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Our most anticipated indie games of 2021

Horaszdóttir is the original Miss Independent

Oh thank goodness, reader. It is almost over. We feel the influence of the mighty Horaszdóttir receding. This is it: the last time this year that we must submit to her will, and receive her prophecy of the games yet to come. One last time for this winter, she draws turkeys from her eternal flock to auger the future from their innards. She comes closer, her breath hot and foul upon our ears, and whispers with a smile (oh! Her bloodstained teeth!) a final word: indie.

We are aware that Horaszdóttir may be simplistically squashing in a lot of disparate games and developers under one unhelpful banner with this one, but look, they wouldn't fit easily into other categories, and frankly Horaszdóttir has a lot on her plate what with tending to a huge flock of angry birds.

Oddworld: Soulstorm

What is it? A remake and reimagining of Abe’s Exoddus, one of the all-time 2D platforming greats.
Who's it by? Oddworld Inhabitants, Inc.
When is it out? April 6th

Ollie: It’s hard to overstate how excited I get when someone says “Oddworld”. Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus were my childhood. I am utterly incapable of looking at Oddworld: Soulstorm objectively. So just bear that in mind.

But oh my god, Soulstorm looks like such a treat so far. Abe’s Exoddus is still one of the most imaginative and characterful platformers I’ve ever played. If they manage to capture the old Oddworld magic while also making every part of the game look as sumptuous as I’m seeing in the trailers, and simultaneously throwing in new mechanics like crafting, new enemies and so on... I’ll be very happy indeed. Soulstorm is less of a faithful screen-by-screen remake than New ‘N’ Tasty was, but the amount of excitement it generates in me to say I’ll soon be playing what effectively amounts to a new Oddworld game is making me vibrate slightly in my seat while I’m typing this.

Wytchwood

wytchwood.jpg

What is it? 2D crafting puzzle game about being a well cool crone and doing crone stuff in a forest.
Who's it by? Alientrap, Whitethorn Digital
When is it out? 2021

Alice Bee: I played the demo for Wytchwood last year and was on board almost instantly. I love the little scratchy-clawed witch, who wears an upside-down pot on her head and is being given quests by a very demonic goat. The animation is lovely - just look at the way she sort of bounces as she trots around her forest home.

As the witch (or possibly wytch) you're up to various witchy deeds, which end up requiring you to solve lots of puzzles in the local area. You need the hair of the dog, but the dog in question belongs to a woodsman and is a bit rowdy, so to quiet it down you need a spell. Maybe the ingredients include feathers, so you'll need a snare to catch a bird when it lands. And so on and so forth, in a fun little chain. I know, notionally, the witch is meant to be, I dunno, bad? But she seems pretty chill. I am Team Witch.

Eastward

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What is it? Top-down adventuring that looks like a Studio Ghibli made a SNES game.
Who's it by? Pixpil, Chucklefish
When is it out? TBA

Katharine: Eastward was on my big exciting games list last year, but alas, delays have pushed back its release yet again. Here's hoping Pixpil's sumptuous 16-bit era-style adventure game emerges again this year, because golly, I just want to soak in all those gorgeous pixel sprites until the end of time.

It's a bit like Studio Ghibli meets The Legend Of Zelda, only here you're playing a big shaggy, beardy bloke who fights with a frying pan instead of a pointy-eared elf chap with a big sword. The beardy bloke is a miner called John, who discovers a strange girl called Sam with magical powers in a secret underground facility. Together, they make their escape, and it looks like you'll be spending a lot of your time traversing the game's beautifully detailed environments as you search for answers about Sam's past, as well as trying to stop an evil miasma from devouring what's left of this handsome post-apocalypse. I cannot wait.

Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion

turnip boy commits tax evasion.jpg

What is it? I fail to see what I need to explain that the title does not. Oh fine, it is a funny 2D action-adventure.
Who's it by? Snoozy Kazoo, Graffiti Games
When is it out? 2021

Alice Bee: See Turnip Boy. He is a turnip. He is accused of tax evasion by the mayor. He likes ripping up documents, you see. I really like Turnip Boy. Anyway, to get out of the whole tax kerfuffle, Turnip Boy ends up going on a series of quests, involving killing a giant pig, and a snail not paying his rent, and lots of fun things. It's a bit Zelda-y, in that you have bomb plants to chuck around and puzzles to solve. But it will surprise you by setting up expectations and then subverting them. Also, Turnip Boy can find cool hats to wear. Honestly, it is so rare that I play a game that is trying to be funny and I actually find it funny, that I couldn't be more excited for this.

