20 weird and wonderful indie games for 2020
Just before the holidays, I mentioned on Twitter that I was pulling together a story about the most anticipated games of 2020. I asked for recommendations, particularly indie games, to include in the list. The response was overwhelming, so much so that I couldn’t even begin to fit all the suggested games into our initial list of 50.
The top-50 list did include highly anticipated indie games including 12 Minutes, Carrion, Griftlands, Minute of Islands, Nuts, The Red Lantern, Sable, Saturnalia, Skatebird. Spelunky 2, Spiritfarer, and more. And we’re just a few weeks away from the release of Kentucky Route Zero Act 5, part of one of gaming’s most important series ever. But there are so many curious and intriguing indie games coming out, I wanted to highlight a few extra gems.
Just for the record, I’m defining indie games here as those being made by an individual or a small team that’s not owned by a large company.
This is by no means a definitive list of cool indie games coming out this year. But they are the ones that caught my eye. Please add your suggestions in comments below.
An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs
Also known as “Dog Airport Game,” Xalavier Nelson Jr.’s first-person narrative puzzle involves navigating off-world airports, which are run by slightly incompetent hounds. Interacting with stock images of mutts via simple dialogue trees unfolds a funny, interplanetary road trip that’s inspired by early Adult Swim TV shows. It’s coming to unannounced consoles and Windows PC.
[Disclosure: Xalavier Nelson Jr. is a regular contributor to Polygon.]
Howard Lotor is a raccoon who works as a private detective, prowling the mean streets of a dystopian Vancouver. Prettily rendered in pixel-art, Backbone’s story involves sneaking around and searching for clues while interrogating potential leads through dialogue options. Developed by Eggnut, it’s coming to Linux, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. A free demo is currently available on Steam.
Before We Leave
Hexagonal civilization-builder Before We Leave from Balancing Monkey Games takes the standard turn-based strategy formula of armed colonization and removes the violence. Players emerge from post-apocalyptic underground bases to rebuild broken societies, marshaling resources and relearning skills and technologies. But ancient flying-whale aliens must be persuaded that the growing civs have learned the lessons of the past. It’s being released, initially, as an Epic Game Store exclusive, with Steam to follow.
Best Friend Forever
Raise a dog, take the dog for walks, meet other dog-people, start dating. That’s the general gist of Best Friend Forever from New Zealand-based Starcolt, in which a diverse community of dog-lovers come together in search of romance. It’s coming out on Mac, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC on Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14).
Bloodroots is an overhead-view melee combat game in which Mr. Wolf, a lumberjack with a taste for extreme violence, moves through various environments at high speed, grabbing items and using them as throwaway weapons. When we saw the game last spring, we called Paper Cult’s creation “relentlessly stylish, bloody, and fun.” It’s coming to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Windows PC, via Epic Game Store.
This is the year of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but if your passion is particular to cats, then Calico might offer a sweet alternative. Players take on the role of a “magical girl” who is tasked with renovating a rundown cafe in service of its feline clientele, filling it with beautiful items and cuddly creatures. It’s coming to Steam this summer.
Elk has the look and vibe of an old-fashioned children’s TV show, in which a minimally animated 2D character meets new friends and helps them out through a variety of fun puzzles. But this is no childish morality play. The stories are based on real-life events, some of which are emotionally searing and morally perplexing. Developed by Copenhagen-based Triple Topping, it’s coming to Mac and Windows PC.
French outfit The Game Bakers is best known for combat game Furi, but Haven is an entirely different kind of game. It’s a romantic RPG in which two lovers (a solo option is available) fly over a pretty No Man’s Sky-like alien landscape, collecting and crafting stuff along the way. There’s a narrative element to the game, which also includes dialogue options and a touch of bedroom hanky panky. It’s coming to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.
