10 promising indie videogames at EGX

Aside from all the AAA videogames on the horizon, there are also these indie gems to look forward to...

There are all kinds of big, expensive games vying for your attention at an event like EGX, which took place in London over the weekend. But among all the giant marquees, inflatable stands and multi-million dollar titles with queues a mile long to play them, there are all kinds of smaller indie games just waiting to be found.

In fact, there were so many indie games at EGX’s Rezzed – the section of the event dedicated to small, independent developers – that we simply couldn’t play them all. But below you’ll find a sample of our ten favourites, ranging from shooters to platformers and puzzlers to atmospheric adventures. These games don’t necessarily have huge budgets and a staff of hundreds, but they’re full of great ideas and, as far as we’re concerned, crafted with real passion.

10. The Escapists

Top-down prison-break adventure courtesy of Alien Breed and Worms creators Team 17. Cute pixel graphics and a stern challenge, where every day inside is filled with a busy schedule of chores, eating hideous food in the canteen, showering, weight-lifting, running errands for othe rinmates and avoid getting into fights. Then, at night, you dig your secret tunnel without the screws noticing. During our brief time with The Escapists, we couldn’t help thinking about the ZX Spectrum classic, Skool Daze; there’s the same sense of mischief, and of seeing what you can get away with in a climate of strict control. This is The Shawshank Redemption, 8-bit style.

Release date: 2015 for Windows.

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9. Ramble Rumble

This retro platformer is clearly a work in progress, but it’s a charming revival of the unassuming old classic, Bombjack – a game your humble writer had almost forgotten about until the developer, Digi-Pop Games, mentioned its influence. It’s a clear influence, too: your super-powered little hero has to jump around the screen collecting items, and you get bonus points for collecting them in the correct order. The various monsters roaming the platforms can be turned to blocks of ice and then shattered for more bonus points, and in a twist on the old Bombjack system, tapping jump twice sends you dashing a short distance along the screen while in mid-air – all the better to get to those awkwardly-placed items hovering over an enemy’s head. Although the graphics are functional rather than pretty, this is a fun little game.

Release date: winter 2014 for Windows.

8. Poncho

This 2D platformer is clearly inspired by such touchstones as Cave Story and Fez, but it lacks the polish of either of them at this early stage. There’s a potentially good mechanic in here though, which sees its poncho-wearing robot leap from the foreground to 2D layers in the background. The system clearly needs ironing out, though: it’s impossible to see what pitfalls lie behind the front-most layer, and we died many, many times simply because we fell through a chunk of scenery. Should the game get the Kickstarter backing it needs, it may yet grow into another decent entry in the genre.

Release date: June 2015 for Windows, Mac, Linux and Ouya.

7. Velocity

A bit of a cheat, this, because Velocity‘s already out for some systems, such as the PS4 and Vita. But with the PS3 and Windows editions still to come, we thought we’d add this gem to the list in any case.

An unusually polished mash-up of 2D shooter and side-scrolling platformer, it has the precision and imagination of Japanese developer Treasure in its prime. Each stage begins with a shooting section, in which pods have to be gathered and numbered barriers taken out in the right order. It’s standard stuff at first glance, but then additional mechanics are gradually introduced; you can teleport your craft to blocked-off areas with one button. You can leave teleport markers behind with another, and then transport yourself back to that point by pressing triangle. You can also zip through stages at greater speed by holding the right shoulder button.

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The shooting segments occasionally give way to on-foot sequences, in which you run around a series of corridors collecting more pods and shooting at cannon-type things. Again, you can teleport yourselves through walls, dash across hazardous drops and shoot in all directions. The Metroid influence is obvious here – right down to the armoured heroine – but the mixture of speed, variety and pixel-perfect design makes it something very special.

Release date: November 13th (PS3), December 12th (Windows)

6. Rive

It can’t be easy making a tank a likeable central character, but Dutch developers Two Tribes have done it. The little war machine in Rive recalls the one in Masamune Shirow’s 80s manga Dominion: Tank Police and its anime adaptation, with its stumpy proportions and lively, pulsing animation.

The game itself is pleasantly old-school: this 2D platform shooter could almost have come from the days of the Neo Geo, with its multi-directional shooting and challenging boss battles. There’s a hacking mechanic thrown in to make things interesting, which can be used to open doors and use non-player robots as drones. It’s polished and nicely designed, though we found the use of the left trigger to jump a little difficult to get used to – our thumb kept gravitating to the A button for some reason. This aside, Rive is really good fun, and offers the best of both worlds: traditional 2D action with handsome 3D graphics and great mechanical ideas in addition to the run-and-gun shooting. After a few minutes, we even managed to beat the end-of-level boss. Well, almost.

Release date: 2015. Platforms not yet announced.

