10 Indie Games to Watch for in 2016
It’s a great time to be an indie game enthusiast. 2015 saw tons of excellent indie game releases including Ori & the Blind Forest, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Rocket League and countless others. 2016 is already full of promise, with a number of highly anticipated indies scheduled for release and even more promising projects in early development. Here are 10 great-looking games to keep an eye on next year.
Armed with Wings: Rearmed – Sun-Studios
Armed with Wings: Rearmed is a 2D action/puzzle platformer and the second installment of the Armed with Wings series. Rearmed follows a warrior and his eagle companion through 26 levels of challenging puzzles and battles. The game’s Survival Mode allows players to test their skills and earn new upgrades.
Cringeworthy title aside, the game has a beautiful monochromatic art style and the music and sound effects establish just the right mood. Rearmed is remarkably polished for its current stage in development.
The game’s puzzles also break up the action nicely. Combat balance and the difficulty curve seem a bit harsh in both Story and Survival modes, but the upgrade system keeps replay dynamic and takes a lot of the sting out of losing.
Armed with Wings: Rearmed is available at Steam and itch.io. There is no official full release date yet but interested players can follow the game’s development at its developer’s blog.
Catacomb Kids – Fourbit Friday
Catacomb Kids by FourbitFriday is a 2D procedurally generated platformer with challenging environments, a complex system of potential story outcomes, and deep crafting and combat mechanics.
While the game is currently in alpha, there’s already a lot to love. The pixel art and animation looks great, gameplay is challenging but the controls feel tight, and the game world’s mechanics are more complex than any reasonable player would expect. It’s a great title for players interested in tactical combat engagement and strategic character development.
Several character classes have yet to be implemented and features are still changing. That said, the tutorial level is in good shape and players should have no problem trying their luck in the main game. There’s also a Versus Mode worth checking out.
While there’s no word on a full release, the Alpha is available via itch.io and Steam Early Access.
Clumsy God – Billy Slang
Players may be quick to draw parallels between Clumsy God and Bossa Studios’ Surgeon Simulator. Both games require the use of five keyboard buttons and a mouse to control an on-screen hand. Instead of operating on a patient, however, Clumsy God asks you to move houses and large buildings back into place after an earthquake. If you prefer, you can literally give those structures the finger and roam around swatting people to death instead.
I expect Clumsy God to be popular with streamers as it is both wildly difficult and hilarious. The early build is priced at $3.99, which is decent for a first level you may never beat as long as you live. Slang says the game is playable in full and I have little choice but to believe him, even if personally I have yet to place a single structure correctly, despite multiple play sessions.
Like other entries on this list, Clumsy God does not seem to have a set release date but the current build on itch.io is in great shape. I recommend it to players who enjoy a challenge and are not prone to frustration-based violence.
Courier of the Crypts – Emberheart Games
Courier of the Crypts is an action-adventure game designed in the style of The Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past, Chrono Trigger, and other 2D top-down SNES-era games many players remember so fondly. As a courier on assignment to the local spooky crypts, players will rely on a magic torch to light their way, scare off monsters, and solve puzzles when the unexpected takes place.
Courier of the Crypts has come a long way since its Ludum Dare prototype in April 2011. What started as a weekend game jam entry has become a retro work of art with impressive sound design and clever gameplay devices. The storytelling is entertaining and the nostalgia factor is strong.
Though the game will likely miss its original 2015 full release target, Courier of the Crypts is seeing a lot of update activity on its Steam Early Access page. The Beta build is available for sale at Steam and itch.io.
Glitchspace – Space Budgie
Glitchspace is a unique first-person puzzle game that requires players to “reprogram” the environment to advance. After a series of lessons on manipulating the world’s geometry, players will need to experiment with stretching, scaling, rotating, and translating map features to determine the right course of action. Beyond mastering the rules of the game world, players will be introduced to key concepts of programming and 3D space.
Innovative puzzlers are sometimes made or broken by the way they help new players acclimate. As of the Alpha 2.0 build, Glitchspace is handling this task exceedingly well. 15-20 minutes of play time had me confidently performing relatively complicated tasks and advancing at a steady pace. The complexity increased right on time as I started getting comfortable. The game feels like a reconfigurable Portal with the design sensibilities of Fez in first person. I am in no way upset about this.
The game currently features a Story mode as well as an “R&D” mode, in which new features can be toyed with as they are developed. An alpha build is available on Steam and itch.io.
Megatect – Timedrop Studios
Megatect is a level editing game with built-in game development tools. Players can build game world “grids” with objectives for one or more players, download grids created by the community, and play grid games alone or in multiplayer matches.
