We know, we know, it’s the Holiday Season™. That means you’re likely mired in the shiniest of games, whether it be Rise of the Tomb Raider, Halo 5, or Fallout 4. As well you should be! AAA games are like delicious ham, assuming you don’t ask me to explain that analogy any further.
Still, there are always gaps in the big players’ release schedule, and independent developers are there to fill in the holes. But with hundreds upon hundreds of upstart game makers, how can you possibly keep track of them all? Well, spreadsheets might help. But if you hate Excel, we’d recommend at least checking out at least the following five games, releasing in 2016.
No Man’s Sky
Developer: Hello Games
The big one. If you’ve heard of any upcoming indie games, you’ve probably heard of No Man’s Sky, the sprawling exploration-based galaxy-wide title exclusive to the PS4. (Seems like they have quite a few of those, don’t they?) The galaxy is populated by innumerable flora, fauna, and unique planet topologies… almost literally innumerable, in fact, since nearly everything in the game is generated by extremely advanced procedural generation. There are billions of planets, and each one is unique; you’ll be discovering worlds that no player has ever seen, even years into the game’s lifecycle. For a smaller developer, the ambition is unprecedented.
By documenting your findings, you can earn currency to upgrade your ship and eventually make your way to the mysterious core of the galaxy. What’s there? If astronomy is any guide, a massive black hole, but we’re hoping Hello Games might subvert the laws of physics just this once.
Though Playstation VR support seems… well, logical… it hasn’t yet been confirmed. Keep an eye out! Or two, you don’t get stereoscopic depth in VR without two. NMS releases in June 2016.
Platform: PS4, PC
Pixel art is kind of a thing for indies. Hey, 16-bit graphics have to be easier to make than modern 3-D games, right? Well, from a technical perspective, sure. From an artistic one? Not quite. Fortunately, Konjak (Joakim Sandberg) has been in the industry for a long, long time, and it turns out doing things for awhile tends to make you pretty good at them. Brilliant, eye-popping art, slick writing, and kinesthetically pleasing movement systems are definitie highlights of Iconoclasts. And, as it would so happen, this is the only game on the list that has a playable demo version out right now. The game has been in development for years, but with the help of Bifrost Entertainment, should be coming to the PS4 and PC soon.
Developer: Thekla, Inc.
Jonathan Blow was at the nascent beginnings of the indie scene, developing the now-classic puzzle-platformer Braid. It was wildly successful, especially by 2008 standards, but Jonathan decided to take it all and reinvest it into a significantly larger project: The Witness. As one of the first titles announced alongside the PlayStation 4, the game is now headed for a January 26th release.
We don’t know much about the game, save for the mysterious, colorful island on which it takes place. Myst certainly comes to mind, but The Witness is likely to go much, much deeper. Blow is promising a bare minimum of 40 hours of playtime to finish the game, and many more if you’re someone who enjoys secrets as much as he does. (Which we are.) Blow has bet it all on his first game in seven and a half years, so let’s see if he can recapture the magic.
Hyper Light Drifter
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Wii U, PlayStation Vita, Linux, Mac OS, Ouya
Developer: Heart Machine
Okay, more pixel art. We told you it was a thing. But we can’t help it! Those colors.
Hyper Light Drifter is a bit of a dream title for fans of those old-school, top down Zelda-likes. Whereas the spirit of exploration is kept more than intact, the combat is a far cry from anything found on the systems of yesteryear. The drifter possesses firearms, a deadly katana, and teleport dashes. Moreover, the game expects you to use them. The game is blindingly difficult, as we can attest from previous hands-on encounters with the game. The ballet of blades and bullets is hypnotic, aided by the luscious animation found in every attack pattern.
The game is, unfortunately, locked at 30 FPS, a bit of a downside for a quick action title, but we’ll let it slide. Gorgeous, fleet of foot, and an atmosphere you can cut with a very abstract knife more than make up for some stuttery motion.
Cosmic Star Heroine
Platform: PC, Mac, PS4, Vita
Developer: Zeboyd Games
Did you ever have that friend in high school who was obsessed with making a huge, sprawling, SNES-era RPG? No, no, that was probably you. Well, anyway, it’s likely you didn’t finish that game. It turns out that RPGs are incredibly resource intensive to construct, and Jamie from Bio was giving you those eyes.
Zeboyd Games, however, is one the rare ones. A strong track record that includes Cthulhu Saves the World and Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episodes 3 and 4 proves that they can actually, you know, finish. And where many of their previous games were of the 8-bit variety, Cosmic Star Heroine is going full Chrono Trigger. Vivid sprite animation, an active-time battle system, deep character and plot development, the whole thing. We would say they don’t make ’em like this anymore, but clearly they are, and you should relive those glory days as soon as CSH releases.
What indie games are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image Credit: Heart Machine/Hyper Light Drifter