Taking to an all-virtual stage for the second year running, Gamescom 2021 cemented its place as one of the standout gaming events of the year, showcasing features and titles from all corners of the gaming world. The AAA scene saw the reveal of Marvel’s Midnight Suns and the Saints Row reboot, a confirmed release date for Horizon: Forbidden West and Halo Infinite, and an entire stream dedicated to all things Dying Light 2. Hosted by GamesRadar, the Future Games Show exhibited a trailer for Jurassic World Evolution 2 with a surprise appearance from Jeff Goldblum, as well as a closer look at Life is Strange: True Colours and Sands of Aura. Indie games also stole the show with the Awesome Indies Showcase, opening with a stunning trailer for Blasphemous: Wounds of Eventide DLC and ending with the gorgeous Oaken. Gamers were given a cornucopia of visual goodies.

But indie gamers arguably were treated to the best experience of all. They had both visual and playable goodies, the latter courtesy of Indie Arena Booth Online. A walkaround browser event hosting 119 developers and spanning 33 countries, prospective players could create an avatar and visit virtual booths for the different games on offer, gaining access to trailers and playable demos. All the joys of a gaming convention without stepping out of your door (or PJs). So of course, we at Filmhounds were eager to get stuck in and explore every inch of the “Summer Camp of Doom” themed virtual convention floor. Here are some of our standout picks of demos and trailers that had us thoroughly intrigued and all hyped up.

DEMOS

Cleo: A Pirate’s Tale

The title of the game in pixel art with some of the pirate characters standing underneath it, Cleo in the centre.

Pirates, pixels and puzzles: oh my! Cleo: A Pirates Tale by solo developer Christoph Schultz brings the best aspects of the nostalgic greats together in a witty swashbuckling adventure. The game centres around Cleo, a wilful teenager obsessed with reading tales of the legendary Captain Cabeca and stuck in the day-to-day tedium of serving fishermen and failed pirates in her father’s bar. But the discovery of a pirate logbook and a ghostly encounter soon turns Cleo’s life upside down and thrusts her headlong into the world of pirates and adventure.

Heavily drawing inspiration from The Legend of Zelda and classic LucasArts games, the demo features fabulously expressive pixel art animation coupled with charming and likeable characters, further enhanced by the fantastic voice acting throughout. Point and click fans will feel right at home with engaging puzzles and funny dialogue and RPG fans will take to the exploration and item gathering elements. But at the root of it all is the wonderful warmth this little gem gives off. A sense of nostalgia that feels personal to every player runs through it and leaves you with a smile on your face, eager to know what comes next.

To borrow Schultz’s Kickstarter message for Cleo: For everyone who loves the charm and innocence of the old gaming days, for everyone who chooses wacky dialogue and clunky pixel art animation over raytraced-weather-dynamic-branching endings, for everyone who is still wondering what “Big Whoop” really is or knows a guy who sells fine leather jackets… this game is for you.

Play the demo HERE.

PLANNED RELEASE DATE: Late 2021
PLATFORMS: PC, Mac.


Frank and Drake

A split picture with half of Frank and Drake's faces at either side, Frank with a city backdrop during the day, Drake a night backdrop.

Narrative experiences in video games are forever experimenting with various approaches, but sometimes the classics provide the best foundations. Frank and Drake by Appnormals Team is a contemporary take on the Frankenstein and Dracula novels, telling the story of two housemates living in different time cycles. Playing as both Frank and Drake at different points, you will influence the life of the other through choices and puzzles and develop their relationship through the outcomes of those choices.

While many lore-rich games display epistolary elements, very rarely are they actively integral to the gameplay. Like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (another gothic classic), Frank and Drake’s relationship is shaped through letters and sticky notes as they never actually see each other; Frank is active during the day, Drake at night. Depending on what actions you choose to take and what information you choose to relay to the other via letter/sticky note, each character’s journey may take a very unexpected turn. The visual storytelling is also incredibly compelling; fragments of both characters’ complex backstories and memories are revealed as you examine items, environments and even ‘ghosts’, which will advance their personal quests. And speaking of visuals, Frank and Drake takes a rotoscoping approach, overlaying real footage with 2D animation — the effect is quite remarkable and works extremely well.

There is no shortage of narrative-focused experiences in video games today, but Frank and Drake aims to perfectly meld the old and the new, the classic and the innovative, in inspired fashion. Definitely one to check out if you love losing yourself in a deep, branching story.

Play the demo HERE.

PLANNED RELEASE DATE: TBC
PLATFORMS: PC

 


Return to Nangrim

The game title set against snow-capped mountains with a statue of a warrior holding a sword pointing down at the peak

Since its inception, the fantasy genre has mainly revolved around the holy trinity of humans, elves and dwarves, with the former two generally given the spotlight and the most exploration. Sycoforge’s Return to Nangrim boldly puts the latter centre stage, solely exploring the realms, customs and lore of dwarves within the universe of ‘Arafinn’. You wake alone in the mountains with no memory of your name or how you came here and are at the mercy of the unforgiving elements. Your only hope of survival is to traverse the ancient mountain city of Nangrim, uncovering the mysteries of the Stonebeards and fending off what lurks within their hallowed halls.

