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The top 33 indie games to look for in 2016

2016-01-11 14:00:00·  17 minute read   ·  Patrick Hancock@therealhancock
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Or 2017, or 2018...

Alright, last time I did this, most of these games didn't come out the next year. In fact, some of the "top indies of 2013" according to me still aren't out. That's the indie lifestyle I suppose, releasing a game "when it's ready."

Hopefully I have better luck this time, and these games actually come out this year. Hopefully.

Why 33? Well, it's actually my favorite number! When I was a kid (and even now), Patrick Ewing was my go-to role model athlete. His number on the Knicks? 33 of course! It's also the number of Larry Bird, an all-time great.


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Let's start with a handful of games I listed in 2013 that have still yet to come out. They aren't counted for this list, but you should still look out for them and I hope they come out this year: A Hat in Time, Distance, Intruder, New Game+, Overgrowth, Owlboy, Project Zomboid, Quadrilateral Cowboy, Routine, Scale, The Iconoclasts, The Magical Realms of Tír na nÓg: Escape from Necron 7 – Revenge of Cuchulainn: The Official Game of the Movie – Chapter 2 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa, The Moonlighters, The Witness, Under the Ocean.

Wow, so that's 15 games that have taken at least 2 years longer than I thought they would. Whoops! Anyway, here's some more that will be sure to disappoint me when they release in 2020.

Bombernauts
Developer: Eyebrow Interactive
Follow it: SteamTwitterFacebook
Can I play it now? Yes

It would be easy to write Bombernauts off as just some Bomberman clone, but you'd be doing yourself a huge disservice. While this is a large departure from the studio's last game, Closure, the pedigree is there. Bombernauts is online, voxel-based mayhem that reminds me more of the multiplayer in Super Monkey Ball than traditional Bomberman. It's wacky and zany, and is even available now on Early Access.

Cogmind
Developer: Grid Sage Games
Follow it: Newsletter on official siteTwitter
Can I play it now? Yes 

Please, don't let the aesthetic turn you away. I get it, ASCII graphics are a turnoff. But think about the beauty of Dwarf Fortress! What I'm trying to say here is that gameplay is everything. Cogmind's world is procedural and challenges the player to think strategically to navigate it. And really, it's not pure ASCII graphics. As the website puts it, it's "ASCII evolved." 

Seeing the aesthetic in motion clears things up a bit, and in fact, it's rather beautiful. It's a roguelike with permadeath and turn-based combat, which is like taking the highway straight into my heart. All the little things start to add up in Cogmind: a destructible environment, lack of grinding XP, stealth as an alternative to combat, and its apparent "living world" that will evolve as the player exists within it. This is definitely one to look out for.

Courier of the Crypts
Developer: Emberheart Games
Follow it: Mailing listSteamTwitterFacebook
Can I buy it now? Yes

Courier of the Crypts is one of the most intriguing games on this list to me. Players guide a courier through crypts (duh) using his handy-dandy torch, solving puzzles and killing enemies along the way. But the way it's presented making it look slower and more methodical than you might think. For example, it seems that the primary way to kill enemies is leading them into traps that, from the looks of it, are likely designed to kill the player instead.

It's got great pixel art and a wonderful premise, and I'm very interested in these "magical torch mechanics" the game mentions...  


CRYPTARK
Developer: Alientrap
Follow it: SteamTwitterFacebook
Can I buy it? Yes 

I've played CRYPTARK in its current Early Access stage, and it's easy to see this game's bright future. Made from the same team that did Apotheon, one of my favorites of 2015, CRYPTARK brings players into space as they search through "alien space-hulks" with their space mech.

It's got a lot of customization, a great art style, and most importantly, wonderful impact behind the gameplay. Going through these alien vessels is a blast, thanks in large part to the combat mechanics at play.

 

Cuphead
Developer: Studio MDHR
Follow it: BlogTwitter
Can I buy it?  
No

Cuphead is all style. If you're not enraptured by the complete dedication to its aesthetic, well, I have nothing more to say to you. While aesthetic can only go so far, I think the level of love poured into a project like this speaks volumes. We can only hope that Studio MDHR has put the same amount of time and dedication into the actual gameplay as they have the aesthetic.