In Other Waters
In Other Waters uses a minimalist user interface to simulate an artificial intelligence that monitors and guides the exploration of an underwater xenobiologist. As the story unfolds, the explorer gathers information, takes samples and investigates curiosities. It’s a game about aliens, but the goal isn’t to fire off plasma guns, but to uncover the truth. Created by Jump Over The Age, it’s coming to Steam this year.
Based on a medieval manuscript aesthetic, Yaza Games’ Inkulinati is a turn-based combat game in which creatures are “painted” by the player before going into battle. The game also takes much of its humor from Middle Ages marginalia, featuring bizarre grotesques as they do battle with pious nuns. It looks gorgeous and is coming to Steam this year.
Set in a Portal-esque installation, Lightmatter is a first-person combat-puzzle game in which players must avoid the shadows at all costs. Tunnel Vision’s game makes liberal use of light sources such as beams and lasers, as well as reflections. It’s coming to Steam on Jan. 15, with the first hour of the game free to play.
Luna: The Shadow Dust
Lantern Studio’s beautifully drawn point-and-click adventure makes use of clever puzzles and a sublime soundtrack to tell its 2D picture-book story. Players can solve physical and light-based puzzles taking on the role of a boy, or his mysterious sidekick. It’s coming to Linux, Mac, and Windows in February.
Plaything is all about interacting with a variety of creatures and reacting to their emotional responses, which vary wildly according to their individual personalities. The player tickles, gives gifts, and otherwise plays with each creature while at the same time nurturing its basic needs. Eventually, like a child grown to adulthood, the creature grows up and moves on. It’s made by Will Anderson and Niall Tessier Lavigne and is coming out on Windows PC.
Please, Do Touch the Artwork
Developer Studio Waterzooi describes Please, Do Touch the Artwork as a “relaxing and meditative color puzzle game.” Players fool around with modern art templates such as Mondrian, Malevich, and Kandinsky to create their own compositions. It’s coming out on Windows PC as well as mobile.
The Procession to Calvary
Joe Richardson’s follow-up to Four Last Things is another animated montage of Renaissance art that’s been cut, mangled, and pasted to create a smart and funny tableau of Monty Python-style jokes. The Procession to Calvary is coming to Linux, Mac, and Windows PC.
Röki is a non-violent Scandinavian folk tale in which a girl enters the dark woods in search of her family. Along the way, she finds alluring artifacts, encounters strange creatures, and solves puzzles. Polygon Treehouse’s lovely-looking adventure is coming to Nintendo Switch and Windows PC.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster
One-O-One’s Gone Home-style narrative murder-mystery tells the story of a woman who returns to her family’s deserted hotel, only to find the ghosts of the past. While a snow storm rages outside, the player is confined to the spooky hotel, offering opportunities for long corridor shots and frights aplenty. The Suicide of Rachel Foster is coming to Windows PC on Feb. 19.
Way to the Woods
Anthony Tan has been working on the lovely Way to the Woods since 2015, when he was still in his teens. The game got a big leg up at E3 2019 when Microsoft unveiled a new trailer. It’s a story-focused adventure in which players assume the roles of parent-and-child deer who seek to escape an urban trap and return to nature. It’s coming to Windows PC and Xbox One, including Xbox Game Pass.
Ghost Pattern’s narrative game follows the adventures of a teenage girl as she explores an extraordinary airborne hospital. Using dialogue trees and her own investigative abilities, she learns about the lives of hospital patients, as well as the hospital’s own secrets. Wayward Strand is coming out on mobile devices, Mac, and Windows PC.
Weaving Tides is one of the few games that takes a carpet as its setting. Players take on the role of a tiny dragon that works its way through a textile landscape, using the skills of a weaver to solve puzzles. Follow the Feathers’ game is coming to Windows PC and Mac.
Thanks to all of you who contacted us with suggestions on indie games coming this year. Please use comments to highlight indie games you’re eagerly anticipating, or that you’re working on. We’ll have more coverage on these, and other indie games, in the months ahead.
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