At first glance, it’s easy to think “Skyrim with dwarves”, but that would be doing it a grievous disservice. Return to Nangrim goes beyond blanket RPG tropes and delves deep into the intricacies of dwarven customs such as runic language and forging, something you will need to master in order to create or improve suitable equipment. Even in the limited amount shown in the demo, the lore is incredibly extensive and told both through gathering tomes and environmental storytelling; the remnants of a mine shaft or the desiccated remains of a library or ‘scriptorum’ paint a powerful picture. The graphics and controls are also stellar; gorgeous environments and weather effects complimented by silky smooth movement — perfect for first-person exploration!

If you’re hankering for an epic fantasy RPG to sink your teeth into and have an affinity for the children of the stone, Return to Nangrim looks set to quench that thirst.

Play the demo HERE.

PLANNED RELEASE DATE: 2022
PLATFORMS: PC, Mac, Playstation 4, Xbox One.

 


SANNABI: The Revenant

The protagonists stood back to back, one in a yellow futuristic suit with a floating droid companion, the other with a large hat and cape with a large metal prosthetic arm ending in a hook. Backdrop is a city with buildings piled high.

Back to the realm of pixel art animation with this fast-paced, superbly detailed, dystopian action-platformer from South Korean developer Wonder Potion. SANNABI: The Revenant sets the scene of highly technological mega-city MAGO, ruled with an iron fist by a corrupt conglomerate. Then a sudden blackout sweeps across its districts and its inhabitants seem to mysteriously disappear. You, a retired military veteran with a chain-hook prosthetic arm enhancement, have been called upon for one last mission: to infiltrate this dystopian city and get to the truth of what happened during the blackout.

The word ‘exhilarating’ is used frequently in SANNABI’s promo material and it’s startlingly accurate. Primarily gameplay revolves— quite literally—around using your prosthetic arm to latch onto ledges and platforms and propel or scale your way across the remains of the city. Your arm also becomes a powerful weapon, grabbing onto enemies and ripping them apart at breakneck speeds. Challenge is par for the course, especially with keyboard/mouse controls, but it is an undeniable rush when you execute a perfectly propelled manoeuvre across a frustrating section. And if you’re looking for first-rate pixel art and soundtrack, look no further. SANNABI’s visuals are superbly evocative and the score perfectly punctuates every scene, from darkly ambient to pulse-racing techno to poignant orchestral pieces.

SANNABI: The Revenant certainly has the potential to be a powerful contender in the action-platformer genre, not to mention one of the few games with a genuinely amazing tutorial level. To say any more would be to spoil it; you’ll just have to play it yourself!

Play the demo HERE.

PLANNED RELEASE DATE: TBC
PLATFORMS:
PC

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

ARCADIAN ATLAS ~ Serenity Forge ~ Twin Otter Studios ~ PC, Mac, Linux.

GHOST ON THE SHORE ~ Application Systems Heidelberg ~ Like Charlie ~ PC, Mac, Linux.

NURA’S WISH ~ Young Wolf Interactive ~ PC.

RELICTA ~ Ravensourt, Koch Media ~ Mighty Polygon ~ PC, Mac, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia.


TRAILERS

Batora: Lost Haven

“The physical and mental balance of a naive and reckless girl who lost everything is the only weapon to save the Earth from oblivion. Jump on a journey across colourful and mesmerising planets in this fast-paced adventure where your conscience will carry the weight of your decisions.”

PLANNED RELEASE DATE: 2022
PLATFORMS: PC, Playstation 5, Playstation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

 


One Lonely Outpost

“Start a farming colony and grow it into a vibrant community. Choose from traditional animals and natural produce or opt for robo-cows and gene-spliced crops. You can take a break from farming by mining, socialising with colonists, finding a love interest, exploring alien ruins, and so much more!”

PLANNED RELEASE DATE: Early 2022
PLATFORMS: PC, Mac, Linux, Nintendo Switch

 


XEL

“XEL is an epic 3D sci-fi fantasy action-adventure. Explore the mysterious world of XEL and help protagonist Reid to uncover her enigmatic past. Make new friends and foes along the way and collect exciting gadgets to master challenging dungeons and solve time-bending puzzles.”

PLANNED RELEASE DATE: Q2 2022
PLATFORMS:
PC.

 


And that’s a wrap! Indie Arena Booth 2021 had so many fantastic offerings and, if these are anything to go by, there is a hell of a lot to look forward to and the future of indie gaming is looking phenomenally bright.

If you missed out on the event, don’t fret! The browser experience is still active and available to explore. Click HERE to check it out. Bonus points for the zaniest looking avatar!

By Rowen Cameron

Rowen is a freelance writer, performer and content creator with a penchant for colourful attire and floral headwear. Bitten by the gaming bug at age five, she is a huge fan of indie games, RPGs and point-and-click-adventures and is a regular reporter on the Steam Game Festival for Filmhounds.

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