As an entire console generation starts to come to a close, there’s no denying that independent games have gone from strength to strength and carved out a decent space in the industry over the last decade. Once something of a curiosity given a platform thanks to initiatives like Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade, the rise of mobile and digital gaming and the relative turbulence of the AAA space has meant that ‘indies’ have been able to thrive. We love our indies here at WellPlayed, and some of our most cherished games this generation have come from small yet super talented and creative teams. That said, we also love to look forward to the future, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of things slowing down over the next 12 months. So with that in mind, we thought we’d take a minute to wax hyperbolic about the indie games we’re most excited to see and play in 2020. Oh, and if it seems like there’s a lack of local, Aussie talent listed below (with one exception due to my own ignorance), it’s because we’ve also just recently highlighted our Nine Aussie-Made Games To Have On Your Radar In 2020, so be sure to check that out as well.
Release: 2020 | Developer: Beethoven & Dinosaur | Publisher: Annapurna Interactive | Platforms: Xbox One/PC
Take one part Zoink! style puzzle-platformer and one part rock opera and it might come out looking something like The Artful Escape. This one’s being developed right here in Melbourne as well, which is something I wish I’d known when we listed our most anticipated Aussie-made games last week. Beethoven & Dinosaur, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I failed you. Your game looks dope as hell though so you don’t even need my endorsement, really.
Release: 2020 | Developer: Breaking Walls | Publisher: Breaking Walls | Platforms: PS4/PC
Give me an action/exploration adventure any day – set it in the natural world at a marsupial scale though and you’ve got me hooked. AWAY: The Survival Series made a splash during PlayStation’s State of Play in May last year, which is a mighty fine platform to show the world your crowdfunded indie project. I recently built myself a gaming PC and I’m not gonna lie; I was at least partly motivated to do it so that I could play the PC-only alpha demo of the game. I may or may not have dropped a cool couple hundred on the Kickstarter campaign for this bad boy.
Release: 2020 | Developer: E-Line Media | Publisher: E-Line Media | Platforms: PS4/Xbox One/PC
Confession: I can’t swim. If I could, I would probably spend far more time in the ocean than I do now (which is zero time). The ocean depths are spooky and alien, but also very intriguing to me. That’s why I’m super chuffed that Never Alone developer E-Line’s next game is all about deep-water exploration. Not only is Beyond Blue a mysterious and beautiful-looking game, but the developers have taken a similar approach to the BAFTA-nominated Never Alone – partnering with studios and professionals in the field to make their game as reverent and true-to-life as possible.
Release: 2020 | Developer: Hexy Studio | Publisher: Hexy Studio | Platforms: PC
While AAA gaming may have left point and click games behind, it’s a genre that is still given plenty of love by indie devs – something that I am forever grateful for. Brassheart, from the Polish-based Hexy Studio, is a promising looking title set inside an alternative 1920s dieselpunk world where you play as Pola, an aeroplane pilot who must save her father from the Valkiria – a supermachine that he himself invented. Featuring a host of colourful characters and a stunning art style, Brassheart looks like it’ll scratch that lingering point and click itch.
Release: 2020 | Developer: Amanita Design | Publisher: Amanita Design | Platforms: PS4/Xbox One/Switch/PC
Horror, platforming and puzzles; it’s an uncommon mix but the Czech Republic-based studio Amanita Design has made this trinity of mechanics look fucking awesome with their latest game Creaks. I’d say it’s largely down to the game’s fantastic hand-drawn art style that looks like it’s the brainchild of Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro if they were to do a children’s storybook that was designed to give them nightmares, but from the very brief gameplay footage we’ve seen Creaks looks like it’ll be a captivating and challenging experience.
Release: 2020 | Developer: Mediatonic | Publisher: Devolver Digital | Platforms: PS4/PC
Chaotic multiplayer free-for-alls are the unsung hero of indies this generation, if you ask me. It’s a thing of beauty to see your housemate’s mild-mannered Japanese visitor suddenly turns into a bloodthirsty, trash-talking villain over a game of Gang Beasts, for example. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout takes that core ideal and spins it into a Takeshi’s Castle-inspired gauntlet with 100 fucking players, which could only result in a Very Good Time™. I made a resolution on the WellPlayed podcast recently that I would try to play more multiplayer games this year – it looks like I’m going to come through on that when this ridiculous thing drops.
Release: Q2 2020 | Developer: White Owls | Publisher: White Owls | Platforms: PS4/Xbox One/PC
My boy SWERY can do no wrong, as far as I’m concerned. When it was announced that the video game auteur behind Deadly Premonition and D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die was taking to Kickstarter to fund development of a ‘debt repayment daily life RPG set in a village where the citizens turn into cats and dogs every night – you can bet I dropped some serious money on backing it. Did I mention The Good Life is also a murder mystery and a photography sim? So dope.
