Unfairly, quality indie games often have to struggle to be noticed among the crowd, and must struggle even harder to avoid being swept away in the slipstream of an EA or Activision crowd-pleaser, not to mention the ever increasing clutter appearing on Steam. Fear not though, we've been keeping our ear to the ground, and have put together a list of 10 of the most anticipated indie games due to hit consoles and PCs in the next 12 months.
Developer: Studio MDHR
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Cuphead is one of those games that looks weirder and more appealing every time you see it in action. Originally conceived as a kind of side-scrolling boss rush game, Studio MDHR's eccentric baby soon evolved into a full-blown bullet-hell platformer. Based visually on Disney's golden age animation style, Cuphead overflows with charm and personality. It also looks incredibly challenging, too.
The twee aesthetics disguise what could potentially be an absolute beast, while the toe-tapping score and slapstick sound effects add an atmosphere of frantic abandon to Cuphead's hand-drawn, flower-slaying antics.
Developer: Playtonic Games
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Developed by a dream team of ex-Rare veterans, many of whom had a hand in the seminal Banjo-Kazooie titles, Yooka-Laylee is perhaps unsurprisingly a colourful, child-friendly platform adventure. It's like a love letter to the N64, evoking a simpler time when every second game featured a cute animal duo on a quest to collect spinning MacGuffins and overthrow an evil overlord.
In the case of Yooka and Laylee, the evil despot in question is gathering up works of literature and turning them into pure profit (which we're sure isn't slyly analogous of any particular real-world industry, of course). Regardless of its narrative direction, Yooka-Laylee looks bright and smiley and lovely, and it's even been confirmed for Nintendo's Switch.
Developer: Tequila Works
Though unusual for a small budget indie title, Tequila Works' Rime, once picked up by Microsoft before being rejected and snagged by Sony, is an open world adventure. It takes place on a beautiful island that looks torn straight from a Studio Ghibli production, and follows a young boy as he attempts to solve the island's mysteries and escape a frightening curse.
If the idea seems a little tame for now, remember that the developer previously worked on short but sweet zombie thriller Deadlight, and knows a thing or two about building atmosphere and maintaining suspense.
Platform: PC, PS4
Simplicity was Nidhogg's primary selling point. Developed by Mark 'Messhoff' Essen, the one-on-one fencing game empowered pixelated sprites to wall-kick, dive-roll and parry-riposte-strike their way through low-detail but surprisingly brutal bouts of single combat. It was an instant hit and one that has helped revive the pixel-art aesthetic in recent years.
Nidhogg 2 looks like it will retain the mostly straightforward gameplay, but the low maintenance sprites have been replaced with character models which, at this point, need a little attention. Still, slightly Homer Simpson-looking characters aside, the instant-action, hugely gratifying gameplay looks just as addictive as it ever was.
Developer: The Deep End Games
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Outlast was a game that showcased how creepy low-budget horror titles can be, and proved you don't need grand spectacle to be deeply unsettling. Perception, from several key members of the BioShock and BioShock Infinite dev team, shows a similar sense of helplessness in its gameplay.
Playing as a character only able to see via echo location, Perception reveals its nightmare world in fleeting monochrome snatches afforded by every sound you make. Coupled with the psychological horror of a setting that never lets you get comfortable and relax, and reinforced by the often faceless terrors hunting you, this central mechanic looks truly chilling and unique.
Developer: Capybara Games
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Perhaps the most significant thing an indie game can do that a AAA can't is take risks. Indie developers may have a lot to lose in terms of time investment, but they don't have millions of sales riding on their ideas. They're much more free to create games that put beauty above bombast, atmosphere above excitement.
Capybara Games' Below is an example of this creed: a top-down adventure that borrows key elements from games like Dark Souls, it's full of creeping menace, eerily beautiful environments and simple but challenging gameplay. Randomly generated dungeons and permanent death may not be particularly unique these days, but Below's focus on exploration and survival, as well as brutal combat, make it one to watch.
Developer: Fullbright Games
Platform: PC, XBOX One
Set on a Lunar Transfer Station 200,000 miles from Earth, Tacoma's multi-branching narrative sees you investigating recent events and attempting to piece together what happened on Amy Ferrier's first day on-board.
A unique art style helps to build atmosphere, while the narrative demands patience and an open mind. Fullbright's last game was Gone Home, a critically acclaimed mystery that dealt with themes of family and loss and, while Tacoma is set to swap such small town blues for microgravity and the eerie silence of deep space, we have absolute faith in its potential.
Developer: Dynamic Pixels
Watching gameplay trailers of Hello, Neighbor, you might wonder why it's being labelled by many as a horror. It certainly doesn't look overly horrific; in fact, it looks kind of funny and a little on the goofy side. But the premise is a set-up for some serious jump-scares and a great deal of heart-in-your-mouth tension.
The decidedly unglamorous premise sees you attempting to break into your neighbour's house to find out just what he's hiding in the basement. If you get caught, you suffer nothing more terrifying than getting thrown out, but the clever part is what Hello, Neighbor does next: it evolves.
The AI reacts and adapts to your every attempt, becoming smarter and more difficult to bypass as the titular antagonist's traps become more and more ingenious. Hiding in closets and under tables while tip-toeing from room to room looks deliciously tense, and the yet-to-be-revealed payoff is more than enough of a dangling carrot to keep us trying to infiltrate that basement.
Overland is the brainchild of Adam Saltsman, the guy behind 2009 endless runner Canabalt. A tactical survival game, Overland will make you take control of a variety of randomly generated survivors attempting to get by in a monster-infested post-Apocalyptic world, scavenging supplies and crafting weapons while hiding from the creatures that hunt you.
There's a definite air of last year's wonderful survival sim The Flame And The Flood in the aesthetics and the musical direction, which can only be a good thing. While story details are fairly thin on the ground, gameplay videos emerging from the recent closed beta look promising
Developer: Supergiant Games
Platform: PC, PS4
Supergiant Games has already proven itself as a solid developer with the exceptional Bastion and wonderfully inventive Transistor, and Pyre is what happens when a developer known for its unique ideas refuses to rest on its laurels. A combination of high fantasy and extreme team sports, it sees your beleaguered Reader roped into travelling a terrifying land alongside a trio of Exiles who must engage in 'Rites', which are contests against other groups, controlled by other players.
In between combat, you'll be improving their skills and influencing their story through your choices. The art style alone has our attention, and if the gameplay is half as cool and interesting, we're all in.