e3 2017

The Best Indie Games Of E3 2017

by Matt Miller on Jun 18, 2017 at 01:40 PM

The independent game scene has exploded in recent years, with hundreds of amazing titles to discover and appreciate. Lots of prospective releases make their way to E3 to try and stand out in the crowd, and we’re keeping our eyes open throughout the show for our favorites. We’ll be updating this story with new entries as soon as we have a chance to jot down impressions, so check back daily for additional entries. 

Games are listed alphabetically. 

Aegis Defenders
Developer: Guts Department
Release: 2017
Platform: PS4, PC

Aegis Defenders melds several distinct genres together in one continuous experience – action, tower defense, and 16-bit RPGs – and makes it all cohesive through an ongoing narrative about two ruin hunters who uncover an ancient weapon called the Aegis, and their subsequent efforts to keep the artifact out of the hands of evil. In Metroid-esque exploration sequences, you control both characters, hot-swapping between them at will to solve progression puzzles. Alternately, you can play the experience cooperatively with a friend. Each character has distinct abilities, which come to the fore in regularly occurring defense sequences, in which you must set up turrets to keep hordes of enemies from overtaking your position. Eventually, you’ll unlock up to four playable characters in your ongoing quest through fantastical landscapes and gigantic creatures. -Matt Miller


The Artful Escape
Developer: Beethoven & Dinosaur
Release: TBA
Platform: Xbox One, PC

Being an artist is a creative journey, and The Artful Escape taps into that philosophy in an imaginative way. Playing as young musician Francis Vendetti, you help him discover his stage persona by traveling through the cosmos and multi dimensional worlds. With the power of his guitar, you conquer enemies in musical rhythmic battles and strum your instrument to fly across chasms in a beam of light. The Artful Escape is a soulful adventure with gorgeous artwork, and it's up to you to help Francis find himself. In the demo I played, I made my way through a glittering snowy world, with rock tunes blasting in the background. The Artful Escape excels at creating a psychedelic atmosphere, one that is both magical and compelling. I look forward to seeing more, though no release date has yet been announced, and the developer told me that its still far from release. - Elise Favis

Ashen
Publisher: Microsoft,
Developer: Aurora44
Release: 2018
Platform: Xbox One, PC

In Ashen, players are dumped into a sprawling, open world that doesn't have a sun. The only light comes from illuminated ash that covers the dangerous world, which is inspired by The Road by Cormac McCarthy. You control a lonely traveler in this third-person action title, but the hook of Ashen is that your character probably isn't alone for long. Passive multiplayer permeates the experience as the team at Aurora44 wanted to design a game that simulates the experience of meeting a stranger and working together; much like the multiplayer in Journey, you don't know who you're playing with, and you only have small gestures to communicate with the other character. Together with this other player, you explore dark dungeons, solve puzzles, battle enemies, and explore a world full of hazards. Ashen features punishing combat, numerous secrets, and a ton of loot to find. Inventive, difficult boss battles, such as the Elder Dark boss battle I witnessed, caps off what appears to be a thoroughly promising experience that I'll be keeping my eye on leading up to its 2018 release. - Brian Shea


Battle Chasers: Nightwar
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Airship Syndicate
Release: October 3
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

We’ve been following Nightwar with great interest since its announcement, and every viewing it looks better. New characters like Knolan the old mage, a new mine-themed dungeon, and a ton of new enemies were all showcase elements of the game’s appearance at E3, but it’s the combination of classic D&D-inspired storytelling, isometric action exploration, and JRPG-inspired combat that has us very eager for the game’s October debut. The team is clearly in a phase of adding in bells and whistles; we witnessed a new fishing mini-game which looks like a great diversion. Joe Madureira’s signature visual style suffuses the game – just icing on the cake for an RPG we have very high hopes for as it rounds the corner into the final months of development. -Matt Miller 

A Case of Distrust 
Developer: The Wandering Ben
Release: 2017
Platform: PC/Mac

Inspired by Raymond Chandler stories and the artwork of Saul Bass, A Case of Distrust is a noir mystery based in 1924 San Francisco. You're private investigator Phyllis Malone, an outlier in the prohibition era, and the gameplay centers around making story-based conversation choices and point-and-click investigations. Trip up characters in interrogation contradictions, navigate a world of underground speakeasies, and run with the wrong crowd in this stylized take on a classic genre. Developer Ben Wander says the game's dialog will both fill in players about the characters and world as well as serving as decision points that determine where the story is heading. Written in the style of a classic first-person-narrated noir, we're intrigue to get to the bottom of A Case of Distrust's dark mystery. - Matthew Kato