Darkest Dungeon
Developer: Red Hook Games
Follow it: SteamTwitter
Can I buy it?  
Yes

This one is coming out soon! January 19, to be exact. Darkest Dungeon has been in Early Access for most of 2015, and has certainly had its ups and downs. Fans were very disappointed at an update that made the game incredibly hard, but Red Hook Games responded appropriately and listened to its community. Long story short: the disliked elements have been turned into options that can be toggled on or off, depending on an individuals preferences.

This is a brutal roguelike that focuses on heading into dungeons with a handful of party members and doing your best just to make it through alive and sane. Party members can have mental problems creep up and take over them, hindering their abilities. Definitely worth it for fans of brutal challenges.

Dead Realm
Developer: Section Studios
Follow it:  SteamTwitterFacebook
Can I buy it? Yes

I've had my eye on Dead Realm ever since it was added to Steam. My friends and I have spent a good amount of time in Damned, a clunky, yet enjoyable multiplayer horror game, and Dead Realm looks like a great addition to that genre. 

It's basically a horror-filled version of hide and go seek or manhunt (the outdoor game, not the video game). The asymmetric gameplay and the environments are key here. The humans need to escape from the ghost in any way possible, which includes moving objects around and building little forts. I'm hoping this is a little more complete and fluid than Damned is, but it looks to be a fun time with friends regardless.

Drifter
Developer: Celsius Game Studios
Follow it: SteamTwitter
Can I buy it? Yes

I've mentioned this a lot in the past, but Freelancer is one of my favorite games of all time. Drifter looks to capture a lot of the same vibes with space trading, exploration, bounty hunting, piracy, all in a procedurally generated sandbox galaxy. It's been in Early Access for quite some time, and is currently in version "0.6.3." The last time I booted it up it was genuinely enjoyable, but incredibly clunky. With those clunks ironed out, this might be my go-to game to kill time in.

Oh, and the music is by Danny B, so you know that will be great.

Due Process
Developer: Giant Enemy Crab
Follow it: BlogTwitterFacebook
Can I buy it? No, but there is an alpha sign-up

I want this game....so bad. It's a multiplayer strategy first-person shooter where one team must defend an area while another must infiltrate. What's unique is that there is a planning phase beforehand where players literally draw on the map to orchestrate their plan, all while choosing weapons and discussing strategy with the team. All of this culminates in (hopefully) everything being executed and seeing who had the better plan.

It's brilliant and simple to the point where IT NEEDS TO BE OUT RIGHT NOW. This is easily one of my most anticipated games of the year.

Dungeon Souls
Developer: Mike Studios
Follow it: SteamTumblrTwitter
Can I buy it? Yes

What I love most about Dungeon Souls is its pace. It's quicker than many roguelikes out there, which forces players to really think on their feet. When last I played it, it was a bit easy, but the game is still in Early Access. It's more hack-n-slashy, which contributes to the fast pace, but attacks really feel like they pack a punch. With various classes and an amazing art style, Dungeon Souls stands out in an incredibly over-saturated genre.

Duskers
Developer: Misfits Attic
Follow it: Steam, TwitterFacebook
Can I buy it? Yes

Duskers is...sort of hard to describe. Players remotely control various drones inside of empty spaceships in order to find out what has happened to the ships and possibly the universe. What's unique is that all drone commands are given by legit command prompts. Oh, and don't worry, the game has an auto-complete feature for typing, so players won't have to type the same things a million times during a playthrough.

What makes Duskers worth keeping an eye on is its atmosphere. Everything is seen through the drone's motion sensor, and there's always a lot of unknowns out there. This stuff gets creepy real fast. It also forces players to continually think of and implement new strategies to tackle the obstacles in their way, which helps prevent things from getting stale.

Dying Ember
Developer: Private Beats Ninja
Follow it:  Twitter, TIGSource Forums
Can I buy it? Nope

Dying Ember is described by its creator as "2D/3D isometric action RPG inspired by Dark Souls." 

That have your attention? Good, it should!

