Every year my message is the same, and it looks like I'm getting up on my soapbox once again in 2023 to let you all know... Not-E3 week belongs to the indies.
Keighley might roll out the fog machines, Xbox might revive their brand, Ubisoft may re-reveal Skull and Bones for the fifth time, but the indies are the reason for the season.
And as if they were choosing to specifically prove me right, Guerrilla Collective decided to kick off this week of reveals and excitement with looks at 90+ indie games across all genres and styles. It's the kind of drop where there was almost certainly something for everyone. EVERYONE.
Let's talk about it.
This Guerrilla Collective showcase was their fourth since 2020, and it continues to be a highlight of the summer showcases. Born out of continued collaborations with Kinda Funny to host indie showcases and fill a hole in the E3 lineup that only indies can, the Guerrilla Collective truly is a team effort. The Media Indie Exchange (MIX) hosts these events that pull together teams big and small to showcase the most eclectic batch of games possible and spread the indie love. They've started initiatives to uplift women in gaming (Dames 4 Games) and Black developers in the industry (Black Voices in Gaming) that also have showcases coming later in the week.
The 2023 edition brought them back into the Kinda Funny studios — a little full circle moment as Kinda Funny was partially responsible for an early version of these showcases coming to life — and featured over 90 games across its main presentation and a batch of post-show publisher showcases.
To recap the Day 1 fun, we've decided to hone in on eight games that we felt deserved a shoutout, but truly we recommend you watch the full show and just let the wave of indies wash over you. There's something for you in there. I promise.
Without further ado, here's a brief look at eight incredibly special indies announced during the 2023 Guerrilla Collective!
Ever since Nintendo released Mario Maker, the most common question on gamers' minds has been, and probably forever will be: "Where's Zelda Maker?" If they were able to hand over the tools to create Mario levels, surely Zelda dungeon-making would be close behind. But it never came. Well, developer Skydevilpalm got fed up and is giving us Quest Master. It's almost like I could hear the collective squeals from my seat when it was showcased.
This action-adventure dungeon builder looks, sounds, and no doubt feels like a GBA-era Zelda release, but one where you have all the control in making those complex dungeons you've been missing from the latest games. It promises an approachable building tool that'll allow you to not only build out a fun map, but also program in simple events that take a dungeon from a batch of consecutive kill rooms to something genuinely worth exploring every nook and cranny of. And it's got three-player co-op, so you and two friends can wander into the incredible custom maps people dream up online.
Though no release year was given, a demo was teased to release very soon. And it's coming to Switch and PC. So go wishlist the game now to keep in touch.
Sometimes all it takes is one line, one concept to sell me on a game. Bookwalker's one line is pretty killer. "Writer-turned-thief Etienne Quist uses his ability to dive into the worlds of books to steal iconic weapons like Excalibur and Thor's Hammer to eventually restore his ability to write." LIKE HUH? Inject that kind of mythical meta multi-layered storytelling directly into my veins and get me in there ASAP, cap'n!
The Book Walker has this great CRPG look and feel, evoking modern classics like Disco Elysium, that works for such a narrative-heavy experience. It lets the writing breathe — and for a game that has you hopping in and out of books, I want those literary lungs in tip-top shape.
As Quist, you'll hop in and out of books, bringing in things from reality to deal with the problems you'll face inside and vice versa. Quist can scribble in alterations to tip the scales in his favor, charm the pants off the characters in the stories, or maybe even use his outside knowledge of a story's eventual ending place to manipulate his way to victory.
There's just so much potential in this concept and I can't wait to see what the team at DO MY BEST do with this project. No release date yet for its PC, Xbox, and PlayStation release, but there's a demo available now!
One part Papers, Please and one part Return to Monkey Island, with a sprinkling of the best Cartoon Network styles of the past decade, and you've got something that's 100% exciting. That's what Lil' Guardsman is serving up and we're ready to shovel it down.
Lil' Guardsman puts you in the shoes of Lil', a 12-year-old left in charge of a kingdom's guardpost, covering your dad's shift while he's... out? Who knows? Doesn't matter.
If folks want into the Kingdom of Sprawl, they'll have to convince a mischievous preteen that it's worth her time. As Lil', you'll be scanning folks for rule violations and choosing whether or not to let them through. Like Papers, Please, it promises to layer on complexities as the story progresses, resulting in a stressful game of checks as you decide the fate of these citizens... but in an overall much more lighthearted way.
People smuggle pixie dust in giant caskets, Lil' can gamble on medieval sporting events, and magical beings can find themselves reduced to mush under the heavy machinery you inflict on them for scans. Hilltop Studios' game is a goofy take on the routine-based sim genre and one we're keeping an eye on. It's coming this summer to basically every platform, and a demo is available today!
I love a good Metroidvania. Let me loose on a giant map with shortcuts I can't take and treasure chests hidden behind unbreakable barriers and I'll spend hours uncovering its secrets and finding my way to all its hidden powers. Akatori looks to serve up some classic Metroidvania action with beautiful fluidity.
Akatori's showcase during the Guerrilla Collective's show was representative of one of our favorite aspects of all these shows: the variety of presentations that developers put on. Gameplay trailers, cinematic trailers, face-to-face developer pitches, and Akatori's approach: a full-on behind-the-scenes look at its development. It's so rad to see these games in progress, with footage of the specific tools used and a brief look at their design process.
