Microsoft just finished one of their strongest E3 press conferences in recent memory. Beyond the 60-odd game announcements and AAA teases from the likes of Cyberpunk 2077 and Halo Infinite, one small section of the presentation still managed to stand out on its own merits: the [email protected] showcase.
[email protected] certainly isn’t anything new, but it sure has ramped up since its inception in 2014. The program not only allows indie developers to self-publish their games on Xbox and Windows, but it also significantly lowers the barrier of entry by letting registrants access free dev kits. All of this has resulted in a staggering amount of indie support for the console and Game Pass.
It’s no secret that Microsoft has been relying less on selling consoles and more on selling its services. Xbox Game Pass works not only because of the first-party lineup (which is haphazard to say the least) and the convenience of the service itself, but also because there’s a consistent flow of new titles being added every month.
While some games join [email protected] and simply appear on the online store, the program is increasingly becoming a core part of Microsoft’s Game Pass strategy. Since there aren’t enough larger games being added consistently to sustain it on their own (take Monster Hunter World or Shadow of the Tomb Raider, for instance), they’re leaning more and more on the hundreds of indie devs using their tools to populate the service with fresh experiences.
This brings us to Microsoft’s E3 showcase. All of the whopping 22 [email protected] games announced will launch day and date into Xbox Game Pass. We’d already knew that certain games were coming (Afterparty) and others had been previously announced for other platforms (Creature in the Well), but the lineup as a whole is surprisingly strong.
Here are just a few highlights from the showcase:
Afterparty is a stylistic adventure game that sees you playing as two best friends who suddenly find themselves staring at a lifetime in Hell. The only way out? Out-drinking Satan himself.
A far cry from their last hit title, the moody and suspenseful Oxenfree, Night School Studio is now crafting what’s shaping up to be one of the funniest games of the year. This is all about partying with demons, playing hellish drinking games, exploring the underworld, and getting to know Hell’s inhabitants via an evolution of the intelligent conversation system that made Oxenfree stand out from the pack. Cheers to fresh ideas!
Creature in the Well
First premiered at the Nindies Showcase in March, Creature in the Well is a pinball-inspired hack and slash dungeon crawler that looks as addictive as it does menacingly difficult. Players progress through a gauntlet of unique dungeons filled with pinball-esque puzzles and challenges, all the while trying to avoid the titular creature lurking in the shadows.
Though we recently had another pinball-inspired game in last year’s Yoku’s Island Express, Creature in the Well takes a decidedly more tactile approach to its design. Using your sword as the bumper opens up a Pandora’s box of puzzle-solving and combat possibilities, and it all looks wonderfully distinct thanks to Flight School’s gritty art direction. This is one of those that you just need to see for yourself.
Cozy games need love too! One of the most visually striking titles of the entire conference (no surprise given Thunder Lotus Games’ previous work on Jotun), Spiritfarer is rather ambiguously described as “a cozy management game about dying.” As the name suggests, players will be primarily tasked with ferrying a diverse array of spirits to the afterlife.
What’s more interesting are all the things you’ll be able to do in the meantime. Though helping spirits ascend is your end goal, you’ll also have the chance to befriend them, fish on the open seas, farm, cook, craft, and more along the way. Combine this with the studio’s emphasis on creating bonds and experiencing moving stories with the spirit passengers and this has all the potential of being a deeply heartfelt gem.
Thunder Lotus has already mastered the art of atmosphere in their games; now it’s time to see if they can do the same with storytelling.
Totally Accurate Battle Simulator
TABS is just as its name indicates: a battle simulation game. The hook? Wacky physics, the ability to spawn seemingly endless amounts of units, and the super janky chaos that follows. Somewhat similar to Goat Simulator in terms of design philosophy, the fun all comes from player experimentation. Which units counter which? How many soldiers can a squad of vikings handle? Can you actually take out a tough enemy unit without simply overwhelming it with sheer numbers?
TABS has been in the works for what feels like eons. It initially blew up on YouTube back in 2016 (when it was still in pre-Alpha), solely based on its endless replayability and the ridiculous situations players could tinker with. Now it’s much more visually impressive, boasts more units and tools than ever before, and simply looks like it’ll hit that timewaster itch perfectly.
The addition of Ikenfell to [email protected] was one of the most welcome shocks of the entire presentation. Originally Kickstarted in 2016, Ikenfell is a turn-based RPG that takes place at a magical school where students study hard to master different spells and enchantments. One day, a top student suddenly goes missing, and it’s up to you and your fellow classmates to search for clues, fight magical creatures, and ultimately get to the bottom of the disappearance.
As a long-time Harry Potter fan, the idea of a magic-school RPG is instantly intriguing. That said, Happy Ray Games seems more focused on delivering engaging tactical gameplay over worldbuilding or a deep story. Everything else about Ikenfell still looks charming, however, and after missing its targeted 2018 release, seeing it launch directly into Game Pass is a promising sign that it’ll see the light of day soon enough.