Surviving the AAA drought with a flood of indies

From flesh kraken to fresh flappin'

Every year around E3 season, we face the dreaded “games drought” – a window of time between the hype of freshly announced games and the onslaught of releases in the autumn. Many gamers use this time to catch up on extensive backlogs, jump back into old favourites, or – in dire cases – spend some time outdoors. However, I have an alternate suggestion: why not use this period to feast your senses on some indie titles? While AAA may slow down over the summer, the indie train is non-stop and always full of exciting surprises. If your wishlist is drier than a California summer, here are my four most anticipated indie releases of summer 2021.

Cris Tales

Despite having played games basically every day for the past 25 years, there are still entire genres of games that I’ve barely explored. One particular genre I never know where to jump in is JRPGs. Some of the classics can be a little intimidating, and it’s hard to tell if newer entries are a good diving board if you aren’t familiar with how these games tend to work. That being said, I think I’m finally ready to take the plunge this summer with Cris Tales.

Cris Tales is a love letter to JRPGs new and old. From Chrono Trigger to Bravely Default, the game’s creators – Colombian studios Dreams Uncorporated and Syck – have cited inspiration from what is essentially the genre’s entire history. Cris Tales shakes up the classic format by offering a twist to turn-based combat – time control. You can send enemies to the past or the future to set up attacks, such as drenching someone in water then launching them into the future to rust out their shields. The time mechanics aren’t limited to the battlefield, either. While you’re exploring the world and doing quests, you’ll be able to see all three timelines at once to help you learn from the past, make decisions in the present, and see how it will affect the future.

Cris Tales is scheduled to release on the 20th July. There’s a demo available on Steam right now to tide you over until then.

Image: Dreams Uncorporated, SYCK, Steam

Death’s Door

As someone who sees a lot of game trailers in a year, it’s rare that I actually remember a game from the first time I hear about it. Death’s Door was first shown off at Xbox’s ID@Xbox Gaming Showcase in March with a flashy trailer and an interview with Acid Nerve, the two-man team putting this ambitious fantasy world together. While this is far from the duo’s first game, it’s certainly their biggest one yet and it left one hell of a strong impression right out of the gate.

In this action-adventure game, players will take on the role of a crow whose day job is collecting the souls of the dead. Your monotonous routine is broken when a soul is stolen and taken to a realm where creatures overflow with greed and power. The game has an awesome sense of scale and depth with gigantic enemies looming over your small crow. The clay-like environments and characters give this fantasy world a softer feeling, which makes the brutal and punishing demigods all the more threatening. The game also includes classic RPG elements like character stats and abilities, giving you ways to personalise your fighting style. From what the team has said about combat, you’ll need every advantage you can get.

During its E3 showcase, publisher Devolver Digital announced that Death’s Door will be released on the 20th July for PC via Steam, Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One.

Image: Acid Nerve, Xbox

SkateBIRD

Listen, I think I do a good job helping people find games that they’ll like, but some games really just sell themselves. Check this list out: Skateboarding? Check. Cool soundtrack? Check. Playable character is a bird you can accessorise? Check and mate. What can I say, this game just has “winner” written all over it.

SkateBIRD is the newest entry into the surprisingly small category of indie skateboarding games. In it, you play as a bird who loves to shred on appropriately-sized skate parks made of bendy straws, binder clips, and stacked magazines. Much like other skating games, you’ll chain sweet tricks to pull off combos and increase your score, unlocking more skateparks like rooftops or new rooms in your person’s house. Unlike other skating games, you’ll also meet other birds, and play your part in what seems to be an incredibly heart-warming story about trying your best.

SkateBIRD, developed and published by Glass Bottom Games, releases on the 12th August on Steam, Xbox, Game Pass, and Nintendo Switch.

Image: Glass Bottom Games

Death Trash

I tend to avoid talking too much about games going into Early Access, but when they’re as good as Death Trash, I’m happy to make an exception. Developed by first-time Berlin-based studio Crafting Legends, Death Trash is a pixel art love letter to old-school CPRG’s like Fallout 2 and Wasteland. You’ll find staples like character stats and in-depth dialogue trees nestled comfortably next to modern real-time combat and… flesh growing out of the ground?

Death Trash is a post-apocalyptic action role-playing game that is oozing with atmosphere (literally). The story and characters take beats from sci-fi and cyberpunk, with robots that want to be human and psionic powers that will help you both in and out of combat. When I tried the demo, I was pleasantly surprised by how fluid the real-time combat felt in a game that would usually opt for a turn-based system. Resources are limited and mistakes are punished swiftly, so whichever playstyle you choose will require strategy, and likely some quick saving. What really sets this game apart for me though is its dark sense of humour and strong perspective. Most of my encounters with other characters were so weird and delightful I felt compelled to speak to every single person I could find, even the flesh Kraken. Especially the flesh Kraken.

From what I can tell, this is one case where Early Access is being used for its intended purpose: getting people into a game while the final details are ironed out. And personally, I can’t wait to jump back in.

Death Trash releases in Early Access on Steam on the 5th August. The full game doesn’t have a release date yet, but it’s planned for PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.

Image: Crafting Legends

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