WASD is a calming indie-led oasis, a gaming weekender nestled in the heart of East London that’s a less corporate and infinitely more chill take on the often sweaty games convention. It’s a place where developers proudly demo their passion project themselves while players hang out and chat. While you can get hands on with big hitters like Tekken 8 and Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown, WASD is really about discovering the weird and the wonderful. If you’re not heading to WASD this week, here are six indie bangers you’ll absolutely want to have on your radar.
In one of the more ambitious indie offerings on the show floor, Nivalis transports players into a blocky neon- drenched dystopia. Visually, it’s very much Cyberpunk 2077 x Minecraft, but as I’m handed the deed to a noodle bar in Nivalis’s bustling metropolis, I’m also told there’s a serial killer prowling the streets. From fully voiced quest givers to the ability to place furniture as you see fit, there’s grin-inducing, genre hopping delight to be found in this sci-fi restaurant sim. As your stature grows, you can eventually purchase your own club, buy an awesome house and even determine the fate of the city’s entire nightlife.
It’s clever mix of life sim and story-led adventure has more than a whiff of Dave the Diver to it, and apparently you can even fall in love with your customers if you’re into that. Will Nivalis’ noodley systems have the umami spice necessary to pull off its lofty ambitions? That remains to be seen, but even if it only delivers half of its promises, Nivalis is still an appetising proposition.
So to Speak
Video games are a masterclass in making players feel productive. From epic open world adventures to more tedious tasks, no matter how much I grumble I always find myself motivated to complete quest after quest. What if you could harness that virtual motivation to help you learn a language? That’s the concept behind the Japanese language learning game, So to Speak. When creator Erik Anderson went to Japan he struggled to decipher street signs, finding himself carefully deconstructing each alien Kanji symbol until he began to figure out his unfamiliar surroundings. Using a clever mix of visual clues and drag-and-drop head-scratchers, this pixel art puzzler turns that IRL puzzle-solving element into its core mechanic. It’s a surprisingly effective way to learn, beating the painful experience of slowly repeating words ad nauseum. While my WASD demo left me far from fluent, it’s clever deconstruction of kanji left me feeling like I’d actually achieved something when I headed to the deguchi ( that’s Japanese for exit, mic drop suckaaass).
The sun is shining. You open up Civilization for a quick go after a long day and suddenly it’s pitch black and six hours have passed. If the very notion of losing days of your life to a 4X strategy game has you trembling in fear, Hexarchy may just be the bitesize alternative of your dreams.
Combining the best of Civ with the fast-paced deckbuilding of Hearthstone, this mercifully snappy strategy lets you clear an entire game in just one hour. Part board game, part streamlined strategy, you use cards to advance your civilization with each new turn, allowing you to progress from age to age in record time. It’s a delightfully slick and complete feeling game, making the genre’s once intimidating time commitments a thing of the past.
I thought I knew a lot about medicine but it turns out doctors actually use tiny spaceships to heal their patients, and most of them are secretly working with the FBI. This isn’t the rambling of a conspiratorial sub reddit, but the concept behind Oxymoron Games’s Project Diagnosis. Approached by a shady government agency, our protagonist needs to administer treatment to her sickly patients while also uncovering the extra terrestrial mysteries behind their eyebrow-raising injuries. Part heal-’em-up, part detective sim, Project Diagnosis effortlessly flits between carefully choosing dialogue that prompt patients to talk about their otherworldly encounters and navigating odd mini games that see you fly a pointer through circles to administer futuristic medicine. Wrapped up in a slick, silhouette-esque art style and with solid writing tying it all together, Project Diagnosis’ bizarre mash up is a unique twist on the point-and-click genre.
Even from across the crowded show floor, Ultros is a game that immediately catches your eye. Looking part edgy ’90s Image Comics, part ’70s psychedelia, this entrancing sci-fi adventure uses its unique art style to stand out in the increasingly crowded metroidvania genre. As I munch on larvae and leap across the screen, each new animation fills the screen in a burst of saturated colour, sending me gleefully exploring the next utterly bizarre-looking environment.
While most metroidvanias make combat feel slow and punishing, here encounters are refreshingly fluid and fast paced, seeing your mysterious hero slide under enemies and counter attack, chaining combos with a zippy cadence. As you unlock new combat abilities at each Saiyan Space Pod-esque save point and your battle performance gets graded after each encounter, there’s a pleasingly Platinum Games-esque feel to Ultros. With a pulsating and predictably hypnotic soundtrack from Hotline Miami composer El Huervo, Ultros is quite simply, a vibe. Well worth a look if you’re looking for something to fill that Hollow Knight-shaped void.
Change: a Homeless Survival Experience
Inspired by creator Danny Hayes’ chats with homeless people he met across five years, this rogue lite sees players attempting to survive on a city’s unforgiving streets. Begging for change and attempting to make it through life on procedurally generated sidewalks, Change hammers home just how challenging life can be when you’re homeless. With different traits affecting how you handle what life throws at you, the ultimate goal is to find a job and get a house – as you beg for change and attempt to survive. Yet with spiteful people damaging your morale, police interference and random muggings robbing you of your earnings, the truly unpredictable nature makes no two runs the same. Much like Lucas Pope’s seminal Papers, Please, this emotional and immersive work helps create a surprising amount of empathy despite its humble pixel art visuals, and manages to be both enjoyable to play while also hammering home an important message.
After something to scratch that Disco Elysium itch? Check out mediaeval talk-’em-up, Esoteric ebb, a world filled with piss-taking dwarves, grumbling goblins and villagers who cringe whenever you insist on calling their favours “quests”.
Ever imagined that your culinary creations are actually battle-ready monsters? Well firstly, that’s a bit weird, mate, but even more bizarrely, there’s actually a game that’s made exactly for you. Cook ‘em before you fight ‘em in Gladieaters, which combines kitchen mini games with creature battling in this endearingly weird Cooking Mama X Pokémon extravaganza.
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