E3 2021: Day of the Devs 2021 blew us out of our seats, all premieres inside!
Updated: Jun 20, 2021
32+ events, six days, hundreds of games, all the hype. E3 week means gaming announcements of all sizes and we're here to make sure you can catch all of the news possible at a glance.
Double Fine Productions feel like the stewards of all that is weird and good in the indie development scene, and I love them for it. Day of the Devs is their annual festival dedicated to showcasing indie releases, and since the start of the pandemic, they've hosted digital events just like this one.
Geoff Keighley wrapped his wild show and teed things up for the amazing folks behind Day of the Devs... and then they hit it out of the park. Some of the most creative games I've seen in years were on display, and I can't wait to break each one down below. So buckle in, watch some trailers, and read a little bit of VGG insight at each stop.
Axiom Verge 2 - Metroid won't come out so somebody's gotta do the damn thing
Axiom Verge won the hearts and souls of all the deprived Metroidvania fans out there when the first game released in 2015. Six years later, we're on the doorstep of the release of its slightly surprising sequel. Axiom Verge 2 looks like everything a sequel should be — bigger, more refined, and with a few new systems to boot.
Toem - Photo mode obsession has manifested
The next big indie trend is here. Photo modes have enraptured gamers in all the big AAA games, so indie developers said "let's make that the main mechanic!" Born out of the camera game craze are Sludge Life, Umurangi Generation, Beasts of Maravilla Island, and more. Toem is the latest in a legacy of photo-based gaming and it's definitely one of the most charming. Just look at that lil' guy go. The hand-drawn photo adventure takes its first steps in the world with a demo debuting June 16.
Phantom Abyss - One treasure to rule them all
EAT YOUR HEART OUT, INDIANA JONES! This temple raiding asynchronous multiplayer game really caught our eye during the presentation. You and some number of adventurers dive into a randomly generated temple full of traps and obstacles — and only one person is capable of nabbing the treasure hidden at the end. Once that treasure's gone, the temple is closed off to the world forever and it's off to the next one. The sense of accomplishment tied to being the ONLY person to be able to get a specific temple's prize has the chance to be something special and we are curious to see how it all plays out at early access launch later this month.
Garden Story - The cutest concord grape in the world
Garden Story just hits all the warm and fuzzy pressure points in my body every time I see it. This charming adventure of grape, frog, and cherry pals mixes some classic adventure game vibes with some of your favorite life sim systems (farming, fishing) to great effect. Puns. Cute pixel art. Dudes hanging out in a tiny shack. It's got all the hits for a great summer. AND it's by a Filipino game dev!
... speaking of Filipino game devs...
Soup Pot - The game that nearly made Nate cry
This trailer has my annoying commentary over it, I'm sorry. But I had to share this experience. If you didn't know, I (Nate) am a Filipino American. My mom was born in the Philippines, my dad in the states. Filipino representation in media is still fairly minimal and is particularly missing in video games. Soup Pot is a cooking sim, described as both chill and chaotic, that heavily features Southeast Asian cuisine and Filipino food in particular. A Filipino rap track sets the tone for the trailer and the Filipino language, Tagalog, is scattered throughout the game's faux social media platform.
I hadn't heard of this amazing title and after doing some digging, not only did I find that Soup Pot's development team is based in the Philippines, but even the public relations firm that supports them is owned and operated by Filipino folk. This game is dripping in a culture I never thought I'd see represented in such an earnest way. My culture. And I'm in love.
A Musical Story - Call forth repressed memories and keep the beat
A Musical Story is one of two narrative musical rhythm games in this showcase and writing that sentence brings the biggest smile to my face. In this game, you're going back through the memories of Gabriel, a young musician trying to find out how he ended up in a hospital bed. There are no obvious visual cues to follow when hitting your notes, it's all about organically following the music to the best of your ability. Tap into your natural rhythm, unlock memories, and trace the journey of this trippy 70s rock band.
Vokabulantis - Stop motion is cooler than anything we'll ever do
There's something so immensely admirable about the patience and commitment behind the craft of stop motion animation. Thousands of photos make up just minutes of animation. To consider making an incredibly challenging task — creating a video game — even harder by using stop motion animation... it's just wild. And it works. This beautiful classic adventure game -- think Prince of Persia and Another World -- is unlike anything we've seen.
Road 96 - Don't diss dinos... seriously
Road 96 was unveiled a few years back but had a few sparse details to go along with its initial trailer. It promised 140,000+ unique paths down the highways and byways of the game's world, achievable with the power of procedural generation. The worry with that tech is that experiences will feel a little half-baked, not as complete as hand-crafted scenarios.