5. Tulpa

Remember the classic 90s adventure Another World? This ethereal 2D game has a similar atmosphere, and an equally deadly set of puzzles to get to grips with. It’s also a bit like Limbo, in that it takes place across a dream landscape where everything’s silhouetted and sinister, like the interior of a traumatised mind. Play switches between a young girl in a flowing dress like Alice of Wonderland fame, and a ghost who can float up to buttons and platforms in hard to reach places. These characters have to stick together and solve puzzles to survive – deadly traps are everywhere, and if they’re separated, they’re done for. Although it doesn’t do much we haven’t seen before, Tulpa has an interesting, mystery at the centre of it; the dream landscape is punctuated by bried scenes that imply that the dead guy was murdered in some horrendous way. Finding out where the mystery leads will almost certainly provide the game with its most lasting appeal.

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Release date: not yet announced. For Windows.

4. Tri

This one’s a bit like a first-person version of ThatGameCompany’s wonderful Journey, with much of its zen-like atmosphere and eastern-inspired design. At the outset, you find yourself in an eerily beautiful Japanese garden, where a masked figure leads you through Tri’s angular temple setting.

The aim is to solve a string of environmental puzzles, either through the time-honoured process of moving crates around or operating levers. The more intriguing mechanic involves drawing triangles in the air in front of you, which can then be used as platforms or to deflect points of light like little mirrors. Portal is an obvious touchstone here, but developer Rat King’s Workshop have created something with its own weird tone and unpredictable level design. Tri looks like the kind of game that will become more bewitching as the hours tick by.

Release date: not yet announced. For Windows, Mac and Linux.

3. Volume

Designer Mike Bithell managed to create a bewitching story out of little more than a few coloured blocks and Danny Wallace’s voice in his hit puzzler, Thomas Was Alone. Volume is altogether more ambitious from a technical perspective, given that it’s a futuristic stealth game where you sneak into buildings and steal items from under the noses of high-tech security guards. That premise might conjure up memories of a major title like Metal Gear or Splinter Cell, but Volume‘s still an individual and distinctive piece of design, with its environments constructed from neon-coloured blocks and its guards formed from aggressive-looking triangles.

Volume’s Robin Hood-inspired hero uses sound to evade detection. What’s immediately clear, after playing Volume for a minute or two, is how intuitive its design is; you can either whistle or use items you’ve collected to make sounds, which will attract or distract the guards depending on how you use them. As in Metal Gear Solid, failure to remain quiet or to plan your approach will quickly lead to discovery, and Volume’s difficulty level is harsh yet fair; within a few minutes, you’re working out the safest path through each map, luring guards away from your path and snatching the items they’re supposed to be protecting. Our brief hands-on time with Volume hinted at another immensely satisfying game from Bithell. It’s not quite as immediate as Thomas Was Alone, but there’s clearly the same devilishly cunning mind working away behind it all.

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Release date: 2015 for Windows, Mac, PS4 and Vita

2. Mutiny

If you remember the classic multiplayer brawler Powerstone on the Dreamcast, you’ll probably respond warmly to this pirate-themed beat-em-up from Hidden Armada. As one of a team of pirates aboard an adorably plump ship, it’s your task to protect your vessel while sinking those of your enemies. Players group together to fight cooperatively against AI pirates, but the occasional appearance of a captain’s hat throws the balance into even greater chaos: the wearer of the hat can hit anyone (including team mates) and rob the gold they’ve been collecting from fallen enemies. They also have more health, so they’re more difficult to kill. An otherwise straightforward brawler can quickly descend into a straight-up fight for the possession of a tricorn hat.

To make things even more hectic, enemy pirate ships float in seemingly at random and coast alongside your own vessel. You can try to sink them by kicking bombs onto the deck and blasting holes in it. There are also pigs roaming about if you feel like riding them.

The game clearly still has some issues – it’s extremely easy to fall in the sea, where hungry sharks await – but there’s the basis for a hugely entertaining brawler in here. Hidden Armada even plan to let up to 16 players fight at once, and they can use their phones to join in if there aren’t enough conventional control pads. Throw in some engaging, super-deformed character designs, and you have a potentially great console brawler in the making.

Mutiny is looking for funding on Kickstarter now.

Release date: May 2015 for Mac, PC and mobile

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1. Never Alone

An overwhelming number of the indie games we played at EGX featured female protagonists, but the one at the heart of Never Alone was arguably the best. Nuna is a young Inupiat girl seeking to find the cause of a perpetual blizzard. She has to traverse a snowy landscape with her sidekick, an arctic fox, by her side all the way. In single-player mode, you can control either character at the touch of a button, Nuna being able to push blocks and climb platforms, the fox able to crawl through tight gaps and reach higher places. In multiplayer mode, you work together as either the girl or the fox, making for a fun cooperative puzzler. What really sets Never Alone apart is the quality of its design; Nuna and her sidekick are beautifully animated, and you can really feel the chill in the level designs.

Never Alone was designed in conjunction with the native Alaskan community, and it’s refreshing to see a game take on such a different (and distinctive) culture as its theme.

Release date: November 2014 for Windows, PS4 and Xbox One

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