Now, I'll admit, this one could easily be pushed into a 2017 release date, as stated by its developer, but it's too interesting to not put on your radars right now. The animations look smooth as butter from what's been shown, but unfortunately it's all in small chunks. Scrolling through the Twitter page reveals plenty of short GIFs that exemplify my point. As long as the combat feels as good as it looks, this is sure to steal the hearts of many.

Enemy Starfighter
Developer: Marauder Interactive
Follow it: TwitterNewsletter
Can I buy it? No

Space games are hot right now, as evidenced by this being the fourth or so game already on this list that focuses on space. Enemy Starfighter is being developed by ex-Bungie employee Mike Tipul, and focuses more on the combat portion of space travel (hence the name). It's great to see a project more focused than the tradition "do all the space stuff!" pitch.

The aesthetic looks wonderful, and from the videos produced so far, much of the fun will come from unscripted events, which are pretty much my favorite.

Ernesto
Developers: Daniel Benmergui, Jeremias Babini, & Hernan Rozenwasser
Follow it: TwitterDev Blog (tumblr)Newsletter
Can I buy it? No

Note: The video above gets the concept across, but the art is very outdated. 

Ernesto is a puzzle game with combat, loot, and riddles, oh my! Sorry that was lame. Regardless, Ernesto puts many things into its design blender and the result, so far, looks wonderful. It's a game about dealing with the punches and optimizing a path through the enemies and chests in order to get the best result. Perhaps the best news is that it's coming to PC, Mac, and tablets, since this game looks perfect for a touch-interface and could also be great in small bursts!

Gang Beasts
Developer: Boneloaf
Follow it: TwitterSteam
Can I buy it? Yes

Oh boy. Where do I begin with Gang Beasts? It's a game of goofy physics and relatively complex controls that my friends and I have played for hours on end, even past the point where sanity was still with us. I guess it's a 3D fighting game? But that sort of sells the game short. It's a physics-based local multiplayer combat game, where players can individually control arms and grab things.

You can pick things up, including other players, climb walls, jump around like an idiot, and even get thrown into meat grinders. The game sets itself up for some of the most hilarious unintended consequences during these fights, and the animations only play in to the fact that you will be grinning ear-to-ear if you get some buddies around the TV to fight each other.

Hyper Light Drifter
Developer: Heart Machine
Follow it: TwitterFacebook
Can I buy it? Pre-order

Damn, is this game gorgeous or what? A "2D action RPG" that oozes personality, this is sure to make any list similar to mine. It just seems to nail the feel of the every move. Even just watching the trailer, there's so much umph to things! I mean, I just can't stop italicizing words! Dang! Our past preview had great things to say, and boy am I jealous that other people have played it who aren't me!

Also, the music is by Disasterpiece, so fuck yeah!

Krautscape
Developer: Mario von Rickenbach, Playables
Follow it: SteamNewsletterTwitter
Can I buy it? Yes

I absolutely love Krautscape. It's a racing game that actually feels innovative and enjoyable. First of all, the leader of the race dictates how the track is set up. The track is built as players race on it, and the next "chunk" is created depending on where the leader drives when they reach the end of the current track. If they are all the way to the right, it'll be a hard right turn. In the center? Keep it going straight! Slightly to the left? Slight left turn is next. You get the idea.

OH AND DID I MENTION YOU CAN FLY? At any time, players can sprout wings and take to the skies. This is especially helpful for the players who fall behind, and adds a new layer of strategy to track creation. Oh, the leader is making a harsh right turn next? I'll just jump off the edge and fly straight there! The music and overall aesthetic are soothing and beautiful, and I hope that more people enjoy Krautscape as I have done in its Early Access period.

Lethal Tactics
Developer: SkyBox Labs
Follow it: SteamTwitterFacebook
Can I buy it? Yes

I've already written about Lethal Tactics before, and I'll take any opportunity to do so again! It's very much like the amazing Frozen Synapse, though does enough to differentiate itself. Plus, more of a great thing is still a great thing! The environment plays a key role in Lethal Tactics, since various objects can be destroyed during play. I just hope they add enough singleplayer content to satisfy a large chunk of potential customers.

