Welcome to another edition of our weekly hidden indie gems feature. As you’ve come to expect, we picked the most interesting trailers and game reveals of the week to tell you more about them.
We also have even more recommendations of games we think you should play this weekend. That includes free trials and demos, as well as games you can spend money on.
Hot indie games week of April 20
The RTS genre sadly continues to be in a weird spot. We’re not getting your Red Alerts or StarCrafts, but we are seeing interesting takes on it with nearly every new RTS that gets revealed. We highlighted Dwarfheim two episodes ago, and this week, the honour goes to Gray Zone.
Gray Zone is an action-focused RTS where you won’t be building basses so much as you’ll be micro-managing troops on the frontlines. Gray Zone is a narrative-driven game that gives you control of a small squad of characters, lead by a cast of main heroes. This is where the action mostly unfolds, as you’ll be taking your crew across the game’s worlds, using vehicles where necessary, and generally managing their resources and staying on top of their conditions.
Gray Zone enters Steam Early Access next week. The launch build has most of the first chapter: five missions. The developer says that, apart from the rest of the content, the core gameplay loop, as well as effects and sounds etc. are all ready for primetime.
Hit the link to wishlist it and learn more.
Tales from Off-Peak City
If there are two things you could count on in a Cosmo D game, it’s trippy worlds and a lot of jazz. Tales from Off-Peak City once again takes place in the same universe as Cosmo D’s earlier work: Off-Peak, and The Norwood Suite.
Like those games, Tales is an adventure that’s more interested in tone and setting than it is raw mechanics. It’s a game about speaking to weird characters and watching conversations take unexpected turns as you explore a world where the surreal and the grounded meet.
You could perhaps liken it to something like Jazzpunk, but where that game thrived on accidental comedy and absurdist commentary in some cases, Cosmo D’s work often creates narratives that submerge you in their bizarre worlds without necessarily playing it for laughs.
Volume One of Tales from Off-Peak City comes to Steam on May 15. If you want an idea of what awaits you, I suggest playing the demo of The Norwood Suite, or the (completely free) project that started it all: Off-Peak.
Games you can play this weekend
Itta is a simple game with a modest premise. It’s the story of the titular Itta, who wakes up to find her family dead. To learn the truth about what happened, she has to navigate a world entirely new to her armed with her late father’s revolver.
Itta is being guided by the ghost of her cat, perhaps to lighten the sombre mood a little bit. In gameplay, Itta is a boss rush, bullet hell shooter. You will challenge 18 bosses, each offering the little one some answers about how she ended up in that world.
One thing Itta offers players from the off is the ability to boost their damage or become invincible if things get too difficult. Bullet hell games are almost always challenging, and boss rush games in particular tend to turn some people off for similar reasons.
It’s good to see a developer being comfortable with allowing players to see the narrative through to the end, even if they can’t keep up with the action.
Itta came out this week on Steam and Nintendo Switch, where it’s available for $13.49, down from the full $15.
LudoNarraCon is a digital game convention, and this year’s edition kicks off today on Steam. As you might have guessed from the name, LudoNarraCon is dedicated to highlighting narrative-based and narrative-heavy games.
This digital show's 2020 version takes place Friday to Monday, and it’s free for anyone to attend. You can expect developer panels, some behind-the-scenes footage, a game sale - and the reason we’re highlighting it today: free demos.
Organisers say there’ll be around 40 featured games, many of which will offer playable demos. The list is too long to fit here, but you can expect everything from strictly-narrative games like Eliza, to story-based adventures like Wide Ocean Big Jacket, our favourite Roki and plenty more. There’s a mix of released and upcoming games, so you're bound to find something that grabs you.
The dedicated event page for LudoNarraCon 2020 is found on Steam. It has a full schedule of events in your local time, and various links to all participating games. Hit it up and get involved.