Indie gaming has become so deliciously varied that last year we began a livestream show specifically dedicated to them here at Shacknews. 2021 is no exception. There are treasure troves of indie titles already set for this year and we can’t wait to see what surprises come our way out of the indie gaming scene. Looking to fill your own wishlist? Check out Shacknews’ 25 most anticipated indie games of 2021!
Just in case you’re curious, we have another Most Anticipated Games list we specifically kept separate from the indie gems. Be sure to check that one out too!
Windjammers is so very ridiculous in its premise and it always has been, but Dotemu is cranking it to 11 with this one in every way. The colors are splendid, the action is hot and fast, and the wind is indeed jamming as every tease has brought us closer to the disc throwing vs battle we crave.
This one actually got pushed back from late 2020, but it was with absolutely perfect reason behind it. The world still isn't ready to go back to physical events and Dotemu knows it needs that extra time to give this game the netcode it needs to succeed in offline and online settings. Do we want to have in-person tournaments in Windjammers 2? You bet your sweet bippy we do, but if the online is perfected in the meantime, then we'll have a good game on our hands either way as we await the day of Windjammers 2 tournament events.
Tunic has actually been known to us for quite some time. It's been long enough, in fact, for a similarly styled remake of Zelda: Link's Awakening to be announced and come out. But Nintendo hasn't entirely stolen Finji's thunder. There's still more than enough room for the fox-centered top-down adventure Tunic has promised us. If anything, all Link's Awakening did is leave us wanting more of these types of games. We're still rooting for Andrew Shouldice to show us what Tunic's brave little fox can do, and we have a feeling we'll be happy with the results whenever they arrive.
SkateBird has long promised to bring us a lot of the things we like about Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, but reskinned with determined little birds, their toy skateboards, and a menagerie of office and home furnishings repurposed as a skate park for their adorable shenanigans. We're still running hot on our love of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2, so we're also happily chomping at the bit to see what Skatebird feels like when it finally reaches its eventual 1.0. Doing a 900 as a chubby little cardinal is within our grasp.
Goodbye Volcano High
We'll bet that you may have thought that game trailer about dinosaur teens, music, and high school drama was a fever dream, but we assure you it's real and still on its way in 2021. Goodbye Volcano High was a wonderfully curious and cartoonish premise shown off exclusively for the PlayStation 5 in 2020. We haven't heard much on it since, but if the reveal trailer was anything to go by, it's supposed to arrive sometime in the year 2021. Such as the case, we're rather excited and curious to see what KO_OP brings to the table with this one. At the very least, we know we're in for a rollercoaster of teenage dinosaur emotion, and that might be all we really need to stay on board.
We are quite familiar with Satisfactory here at Shacknews. This game has been in early access on Steam for a hot minute and was actually one of the earlier games we played for Indie-licious in 2020. That said, this excellent planetary exploration, resource gathering, and industrial automation sim continues to chug along with a wealth of updates and content.
Truthfully, Satisfactory doesn't have a launch date. Coffee Stain Studios has said that it'll keep working on this one until the devs feel like they're truly done with it before calling it a true 1.0. "Roughly 2022" is the estimate they've got on the game's page right now, but as long as Satisfactory keeps delivering the goods, we don't mind. This is a game many of us have already thrown hours into and we're sure to do it more whether Satisfactory "officially launches" in 2021 or not.
Some of the best video game stories are the ones that follow the hero's journey. And one of the best things about video games is that the hero can be almost anything. In the case of Garden Story, that hero is a concord grape.
Garden Story blends together an overworld sword-and-shield action RPG with some of the farm-building elements of games like Stardew Valley. It's an odd blend, much like you'd get from mixing some of this game's fruits and veggies together, but it's one that looks like it'll go down sweet like a delicious gaming smoothie. There's a world to save and if you stop and look around, you'll find that it's a beautiful garden worth saving.
Rogue Legacy 2
The first Rogue Legacy was one of the last decade's most memorable indie games, mainly because of its central premise where a brave knight would journey through a dangerous castle. And when that knight inevitably died, their descendents would continue the journey, each utilizing different traits. Rogue Legacy 2 takes that original idea and expands on it in a number of ways.
