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16 Amazing Indie Games You Missed at E3 2021 and Beyond

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If you’ve been paying attention to the news coming out of E3, you’ve likely already gushed over your favorite trailers for games like Starfield, Forza Horizon 5, Metroid Dread, the sequel to Breath of the Wild, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands…I could go on all day. There were a lot of great games!

So many, in fact, that it may have been easy to miss some of the most stand-out gems from the smaller showcases surrounding events like Xbox’s and Nintendo’s. This year’s summer week of gaming announcements, E3 and otherwise, was absolutely packed with incredible indie gems worthy of attention that may have gotten lost in the sheer volume of games despite stand-out trailers.

What’s more, many of the best indies from across the showcases feature genres, mechanics, styles, or other elements that weren’t represented at all in the big AAA showcases. So if you walked out of E3’s biggest events feeling something was missing…who knows? Your new favorite game might be waiting for you at a different event.

To help you in your discovery, here are 16 indies from across the last week’s various events that truly stood out and we feel are worth keeping a close eye on:

TOEM

Photo adventure game TOEM appeared in Day of the Devs last week, and was immediately striking because of its hand-drawn, black-and-white photo aesthetic and adorable photo-taking mechanics. You play as a little adventurer on a photo expedition to capture the mysterious phenomenon known as TOEM, exploring Scandanavian-inspired villagers and helping out others along the way.

TOEM’s puzzles are solved through photography, with characters asking for certain photos to solve their problems, and rewarding you with adorable costumes for your character. It’s a slow-paced game that rewards players for taking their time and looking for small, interesting moments in its world.

TOEM is developed and published by Something We Made, and is coming to PC later this year. A playable demo is available now through Steam Next Fest.

Tinykin

Can’t wait for Nintendo to make a new Pikmin game? Tinykin might be up your alley. You play as protagonist Milo, a young man who has been shrunk by accident to the size of a bug. In his new small size, he encounters the Tinykin, miniscule little creatures that can work together to accomplish big things. By capturing more of them, you can solve puzzles that involve tossing the Tinykin at obstacles, making bridges and ladders, and much more.

With the Tinykin at your side, you’ll explore Milo’s world from a small perspective, adventuring through a house, cities of bugs, and more. There are hundreds of Tinykin to find. Also, you can skateboard on a little soap-board!

Tinykin was revealed during the PC Gaming Show at E3 2021. It’s developed by Splashteam and published by tinyBuild, and is coming to PC in 2022.

Unbeatable

Unbeatable’s trailer at Day of the Devs instantly transported me back to the early 2000s, when I was staying up late to watch Adult Swim animes without my parents knowing during summer weeknights. With a vibe straight out of those 90s and 2000s anime, Unbeatable is a rhythm game where music is illegal, and you and your band are here to do some crimes.

The story follows a young woman named Beat who, after a confrontation with the cops, washes up on a beach outside of town and must find a practice space to prepare for a big upcoming shows. The choices you make through the story and how you practice will determine what you can put on your setlist for your show, with songs played out in a rhythm game with two rows of notes coming at Beat from two sides.

Unbeatable is developed by D-Cell Games and is planned for release on PC in December 2023. That’s a long way out, but there’s a “White Label” demo available now with a dozen songs already playable.

Loot River

Roguelikes are in vogue right now, but I haven’t seen anything like Loot River. It’s a top-down action game that takes place in procedurally generated mazes, where your goal is to fight off enemies, find loot, upgrade your abilities, and try to make it to the end of the various dungeons you’re thrown into. That all sounds pretty standard, but what makes Loot River stand out is that it all takes place atop floating platforms that the player can move in any direction.

Too many enemies in front of you? Hop on a platform and float away. Want to separate one powerful enemy from a pack to defeat it more easily? Lure it to a platform and get moving. Want to skip packs entirely, or move to a more strategic position? You can do that too. Loot River looks like an action game overlaid with Tetris, with platforms able to move, fit together, and pull apart in increasingly interesting ways, and mechanics that both challenge and take advantage of that strategy.