Liege
Developer: Coda Games
Follow it: TwitterFacebook
Can I buy it? Pre-order

I finally got to try out Liege at PAX East last year, and now it easily tops my list of most anticipated games. Though it describes itself as a "JRPG," I'd say it's more along the lines of an "SRPG" because of its turn-based tactical approach to the battle system. Actually, developer John Rhee just came out with a blog post talking about the battle design. He transitioned the battles to have player and enemy turns happen simultaneously, but has recently decided to move back to the separate turns design.

As I played through a tutorial-ish area at PAX, I couldn't help but fall in love with the game's aesthetic and accessibility. I understood the mechanics quickly, but could tell that things would go way deeper further into the game. As a huge SRPG fan, this game feels made for me.

Miegakure
Developer: Marc ten Bosch
Follow it: NewsletterTwitterFacebook, feedly
Can I buy it? No

I don't understand what the fuck is going on in this game and I love it. (There's actually a really well written explanation here and you should all read it and be super stoked for Miegakure)


No Man’s Sky
Developer: Hello Games
Follow it: NewsletterTwitterFacebook
Can I buy it? No

I've always wondered if it's difficult to go from making games like Joe Danger and its sequel to making No Man's Sky. Not only is the scope a billion times bigger, but just about everything is drastically different. Unless maybe there are motorcycles and jumps hidden away on planets? Or maybe we can be giant cupcakes and race our friends through loopty-swoops and fire pits! Yeah, definitely thinking that last one is true.

Overland
Developer: Finji
Follow it: NewsletterTwitter
Can I buy it? No

When the creator of Canabalt is making a new game, you know it belongs on this list. Overland is a survival strategy game that has players on a "road trip through a ruined continent." Players will be scavenging for supplies in randomly generated levels in order to complete their journey. After watching the gameplay overview (embedded above), it looks like players will have to make a lot of smart and challenging decisions.

This is yet another game where the art is wonderful. The whole thing gives me a bit of a Kentucky Route Zero vibe, which is probably one of the best compliments I can give!

Paradise Never
Developer: Kitty Lambda Games
Follow it: Twitter
Can I buy it? No

Playing Paradise Never at PAX East and speaking with developer Calvin French made me realize that this game is going to be big. It has a repetition cycle reminiscent of Majora's Mask, with a cellphone that keeps data between time skips. Judging from French's work with The Real Texas, I expect wacky and memorable characters alongside meaningful mechanics, with a good dose of goofy thrown in for good measure.

Parkitect
Developer: Texel Raptor
Follow it: TwitterTumblr
Can I buy it? Yes

Parkitect is taking something that many people hold sacred, the rollercoaster management sim, and attempting to make it worthwhile in 2015. If this were some run-of-the-mill sim game, it wouldn't make it on this list. Parkitect seems to nail every aspect. It uses a light-hearted aesthetic to create a beautiful atmosphere that fits perfectly with the theme (heh) of the game. I'm not sure I trust any major players to re-ignite the love of theme park sims, but I believe that this indie team can do exactly the right thing! 

Plus, it has mod support! Just think of all the crazy crap the community can come up with.

Speedrunners
Developer: DoubleDutch Games
Follow it: SteamTwitter
Can I buy it? Yes

Similar to Gang BeastsSpeedrunners has been on regular rotation at my local multiplayer game night for quite some time. There is nothing as intense as a match of Speedrunners. Players race laps around a 2D platforming level and can run, slide, jump, and most importantly, grappling hook their way into first place. Jumping and nailing a perfect grappling hook to get around obstacle is easily one of the best feelings in competitive gaming.

I think my favorite thing that Speedrunners does is slowly brings in the edges of the screen to focus on the remaining racers and eliminate the one who are too far behind. What you're left with is two racers with no peripheral vision where one mistake means losing. God damn, what a thrill!

Squad
Developer: Offworld Industries
Follow it: SteamTwitterFacebook
Can I buy it? Yes

I'm a sucker for games that go for a strong cooperative experience. Squad is all about coop. I mean, it's called Squad! Reading experiences from those who have been playing it in its Early Access phase, it's somewhere between Counter-Strike and Arma in terms of realism, leaning towards Arma. In other words, it's pretty realistic but not inaccessible. It's a game that relies on solid communication, so prep your headsets and get ready to COMMUNICATE!

