Indie game development is a burgeoning sector of the video game industry and last year saw some absolute top-shelf indie titles, with the likes of Celeste, Gris, Return of the Obra Dinn and locally-made gems Florence and The Gardens Between racking up critical and consumer acclaim.
With the industry showing no signs of slowing down, it’s pretty safe to assume that the momentum will continue through 2019, with a number of titles looking like capturing our hearts and money (deservedly) this year.
It’s no secret that we love our indies here at WellPlayed, so with that in mind, we’ve put together a short list of what we think will be some of the finest independent video game titles of the coming year. These are just the immediate stand-outs according to a couple of WellPlayed editors that should know better than to pick favourites on the internet, but feel free to add your own lists in the comments and on our social pages!
Release: 2019 | Developer: Night School | Publisher: Night School | Platforms: PS4/XB1/Switch/PC/Mac
If you’ve not played Night School’s excellent Oxenfree, first of all, sort yourself out. If you have though, you won’t need me to tell you that their next joint, Afterparty, is one to watch this year.
Looking like a slightly more upbeat and humorous spiritual successor to Oxenfree, Afterparty tasks recently-deceased best friends Milo and Lola with outdrinking the Devil himself in a bid to escape from Hell. Yes, this is a literal drinking game. It’s still got the exploration, light puzzle solving and branching dialogue choices of Night School’s previous effort but this time with some boozy twists. I’m of the opinion that there are still too few “comedy” games on the market so (if I’m reading the tone of Afterparty correctly) I’m pretty damn pumped for this one.
Release: Q2 2019 | Developer: Juicy Cupcake | Publisher: Juicy Cupcake | Platforms: PS4/XB1/PC/Switch
There’s no denying that Australia has some wonderful games in the works and one of those titles is from Adelaide-based developer Juicy Cupcake with their party brawler Brief Battles. We’ve played the title a couple times and featured it in our Made In Australia segment, and if you’re looking for a couch party game in the vein of Smash Bros. then these underpants-laden warriors will provide you with a good time.
The premise is simple, ‘Battles’ take place in small arenas, with up to four players duking it out. During these cheeky doonybrooks, various pairs of underpants will become available for players to equip – with each pair having their own power or ability. Look out for the butt brawler in Q2, 2019, launching on PC, PS4 and Xbox One initially and on Switch at a later date.
Release: 2019 | Developer: PixelOpus | Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Platforms: PS4
When someone says their game is inspired by Jet Set Radio, they get my immediate attention. That was the claim of Concrete Genie’s creative director Dominic Robillard and although the two are wildly different games it’s a nice place to start. To me, the game looks like it borrows just as much from the likes of Infamous and Psychonauts as it does JSR and frankly, that just makes it even better.
Concrete Genie stars a boy named Ash who, after suffering at the hands of bullies and having his notebook and its pages scattered throughout his hometown, discovers he has the power to bring his paintings to life. Cue a third-person adventure with a super neat painting/graffiti mechanic that lets players create their own creatures that the game then convincingly brings to life based on their form and properties. Think Magic Pengel for the new generation. If that doesn’t ring a bell, look it up, it’s wild.
Release: 2019 | Developer: Red Thread Games | Publisher: Red Thread Games | Platforms: PC/PS4/XB1
First announced back in 2014, Draugen is a first-person adventure set in 1920s Norway from Dreamfall Chapters developer Red Thread Games that will finally be hitting PC and hopefully consoles in 2019.
Players assume the role of Edward Harden – an American searching for his missing sister in 1920s Norway. Edward will explore rural Nordic accompanied by Lissie, a young woman who Edward will be able to interact with using a dynamic dialogue system. Expect narrative twists, idyllic scenery and a weather system that changes with Edward’s mental state. All the ingredients of a tasty adventure mystery game.
Release: 2019 | Developer: Altered Matter | Publisher: Altered Matter | Platforms: PS4/XB1/PC/Switch
A good puzzle game is hard to find these days, with most either lacking the difficulty or the style to pull you in for the long haul. Etherborn has both, with the game’s beautiful colourful art style augmented by its unique gravity-shifting (and difficult) puzzles.
Etherborn is a product of Spain’s Altered Matter, with the studio telling WellPlayed previously that ‘each level acts as a sort of organic Rubik’s Cube that you need to explore, manipulate and shift your gravity on in order to figure out the way forward’. Having played an alpha build of the game last year I am very excited to get my mitts on the final product when it launches in 2019 on consoles and PC.