Dandara
Publisher: Raw Fury
Developer: Long Hat House
Release: 2017
Platform: Switch, PC, unannounced consoles, unannounced mobile

Imagine the cross-breed between Metroid and VVVVVV, and you have a pretty clear starting point for understanding Dandara, a brilliant new action/platformer from Long Hat House. You control Dandara, a hero unbound by gravity who is out to save his world from destruction. Movement is handled by targeting a nearby wall, floor, or ceiling, and zipping up to that area in a sudden burst of speed. From there, you can blast enemies, or continue careening to your next destination. The sense of speed and precision is spot-on, lending a sense of directionless gravity; sometimes the entire level itself rotates to reorient your perception of it, so there’s really no up or down. I played on a controller, but the developer is aiming to make the game equally viable on both controller and touch screen. Add in a world of strange characters and dialogue, and Metroid-style gear-gated advancement, and Dandara emerges as one of the most intriguing new indie projects in a long while. -Matt Miller

Dauntless
Publisher: Phoenix Labs
Developer: Phoenix Labs
Release: Late 2017
Platform: PC

While we wait for Monster Hunter: World, Dauntless should be up to the task of offering elaborate hunts of imposing beasts. Though it looks brighter and more cheerful than its competition, it looks to have most of the depth: Each of the many weapon types has its own move set, with light, heavy, and special attacks: A set of chained sickles can fire off attacks quickly up close, or pick away at enemies from afar more slowly. A giant hammer, meanwhile, may double as a shotgun. The mission design is more focused, though there are resources to gather and other critters to hunt down while you chase giant lizards, owls, and more to cut off their tails. Between missions, you can equip various sets of weapons and armor you get from hunts, with a few having elemental resistances. The game will soon be going into an open beta, which should act as a great appetizer before the real hunt begins. – Suriel Vazquez


Distant
Developer: Snowman
Release: TBA
Platform: tvOS, PC, Mac, unannounced consoles

The makers of the excellent Alto’s Adventure are creating this new platformer, which sports stylish but spare visuals that express a sense of vast space and loneliness. You control a god-like orb that is ushering its human creation through the world, slingshotting him from one distant platform to the next. Developer Snowman is focusing on smooth movement and navigation. Wall-jumps, long jumps, and sudden bursts of acceleration unfold in elegant curves. The feeling of freedom of movement is intense, but the controls are intuitive, lending an effortless flow to the experience. Distant is still very early in development, but I was immediately enthralled by the short demo I played. -Matt Miller


Donut County
Developer: Ben Esposito
Release: TBA
Platform: PC, iOS

Donut County is a physics-based adventure game where you control a hole in the ground. Through a sequence of levels, you move around this hole in different environments as it progressively gets larger, and you attempt to swallow up every object (and animal) in sight. Donut County is a fictional town heavily based off of Los Angeles, where anthropomorphic animals live. However, all its inhabitants now live underground following an apocalypse, where a giant hole swallowed up their homes and everything they knew. You unravel what happened by switching between present day and flashbacks. In the flashbacks, you control the hole and solve puzzles, and in present day you listen to the characters share conspiracy theories about what caused the hole as they murmur around a campfire. It's a strange but charming premise, and although most physics puzzles I played through were simplistic, I was told the difficult amps up as you progress and gain new powers for the hole. - Elise Favis


Frostpunk
Developer: 11 bit Studios
Release: 2017
Platform: PC

Frostpunk brings the oppressive tone and desperate decision-making of developer 11-bit’s previous game, This War of Mine, to the city-building sim. Rather than figure out where you want to build municipal pipelines, you manage the harsh push-and-pull of finding the most efficient way to have your survivors huddled around heat in a frozen wasteland, and making sure you have enough people working at a given time to sustain the entire populace. To build up your ramshackle settlement quickly enough to survive, you may have to force workers to work debilitating 24-hour shifts, or let children risk their lives working for you. These decisions push your morality to its limits for the sake of productivity, which could make for an captivating, draining adventure when the game releases later this year. – Suriel Vazquez

For more of our favorite indie games from E3 2017, head to page two.


