way.
Touchingly detailed animations make the game feel fluid and dynamic, thanks to talented designer and artist Dominique “Dom2D” Ferland.
The grappling hook might be difficult to learn and to master, but, like Spider-Man, once you’ve grasped it, you feel like a superhero.
Overland looks lovely. It’s all sharp, angular, low-poly art, muted autumn colours and a surprisingly effective triangular flame effect that you’ll be seeing a lot of as you struggle to survive and not set fire to things in the turn-based survival game.
Just as the best survival games do, it constantly makes you feel like you’re two moves away from death, micro-managing supplies and health and happiness as your priorities change over time. Also, it has dogs!
- 29 - This game explores an incredibly personal story in a quiet, understated way, told through soft pastels and gentle narrative as you and your housemate find out about yourselves and each other in a slightly other-wordly setting.
- Vignettes - Some games have clever, compelling mechanics that draw you in - and Vignettes is absolutely one of those. You begin with a simple object - a telephone - and you spin it until it transforms into another object. Some are interactive, some hold secrets - but each one is a lovely piece of art.
- Loot Rascals - Card-based, turn-based roguelike Loot Rascals is being made by Hollow Ponds, a team that includes the makers of Hohokum, and artists who have worked on Adventure Time and sweet indie mobile game Alphabear. Its pedigree alone makes it worth checking out.