Release: 2019 | Developer: White Owls Inc | Publisher: White Owls Inc | Platforms: PS4/XB1/PC
Swery65 has been quietly pushing out some of the weirdest, most mind-bending and frankly amazing games in recent years and yet the man continues to be grossly underappreciated. With games like Deadly Premonition, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die and The MISSING: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories under his belt he’s no stranger to the darkly whimsical, but The Good Life might be his most light-hearted project yet.
Billed as a ‘debt repayment daily life RPG’, you’d almost be forgiven for thinking there isn’t much Swery DNA in this game, but you’d be wrong. For starters, the backwater town of Rainy Woods that protagonist and journalist Naomi moves to is full of bizarre and unsettling residents and embroiled in a murder mystery. More importantly though, everyone in the town turns into a cat or dog at night! It’s Animal Crossing meets Midsomer Murders meets Animal Crossing again, and despite a failed first go at a Kickstarter campaign it’s now fully funded and coming to multiple platforms. Also if you haven’t, check out The MISSING because it’s bonkers and fantastic.
Release: 2019 | Developer: SMG Studio | Publisher: SMG Studio | Platforms: PS4/XB1/PC/Switch
SMG’s previous game Death Squared was one of my favourite games of 2017 thanks to its relationship-bonding and breaking challenging puzzles and dry humour narration. We were finally given a glimpse into the studio’s new game late last year when SMG announced Moving Out during the Kinda Funny Games Showcase.
In true SMG style the game looks like it’ll be a ton of 80s-themed co-op fun with players having to move furniture and objects between a number of locations. Think Overcooked but moving furniture. Plus you get to play as a smiling piece of toast, what’s not to love?
Release: 2019 | Developer: Jo-Mei | Publisher: EA | Platforms: PS4/XB1/PC
EA’s ‘Originals’ program is one of the most surprising initiatives of this generation. By funding promising indie developers and publishing their games with no share of the profits, a company synonymous with exploitative mechanics and flaccid, soulless releases has managed to push out some of the most unique and heartfelt experiences in gaming.
Sea of Solitude is the next title from EA Originals and looks set to continue that tradition. On the face it’s a third person adventure/exploration game with gorgeous visuals, but the core of it is a game about loneliness. At its reveal at E3 2018, game designer Cornelia Geppert revealed how the feeling of being lonely is integral to the experience in Sea of Solitude and how the team at Jo-Mei chose that theme because it’s pretty much universally relatable and yet relatively unexplored in games. My heart is not ready.
Release: 2019 | Developer: btf GmbH | Publisher: Headup Games | Platforms: PS4/XB1/PC/Switch/Mac/Linux
Kickstarter has proved to be an interesting breeding ground for video games in recent times, which is where Trüberbrook garnered public attention. It smashed its funding goal of €80,000 within 30 hours and would go on to receive a total of €198,142.
Developed by btf GmbH, Trüberbrook is a sci-fi point-and-click-esque mystery that takes players to 1960s post-war Germany, where Tannhauser, an American physicist has come to work on his PhD thesis. However something in the town is amiss, and instead Tannhauser must solve the mystery of the quaint town. The coolest part about Trüberbrook is the game’s art style, which features all hand built backdrops (including weather changes) that are then 3D scanned into the game. Look out for the Twin Peaks meets Stranger Things meets 1960s post-war Germany mystery sometime this year.
Release: 2019 | Developer: House House | Publisher: Panic | Platforms: Switch/PC/Mac
If you happened to attend PAX Australia 2018 and walked past Nintendo’s enormous playable booth area, you might’ve noticed a single demo unit running House House’s Untitled Goose Game. You might also have noticed that in an area with massive unreleased (at the time) first-party Nintendo titles like Pokemon Let’s Go and Super Smash Bros Ultimate, this little Melbourne-developed indie game had one of the biggest queues.
I don’t blame them, either. It feels like since the dawning of the video game industry, there’s been something missing, some kind of niche or gap in the art form that nobody has quite been able to fill. It turns out that niche just happens to be ‘a stealth game where you play as an arsehole goose’. I’ll bet that was one hell of an elevator pitch. Honestly, there’s not much more that needs to be said about this one. The Australian indie development scene is currently making waves all over the world and Untitled Goose Game promises to both continue that momentum and also completely fuck it up.
These are, of course, by no means the only promising independent games for this coming year, and there are no doubt countless future titles yet to be announced. Maybe some day though, you’ll see one of these ten special games pop up on their respective platforms and think, “I remember seeing this game on WellPlayed, and those bastards really know what they’re talking about”.