When thousands of developers come together in one place, you know there will be some excellent games to try. That was definitely the case for the past week. We attended the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, and in addition to press conferences and speaking engagements, we also had ample opportunity to try out some fascinating indie games ourselves. And there’s plenty to be excited about – so we’ve rounded up our favorites here (in no particular order). Most of these will be released later in 2023, so plan your free time accordingly.
Cozy games are all the rage right now, and Fae Farm tries to mix that space up a bit with some dungeon crawling. It’s a cute farming game – think Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon – but with magical elements. In addition to the wholesome stuff like growing crops, catching fish, and dating, you’ll also get quests that require you to go into dungeons in a fairytale world where you’ll hop around looking for magic keys and fight enemies, including sentient ones violins belong.
It’s not a particularly original premise, but from the short demo I played it looked gorgeous and felt full of things to do. Also, it has a very robust character creator and coziness system so you can design the perfect hygge home. Coming to Switch later this year, it includes co-op support for up to four players.—AW
I know, I know, another free-to-play competitive multiplayer game. We drown in them. But Omega Strikers feels it might be able to carve out a spot for itself in the crowded field. It’s sort of a mashup of soccer and Overwatch, a 3v3 game where you play on a handful of futuristic maps with the goal of scoring against your opponent. Simple things. The Twist are the hero characters you control, each with unique traits and a special move that can turn the tide of the game if used correctly. Team composition becomes a big part of strategy.
I couldn’t get into it in the few games I’ve played, and I still had a great time. The games were fast and dramatic and I even scored a few goals. There’s a lot that goes into making this type of game a long-term success, but Omega Strikers at least makes a good first impression. It launches April 27th on Switch, PC and mobile – AW
A decade ago, a game called Cart Life won the top prize at the Independent Games Festival—then promptly disappeared. Its developer, Richard Hofmeier, pulled the game from Steam and eventually left the gaming industry altogether. Now Cart Life is getting a second chance after Hofmeier worked with Adhoc Studio to finally finish and release it. The story of how the game returned is fascinating – you can check out this excellent synopsis in Wired – but so is the game itself.
In Cart Life, players experience the lives of three different people struggling to make it as street vendors. I played through a section as a Ukrainian immigrant who takes over a newspaper kiosk and tries to earn enough to stay in a seedy hotel with his cat. Much like Papers, Please or What Remains of Edith Finch, Cart Life uses its gameplay as an empathy tool and is remarkably effective. The drudgery of folding and stacking newspapers perfectly and the stress of watching the line lengthen trying to pay customers off as quickly as possible brought me back to old jobs as a newspaper delivery and cashier. I could feel my cheeks flushing as I fiddled with coins, and in just a short amount of gameplay I was able to connect with the character.
I missed Cart Life the first time around, but I’m glad I’ll have another chance to experience it when it releases on PC later this year. – WOW
A highland song
Inkle is best known for its narrative-driven games, like the world-spanning 80 Days or the archeology adventure Heaven’s Vault, but the studio’s next release heads in a different direction. A Highland Song is a side scrolling game about a young girl exploring the Scottish Highlands. It still has the decision-making gameplay the studio is known for, as you choose different paths through the mountains. But it also has surprising elements like a simple survival system as you need to stay warm, dry and shelter at night. In some places, it’s even a rhythm game as you race through the countryside to the beat of the music.
From what I played it was both suspenseful and mysterious, with a dose of magical realism mixed with Scottish mythology. It also looked amazing like a cartoon saloon movie for you to explore. A Highland song doesn’t have a release date, but it’s coming to both Steam and the Switch. – Wow
Naiad is a game where you can really relax. You play as a tiny water nymph swimming through a beautiful, calm lake, completing small chores along the way. The movement is fluid; There is great satisfaction in just moving about, even without having a purpose or goal in mind. And while there are small environmental puzzles to solve, the game isn’t intrusive and lets you discover things at your own pace.
There’s no checklist to fill out or glowing arrows to point you in the right direction. You swim, find things to do, and then do them when you want. In my short time with the game, I helped reunite some ducks and brought a frog back to its lily pad. It was just so cool. Naiad is coming to PC and consoles later this year. – Wow
The Wandering Village
At its core, The Wandering Village – now available as an Early Access title on Steam – is a pretty standard town builder. You harvest resources, use them to build and improve your city, and try your best to balance the needs of your growing population. The twist is that you’re building this city on the back of a giant, roaming creature.
This isn’t just an aesthetic choice (although it looks very cool), it also affects the game itself. The beast roams through different environments, so things like the weather are constantly changing, forcing you to adapt. At one point during my demo of the Xbox version coming out this year, the creature ventured into a poisonous forest, forcing me to race to keep the spores from infecting my crops and other crops. It’s a fun twist on an age-old genre, and it’s also surprisingly well-adapted to an Xbox gamepad. – Wow
Venba is more than a cooking game. In it you have to use your intuition and your cooking skills to repair a damaged family recipe book. Through trial and error, you try to recreate the feel-good food that will help Venba and her family maintain their connection to their culture and former country as they adjust to a new life in Canada. Venba has rich art and an intuitive yet challenging design. I failed several times to create idli in the game’s demo. My failure allowed me to understand that while idil is a relatively uncomplicated steamed dumpling, the way Venba makes it is unique to her and her family and what makes the meal special. It’s coming to Steam and the Switch later this year.—AP
5 power fighters
Black people love Dragon Ball Z – it’s an (almost) scientific fact. And one of the ways love manifests is through the video games that black people make. 5 Force Fighters is a fighting game inspired by the Budokai Tenkaichis and the Dragon Ball MUGEN fan games in the world.
Developed by two brothers who were first-time game developers, 5 Force Fighters oozes black culture both subtly and overtly. The character designs and animations remind me of Huey and Riley from Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks. I loved the pre-match text that replaces the typical “FIGHT” message with “THROW HANDS”. The pre-fight matchup screen features graffiti-covered train doors in homage to the brothers getting around the Portland subway, and at the end of a match, rather than prompting a rematch, he asks “RUN IT BACK” – one nice little send-up on fighting game commentary.
It’s also a game that’s easy to learn and play, but infused with so much technical depth that even the most demanding labber will enjoy it. 5 Force Fighters is coming to Steam.—AP
El Paso elsewhere
Strange Scaffold’s latest game, El Paso Elsewhere, is a gripping tribute to Max Payne and his penchant for slow motion shooting. It’s a third-person noir shooter in which you have to make your way through a run-down motel that’s being overrun by all sorts of supernatural beasts to stop your vampiric ex-girlfriend from destroying the world. You can approach this as simple running and shooting, or if you want to have fun, you can take advantage of the game’s slow down feature, which allows you to shoot all over Ala Neo in The Matrix.
If that’s all El Paso Elsewhere was, then it would be a pretty nice declaration of love to games like LA Noire. But Elsewhere is also a beautifully haunted tale of love, loss and redemption, with stunning cinematography and a bumpy soundtrack featuring the musical styles of Strange Scaffold founder Xalavier Nelson Jr. It’s coming to PC later this year. – AP