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5 Narrative Driven Pixel Art Indie Games With Playable Demos

Brenda Zhang

September 30, 2020

5 minute read

Don't you hate when every single game you want to play right now is not released yet? Luckily, there is the respite of demos for upcoming games to give you a taste of the forbidden (or in-development) fruit. Just try to forget about the fact that most of them will leave you at a cliffhanger and anxious to throw your money at even more games.

As I mention so often, I especially love pixel art games and am very lucky that the indie devs and studios embrace this art style for so many of their games. Not only are they each cute and pixelated, but they are also unique in style despite all being under the pixel art umbrella. Of course, they also have really interesting, creative gameplay and stories—I wouldn't expect any less from the indie community.

A Space for the Unbound screenshot

With so many great pixel art games, I obviously found far more than 5, but these following games were my favorite story-rich gems that I feel are worth an agonizing wait. It won't be too long of a wait though as most of these games will be out later this year in 2020 or next year in 2021. You can expect longer articles on each of them from me in the coming weeks, but for now, here's an overview of each.

One Dreamer

Help Frank, a burnt out indie game developer, rediscover his love for video games while struggling to release his debut title. Reprogram objects, fix bugs and solve coding puzzles as you journey through the English voiced story of One Dreamer.

In One Dreamer, you play as a game developer who failed by the standard definition of success, but sparked inspiration in two young kids, which if you ask me, is success in and of itself. Nonetheless, the story is an emotional one, and you get to experience and come to understand the life of an indie game developer as you code and debug your way through the game.

With a phenomenal soundtrack that was composed over a period of 5 years, immersive voice acting, interactive cinematics, and over 100 snippets of code to edit, One Dreamer promises to be a moving and deep narrative driven game that gives you a true taste of the heart and perseverance it takes to develop indie games.

Backbone

Backbone is a noir roleplaying detective adventure. You are raccoon private eye Howard Lotor, a second-class citizen of dystopian Vancouver, BC inhabited by animals. Interrogate a diverse cast of characters, collect evidence, and choose which leads to follow.

Backbone is a dystopian noir adventure, one of my favorite genres of games and one I've played a lot of, but the difference in this one is you get to play as an anthropomorphic raccoon private eye. You can expect high resolution pixel art, social commentary in the form of speciesism in an animal society, branching dialogue, and a lot of clever puzzle solving, lead following, and interrogation.

I've been following Backbone on Twitter for ages, and they never fail to make me laugh with their posts that are somehow relatable despite also being about raccoons. Aside from mystery, dystopia, and serious discussion about a messed up class system, you can expect the same approachability and humor from the game—as they say, you'll get to "play as a highly relatable raccoon in a trench coat."

A Space for the Unbound

A slice-of-life adventure game with beautiful pixel art set in the late 90s rural Indonesia that tells a story about overcoming anxiety, depression, and the relationship between a boy and a girl with supernatural powers.

A Space for the Unbound looks like one of those To the Moon or Rakuen-esque narratives that'll make me break down in tears by the time I reach the end of the story. It talks about topics that are just as serious as the aforementioned games, too—mental health topics are prominent and discussed in the setting of small town Indonesia with a fantasy twist. Aside from the main story, you also get to listen to stories from the townsfolk to understand their personal pasts and their world's current atmosphere.

With a moving soundtrack, pastel-colored pixel art skies, and a pair of vibrant youth on an adventurous supernatural journey (and a journey within themselves), this game is sure to be one of those that stay deeply rooted in your heart long after you reach the closing scene.

Mayhem in Single Valley

Mayhem in Single Valley is an action-adventure full of twists and radioactive squirrels. You are a teenager who's just started the Apocalypse in his hometown. Now everybody hates you. Mix monster feeding with your housework and zombie assault with your family dinner. Welcome to Single Valley!

Mayhem in Single Valley is weird in every sense of the word. From gameplay to art to the execution of the adventure and action mechanics to the story of Jack, everything about this game is intriguing, quirky, and creative. Apocalypses are a typical game concept, but how often is it the case that the protagonist started it? Mix in some challenging puzzles, car chases, a broken fourth wall, angry squirrels, and a mysterious story rife with familiar family issues and you get... Mayhem.

This game handles the apocalypse genre with all its typical tropes in the most distinct way I've seen by mixing the dangerous and intense with the humorous and approachable. Prepare yourself to face some impossible situations while also dealing with the scariest thing of all—parental disapproval back at home. Try out the demo, and face all your fears in Single Valley while listening to some boppin' background music.

Garden Story

Unify a broken community as the newly-appointed Guardian of The Grove. Traverse a vibrant island to combat invasive Rot, inspire its inhabitants, and rebuild your home. You won't have to do this alone: fruity friends await, ready to lend a hand!

I can never write enough about Garden Story and its plucky little grape protagonist! I've talked about it before in a previous article about beautiful upcoming games, but it also fits well here. The game is a cute and relaxing one with a story at the core of it all. Concord, the purple grape, has to unify his community as the new Guardian and defend it from Rot. This adorable tale of friendship, surpassing expectations, and adventure is not one you can skip, especially if you want to relax like you're in Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing yet still be able to work hard on an arduous journey of rebuilding at the same time.

While you're chipping away at all the tasks to be done, don't forget to sit back and enjoy the wonderfully sweet music and the precious little members of the town too. The developers said it best: "There’s plenty of work to be done, but don’t forget to take time and appreciate this lush world and the fruits of your labor."

Satiate Your Hunger

While none of these games are out yet, the demos will surely tide you over until they are. Bide your time, since such quality pixel art indie games with touching stories like these take quite a while for small teams to produce. They'll no doubt be worth the wait!

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