Akatori's behind-the-scenes look showcased the incredible fluidity of its character animations, the density of its pixel art environments, and even the ways that the game's social media response affected development morale and their overall direction. It was a refreshing look at an incredibly promising game from HypeTrain Digital, and we're fans of the approach. The game is still quite a ways away, with a Kickstarter campaign on the horizon, but it's one to keep an eye on. SO WISHLIST IT!
The circus is a setting ripe for narrative intrigue. A circus as the setting for a murder mystery... where you play as both the detective looking to solve the case and the person who's taking over the deceased's role? That's juicy.
Death Trick: Double Blind is a non-linear detective game where you are looking to solve the murder of the star magician of Morgan's Traveling Circus. Swapping between detective and the replacement magician, you'll interview the circus employees, gather evidence, and catch contradictions in what you see and hear. Think Phoenix Wright meets 20th-century pulp detective novels. But Death Trick changes things up a bit, introducing an action point system that makes your every decision all the more important... because you've only got so many points to spend on actions to chase down your many leads.
It adds an extra layer of stress to an already tense bit of sleuthing and a genuine bit of gamification that most detective games lack. For example, a mystery in Phoenix Wright will always EVENTUALLY unfold itself because you've got all the time in the world to investigate and learn. In Death Trick, you've got to beat the clock and spend your action points well, lest you let the killer break free.
A release date has yet to be announced for this Misty Mountain Studio-developed and Neon Doctrine-published murder mystery, but we'll be keeping a close eye on it as it heads to release. A demo is coming soon to Steam and Itch.io!
Colony sims can too often lean into the heavy-duty nitty gritty of resource management and efficiency, to the point where even the most interesting settings are reduced to a chore because you're looking to min-max your way to colony success. Jumplight Odyssey is here to show a new way forward, one full of emotional chaos and lighthearted fun, and we're so here for it.
Jumplight Odyssey (or JLO as the developers call it, no relation to Jennifer) is a colony sim whose focus is equal parts on the fulfillment of needs for your starship's crew and the emotional rollercoasters they all embark on as they develop romances, rivalries, and friendships.
As you guide your starship through new galaxies and dangerous combat scenarios, you'll also manage interpersonal relationships inspired by '70s anime and accompanied by Japanese late-night disco tracks. It's a roguelite. It's a space colony sim done a different way. And it's inspired by densely illustrated books that depict entire societies on one page.
Everything about what I've just written speaks to my soul and I am falling to my knees to beg to see this game in action. JLO is not only one of the most iconic divas of our time but one of our new most anticipated games, too. League of Geeks, tell us when and we'll be there.
As a gamer, I'm notoriously a jack of all trades and master of none. I love to dabble in all genres, but I'm rarely all that great at the more skill-intensive games... so sometimes I stay away from games purely because of fear. Such is the case with extraction shooters, the most popular of which is Escape from Tarkov. This genre is built around dropping into a zone, gathering equipment and resources as fast as you can, and getting out without dying. Because if you do, you lose everything you brought with you.
Not having the reflexes to pinpoint oncoming enemies can be your ultimate downfall, and I'm just not built for that. A classic tile-based roguelike extraction shooter, though? That I can work with.
Magnum Scriptum's new game Quasimorph is just that. As the leader of a private military company looking to rise up in a world run by corporations, you'll toss soldiers into dangerous zones to fight back against aliens and mercenaries to find goods and turn a profit. You can clone your best soldiers and send them into the breach again and again.
Turning those intense firefights into something more methodical, slower-paced, but just as stressful and engaging, is exactly what I've been waiting for. I love the idea of having to pick the best equipment set and be constantly worried about losing it, but I don't love losing it simply because I don't have shoot-shoot skills. So thanks for that Quasimorph.
Quasimorph has a free prologue out now and is set for a Q3 2023 release on Steam.
Beauty and the Beast, eat your heart out. Brave Little Toaster? Who's that? Forgotlings is my sentient inanimate objects narrative of choice now. I'm sorry, I don't make the decisions around here.
Forgotlings comes to us from Throughline Games, the developers of the beautiful "Ghibli film brought to life" narrative puzzle platformer known as Forgotton Anne. The Forgotlings are a race of forgotten inanimate objects who've come to life to seize their fates in their own hands and discover their purpose — and they actually originally come from that Forgotton Anne's world.
As Fig, a sentient posing doll, you'll board a sentient ship and gather up other Forgotlings along the way as you fight back against some unknowable force threatening their existence.
Throughline Games has mastered the art of beautiful hand-drawn animation — and that's the first thing Forgotlings makes clear in its debut trailer. As you see the likes of a drawer-bodied and lamp-headed companion take their place next to a coat rack wearing a coat, you know you're in for some fun and fantastical character design. Tie in an in-universe board game, some fencing-based combat, and, again, that BEAUTIFUL animation and we're sold.
Forgotlings is coming in 2024, but I promise you we won't forget this game as it heads toward release on basically all systems out there.
ALRIGHT. That's our wrap-up. Thanks for reading our first big piece of Not-E3 2023 coverage! If you're reading this during the month of June, stop by our Twitch and we're probably streaming some of this month's incredible showcases. Keep up with all of our Not-E3 coverage right here and, as always, consider dropping a wishlist for any of the games in our list that caught your eye. It helps these developers gain better store placement and overall spreads the word about all these great games.
Want to see a few more highlights from the Guerrilla Collective? Watch our recap featuring even more of our favorite games from the day, including Echoes of Plum Grove, Leximan, Crypt Custodian, Corpo Nation, Lake Season's Greetings, and more!