Loot River is developed by straka studio and published by straka and Superhot Presents. It’s coming to Xbox and PC for an unknown release date.

I feel like Behind the Frame was in almost every indie showcase I watched, and yet I never got tired of seeing it. This peaceful, Ghibli-looking narrative game follows a young artist trying to complete a masterpiece for a gallery submission. From the trailers, we can see snippets of her life: making coffee, interacting with her brusque neighbor (and his lovely round cat), and puttering about her apartment. It’s all gorgeous to look at, and while the trailers mainly just showed the protagonist’s pretty apartment, the Steam page hints at a lovely town, a beautiful flower field, and perhaps other locations.

Aside from its striking looks, Behind the Frame is a puzzle game, where you use your artistic abilities and observation to piece together ideas, memories, and the world around the protagonist. There looks to be some escape room-like puzzle elements and a mystery of sorts thrown in too, with the protagonist encountering sights and experiences that feel familiar but disconnected. It’s all a bit vague for now, but very, very beautiful.

Behind the Frame is developed by Silver Lining Studio, published by Akupara Games, and coming to PC later this year.

Death’s Door

There’s something natural about the pairing of a cute-dark aesthetic and wildly challenging combat gameplay, and Death’s Door is here to scratch that itch for us all. It features an adorable little crow, whose day job is reaping the souls of the dead. But something goes wrong, and one of the crow’s souls gets stolen and taken into a world where death doesn’t reach, and its denizens have grown into undying, horrifying, powerful creatures. And yup, you gotta fight them to get that soul back.

Death’s Door features complex, top-down combat with melee, magic, and ranged options and fast-paced movement. Of course there are upgrades to find and ways to customize your little crow as it wanders through the strange immortal world. The game’s teases indicate that its combat might be quite punishing, but that could conceivably be a perfect fit for those drawn to this aesthetic after playing games like Hollow Knight.

Death’s Door is developed by Acid Nerve, published by Devolver Digital, and is planned for release on Xbox and PC this year.

Walk

Day of the Devs was an extremely pleasant little showcase, with no indicators that toward the end we would all be visited by an absolutely horrific vision: a creature that looks like No Face from Spirited Away stalking a little girl through a Japanese suburb. Walk brought a deeply upsetting trailer to the event that was nonetheless fascinating in its simplicity: it’s just about a girl trying to get home. And there’s this big…awful…dark…thing after her. All set up in a way that looks like weird found footage or a disturbing PS1 game, amplifying the creepy factor.

Despite its name, Walk does appear to be a bit more complex than just a regular walk. There seem to be some puzzle elements involved, with the little girl able to find, use, and combine items to progress. There’s a fish that inexplicably falls from the sky at one point, and the little girl is able to find a key on the ground as well.

Also, the horrible thing can catch you and tear you apart. It’s not pretty.

Walk is developed by Kazumi Studios, with the support of community hub asobu in Japan. It’s headed to Kickstarter in 2021, but there’s a demo available now through a collection of horror games on itch.io.

The Wandering Village

And now to something a lot less alarming: The Wandering Village. E3 and its adjacent events this year were packed with various strategic city builders, but none caught my eye more than this game, which takes place entirely on the back of a giant, wandering, mythical beast named Onbu. Onbu and his back village wander through a fantasy world where strange, toxic spores are spreading over the land and infecting whatever they touch, including Onbu themself.

As the people build their village on Onbu’s back, they need to cultivate their relationship with the creature to ensure the success of the village. So where and how they build, how they keep the creature’s back clear of those toxic spores, and how they interact with them all impact how their own village survives or thrives. Meanwhile, Onbu can be asked to stop, move faster or slower, or change course, and may do so if they feel like it or if their relationship with the villagers is strong enough. Where Onbu travels can also impact the village, with different biomes having different effects. The addition of these caretaking elements is a really interesting twist on a city builder that I hadn’t seen before, and successfully made The Wandering Village stand out.

