These days if you want to find the most innovative ideas in games, you have to look to independent developers. Unlike the big development studios, these passionate programmers don’t answer to shareholders, which gives them free reign to let their creativity run wild. Here are 11 upcoming independent games that show off what small studios can do.
In Firewatch, you play as a man who hasn’t made much of his life and has decided to retreat to the Wyoming wilderness to work a lonely job. You live and work out of a tower, where you’re tasked with keeping an eye out for smoke from forest fires. Your main human interaction is with your supervisor Delilah, whom you converse with over a radio as mysterious things start to occur. The game looks incredible, and the voice acting is top notch.
When it comes to developers, Capybara Games is one of the most creative teams around. Capy’s next game is Below, a top-down action adventure title that stars a tiny hero on an enormous island. Unlike in most games, death is permanent here, meaning you have to start from square one each time you perish. That harsh gameplay rule fits right in with the somber tone of the game.
3. Hyper Light Drifter
Developer Heart Machine says this retro-style game is a love letter to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Diablo. You control a “drifter,” who explores a broken world, looking for treasures left behind. With loads of enemies to vanquish and ruins to explore, Hyper Light Drifter has a good shot at being the gorgeous, addictive game it looks like it’s shaping up to be.
You could easily mistake this Xbox One exclusive for a cartoon from the 1930s. Cuphead puts you in the shoes of the title character, who has made a deal with the devil and has to defeat bosses to repay his debt. Gameplay-wise, you run around and fire off projectiles to defeat enemies. The bosses are huge, with widely varying move sets and abilities. If it’s as enjoyable to play as it is to look at, Cuphead is sure to please any action platformer fan.
5. The Witness
Jonathan Blow’s Braid is generally credited with kicking off the wave of artistic indie games we’ve played over the past few years. Reportedly, Blow took all the money he made from that game and poured it into The Witness, an adventure puzzle game with a unique vibe and art style. Based on its creator alone, The Witness is a game to watch in 2015.
Rime is a gorgeous, colorful game that tells the tale of a boy who has to escape an island and a curse. To do that, you’ll have to solve puzzles and navigate some seriously treacherous terrain. The game looks quite unlike anything else out there right now, and like something the whole family can enjoy. In a world filled with violent shoot ‘em-ups, Rime could be a thoughtful, mellow breath of fresh air.
From the makers of the tremendously gloomy yet gorgeous game Limbo comes Inside, an Xbox One exclusive that also looks tremendously gloomy yet gorgeous. Based on the haunting trailer, you play as a kid rebelling against a brainwashed population. If you play it, expect to encounter plenty of environmental puzzles that will leave you scratching your head until you come up with a solution, at which point you’ll feel like a certified genius.
8. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
Developer The Chinese Room is known for its experimental story-based titles, and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture fits right in. It’s an open-world game that starts after an apocalypse, and the primary drive is the game’s narrative. We don’t know much else about it, other than the graphics are terrific. If you’re willing to venture outside the box, this game will almost certainly be worth a look.
From the makers of the action-platformer Guacamelee comes Severed, a PS Vita exclusive that’s all about exploring dungeons and slicing up bad guys. Oddly enough, you play as a one-armed adventurer whose sword is technically alive. You gain new abilities by defeating bosses and equipping pieces of armor you get from them. You can also chop limbs off of enemies (hence the game’s title) and use them to upgrade your equipment. If it’s as fun as developer Drinkbox Studios’s last game, Severed will be one to follow.
10. No Man’s Sky
Here’s a space adventure game like no other. From the looks of it so far, you fly around the galaxy, exploring randomly generated planets, collecting resources, and engaging in space battles with enemy ships. It looks fantastic, but we’ll have to wait until launch to see if the game can deliver on the trailer’s promise.
11. Mighty No. 9
When Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune left Capcom in 2010, fans worried that would be the end of the Blue Bomber. Mega Man may be lying dormant, but if you look at Inafune’s upcoming game Mighty No. 9, you don’t have to squint to see the similarities between the two games. Both are side-scrolling action platformers starring boy robots. In both games, you can choose any stage to play in any order, picking up new weapons as you progress. In short, if you like Mega Man games, you’ll want to keep an eye on Mighty No. 9.