Indivisble
Developer: Lab Zero Games
Publisher 505 Games
Release: 2018
Platform: PC

Any doubts we had about Indivisible’s mix of Metroid-style roaming and tactical, Valkyrie Profile-style turn-based combat disappeared the moment we got our hands on it. The view flows from exploration to combat seamlessly, and battles require a lot of your attention. Each party member is mapped to a face button on your controller, and blocking enemies’ attacks by pressing each member’s button at the right time is key to survival. It also employs a fun combo system, in which characters can attack simultaneously and multiple times. The longer you can maintain the offensive with a string of attacks, the more super meter you build, letting fire off super attacks more quickly. The game’s art style is also stunning, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering Indivisible comes from the same team who brought Skullgirls’ vibrant cast to life.  – Suriel Vazquez

Joggernauts
Developer:
Release: Spring 2018
Platform: Consoles, PC, Mac

Joggernauts is a co-op auto-runner featuring colorful aliens as they traverse different planets. Playable between 2-4 players, the goal of Joggernauts is to try and not kill your friends. You each take turns leading the group through different levels. With the press of a button, you switch positions, but pay attention to the color-coded collectibles along the way. Each of your friends plays as a specific color, and they must be in the lead to hit that color-coded collectible in order to survive. During the demo I played, we all started to scream out colors, such as, "Green! Purple! Blue, it's your turn!" in order to collaboratively make it through the level, though we died a lot along the way. Although it looks deceptively simple, Joggernauts is a difficult but fun game that requires strategy amongst friends. - Elise Favis

Kingsway
Developer: Andrew Morrish 
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Release: Summer 2017
Platform: PC

Kingsway is a unique RPG that takes the form of a fictional operating system straight out of the '90s. Monsters appear in pop-ups, quests are emails, and your inventory is stored in file folders on your desktop. While on your quest for adventure, you also manage several windows as you prepare for the next fight. One of these windows is the World Navigator, where you can maneuver through the fantasy world. Kingsway depends on being organized and multitasking, and keeping an eye on the many windows you have up while enemies attack you. It's a neat concept that stands out, and it releases this summer on Steam.  – Elise Favis 

Knights And Bikes
Developer: Foam Sword
Release: TBA
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC

Taking place on a fictional British island in the '80s, Knights and Bikes is about two young girls with vivid imaginations, who set out on a quest to save their hometown. The cooperative adventure sees protagonists Ness and Demelza pedaling into danger, where they fight off wacky villains with water balloons and challenge one another to biking races. The hand-drawn aesthetics are bright and colorful, painting a world that is exciting to a explore. Its themes are reminiscent of films like The Goonies and games like Earthbound. - Elise Favis


Laser League  
Developer: Roll7
Release: PC Early Access this summer, 2018 (PlayStation 4/Xbox One)
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Laser League is a fast-paced, pick-up-and-play multiplayer title (supporting different player combinations up to 4v4) where your team navigates a board filled with color-corresponding light fields. Run into the other team's color and you're dead, and vice versa. Simple enough. Even better, the game only uses two controls – move (left analog) and engage power up (either trigger). The fun comes in maneuvering around the board to activate nodes that spawn your team's color. Each board is different, encouraging various strategies, and you'll get a handle on how each teammate's class and special abilities work together and how they stack up against the other team (you can respec if you lose a round). You're simultaneously running around the board trying to activate nodes and grab level power ups as well as trying to survive the sometimes bullet-hell-like madness. You can also revive your teammates and even travel out one side of the level and reappear on the other side. As you understand the board, your opponent's builds and tendencies, and work with your teammates, the game feels deep yet simple at the same time. - Matthew Kato 

The Last Night
Developer: Odd Tale
Publisher: Raw Fury
Release: 2018
Platforms: Xbox One, PC

The Last Night tells the story of Charlie, a man living in a dense, overpopulated cyberpunk city inspired by Blade Runner who, following a vague accident, is no longer capable of connecting with the digital and social media connections and implants that everyone around him enjoys. Exactly where this leads Charlie and where the narrative goes is unclear, but it only takes a peek to recognize that the game looks stunning. Developer Tim Soret was on-hand to show off the game, and dove into the development tools to show how the game achieves its impressive look. It's basically made up of layers of flat, pixel-art images and animated characters propped up on a 3D plane, but Soret has a history in creating lighting and special effects, and it helps accent the environments in a huge way.

In the game Charlie will solve puzzles, move through his city, and fire a gun, but we weren't able to actually play the game to get a better sense of how it will work. Soret did cite games like Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee and Another World (or Out of This World depending in where you're from), however, as inspirations both for The Last Night, and his general sensibilities of game design.