She Dreams Elsewhere

What is it? Surreal RPG adventure with turn-based combat and great writing.
Who's it by? Studio Zevere
When is it out? 2021

Alice Bee: That description is not all there is to She Dreams Elsewhere; it also looks great, too. Thalia has anxiety, and somehow wakes up in a sort of surreal, nightmare version of her waking world. The art, and limited colour palette, are absolutely striking - as is the deft writing describing Thalia's experience and relationships with her friends. I didn't entirely gel with the combat in the section of the demo that I played, but I'm keen to see if I can get to grips with it over the full game, especially because I want to see what happens to Thalia. Definitely one to watch.

SkateBird

What is it? Tony Hawk.
Who's it by? Glass Bottom Games
When is it out? 2021

James: In SkateBird, you’re a skateboarding bird. In tiny little environments you pull off sick kickflips and pop shuvits (leave me alone, I don’t skate), grinding on book spines and using staplers as ramps. Described as "a game about trying your best", I’m intrigued to see how it manages this. It’s all well and good getting sick combos and mega points, but I’m far from a skate game veteran, so I’m hoping the birdies won’t punish me for my incompetence.

By the looks of things it's a great entry point into the genre, though. Just have a look at the most recent trailer - the way those little wings flap mid-jump is the most precious thing in the world. I’m envisioning a game in which me and all my homies are skating around our miniature cardboard parks, frantically flopping around, trying our hardest to fling our little round bodies around in the most elegant way possible, all the while vibing to the chill beats you’d expect from a game about budgie Tony Hawks. It’ll be nice to pretend I’m a cute bird staying active, as opposed to my current reality of being glued to my office chair.

A Space For The Unbound

What is it? A slice-of-life adventure game with big Makoto Shinkai energy.
Who's it by? Mojiken, Toge Productions
When is it out? 2021

Katharine: I loved, loved, loved the chill slice-of-life vibes of A Space For The Unbound's free prologue demo when I played it last year, and I've been quietly looking forward to it ever since. Set in rural Indonesia in the late 90s, this narrative-driven adventure game follows the story of a young boy named Atma and his young friend Nirmala. It's classic coming of age stuff, with the added twist of Atma being able to 'space-dive' into the minds of others to find out exactly what makes them tick. That's not the only supernatural thing Atma will have to face on his journey, though, as there's also something more sinister at work that threatens to destroy the entire world. It looks like heavy stuff, but the good news is that there are plenty of pettable cats to nuzzle up with in between its big cosmic apocalypse moments, and that's something I'm 100% here for. If that sounds like your kind of thing, you can try the prologue for free right now.

Backbone

What is it? Noir detect-'em-up RPG where you are a private detective and literal raccoon.
Who's it by? EggNut, Raw Fury
When is it out? 2021

Alice Bee: We've mentioned Backbone a bunch of times, and I'm still well up for it. What I was most struck by in the demo (which you can still play on Steam) was the writing. In the course of your raccoon-y investigations around town, you naturally chat to people for info. The way the conversations flow and loop back around, but without any, "Wait, can you repeat that?" options make them, I think, the most natural dialogue I have ever seen in a video game. I still have some reservations about the ol' animals-as-metaphor-for-racism chestnut, but I'm trusting that the game is smart enough to play out its themes well. And, obviously, I am a fool for mystery games.

Weird West

What is it? An isometric immersive sim from former Dishonored and Prey devs.
Who's it by? WolfEye Studios, Devolver Digital
When is it out? 2021

Colm: From the people who brought you Prey and Dishonored, this action-RPG hangs its occult-soaked 10-gallon hat on immersive sim ideas. In this twisted, fantastical Red Dead Redemption, you’re able to tackle objectives however you like, and characters will react to what you do. You can be the cowboy you want to be. And then the pigman. And then the werewolf.

Weird West has five playable characters: a protagonist and a main story, and four additional playable characters with their own quest lines. A cool wrinkle to this is that when you begin playing as a new character, previous characters will remain in the game world and can be recruited to your party. It reminds me of Metal Gear Solid 2, when Konami wanted to give players a different perspective on Snake by having him be your friend after the Tanker chapter. This is obviously already better, as you don’t have to play as shit pre-MGS4 Raiden here. Hooray.

It’s as simple as this: cowboys are cool, but cowboys in a stylish, contorted world full of monsters sounds even cooler. Fingers crossed WolfEye delivers.

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