What makes a good game?
For me, the art and the soundtrack has always been among my top priorities when looking at titles, and with the smaller budget, high ambitions, and distinct style of indie developers and studios, the most innovative and unique ideas and stories come to fruition in the form of beautiful games with awe-inspiring art, soundtracks that make you smile (or cry) years later, and characters that become permanent residents in your heart. I also most enjoy games that allow me a relaxing escape into a unique and colorful world.
There are too many good indie games to list set to come out (crossing my fingers) in 2020, but here are the 7 that I think are the most beautiful and relaxing.
Spiritfarer is a cozy management game about dying. As ferrymaster to the deceased, build a boat to explore the world, care for your spirit friends, and guide them across mystical seas to finally release them into the afterlife. What will you leave behind?
Looking at the trailers and gameplay for Spritfarer, by Thunder Lotus Games, my heart already felt warm. From the music-making frog uncle to the comforting hugs to the beautiful sunsets on the boat, every scene looked like it could make me cry or otherwise laugh bittersweetly. And with so much to do, whether building, exploring, or helping your spirit friends and crying over each goodbye, it's safe to assume every minute of gameplay will be filled with something new to discover (and feel).
Sable is a coming-of-age tale of discovery through exploration across a strikingly rendered open world desert. Go on a deeply personal journey across an alien planet while learning its history and discovering Sable’s place in the world.
Interesting tidbit: the small team of Shedworks working on this game... works in a shed. There's not too much information about Sable from the developers in the shed just yet, but from looking at the reveal trailers, it's obvious that both the art and animation are highly stylized. The game revolves around the story the developers want to tell about Sable who is leaving her clan and discovering the world—the open world. Nothing makes me more excited than stumbling (or hoverbiking) around a beautifully illustrated open world, discovering more about the land and the protagonist, but a world inspired by Moebius, Tintin, and Studio Ghibli? And that song from the reveal? I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for this one.
As the newly appointed village guardian, explore ways to help those around you. Garden Story is a Social Simulator/Adventure RPG that emphasizes helping the community. Traverse a broken island, protect its inhabitants, and solve mysteries while making friends with a fruity cast of characters.
Ok, this one isn't as objectively beautiful as it is extremely cute, but I had to include Garden Story because I'm really looking forward to playing the full game after playing the demo which is available on Steam. As you may know by now, I'm a huge sucker for pixel art (who isn't), so I instantly fell in love with the little characters and the pixel town in its autumn galore. This game by Picogram feels like another relaxing sim—Stardew Valley combined with Animal Crossing—but with the addition of more RPG and adventure elements than there are in either of those two games.
Mineko's Night Market
A whimsical adventure/simulation game where you play as Mineko, a curious girl who has just arrived at her new home on a peculiar Japanese-inspired island overrun by cats. Discover the mysteries of the island while crafting crafts, friending friends, eating eats, and… catting cats.
This game about Mineko's new home on an island of cats holds a top spot on my list of "Things I Really Want to Come Out Right Now". Made by Meowza Games, a husband and wife duo, Mineko's Night Market is yet another Animal Crossing inspired game, but this time with a stronger emphasis on story, the process of crafting, exploration... and cats. The art of this one more vibrant, colorful, and charming than all the others named thus far and looks is as relaxing and joyful as Animal Crossing despite having a completely different vibe.
The aspect of this game I'm most excited for—other than cat races—is the unique crafting process reminiscent of Cooking Mama, but with wood instead of food. There are few games, if any, that focus on the process of making items itself instead of using it as a means to an end.
Ooblets is a farming, town life, and creature collection game. Manage your farm, grow and train your ooblets, explore strange lands, and have dance-offs!
Another game akin to Animal Crossing? Oh yes, yet another. This will be the last one, I promise. Although Ooblets doesn't have an officially stated release date as of yet, we can prematurely assume (or wish for) 2020, based on a devlog from earlier this year where Glumberland hinted at a set release date. The friendly world of goofy Ooblets is even quirkier than Mineko racing cats, and the characters and land look more customizable too. If you want to progress here, you better prepare for dance battles rather than sword-fights.
In a beautifully-detailed and charming post-apocalyptic world, a miner discovers a mysterious little girl named Sam deep underground in a secret facility... Journey through decaying cities, encountering strange creatures and even stranger people along the way!
AAAAAH. I'm so excited for Eastward. SO EXCITED. Beautiful pixel art? Check. Unique characters? Check. Emotional story and close bonds between the characters? Check. A vibrant and post-apocalyptic yet relaxing and humorous world to explore? CHECK. Need I say more? Pixpil's game speaks for itself. Seriously, watch the trailer and wishlist it immediately.
You're a dog wielding a magic brush! Use painting powers to explore, solve puzzles and make friends in this top-town adventure game. From creators on Wandersong + Celeste.
I'm cheating because Chicory isn't actually set to release in the year 2020, and rather in the decade of 202X, but it is my favorite unreleased game in terms of art direction, gameplay, and story. We're all used to walking around in RPGs whether in pixels, 2D, or 3D, but how often are you a dog with a large paintbrush, painting your way through the world trying to find your mentor—and yourself? As you explore in this adventure by Greg Lobanov, and the minds behind Celeste and Wandersong, you solve puzzles with your paintbrush, customize your character, meet new friends, and bring color back to your world.
Where Are My Games?!
As we know, indie developers are on a tight schedule and games don't always get released in the year they initially set, but here's hoping we do get them in 2020. If I get to wish upon a star tonight in Animal Crossing, I'll wish for these games to come out sooner.