This weekend NME headed to London’s ExCeL to spend some time at EGX 2019, the UK’s biggest videogames event, and a showcase for some of the biggest forthcoming AAA titles, as well as hundreds and hundreds of the best new indie games.
Over the next few days we’ll be rolling out content from EGX, telling you the best stuff we got our hands on, the stuff we’re most excited about seeing more of down the line, and our predictions for what games we saw that we think are going to fly or flop. But first we thought we’d kick off with the ten most exciting indie games we got to grips with. Do make sure you’ve been to the toilet before you read this. There’s nothing worse than being excited on a full bladder.
If you spent any time with 2014’s educational-puzzle-platformer Never Alone (also known as Kisima Innitchuna), you’ll know that creators E-Line Media are an outfit who are trying to do something really quite different with their releases. Whereas that game was a collaboration between the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and told the story of an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna and her Arctic fox pal (thereby proving all sort of knowledge about people indigenous to the Arctic you’d rarely get to learn about while sat in front of your Xbox), Beyond Blue is a collaboration with the BBC and their hugely acclaimed Blue Planet II series. Gameplay is a beautiful and, dare we say, spiritual experience. Think Abzû with scale. Think the closest you’ll ever get to swim next to a massive, screenfilling Blue Whale! You can expect to see Beyond Blue later this year.
Change: A Homeless Survival Experience
This side-scrolling pixelated mini-RPG attempts to replicate the unenviable experience of being homeless. Which sounds like the sort of idea people should be sent to prison on the moon for. And yet, while attempting to replicate the horror of life on the streets seems appalling within the realms of entertainment, what Change: A Homeless Survival Experience attempts to do is force a change in understanding about the realities of rough living. It is a gruelling play, with the word ‘play’ feeling inappropriate throughout. But as we traipsed through the streets asking for change, being met with endless abuse, racing to find somewhere dry to sleep that night, we unquestionably started to think, “maybe we do have a quid for the guy outside the tube…” We’re not saying Change: A Homeless Survival Experience is a good game. We’re not even saying it’s necessarily a good idea. But it is a powerful one.
You might be noticing something of a theme here, but more than any year we can previously recall, the indie titles presented at EGX 2019 often had a degree of wokeness embedded within their code. Ghent based studio Pajama Llama had their new title Flotsam on display, which is essentially a game about cleaning up trash from the oceans. The hook here is that you do this to rebuild your floating city, creating a sort of Waterworld-cum-Sim City vibe. It took us ages to work out what to do when presented with the game on the showroom floor, but once we’d grasped the basics, what followed was an extremely pleasant experience – until we remembered that the NME office would most likely be underwater in twenty-years-time. Flotsam is available on Steam already, with ports to consoles believed to be coming in 2020.
Lord Winklebottom Investigates
For all the experiences videogames grant players, we can be fairly certain that you’ve never tried to solve the murder of an aristocratic axolotl through the eyes of a monocle wearing giraffe – the titular Lord Winklebottom – and his sidekick, a gruff, straight shooting hippopotamus called Dr. Winkle. And yet that’s what this point-and-click adventure created by Charlotte Sutherland and her one woman studio, Cave Monsters offers the player. What we played was very funny – Monkey Island level funny, which is some praise – with a lascivious art style, resulting in an overwhelming worry that the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle may well sue. You can get your hands on it next May.
Hollow Knight: Silksong
Metroidvania platform adventure Hollow Night was a multi-award-winning revelation when it was released in 2017. Simple yet luscious animation, a story that delivered miles more weight than was expected going in and combat and exploration that was often challenging, and yet rewarded repeated play. You knew it was a classic within the first hour of gameplay. Developers Team Cherry – a small studio in Adelaide, Australia – originally intended this sequel as DLC for the first game, then got carried away building out the experience (which this time centres around the character Hornet, rather than the Knight), deciding to release it as a standalone title. Going by the size of the queues at their stand, the new game – release date TBA – is looking to be just as special as first time around.
There were a bunch of indie games on display at EGX this year that deserve a shout out by us, without being given their own unique entries in this list. These are games designed to sooth and relax; like vinery management simulator Hundred Days (that’s an actual thing), Alula (a star-gazing gardening game) and Tracks (a model train building simulator). Look, it’s a busy world and anything that stops people taking heroin to get their chill on is okay with us. And yet it’s Reky, an isometric puzzle game with an amazing early-Aphex Twin-esque soundtrack – out now on mobile platforms, braniacs! – which looks like being the game we’d most like to unwind with after yet another day on the coalface-of-bullshit we call life. Speaking of puzzlers, though, there’s a cute-as-buttons game called Moving Out that caught our eye too. Essentially it appears to be a game about the nightmare that is moving a sofa in-and-out of your flat. But fun! God bless videogames!
Unto The End
We didn’t spend loads of time with 2 Ton Studios side-scrolling fantasy adventure game, but we spent more than enough to know we’re looking at something really special. Details of plot are sketchy – you’re a father looking for his missing family; not a warrior, but no wimp either – but what really impressed us was just how innovative the enemies you meet are, how each new creature or combatant had their own intuitive fighting style, and how sometimes the best way to travail an obstacle in your path isn’t to fight at all. There’s no set release date for this one – but it’s definitely worth keeping alert for further information as and when.
Nerds of a certain age will read the words Fighting Fantasy and go weak at the knees – as well as fretting about where they can get a dice, a pencil and an eraser quick smart. Based on RPG master Ian Livingstone’s classic choose-your-own adventure book of the same name, first published in 1984, there’s no need for any of the aforementioned in this second videogame adaptation of Deathtrap Dungeon (a Tomb Raider style version was released for the first PlayStation in 1998 – it’s very bad, and yet we’ve included it as the video above for lols as this version doesn’t have a video yet). This time, actor Eddie Marsan (Hobbs & Shaw, Warhorse, basically anything British, worthy and good) is on hand in his nice big chair to narrate the experience for you. Described as an ‘interactive video storybook’, Branching Narrative’s adaptation should be available for PC, Mac and mobile by the time you read this. Console owning dungeon dwellers will have to wait until 2020.
Strong shades of SNES classic Star Fox in this still-in-development title from developer Ben Hickling (who made a super fun micro-sized RPG called Best Quest the other year where a canine protagonist kills people with poo). Polygons – big, pink, stare-at-them-too-long-and-you’ll-get-existential-thoughts polygons! – are the name of the game in this zippy on-rails shooter. Sure, Hickling’s game might feel archaic to anyone under the age of twenty – maybe even anyone under thirty – but to gamers on the plus side of that cultural cut off point, Ex-Zodiac looks like a thrilling trip down memory lane.
If, like us, you spent hours of your life playing the old Tony Hawks titles, you might be interested in the most batshit game we saw at all of EGX 2019; Skatebird! A game where you control – um – a skateboarding bird! Okay, so there’s only so long the novelty of fannying around with a little garden bird on a skateboard is going to last, but we’d say that’s quite an extensive amount of time. Most importantly, Skatebird looks like a game with actual chops, not one where the game peaks with the title (cough, Goat Simulator). And anyway, it’s not like Skate 4 is in any rush to show its face, huh?