The Wandering Village is developed and published by Stray Fan Studio, and is coming to PC at a later date.

SacriFire

Shown off at the PC Gaming Show, SacriFire might have seemed more at home in a Nintendo Direct or a Square Enix showcase at first glance. It’s a JRPG with big Octopath Traveler vibes, and what’s more, it’s got music composed by the legendary Motoi Sakuraba, who has also composed for games like Dark Souls, Golden Sun, multiple Tales titles, and Baten Kaitos.

SacriFire is inspired by 90s RPG classics, specifically games like Vagrant Story and Xenogears, but brings in contemporary storytelling elements and quality of life improvements to make the whole thing less tedious and more contemporary, while retaining nostalgia. Its battle system merges real-time and turn-based elements and includes multiple party members, weapons, and combo abilities. And it’s got all the good RPG trappings: crafting weapons, puzzle-solving, dungeon crawling, fantasy and sci-fi elements, and something called a lizardcat that is exactly as cute as it sounds.

SacriFire is being developed and published by Pixelated Milk, and is coming to PC, Xbox, Switch, PS4, and PS5 sometime in 2022. It’s currently being funded on Kickstarter and at the time of this piece has nearly reached its goal with 26 days left to go in its campaign.

Inscryption

In 2016, a lot of people very briefly got into Pony Island — a weird meta arcade-ish game that broke the fourth wall in fascinating ways, but ultimately got buried by other titles because it had the misfortune of releasing on January 4. Pony Island stuck in the back of my brain though, which is why I was delighted to see developer Daniel Mullins at it again with Inscryption, shown off in the Devolver Digital showcase.

Inscryption is a narrative-focused, card-based game with roguelike, escape room, and horror elements all rolled into one. I highly recommend watching its trailer, which looks like what would happen if any of the characters from Where the Water Tastes Like Wine challenged the devil to a board game using a bunch of mismatched pieces from a thrift store, and then played the game in one of the rooms from Amnesia. And then there’s a little pixel arcade game seemingly thrown in there too? Yeah, this was definitely made by the Pony Island guy. And that’s awesome.

Inscription is planned for release on PC later this year, and there’s a beta currently going on now you can try and request access to on Steam.

ParaLives

The Sims pretty much has the monopoly on life simulation games, with nothing quite getting close to its breadth of expansions and ways to play. What other life sims have done, then, is focus on specific elements we’re familiar with from The Sims, and then doing those exceptionally well. That’s what ParaLives seems to be up to with its design mechanics.

The brief trailer for ParaLives highlights exceptional levels of customization for houses, with features I’ve never seen in The Sims outside of mods both for houses themselves but also for all the different furniture items in them. It’s not just about building a little dollhouse though, there’s character customization and actual life management too, with characters able to hold careers, have pets, families, and romances, and participate in hobbies. It takes place in an open world with places to go, people to meet, and different looks and activities for the changing seasons. And it supports modding, too.

ParaLives is developed and published by Alex Massé and is planned for release on PC.

Hoa

If you watched the major E3 showcases, there was an unfortunate lack of gorgeous, colorful puzzle platformers like Ori and the Blind Forest or Unravel. Thank goodness, then, for Hoa, which has beautiful hand-painted art, a dreamy vibe, and a cute, tiny protagonist wandering through a bug-sized world of flowers, nature, and magic.

Hoa is a gentle game, with exploration-based puzzles and storytelling that doesn’t slap you in the face. Its titular main character is taking a journey “back to where it all began,” a journey that involves meeting and befriending adorable bugs, or potentially avoiding them when they want to cause harm. Its story is vague, but its atmosphere is beautiful and shows a lot of promise to those who love this particular brand of fantasy world mixed with childhood memory.

Hoa is developed by Skrollcat Studio and published by PM Studios, Inc, and is planned for release on August 24, 2020 on PC and Nintendo Switch.

