When thinking about the games coming out in 2023, it’s not just about the big releases – today we’re checking out four indie titles that we put on our radar: Ninja Or Die, Verne: The Shape of Fantasy, Elypse and Blockstar VR.
Ninja Or Die
Developed by Nao Games, Ninja Or Die is a fast-paced action platform where the challenge quickly ramps up and you get caught up in a “one more try” cycle before you know it. And surprisingly, it’s being published by Marvelous, marking quite a departure from the likes of Rune Factory and Senran Kagura.
In Ninja or Die, you control a secret agent/ninja who has to plough through enemies in small 2D levels with a range of different weapons and fighting styles that you gradually unlock. The big hook, however, is the game’s simple to learn yet hard to master control scheme. At its core you just point the thumbstick in the direction you want to go, and then a single button shoots you over there – hopefully eviscerating the enemies in your way and steering clear of any traps. How long you hold the button determines how strong your attack will be, but also how fast you’ll go – so holding it too long might be a great way to take out an enemy but it might also propel you into a wall of spikes.
We played a hands-on demo of Ninja Or Die a while ago and were quickly hooked on its concept. A few easier levels introduce you to the core gamepay, but once the difficulty increases after a few levels you quickly get to a point where death is frequent but a restart is quick and success always seems somewhat within reach. It makes for a simple yet addictive formula – and one we can also see being popular among speedrunners.
Verne: The Shape of Fantasy
Jules Verne is undeniably one of the most influential writers of all time, especially within the fantasy domain. Assemble Entertainment, together with developer Gametopia, is putting a creative new spin on his legacy in Verne: The Shape of Fantasy, a 2D narrative-driven puzzle/adventure game hybrid. We met with them a while ago for a closer look, and are looking forward to the game’s release in 2023.
In The Shape of Fantasy, Verne himself gets cast as the protagonist in a story that was heavily inspired by his own work. With the land of Hemera under threat, he travels to the lost city of Atlantis aboard the Nautilus, together with Captain Nemo. They’re searching for the Flame of Hephaestus and its immense power in order to help turn things around, but it’s not an easy journey, with clever puzzles standing in your way.
Thematically and with its 2D visuals, Verne: The Shape of Fantasy reminded us of classic adventure games like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, but in the demo we played Verne felt quite unique – and that’s despite the fact that it has inventory management and you regularly need to combine items to progress, two more adventure game staples. The biggest reason is that Verne isn’t a traditional point and click game, and you can control Verne with WASD controls or a controller – making for a novel way to let a graphic adventure unfold. We certainly were intrigued by it, and if you’re interested as well you check out a demo on the game’s Steam page. Fingers crossed for a release date announcement in the near future.
When we met with publisher PID Games, one game in their lineup really jumped out at us as something we couldn’t wait to play – Elypse, a 2D action platformers with Metroidvania elements in which you explore a dark underworld type of environment. It’s being developed by Hot Chili Games, and after going hands on with it we can’t wait to play the full game some time in 2023.
Premise-wise, this fantasy action platformer casts you as the sacrificial lamb for your people, having been tossed into an abyss ten years ago. No one has ever returned from this mysterious place, but you’re going to try your best to escape – heading for a portal that might provide a way home for you. It’s a lengthy journey though, and one where you’ll have to acquire new skills and abilities along the way in true metroidvania style.
And no, we didn’t get to sample a whole lot of those metroidvania mechanics in a half hour demo, but we did notice the kinetic nature of the platforming experience – dashing and slashing your way past obstacles and enemies. This is the kind of platformer that feels great once you get the controls figured out and are able to flow smoothly past even the trickier situations you come across, with finely tuned level designs that appear to balance nicely between challenging and doable against a dark but atmospheric backdrop. This could be one of the surprise indie gems of this year.
Developed and published by Immersive Division, Blockstar VR was a bit of a mystery game to us when we booked a slot to see it during the closing hours of a game convention last year. We didn’t regret it though, because as fans of VR we got to play something that’s an interesting hybrid. How would you feel about a blend of a VR wave shooter, Welltris and Beat Saber?
In Blockstar VR, you’re positioned at the entrance of a tunnel, which is where the Welltris analogy comes from. You’re not firing 3D tetris-shaped blocks at the opposite wall here though – the boxes here actually come towards you – which visually looks a bit like Beat Saber, still one of the most popular VR titles out there.
You’re not slashing them to the beats of a popular soundtrack though – you’re trying to shoot these boxes before they pass you and you lose your chain/multiplier, with a range of different guns. Some fire single shots, but others can for example fire a wider spread – but need time to charge. Since you can dual wield, it’s all about how you combine your ideal mix of weapons, which gives Blockstar VR a relatively simple to learn but addictive gameplay formula. The full game will also have a 40-mission sci-fi themed storyline, so we’re thinking this might pan out to be more just another wave shooter in VR. With a story, ‘pick up and play’ gameplay and leaderboards for lasting appeal, this is a PSVR/Quest/PCVR shooter we’re hoping to play again in the near future.