E3 2021 Was Great If You Paid Attention To Its Incredible Indies

I’m tired of wailings about games shown during the E3 2021 season. It’s almost like we’re still dealing with a dangerous pandemic and teams adapting to new remote setups, but anyway, that’s beyond the point. I’m not here to wag my finger at you for being upset about Bayonetta 3’s absence or whatever it may be. What I do want to say, though, is that there’s plenty to dig into if you’re not sure what to do with your triple-A games budget this year, you just need to look at the indies.

Sprinkled amongst bigger shows or included in specialty streams like the Wholesome Games show or Guerilla Collective, indies had an incredible showing this year that held my attention far longer than any million-dollar IP. This year’s showing was amongst the strongest I’ve seen, and that’s coming from someone who worked closely with indies for years, but I’ve narrowed my list down to a few here that I’m keeping my eye on – but I still have a really, really long list of honorable mentions.

A Walk With Yiayia

My chest went tight, my voice hitched in my throat, A Walk With Yiayia is just way too familiar. I can’t believe this adorable little indie with such a simple premise knocked the wind right out of me, but it did. I have been a caretaker – multiple times – for elderly relatives, and I’ve seen the damage that extends beyond just physical injuries after a fall. I’ve seen what it takes to rebuild your loved one’s confidence, and it’s heartbreaking.

A Walk With Yiayia looks like just such an experience. Yiayia is described as a light adventure game where you’ll take your grandmother on walks after she’s lost her confidence from a fall. These more personal titles that resonate with some of my most painful and happiest memories are what I often love about indies. It’ll make me cry, I’m sure, but it’s my chance to get a little emotional about something in private in a way I can relate – something we’re often not afforded in life’s day-to-day.

Venba

The first few seconds of Venba’s trailer streaming through the Wholesome Direct were undeniably striking. It has a gorgeous art style that makes me nostalgic for childhood picture books and cartoons. In Venba, you’ll play as an Indian mother who immigrated to Canada in the early ‘80s. It’s a narrative cooking game that centers cuisine and how this family reconnects with their distant homeland.

Venba will introduce you to authentic recipes from Southern India, and I’m quite excited to learn a little more about dishes that are unfamiliar to me, personally. Venba’s tale of family, love, and loss quickly became one of my most anticipated from the show.

We Are OFK

You had me at “interactive making-of-the-band” game. We Are OFK follows an indie group’s attempt to break into the LA music scene and grow as creatives in the city of angels. I also caught this one during the Wholesome Direct, and its latest trailer has a few beautifully raw moments that I couldn’t look away from.

And of course, just as you would expect, We Are OFK sounds like it’ll have an incredible soundtrack to boot (I already checked, you can’t buy the OST yet, dammit). But as someone who just left LA, I’m keen to explore its original LA locations, and its texting dialogue trees are something I’m itching to try.

Death’s Door

I’ve had a hard time with getting more action games to resonate with me recently. In my more stressful months of the pandemic, I was far more drawn to visual novels and sleepier titles that I could relax with. Death’s Door was a bit of a personal surprise – a yeah, I really dig this moment.

In Death’s Door, you’ll play as a Crow that reaps the souls of the dead in a world where nothing actually passes naturally anymore. Its E3 trailer had your adorable little crow warrior swapping between grappling to enemies, shooting arrows, and striking foes down with a sword. I’m far more interested in the top-down 2D look that Death’s Door sports over any other open world action game right now. It’s out next month, too, so it’s one I can get my hands on sooner rather than later.

Paralives

Paralives is such a disgustingly me game that when I had to look away from its E3 stream for a moment to handle other work, friends and coworkers all immediately yelled at me to tab back and pay attention. Paralives looks like everything I’ve spent years wishing the Sims would be for me. It offers customization options I’ve spent years modding into my Sims excursions, with the smallest of details like height options, object recolors, and more.

Snacko

This one is absolutely one of my big E3 winners, but it’s a bit further out in 2022. Snacko is another farming life sim (because I can’t seem to stay away from those) where you play as an adorable kitty from the big city looking to transition to farm life. The unfortunate bit is that this new island you’ve moved to is cursed, so you’ll have to help your new home combat miasma and monsters to make things right again.

Your to-do list in Snacko sounds like a lot of what we’re familiar with in games like Stardew Valley or Story of Seasons, but I love how robust the customization aspects look here. Plus, you’re a cat. And its 3D environments with 2D spirit make for such a charming look – it’s big Switch game energy (but it’s on PC too, so don’t worry).

Norco

Hilarious Norman Reedus camera angle in the E3 trailer aside, I quickly honed in on Norco for its Southern Gothic stylings and point and click format. As someone who grew up in the deep south and spent her life walking barefoot through sleepy Lousianna towns, I’m smitten by Norco’s haunting swampy landscapes and twisted suburbs.

Sure, it’s not an outright horror game, but the south – Louisiana in particular – has such a bizarre clash of industrial and sleepy town life mixed with harsh natural surroundings that just make it frightening. It’s the perfect mixture of unnerving for a mystery game. Norco isn’t out yet, but it does have a demo I’ll try to explore ASAP.

Honorable Mentions

I’d be here until this time next year if I were to brag on every game that caught my eye, but there is a bit of a hefty list I’d like to share for honorable mentions. Right now, my wishlist includes: Unbeatable, Hotpot For One, Behind The Frame, Walk, Despelote, Spirit Swap, Signalis, Martha Is Dead, Bramble, Demon’s Mirror, Soup Pot, Demon Turf, Bear & Breakfast, and Hunt the Night.

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