Citizen Sleeper

For fans of tabletop RPGs, E3 brought forth Citizen Sleeper, a TTRPG-inspired game that takes place in the ruins of space capitalism. You play as a digital consciousness, a worker owned by a corporation but has somehow escaped the dystopian job you were stuck in, and have since found yourself at a waystation on the fringe of society. Now, you have to make your way in the world you’ve found yourself in, choosing your friends, navigating a futuristic city, and avoiding the corporate man as long as you can.

Citizen Sleeper lets you choose your path each day, picking what work you want to do to earn your keep and survive, who you want to talk to and befriend, or what new information or avenues you want to pursue. Your character has the unique ability to access a cloud network from the station you’re on, which gives you access to corporate secrets, rogue AIs, and lost data that can be used to change the future. The game uses not just dice rolls, but also clocks and special skills to shape your choices and how they impact the story.

Developed by Jump Over The Age and published by Fellow Traveler, Citizen Sleeper is planned for release on PC next year.

Spirit Swap: Lo-Fi Beats to Match-3 To

There are so many match-3 games out there, it really takes something special to catch my eye anymore, but if anything in the genre could, it’s Spirit Swap. This colorful action-puzzle game is supported by a fun and wildly attractive cast of characters (who you might be able to smooch maybe?), multiple game modes including a local VS mode, and a refreshing lack of microtransactions blasting into view at every second. It’s also supported by a sweet-sounding story of witches, demons, and pals getting together for a pizza party, a concert, and fun times together swapping spirits around to keep the multi-dimensional world chill.

It’s imperative you watch the Spirit Swap trailer with sound, because another part of its draw is its musical vibes. As the title says, it’s lo-fi beats, so if you’ve ever zoned out to one of those YouTube channels, Spirit Swap might be up your alley for the sounds alone. It doesn’t hurt that the main character Samar and their frog friend have such a cute, happy animation dancing along.

Spirit Swap is developed by Soft Not Weak and has been successfully funded on Kickstarter. It’s planned for release on PC in October 2022.

El Paso Elsewhere

A lot of games at and around E3 this year featured some real fun genre mish-mashes as developers have gotten increasingly creative in how they bring in elements they love from their favorite media. El Paso Elsewhere is one of the best examples of this. Think: Max Payne, werewolves, neo-noir, vampires, lovers, and hip-hop. I don’t know what any of that means yet, but in the context of the trailer from Guerrilla Collective, I’m very in.

What we do know is that El Paso Elsewhere is about fighting werewolves in a motel where reality is constantly warping. It’s a third-person shooter with destructible environments and lots of supernatural creatures to shoot, and yes, it does take place in El Paso, Texas. You can do cool slow-motion dives while firing your gun. And your ex-girlfriend is Draculae. Yeah, I’m into whatever this all turns into.

El Paso Elsewhere is developed and published by Strange Scaffold and is headed to PC in 2022.

KeyWe

After playing It Takes Two earlier this year, I’m hungry for more co-op games. So I’m glad that KeyWe is coming along, especially given how adorable this silly puzzle game starring two kiwi birds working a mail room looks to be.

You play as Jeff and Debra, two birds who have just been hired at the Bungalow Basin Teleport Office. Its their job to make sure the mail gets delivered, but there’s a big problem: they don’t have any arms (and they can’t fly either). So they’ll jump, flap, peck, and butt-slam through the mail room, solving puzzles to make sure it gets to its destination. There are hidden collectibles and accessories you can dress up your birds in, and you can play either solo or with a friend in online or local co-op mode.

KeyWe is developed by Stonewheat & Sons and published by Sold Out. It’s planned for release on PC and Switch in August of this year.

If you liked any of these games, they were far from the only wonderful indies present at and around E3 this year. You can check out our roundups of the Wholesome Games Direct, Future of Play, Guerrilla Collective’s first and second showcases, Devolver Digital, and Day of the Devs for more indie-focused content, or take another look at our roundups of showcases from Xbox and Nintendo to find the indie gems within.

Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter with IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.

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