After finally kicking off E3 2021 with Elden Ring footage and a mix of reveals for games big and small, it was Tim Schafer and company’s turn to spotlight some special indie titles. This year didn’t disappoint, with some gameplay from the Brisbane team behind Phantom Abyss, a cool new photography game, PS1, VHS-horror themed games, an adorable Stardew-esque slice of life game called Garden Story, and more.
Axiom Verge 2 was first cab off the rank, and it had some wild changes from its predecessor. Based off feedback from the original, players will be able to finish Axiom Verge 2 without defeating a single boss.
“I’ve talked to many people who loved exploring the world … only to get stuck at a boss they couldn’t pass, and that ended the experience for them,” the Axiom Verge creator announced. The game will launch on all platforms “soon”.
Next up was a Swedish game called Toem, which is all about taking photographs. Travelling to see the phenomenon known as Toem, you have to earn money by helping creatures by taking photographs of different things.
You’ll have a small quest list of challenges to photograph, as well as some sliders and choices of how you frame shots. It’s got a great monochromatic 2.5D style, and the game transitions into a first-person view when you want to take a photo.
The Brisbane studio behind Phantom Abyss then gave a brief rundown of how their procedurally generated dungeon hunter works. It’s due to hit early access very soon, apparently, but there weren’t any new details from what we saw a few weeks ago.
Garden Story was next up, offering a bright, vibrant slice-of-life adventure with plenty of Stardew vibes. Small difference though: you’re a grape.
Don’t know if romancing is a thing in Grape Stardew, but it looks honestly lovely. It’s due out sometime this winter.
Chikon Club then arrived with Soup Pot, a first-person cooking simulator with more than 100 recipes from different regions and cuisines. There’s no fail states in Soup Pot, and the developers worked with chefs to ensure the in-game recipes were palatable in real-life. Grilling and using skewers are also an option.
A Musical Story followed with an incredible story, where you play music to unlock memories. It’s a story about friendships, addiction, the ’80s, and it’s all told through music and rhythm. There’s no text on screen; no normal guidance. “Everything is based on your ability to listen to the music and understand it,” the developers said.
It’s launching on iOS, PC, Switch, PS4/PS5 and Xbox “later this year”. There’s a free demo available on Steam from today, too.
That was followed by a stunning new stop-motion game from the makers of Felix The Reaper. It’s called VOKABULANTIS, although it won’t be released for a couple of years. (The game was only successfully funded on Kickstarter a couple of months ago.)
Road 96 followed, starring a teenager hitchhiking their way to escape a country in turmoil. You’ll meet NPCs with very strong personalities as you bounce from one car to another; one character warns you they have massive anger management issues, for instance.
Next was The Wandering Village, a town-building simulator with all the usual trappings. The spin that makes it stand out? The town is built on the back of a giant wandering creature. As the creature moves through biomes, the ecology, visuals and impact on your town changes.
The Wandering Village has no release date at this time. Unbeatable — which was recently Kickstarted — followed as an “anime-inspired adventure rhythm game” about committing crime. Which, yes?
The game gives you two buttons: up and down. You use that to basically dodge or respond to any of the inputs on screen, and that core mechanic helps you run through different scenes, like fighting on stage, playing darts, or eating. Your decisions in-game change what songs the band can write, which then naturally completely changes the rhythm and tenor of the musical sequences.
The isometric Death’s Door followed, the latest game from the makers of Titan Souls. This one is vastly more vibrant than Titan Souls, but the controls are just as tight and it’s a very visually responsive, hand-crafted world.
Also, you’re a little bird with a sword. Death’s Door will be released sometime in the Australian winter — so real soon.
Behind the Frame, a new narrative game, is a new game from a Taiwanese studio from Silver Lining Studio. Honestly, the art style might genuinely be the best thing shown off at E3 so far.
It’s a game with puzzles about a painter who wants to become a professional artist. It’s designed with a cel-shaded style specifically to give it that Ghibli, anime look, and really, it fits.
The next part was about Japanese creators, with studio Asobu talking about how they are helping developers in Japan bring their projects to life. Some indie games from Japan included Elec Head, a 2D puzzle platformer made by a single developer, where you’re trying to restore light to the world. As you touch objects, you electrify them, bringing the objects (and potential obstacles, or pathways) to life.
It’ll be released later this year.
Demolition Robots K.K. is a game about smashing buildings with giant mechs. It’s a couch co-op game for four: everyone gets a mech, and everyone gets to beat the shit out of buildings.
The game has Twitch integrations to influence gameplay, and it’s due for a PC and console release later this year. The last Japanese indie was Walk, a horror game that has a massive PS1, VHS-inspired look.
Moonglow Bay is a slice-of-life adventure about fishing, but with more of a voxel-based look. While there’s obvious parallels to Harvest Moon, and there’s lots of fun elements like going into your house and cooking recipes — which you can then sell to upgrade your shop and boat to survive.
It’s got a great look and one of the nicest looking UI’s in a game this year, hands down.
Next game: what happens when you put Diablo and Tetris together? That’s the idea behind Loot River, which is coming to Xbox and PC. The Tetris element kicks in as the player is given the ability to re-arrange the game world, helping you zone enemies away. It sounds like there’s a roguelike element to the game as well. Loot River doesn’t have a release date at this stage.
An Ecuadorian studio followed with Despelote, a game that undoubtedly looks like nothing else you’ve seen, or are likely to see. It’s a narrative adventure about a kid waiting around to play soccer in school, and is set in 2001, just before Ecuador qualified for the 2002 World Cup.
It’s a story about the impact of soccer on a culture, something you absolutely don’t see from other games. There’s no release date at this stage.
The final game was Last Stop — from the makers of Virginia. It’s much more cel-shaded, more supernatural, and apparently more ambitious with relationships and its storytelling. It’s launching on July 22 this year.
Annapurna also revealed they’ll have a showcase of their own during E3 — love how all these announcements are being made last minute — featuring games like Solar Ash, Stray, more Outer Wilds and more on July 29.
This post is being updated live.