StarCrawlers
Developer: Juggernaut Games
Follow it: SteamTwitterFacebook
Can I buy it? Yes

I haven't played StarCrawlers since its early days, but even then I knew it was something special. The atmosphere is wonderful, regardless of whether you're exploring ships like Legend of Grimrock or sitting in the hub city talking to NPCs. The gameplay goes back and forth between roaming spaceships and turn-based combat. This is a game that I briefly lost myself in, and forced myself to stop and wait for it to be more completed.

....is it completed yet?

Stephen’s Sausage Roll
Developer: Stephen Lavelle
Follow it: Twitter
Can I buy it? No

It's a puzzle game. With a sausage. What else do you need to know? Also, please do yourself a favor and check out the website

STRAFE 
Developer: Pixel Titans
Follow it: TumblrTwitter
Can I buy it? No

DISCLAIMER: I BACKED THIS SHIT ON KICKSTARTER

Personally, I'm excited that more indie developers are going for the 90s low-polygon count models. I don't want it to get abused, but I enjoy it as of now. STRAFE is a fast-paced shooter that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's "90s retro" as hell and makes no apologies about it. It's got attitude that only 90s kids will remember lololololol ;)

This also has an amazing website which you need to check out ASAP.

Sub Rosa
Developer: Cryptic Sea
Follow it: SteamTwitter
Can I buy it? No

One of my favorite things is to watch people play Sub Rosa. It's not a competitive eSport or anything that I usually watch, but the events that happen are completely player-driven. It's a game that gives the players a world, objectives, and mechanics, and let's the rest happen naturally. Players work for corporations and have to make deals with other players for colored discs, which grant the players and corporations bonuses. The result is tense deals, double and triple crossing, and plenty of hilarity.

Tacoma
Developer: Fullbright
Follow it: Twitter
Can I buy it? No

This is another game that deserves attention by pedigree alone. Fullbright, the team behind the game Gone Home, is back with a more Rapture-esque feel to it, except it's in space and not underwater. If anyone can create an atmosphere and own it, it's Fullbright games. I look forward to rotating many space things in 2016!

Tooth and Tail
Developer: Pocketwatch Games
Follow it: TwitterFacebook
Can I buy it? No

Tooth and Tail has had a couple of name changes so far. Announced as Armada, it later became known as LEADtoFIRE. Now, it's Tooth and Tail, which is leagues ahead of both of the previous names. This is a real-time strategy game by the developers of Monaco: What's Yours is Mine. The goal is to create an accessible RTS that feels comfortable on a controller. Very bold goals, since the RTS genre is notoriously difficult to get into for many.

If Andy Schatz and company can pull it off, this could be a breakthrough game of the genre. More accessibility is a great thing, especially in such a tough genre.

The Long Dark
Developer: Hinterland Studio Inc.
Follow it: SteamTwitterFacebook
Can I buy it? Yes

I bought The Long Dark during the most recent Steam sale, and absolutely fell in love with my first experience with it. It's unforgiving as hell, which is ironic because the game world itself is cold as....ice? It's a survival game that tasks the player to simply survive while dealing with the elements. I'm terrible at it, but that hardly prevents me from thoroughly enjoying my time dying.

I'll likely never forget my first venture out into the wilderness. I left my cabin behind in search for something, anything, to help my sustain my future. Well, turns out that night wasn't too long off. So I headed towards a broken down cabin I came across, hoping it had a stove. It did! However, it also had a corpse right next to it. So, with no other real options, I opened my bed roll, threw some wood and tinder into the stove, and slept all night next to some stranger's corpse. It was a bit of a harrowing experience, and I can't wait for the game to be completed.

--

So, what did I miss? What indies are you pumped for in 2016? Oh, and I made a convenient Twitter "list" of all the games and developers mentioned here in case you want to use that.

spacerspacerspacerspacer
 

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Patrick HancockContributor // Profile & Disclosures
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the day he teaches high school kids about At night he kicks their butts in competitive games like Rocket League, Dota 2, and more


 



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