You can play the original protoype of the game by heading here. - Kyle Hilliard

Matterfall
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Housemarque
Release: August 15
Platform: PlayStation 4

The studio behind the arcade masterpiece, Resogun, is back at it with a new fast-paced shooter, this time with platforming added into the mix of blasting and dashing. The game stars a futuristic soldier as she makes her way across a landscape of endless energy blasts, bullets, and damaging red matter. As this super-soldier, the player must leap and fire their way through the action, and like Housemarque’s best games, the only way to success is constant motion, quick reactions, and an attitude of charging directly into the thick of the fighting. A dash move can obliterate many projectiles that you pass through, while jumping is mapped to the R1 button. That unusual convention is necessary, since 360 degree firing is enabled on the right analog stick, so face button jumping simply wouldn’t work. Other actions blast off secondary weapons, or send out an energy beam that can power up elevators or make platforms visible for brief moments. The pace is frantic, and the complex controls take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, Matterfall looks to be ready to scratch that itch for fast, intense, score-focused arcade-style action. - Matt Miller


Minit
Developer: Van Villem Nijam, Kitty Calis, Jukio Kallio, and Dominik Johann
Release: 2017
Platform: PC, Unannounced Consoles

I went into my demo for Minit with zero expectations and walked away incredibly excited to get my hands on the final release of this delightful indie title. Minit’s basic premise is simple: a hero finds a cursed sword on a beach that kills him once every 60 seconds, so he must travel the land to discover a way to rid himself of this unusual anathema. Minit has a simple aesthetic reminiscent of older black and white PC games, but I found it to be incredibly charming. While each play through only lasts a minute, you get to keep any new items and power-ups you find throughout the world, which helps you slowly unlock new areas. On one run-through, I found a key which unlocked a lighthouse where I acquired a flashlight. On another play through, I used this flashlight to explore a dungeon filled with deadly snakes. The development team – comprise of four friends who conceived of Minit at a game jam – expect players to be able to beat Minit in about three hours. Based on our early demo, that will be three hours well spent. – Ben Reeves

Nidhogg 2
Developer: Messhof
Release: 2017
Platform: PC, PS4

I got to play through some of the sequel to Meffhof's surprise hit fencing simulator and, as a fan of the original Nidhogg, I loved my time with the sequel. The core gameplay loop of killing your opponent and then trying to get to the other side of the level unscathed remains, creating a fun back and forth struggle that's perfect for multiplayer, but new weapons (like axes and bows), a wacky new art style, flesh out the original experience. The game is due out this summer and I look forward to jabbing some of my friends' in their bulging eyes with a sword once more. – Javy Gwaltney 

Overland
Developer: Finji
Release: 2017
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux

Overland is a strategic survival game set in post-apocalyptic North America. You set out on road trip through ruined cities, scavenging for survival goods, gathering a team, and fighting off enemies. Moves are played out in a turn-based format, where you often have to use your wits to decide whether gathering supplies or fighting off foes is more important. You make your way through procedural environments with your car that runs on a limited supply of gas. The road trip themes and aesthetics are reminiscent of Kentucky Route Zero mixed with XCOM-style gameplay. It's a concept that I felt works well, and I look forward to playing more when it releases later this year. - Elise Favis

Raiders of the Broken Planet
Developer: MercurySteam
Release: MercurySteam
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC

MercurySteam is renowned for its work on Castlevania: Lords of the Shadow and this week we learned it is working on the 3DS Metroid II remake, Metroid: Samus Returns. It has another game in the works, however, that takes place in an original science-fiction universe and merges third-person shooting and melee combat in interesting ways.

The only way to collect ammo in the game is to pull off melee attacks which work like rock-paper-scissors when it comes to countering, blocking, or pulling off attacks. If you’re successful, you get more ammo for your gun, so it encourages you to do more than just shoot. Depending on who you’re playing as you also have access to different powers. My character had a jetpack which gave him height and speed.

There will be a single-player campaign, but it will also function as a shared world. The game has Destiny aspirations when it comes to its campaign and how players play through it.

