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Summer Game Fest: 10 indie standouts we played and loved

Digital Trends attended Summer Game Fest Play Days again this year, and although we saw some notable AAA titles like Armored Core VI: Flames of Rubicon and Mortal Kombat 1, what stuck out to us the most were the plethora of indies we played. Independent games tend to be some of the most ambitious, experimental, and engaging titles in the entire medium, and this year’s Summer Game Fest didn’t disappoint with a wide range of creative indies that were a joy to try out.

From a game that lets you possess almost any object to a game where players can take pictures and walk right into photos, lots of original ideas were on display. Some were also just fun to play, like a meditative packing simulator or an orb-based puzzle adventure game from one of the creative minds behind Limbo and Inside. When all was said and done, Digital Trends played over 15 upcoming indie games. The following 10 stood out to us the most as our favorite indie games of Summer Game Fest 2023.

Cocoon

An alien structure appears in Cocoon.
Annapurna Interactive

From the moment Cocoon was first announced, it had my attention. All I really knew about it was that Limbo and Inside lead gameplay designer Jeppe Carlsen was involved, but that was enough to pique my interest. But I’d be lying if I said I understood what the game actually was after watching its cryptic reveal trailer. After finally getting to play a slice of it at Summer Game Fest, I’m feeling justified in that blind excitement. Cocoon is a mystifying, surreal indie that fuses the insect world sci-fi art design inspired by Alien. With fluid puzzle-solving and exploration that I didn’t need a single tutorial to understand, it’s shaping up to be as special as I hoped it would be. ~ Giovanni Colantonio

Henry Halfhead

Henry Halfhead as a baby.
popagenda

Henry Halfhead is a weird game. As the titular character — who is named very literally, by the way — you move around delicately crafted environments and possess any objects within them, all while a narrator explains what Henry is trying to do. Need to make a bed? Possess the pillow and then the sheets to put it back together. Its objectives are laid out in a style similar to Untitled Goose Game, where players are just given a set of objectives and are then let loose in a small sandbox to complete them. There seems to be some room for experimentation and creativity in completing those objectives. At one point, I needed to make a drink, and instead of using the coffee machine right in front of me, I used some hidden tea bags to make tea. After doing this, the developers told me that I was the only person at Summer Game Fest who had completed that objective by making tea. That level of freedom with interactions, as well as the game’s distinct wit and immediately iconic main character, make Henry Halfhead an indie title I’m eagerly awaiting. ~ Tomas Franzese

Été

A player approaches a painting in Ete.
Impossible

During my final hour at Play Days, I decided to check out a few smaller indies I hadn’t tried during the whirlwind two-day event. I’m glad I did because I otherwise would have missed Été. The relaxing painting game initially caught my eye thanks to its lovely watercolor art style and a satisfying mechanic that lets players paint a colorless Montreal as they explore. The more I played, the more I clicked with what would be my most zen moment in a busy weekend, one that would let me express a little creativity as I discovered hidden objects and painted requests for some friendly Canadians. It’s a downright pleasant game, bringing quiet Bob Ross charm that I wish we saw more in video games. ~ Giovanni Colantonio

Viewfinder

A room appears in both color and black and white in Viewfinder.
Sad Owl Studios

Over the course of a few days, I’d get to play several big-budget releases like Mortal Kombat 1 and Foamstars. But whenever I talked to other attendees at Summer Game Fest’s Play Days event, I was more eager to discuss a demo for an indie game I’d already played months back. That’s how magical Viewfinder is. The astonishing puzzle game blew my mind when I tried it at GDC in March, and it left the same strong impression this time around. Its core mechanic, where 2D images can be placed in the world to turn them into 3D spaces seamlessly, is still so impressive that I can’t even imagine how developer Sad Owl Studios pulled it off. If you want to see it for yourself, you can try the demo for yourself on PS5. ~ Giovanni Colantonio

Simpler Times

Key art for Simpler Times
Iam8bit

Simpler Times is a game about the reflection we all experience before a major life change. In this game’s case, it follows a young girl as she packs up things in her childhood room before heading off to college. It’s not a much more complex game than that, as players pick up and put things away from a first-person perspective, but the whole experience really resonated with me as I’m moving soon. I also appreciated its optimistic outlook on big life changes; indie games about emotional life moments could use more of that positivity. ~ Tomas Franzese

Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior

Remnants attack a shielded enemy in Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior.
Quantic Dream

French video game studio Quantic Dream has long been synonymous with narrative-driven games like Heavy Rain, but it’s looking to diversify its portfolio by publishing indies. It had two titles at the show this year, and one of those totally took me by surprise. Lysfanga: The Time Shift Warrior is a unique hack-and-slash action game where players have 15 seconds to clear an arena full of enemies. Every time that timer runs out, players respawn as a clone of themselves that works in tandem with their past selves to take out everyone in one loop. It’s an incredibly clever concept that turns a standard action game into a strategic puzzler with a ton of potential for speedrunners. ~ Giovanni Colantonio

Another Crab’s Treasure

Aggro Crab / Digital Trends / Aggro Crab

Another Crab’s Treasure is a Soulslike starring a crab. You probably know whether or not this game is for you from that premise, but I encourage you to give this game a shot even if you’re unsure about it. At its core, it plays a bit like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, but the game then layers on some unique systems, like equippable shells that grant different additional powers and movement that feels more like a 3D platformer. This, along with a sense of humor that carries over from developer Aggro Crab’s Twitter account, gives Another Crab’s Treasure enough of an identity to where it can really stand out in a sea of Soulslikes. ~ Tomas Franzese

Little Kitty, Big City

A cat dives into a trash can in Little Kitty Big City
Double Dagger Studio

I have a simple rule: If you show me a game starring a playable cat, I’m going to try it. So, of course, I couldn’t resist Little Kitty, Big City. The adventure game has players guiding a cat through a bustling city as it tries to find its way back home. Though that may sound a lot like Stray, it has a totally different tone, opting more for a slapstick cartoon vibe than hard sci-fi. It’s a cute and breezy little exploration game full of lots of environmental puzzles and even more adorable hats to collect. ~ Giovanni Colantonio

Thirsty Suitors

Jala assumes a flirty pose in Thirsty Suitors.
Annapurna Interactive

When I played Thirsty Suitors last year at Tribeca Fest, I thought I had a pretty firm grasp on what the game was. It seemed like a narrative game inspired by Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, where I’d be fighting off evil exes in turn-based RPG battles. It turns out there’s a lot more to it than that. The new demo I tried at Play Days instead was a fully-fledged skateboarding game where I was performing tricks and combos in between those narrative moments. I’d be so occupied with that smooth skating gameplay that I wouldn’t even get to its cooking system, which is an entirely different pillar of its gameplay structure. Thirsty Suitors continues to surprise me every time I see it, so I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the full game.

Fae Farm

Two players farm outside during autumn in Fae Farm.
Phoenix Labs / Phoenix Labs

Phoenix Labs is the biggest game developer on this list. It is technically an independent company, though, and its upcoming farming sim Fae Farm has that cozy indie game feel. It’s a farming game in the vein of titles like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley but emphasizes co-op play and the magical abilities players have at their disposal. The game has a bit of a Legend of Zelda-type feel as players can explore an overworld and delve into a dungeon. That said, it’s also shaping up to be a deep farming and life sim with lots of crops to grow and items for your house to craft. It probably won’t dethrone Stardew Valley as the best in the genre, finally going hands-on with Fae Farm affirmed that it is one of the most promising titles in this current farming game boom. ~ Tomas Franzese

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Tomas Franzese
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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