For one thing, there's more than just a castle to explore this time. There are multiple biomes, each with their own rewards and dangers. With so much more to see, that naturally calls for more character variety. Rogue Legacy 2 has that in spades, thanks to new traits and a new class system. Developer Cellar Door Games is just getting started, offering regular updates over the course of its Steam early access run.
Rogue Legacy 2 in its current form is looking strong, so much so that its 1.0 release could potentially make it one of the best indie games of the year.
Temtem is a game that can cynically be described as a shameless Pokemon clone. However, the brighter approach would be to look at Temtem as Pokemon if Nintendo took the typical formula and extended it out to its fullest potential.
Temtem isn't just going out and capturing hundreds of pocket monsters. It's a fully realized MMO world with bustling towns, vibrant NPCs, the ability to engage with other real-world players, a multitude of housing options, MMO-style raids, and so much more. Developer Crema has been adding to the total package throughout its early access period and there's good reason to believe it could be one of the breakout hits of 2021 once it exits early access in May.
We've gotten used to Annapurna Interactive backing indie developers with some quirky, yet interesting concepts. Twelve Minutes has our full attention. From developer Luis Antonio, Twelve Minutes has players living the same terrifying time loop over and over again. It's a romantic evening gone terribly wrong after police break in and accuse your wife of murder before beating you to death.
The mystery of how the events of Twelve Minutes come to pass makes it a fascinating adventure. It's one where players must put their deductive reasoning to work, all the while making sure they don't get discouraged by the terrifying sequences unfolding before them. The all-star cast that includes James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley, and Willem Dafoe make this all the more intriguing.
This isn't the sort of concept we see in video games everyday. And really, doesn't that statement sum up the beauty of indie gaming in a nutshell?
Narrative-based adventures were a big part of the 2010s and part of the reason for that was because of developer Fullbright. Gone Home was seven and a half years ago, but Fullbright hasn't stopped working on new games. That's why we were so excited to learn about Open Roads during December's Indie World presentation.
Open Roads looks to have all the touching and engaging story beats of Fullbright's previous efforts, but its most interesting element may be its new animation style. It's a style that's suited nicely to the game's central plot, which involves a mother/daughter road trip. As far as narrative adventures go, the setting to this one is one we can get behind and one for which we're excited to hit the road.
As big of a cult hit as Pokemon Snap was in the late 90s, it's amazing that there hasn't been a game like it since. Kitfox Games and Sundae Month went a step further with its central concept. They're taking the idea of snapping pictures and applying to it the real world, substituting Pokemon with real dogs. It's incredibly brilliant! That's Pupperazzi!
We're mostly a staff of dog people here at Shacknews. That's why we're enamored with the idea of Pupperazzi. We're stoked about wandering this world, finding different breeds of doggos and immortalizing them through the magic of photography. If the dogs are half as cute as they are in the early screenshots, then Pupperazzi will be an early contender for the year's best indie game.
You Suck at Parking
Let's be real. Anybody who has ever taken a behind-the-wheel driving test knows that parking can be a nightmare. Some of you people reading this right now may be a fully licensed driver and may still hate the idea of parking. That's why Happy Volcano's You Suck at Parking may have one of the most brilliant premises of the year. It's a driving game, but the goal isn't to drive. It's to park.
The challenges tied to parking all look they'll make You Suck at Parking a wildly fun time. We've likely barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer, but navigating these tough tracks is going to be tricky in itself without having to deal with a multitude of deadly obstacles. Imagine if any of us had to deal with magnets or landmines during our driving tests. They probably wouldn't have gone so well.
Want to learn more about this game? Be sure to check out our recent preview.
Axiom Verge 2
The first Axiom Verge came along at a time when there was a lot of hunger for a spiritual successor to Super Metroid. If Nintendo wasn't going to make one, why shouldn't an intrepid indie developer try for themselves? That's just what Tom Happ did and the result was Axiom Verge, a game that was unapologetic with its inspirations and one that was an amazing adventure.
Dozens of great Metroidvanias have come along since, which is what makes the existence of Axiom Verge 2 such a curiosity. The first game helped fill a void. So what does Happ have in mind for a sequel that few expected to see? We're anxious to find out and even happier to hear that it's on its way to Nintendo Switch.
To this point, Yacht Club Games has been the house that Shovel Knight built. To an extent, it still is. But then they met Aarne "MekaSkull" Hunziker, the man behind Mechanical Head Studios, and the two forces combined to create something different, yet also something delightfully retro.