The game’s first two missions – which MercurySteam assures are substantial – will be free to download and play, and follow-up campaigns will be sold piecemeal. Unlike episodic games however, the campaigns will be playable out of order and will even come included with passes you can share so that if you buy campaign three and your friend only has campaign two, you can invite them to play with you. MercurySteam specifically called out Far Cry 4’s co-op pass, which let players share the game with a co-op friend who didn’t own the game. Raiders of the Broken Planet is planned for release this year. - Kyle Hilliard


Semblance
Developer: Nyamakop
Release: 2018
Platform: PC, Unannounced consoles

Squish is a strange blob-like being who lives in a world made of something akin to Play-Doh. Through some horrible catastrophe, hardness has entered the world, and Squish must find a way to bring back the softness. Semblance is an inventive puzzle/platformer in which your interactions with the environment deform both your character and the platforms on which you jump. Easy-to-learn controls allow jumping and dashing, and the puzzles use clever physics dynamics to catapult and bounce Squish to his objectives. Semblance is a deceptively challenging experience, and I’m eager to see the ways in which developer Nyamakop layers on complexity in later levels. -Matt Miller

Star Child
Publisher: Game Trust
Developer: Playful
Release: TBA
Platform: PS4, PSVR

Playable on a standard screen or using a PSVR headset, Playful’s new sidescroller is a sci-fi cinematic adventure. Our demo was in VR, and the environment immediately caught the eye, offering an impressive depth of field, with swaying objects in the foreground and the background, lending the sense that you were watching scenes unfold from within the setting. Even leaning forward zoomed in on the action, offering a better view of the female lead as she leaped and ran her way across an alien landscape. The brief demo showed off some simple puzzles in which the main character needed to connect some battery lines to open progression routes, and as the demo concluded, she met up with a titanic humanoid robot that first protected her and then lifted her up off the ground. Playful isn’t talking much about the primary gameplay loop, or about the mystery of the giant robot. Nonetheless, the visual presentation in VR and the beautifully drawn game world is attention-grabbing, leaving us ready to see more. -Matt Miller

Sundered
Developer: Thunder Lotus
Release: July 2017
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC, Mac, Linux

Sundered is a dark, mysterious game in the vein of Super Metroid that mixes procedural generation and bespoke challengers. Though many of the game's paths are new every time you approach them, every boss encounter is tailor-made, as are several key challenge areas. Combat uses Dark Souls' duck-and-move combat flow as a starting point, but throws in some interesting additions: Not only do you acquire new abilities that make you more mobile, but you can "corrupt" those abilities to make them even stronger. In the demo I played, I got the ability to perform a sideways air dash. The corrupted version, however, can move in eight directions, including upwards. This makes moving around much easier, but corrupting your abilities will affect the ending you receive, as well as the the final boss. Those who want the uncorrupted ending will have quite a challenge ahead of them, according to developer Thunder Lotus. - Suriel Vazquez


Tunic
Developer: Andrew Shouldice
Release: 2018
Platform: PC, Mac, Unannounced console

Previously titled Secret Legend, Tunic stars an adorable fox as he makes his way through an isometric fantasy world that seems too big for him to confront on his own – yet confront it he does. It’s hard to avoid comparisons to old-school The Legend of Zelda games when checking out Tunic, and after playing some of the game for myself, I feel the comparison is justified. Elements of discovery, hidden paths, and melee combat feel like nothing so much as A Link to the Past, but with a world and art style that sets itself apart from its clear inspiration. Tunic is charming and beautiful, and one indie project that Zelda fans should keep their eyes on.


Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
Developer: Dim Bulb Games
Release: TBA
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC

After losing your soul in a game of cards, you are now cursed to wander Depression-era America on a quest to learn and share the stories of your fellow travelers. Thoughtful, melancholy, and filled with incredible writing, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is quite different from any game I’ve played before. Gorgeous Americana music plays in the background as you stroll across the state lines, stopping at regular intervals for narrative vignettes. Come across a campfire, and you sit down with a fellow traveler, at which point you attempt to share a story from your travels that matches their mood. Develop a rapport, and they might share something about themselves, deepening your knowledge of the human condition and the strange stories that connect us. -Matt Miller

Yoku's Island Express
Developer: Villa Gorilla
Release: 2018
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Yoku's Island Express mixes the immediate fun of pinball with the progression of The Legend of Zelda. Playing as Yoku the Dung Beetle, you land on the island of Mokumana to replace its current mailman. As you might suspect, things don't stay so simple. Pushing a small boulder around, you quickly find that much of the path has been blocked off, and can only be traversed by tethering yourself to the boulder and and using the many flippers and bumpers strewn around the island to move around.  As in classic pinball, where the ball lies on the flipper when you press the right trigger, determines the angle at which you launch, and the puzzles had me mucking with angles to get into a few hard-to-reach places. These puzzles were fun to solve, challenging me to use my pinball skills to scour every nook and cranny of a particular area. I'm curious to see how Yoku's Island Express holds up over the course of the hours Yoku's journey will take, and eager to play more when the game hits PC and consoles next sometime next year. You can read our full preview here. - Suriel Vazquez