This trailer blew all of those worries out of the water with one simple interaction. "Do you like dinos? I won't be mad if you don't." "No, not really." Chaotic armed violence ensues.
The Wandering Village - We all live on a giant turtle's back, don'tcha know?
Colony sims ask you to give orders to a set of villagers, all in service of keeping them alive. The Wandering Village asks you to not only consider your goals and the goals of your villagers, but to consider the goals of the giant beast that your villagers live on too. Hand-drawn villagers skitter across its back and it's up to you to decide how to live symbiotically with your giant dino lord. This showcase has some of the most original takes on some of my favorite genres that I've seen in years, damn.
Unbeatable - FLCL: The Game
Here's that second musical game — and it couldn't be further from the first if it tried. Their one line summary is perfection: "Unbeatable is an anime-inspired rhythm adventure game where music is illegal and you do crimes." This game is dripping in style, features some simple-to-learn but hard-to-master rhythm game mechanics, and features "hŮt düg." Curious to see it for yourself? The demo, Unbeatable [white label], offers up to 12 playable tracks! Hell yeah.
Death's Door - March of the Crow Penguins
From the developers of Titan Souls, a hardcore action-adventure boss rush game, comes crow-based chaos in Death's Door. If you've played Titan Souls, the spirit of the game seems intact here, but the experience feels a little more feature full here. It feels like a game that'd beat my ass, but I'm excited nonetheless.
Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery - The most Ghibli a Ghibli-inspired game could be
Beyond Ni No Kuni, which featured work and concepts from actual Studio Ghibli artists, there have been few games that truly captured the Ghibli aesthetic. Enter Behind The Frame: The Finest Scenery, a narrative puzzle game with the coziest of vibes. Doodle your neighbors, make coffee, and try to make friends with the chubby cat. I could sit in this trailer for the rest of the year and feel comfy. Can't wait.
Medley: Elec Head, Demolition Robots K.K. and Walk - Games so nice, we gathered them... thrice...
I don't think I've ever seen such wildly different games packaged together before this trio from Asobu, a Japanese indie game support community. Elec Head is a puzzle platformer that stars a cute little lightbulb boy. Demolition Robots K.K. is an arcade-y competitive beat-em-up where the things getting pummeled are buildings. And Walk is a horrifying nightmare that should go back to the dark closet someone pulled it out from. They all do have one thing in common though. I'm super into them.
Moonglow Bay - Fish vending machines sound like a bad idea
Moonglow Bay has the second best one-line summary of the day: "A fishing life sim where you live in a town full of people scared to fish." It's up to you to turn the town's economy around with the power of fishing. All the neat little gameplay systems feel like they keep every part of the process engaging, which some life sims don't quite nail. The chunky voxel art style was a bit much at the start, but I think they pull it off here.
Loot River - The guy said it was Tetris meets Diablo and like wtf right?
"Pick two papers out of this hat... pinball and dungeon crawler? Oh we've got one of those already, it's called Creature in the Well. Redraw that pinball one. Ooh Tetris? Let's do it."
That's how this got made right? Regardless of how, we're happy it's here because it looks amazing. You control a sword-wielding plague doctor who can shift blocks of land in the game's dungeons to avoid hordes of enemies, split them apart, or to force yourself into the action. The sweet roguelite gameplay loop promises lots of different Tetris block layouts to play with, too. Just all around neat.
Despelote - Wave at annoyed people and then kick balls at 'em
If Return of the Obra Dinn was a lot less murder-y and a lot more cozy, you'd have Despelote. It's a slice of life exploration game that has you playing as a soccer-obsessed kid living in Ecuador. Ecuador is on the brink of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in its nation's history and it's all anyone can talk about. For all we can see so far, there are no real goals here, you just kind of live in this world and wander through its streets. And that's perfect.
Last Stop - Oops. Moooom, I body-swapped again
From the developers of the Twin Peaks-inspired game, Virginia, comes this Freaky Friday tale of woe. Last Stop features three main characters whose lives mash together in surprising ways. There's a particular cinematic quality here that reads to me like... incredibly polished Telltale Games release. We won't have to wait long to get our hands on it, as the game arrives just over a month from now on July 22.
Keighley's show might have been big and bombastic, but Double Fine's subtle Day of the Devs was an unexpected dopamine rush from beginning to end. Nearly every moment of every game captured our attention and much of what was on display here overtook Summer Game Fest announcements in our own internal rankings. When we say video games are good, these are the kinds of games we're most likely talking about. Did you miss our Summer Game Fest wrap-up? Click here to check it out!
Plus, visit us on Twitch to watch our live reactions to both events and share more exciting E3 moments throughout the week.