Release: April 14 (Ep 1), July 12 (Ep 2) | Developer: Daring Touch | Publisher: Madit Entertainment | Platforms: PC
The Hand of Glory is a game I came across by pure happenstance. I was trawling Kickstarter for neat looking projects (something which I seldom do) and The Hand of Glory caught my eye. After reading the campaign description I saved it to my wishlist, and a few days later I downloaded the demo and it didn’t take long before I was sold; they had my pledge. But what is it? The Hand of Glory is a point and click adventure that is reminiscent of the classics such as Broken Sword, featuring old-fashioned puzzles, clever and witty writing and impressive voice acting. Playing as luckless detective Lazarus Bundy, you’ll investigate the disappearance of a young woman from an influential family in the hope of reviving your career. Honestly, if the full release (which will be in two parts) is as impressive the demo, then The Hand of Glory may be destined for…glory.
Release: 2020 | Developer: Lazarus Studio | Publisher: Iceberg Interactive | Platforms: PC
Horror and indie games go together like vegemite on toast: it just works. That is as long as you’re a fan of the flavour. As a horror enthusiast, Lunacy: Saint Rhodes is a game that’s been on my radar ever since I knew of its existence. Set inside a dark narrative where players must investigate their ancestral home for the truth behind their family’s horrific murder. Featuring a chilling atmosphere and an AI that adapts to your every move, Lunacy: Saint Rhodes has the tools to make your heart rate go from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds.
Release: 2020 | Developer: Metronomik | Publisher: Sold-Out Software | Platforms: PS4/PC
If there’s anything that the current games market desperately needs, it’s more musicals! Not just rhythm games, but more games that utilise music as a key component of their storytelling, as opposed to just ambience. Games like Mutazione and Transistor are prime examples of this, and No Straight Roads looks to take that concept and really run with it. An action game set in a world where a huge EDM empire threatens to wipe all other music off the map, this game not only looks super slick but is co-created by Wan Hazmer, lead designer of Final Fantasy XV. Couple that with the team’s very vocal stance on a good working culture and there’s a hell of a lot to be excited about here.
Release: 2020 | Developer: Polygon Treehouse | Publisher: United Label | Platforms: Switch/PC
Any game that starts its pitch by saying it’s inspired by Scandinavian folklore is sure to grab my attention, which is exactly what Röki is. While Röki’s colourful art style may look inviting, its world is somewhat the opposite, with protagonist Tove traversing a world filled with strange creatures and locations in order to save her family. Featuring a fairy tale-esque narrative puzzles and exploration, Röki is shaping up to be an adventure worth looking out for.
Release: 2020 | Developer: Shedworks | Publisher: Raw Fury | Platforms: Xbox One/PC/Mac
Hoverbiking around an alien desert, exploring ruins and piecing together a personal tale of self-discovery already sounds like my absolute jam, but dress the whole thing up in one gorgeous-looking visual style and I’m all the way in. Sable oozes charm with a painterly, cel-shaded look that evokes a lot of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and by all accounts it’s going to sound amazing too thanks to ambient audio design by indie pop genius Michelle Zauner (Japanese Breakfast). Anticipate this one making a lot of my GOTY lists in 2020.
Release: February 19 (PC) | Developer: One O One Games, Reddoll Games | Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment | Platforms: PC/PS4/Xbox One
Every year there are one or two narrative-driven games that elicit such a strong emotional response they make their way into Game of the Year contention (think What Remains of Edith Finch and Draugen). The Suicide of Rachel Foster has the potential to be one of this year’s best indie narratives. The premise: Set in the early 90s in the USA, a family is torn apart when the father commits infidelity with the now pregnant Rachel Foster – a girl the same age as his daughter Nicole and who later commits suicide. Nicole and her mother leave town, leaving both her father and the family hotel in their wake. Ten years later, and with both parents dead, Nicole returns to the town to sell the family hotel only to get trapped in due to bad weather. While waiting for the storm to pass Nicole, along with the help of a newly-acquired acquaintance, discovers that there’s perhaps a deeper, darker secret hiding in the town.
Release: Q4 2020 | Developer: Noisy Valley Studios| Publisher: Noisy Valley Studios | Platforms: PC
Inspired by the Resident Evil and Silent Hill games of yore, Summerford is a love letter to 90s survival horror that draws further inspiration from the Chernobyl disaster, making for an intriguing cocktail of nostalgia and imagination. Set in the rural titular town of Summerford, UK, which has been abandoned since a nuclear disaster in 1986 due to an exclusion zone, you’re put in the shoes of Sam Linden, an urban explorer who will uncover the truth about the disaster the more she explores the decrepit town. Noisy Valley Studios has stated the game will last around four hours and will feature two different game paths with multiple endings. Here’s hoping Summerford can bring back the good old days with their own modern spin.
Of course, it always goes without saying in these lists that there are so many more excellent indies on the way over the next year (and no doubt a ton of games yet to be revealed). The creativity, the culture and the courage of independent developers will never cease to amaze us, and we’d cover every single one if we could.
If you know of an indie dev or project that we should have on our radar, please drop it in the comments below or over on our social pages – we’d love to know about it!