Cyber Shadow comes across as a modern combination of Ninja Gaiden, Contra, and Strider. The environments, even with their 8-bit designs, look amazing, taking players into a desolate post-apocalyptic world. The bosses look tough as nails and the various ninja skills look like a lot of fun in execution. Like Shovel Knight, this looks like a throwback in the best kind of way and it's a great way to start the year, releasing later in January.
Roguelites are certainly not going anywhere in 2021. The genre has been garnering indie acclaim for a few years now, and with some of them receiving Game of the Year nominations, we don’t expect to see a slowdown in titles featuring the addictive gameplay any time soon. Batterystaple’s 20XX was the amalgamation of Mega Man X inspired gameplay with the randomly-generated replayability of roguelike platformers. This will be expanded upon with the sequel, 30XX, planned for release on February 17th.
The same co-op supported precision action can be expected with new worlds to explore, Guardians to dispose, and powers to learn. Taking place a thousand years after the previous game, 30XX looks to be a must-play for any fan of 20XX or the original Mega Man X series. A level editor is also included for creative players and map makers to try their hand at crafting worlds to dash and slice through, from chunks of levels to entire campaigns. Batterystaple is doing well at keeping the Mega Man X style of gameplay fresh into 2021 and beyond.
Sam Eng is not making your typical skateboarding game. With the graphic sensibilities of SUPERHOT, the psychedelic trippiness of Tetris Effect, and a control scheme reminiscent of the Skate franchise, Skate Story promises to be unlike any other feet-on-a-rolling-board-simulator we’ve ever seen.
Single developer indie games are not uncommon as they once were, but games like this are about as unique as they come. Little is known about the overall story behind the skating, other than you are in for a journey to the underworld. We’re excited to take the trip based on videos and animated gifs shared by the sole creator. Just one look at the gameplay and you’re immediately transfixed to the methodical skateboarding melded with abstract environments. No hard release date has been announced by Eng, but we know development has been steady since January of 2020. “Coming soon” is the only indication we have that Skate Story might be rolling onto PC later this year.
Take the isometric party fighter craziness of Power Stone, add in a dash of physics-based mayhem, a background of cel-shaded real-world-styled environments, and stir it all up with 2-4 cats scrapping for feline dominance. Sound intriguing? If so, Fisti-Fluffs from Playfellow Studios and Rogue Games Inc. is right up your alley. Announced for the Nintendo Switch and Steam, this tabby tussler is due to release later this year.
Fisti-Fluffs is set to have multiple game modes including a horde-based co-op defense of your precious kibble from various rodents. There will also be multiple ways to customize your kitties with style in order to look good while you claim your territory. Of course, none of this would be as fun without a trendy camera mode to record snapshots of your victory in this wild physics fighter. If you can’t wait to try out the bobcat brawler, there’s a demo available on Steam now.
Indie darling Golf Story from Sidebar Games charmed us all back in 2017 with its simple gameplay, cute pixel art, and memorable story twists on top of eight golf courses. To say Golf Story went to unexpected places would be an understatement, and we expect Sports Story to have just as much charm as it does surprises.
Originally set to launch back in Q2 of 2020, the pandemic delays have affected Sports Story a little harder than some indie developers. Hopefully, the team can pull together the final pieces for Nintendo Switch owners later this year. The upcoming Sidebar sports romp has shown golf, tennis, volleyball, and soccer already, and we imagine there will be more wacky variations and combinations of them all. There’s even an event in the works called The Decasportathon! Promising everything from dungeons to mini-games, buried treasure to espionage; Sports Story is poised to be the only indie sports adventure you need in 2021.
Humble Games and Bounding Box Software Inc. want you to frag like it’s 1999 all over again. Released into early access on November 9th of 2020, Prodeus already impresses with tight gameplay, charming old-school-meets-new-school graphics techniques, excellent level design, and crisp weapon feel. It basically nails every aspect of a great first-person shooter. The gore is gratuitous and the action is pitch-perfect.
Combining all of that with a robust yet accessible level editor, Bounding Box wants to create the old-school shooter that will keep you engaged far into the future. With cash prizes up for grabs in map making contests and adding winner and developer-picked filters to the community map browser, there is serious support for user-generated content. The devs don’t want you to make the game for them however, with regular updates coming, it looks like 2021 will be a great year for this early-access critical hit.