The sharp graphics already set Megatect apart from most popular building games and it also runs smoothly. While the game objective system currently only supports deathmatch shooter styles of play, future plans for Megatect include team game types, vehicles and waypoints for races, AI mobs for survival games, and more that is as yet unannounced. As of the latest alpha build, new Megatect players can follow a tutorial to learn grid-building, download and explore community grids, and join multiplayer sessions.
Megatect is available at itch.io and via Steam Early Access but does not have a full release date.
NeuroVoider – Flying Oak Games
Fans of twin-stick shooters can look forward to NeuroVoider, a top-down shooter RPG full of futuristic sci-fi mayhem for up to four players.
NeuroVoider features chaotic visuals and intense synth music but what will really catch players’ attention is the great gameplay. Xbox controller support is already in excellent shape in the current itch.io review build. Permadeath makes the game a challenge but the wide open character customization makes each new run different and interesting. The procedurally generated maps function well and starting each round by choosing one of three maps with different size, difficulty, and loot ratings is a nice touch. The game is already generating buzz on Steam but I suspect it would be well-received on consoles also.
Steam lists a full release date of April 29, 2016. You can currently buy a copy at itch.io. Sales of the Steam Early Access version are currently closed in anticipation of the full release.
No Man’s Sky – Hello Games
No Man’s Sky is a science fiction adventure and survival game set in a procedurally generated open universe. Players are tasked with gathering resources to upgrade equipment in the far reaches of space with the ultimate goal of reaching the center of the universe.
No Man’s Sky has wowed previewers with beautiful visuals and its variety of supported strategies from discovery and trade to combat and pirating. Planetary exploration seems reminiscent of Destiny with the addition of a notoriety system similar to that of Grand Theft Auto. Space travel itself may end up little more than interplanetary glue, but few games attempt to offer players such freedom to go anywhere and do as they please when they get there as No Man’s Sky promises. Time will tell if this will be the simulated universe we’ve been waiting for or if we’re in for a spiritual successor to Spore.
No Man’s Sky is scheduled for a June 2016 release on PlayStation 4 and Windows PC.
SORS – Science: Gamed
SORS, or Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy, is a sci-fi telemedicine simulator inspired by Papers, Please. Players log into a virtual care system, communicate with fictional hospital staff via email, and study diseases and treatments in the diagnosis guide with the goal of rapidly diagnosing illnesses and treating the game’s patients.
SORS makes compelling use of the in-game computer system mechanic and uses it to tell an interesting story. I’m torn between my interest in the game’s fictional setting and my fascination with the real-world medical technology on which the game is based. I love SORS’s ambition in building a narrative experience around its foundational mechanics, but I personally hope the release version of the game gets an endless diagnosis mode of some kind.
SORS has been greenlit on Steam and is up for sale at itch.io. There does not appear to be an official release date set.
Way to the Woods – Anthony Tan
Way to the Woods is a third-person adventure game following a deer and her fawn as they explore what appears to be an abandoned city. Though that’s about all we know about this recently-announced game at the moment, its artwork and animation (and the young age of its creator) have captured widespread interest practically overnight.
Way to the Woods is presently considered pre-alpha. Tan says he’s currently working with the Unreal Engine (after switching from another, unnamed engine) and that his team uses a combination of Maya, ZBrush, and Photoshop to create the the game’s compelling visuals. Complementing Tan on the team are programmer Jarad Barker and sound designer Jeremy Warmsley. Though the project is currently unfunded, and no release target has been set, they hope to hear back about an Unreal Dev Grant from Epic Games that, if awarded, could provide up to $50,000 for unrestricted use toward completion of the game.
(Honorable Mention) Cuphead – Studio MDHR
Cuphead is a run and gun platformer designed and developed in the style of the 1930s cartoons that inspired it. The game’s hand-drawn animation and original sound design has been turning heads since the game’s first showing in 2014.
Though some concerns have been raised regarding the game's art style, players have in general praised developers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer’s attention to the details of their run and gun mechanics and the game’s heavy focus on interesting boss battles. The development team has expressed interest in making Cuphead a world record record-holder for most boss fights in its genre.
An exact release date has not yet been revealed, but Cuphead is slated for a 2016 release on Windows PC and Xbox One.
2016’s potential continues to grow with each new indie date project announcement. These teams and countless others are working around the clock in hopes of releasing the next independent mega hit. Watch the indie scene; your new favorite game could be right around the corner.
Todd Mitchell is a game industry journalist with experience in professional software and indie game development. Follow him @mechatodzilla.