Hollow Knight: Silksong
One of the best things about 2020 coming to a close, is the fact that it brings us that much closer to the release of Hollow Knight: Silksong. Team Cherry’s highly anticipated follow-up to their freshman magnum opus stayed fairly quiet throughout the wretched year. We thankfully got a look at Silksong at E3 2019, and the game is now looking almost complete two years later.
The once planned DLC turned full-fat indie sequel has expanded significantly since first announced. Given the pedigree, we can only expect this new metroidvania to deliver another genre-defining experience. As Silksong emerges from the dark shadow of Deepnest, we expect the world of Pharloom will allow us to see Hornet through something familiar yet entirely new and just as profound. The second entry in a video game franchise is often stellar, given the lessons learned in creating the first. Silksong, however, comes from the lessons learned in crafting a masterpiece and we marvel at the thought of how Team Cherry will go further.
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin
Debuting in early access over a year ago in late 2019, Kill Pixel’s Wrath: Aeon of Ruin has been growing into the Quake spiritual successor that any Shacknews veteran could love. We started as a Quake fan-site 25 years ago, and if there’s any website to tell you that an upcoming shooter has what it takes, it’s this one. 3DRealms and 1C Entertainment are putting their weight behind this throwback to 1996 and it shows.
Currently featuring an expansive hub level and four ample maps, Wrath has been getting steady updates and is on track for a Summer 2021 release according to the development roadmap. Even with COVID-19 setbacks, the team has been hard at work delivering a Quake-worthy comparison. Promising a total of three hub worlds with 15 levels, multiplayer, and mod support; Wrath: Aeon of Ruin might just fill those boots Ranger left behind.
Shadow Warrior 3
We want more Lo Wang. We want to watch Wang do his thang and wrap up this trilogy with a bang. Devolver Digital and former members of the Painkiller development team have already produced two outstanding modern takes on an old, racist Build Engine classic from the 90s. With the third title, my expectations are through the roof. The short snippet we got to see last year looked as good as anything from the big publishers and is likely to be on the shortlist for best FPS game of 2021.
Legend Bowl was another sweet addition to the Indie-licious catalogue in 2020. It’s delicious in its art aesthetic, gameplay, and effects. If Tecmo Bowl and Blitz had a baby, it might come out looking like what Legend Bowl offers, and that’s just a great thing. The game already features online and offline play, exhibitions, tournaments, seasons, and career mode, and Level Ready is planning on expanding much of it out as the studio fine-tunes Legend Bowl’s gameplay. There’s no telling if this one actually lands in 2020, but for what we’ve seen and played so far, if you want an arcade-style football experience with some surprising depth to it and satisfying hits to it, Legend Bowl is definitely the football game you’re looking for.
Bloober Team had an extremely rare miss with Blair Witch (at least for us. A lot of folks really enjoyed it), but even with that in mind, we haven’t lost an ounce of faith in the studio that brought us Observer and the Layers of Fear games. Bloober definitely knows how to handle psychological horror. That brings us to The Medium. This game promises a deeply disturbing atmospheric adventure in which players will be put in the role of a psychic traveling between realities to unravel a mystery involving supernatural forces. Bloober has shared only as much as they need to in keeping us on this hook for this particular adventure and we can’t wait to see how the mechanics and the mystery play out.
These are Shacknews’ Most Anticipated Indie Games of 2020, but indies are a neverending treasure trove of fun. There’s surely things we’re missing here and more to come. What are you looking forward to? Anything on our list? Any anticipated indie games of your own? Let us know in the Shacknews Chatty comment section below!
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Shacknews 25 Most Anticipated Indie Games of 2021
I'd completely forgotten about Twelve Minutes. The reveal trailer a while back looked really intriguing, so I'll definitely keep my eyes on it.
I hope Tunic gets released in the first half of the year. I've been waiting to play that one ever since it was announced.
Prodeus owns. I can't wait for them to release more of the campaign.
I really hope they're adding co-op at some point. Tommy and I love running through Doom levels together and it'd be amazing in Prodeus, though it would create a few problems because of how some of the encounters work in the campaign so far -- they like to box the player into arenas a lot, and it's easy to see how the second player wouldn't necessarily be in the right place at the right time for that kind of stuff to work. :/
I love this article!