Whenever new titles get added to Xbox Game Pass, only a handful of games make a splash. Day one releases like Starfield are always guaranteed to get subscribers logging in, but smaller titles tend to fly under the radar. That’s especially the case when it comes to indies that aren’t considered “game of the year” material, but probably should be. There’s a wealth of inventive, groundbreaking titles at your fingertips — though sometimes they can disappear from the service before you even realize they were there at all.
If you need help finding something new to dig into, I’ve got some recommendations. The service is loaded with indie standouts that you may have skimmed over while scrolling through your library. Next time you need something new to play, consider checking one of these games out.
One of 2023’s best narrative games, Dordogne is a moving story about a young girl’s summers spent with her grandmother in France. The four-hour story is an emotionally loaded experience, showing the bond the two form in picaresque slice-of-life scenes while unearthing some painful memories too. Its heartfelt coming-of-age story is worth playing in its own right, but Dordogne is especially worth checking out thanks to its gorgeous art style, which makes every frame look like a watercolor painting. It’s the most beautiful game released so far this year and one you absolutely shouldn’t miss.
If you’re an Xbox owner who wishes you could play Pikmin 4, Game Pass offers you the next best thing. Tinykin is a Pikmin-inspired indie game that takes the chaotic strategy setup of Nintendo’s oddball series and turns it into an excellent puzzle-based exploration game. Like Pikmin, players round up an army of creatures that each come with their own power. The twist, though, is that the little guys don’t need to battle bulbous enemies. Instead, the gameplay loop is more about solving puzzles in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids-like environments that turn kitchens and bedrooms into massive explorable spaces with tons of verticality. It may not be as big as Nintendo’s latest exclusive, but it might be a pound-for-pound tighter experience overall.
Genesis Noir is an odyssey like no other — and you can probably tell that right away from its unique black-and-white art style. Developed by Feral Cat Den, the standout indie plays out like a trippy point-and-click adventure game. Players take control of No Man, a detective who finds himself caught up in a love story between celestial entities. It’s a love story so bitter that it quite literally causes the Big Bang. A strange and wonderful meditation on the universe’s creation, Genesis Noir is a thoughtfully designed little adventure full of gorgeous art that animation history nerds (like me) can gush over.
I love a good photography game, something that I largely attribute to playing Pokémon Snap as a kid. So, I admittedly have a soft spot for games like Toem that have me snapping pictures as their main gameplay hook. Even setting that bias aside, though, Toem is an undeniably charming indie that anyone with a Game Pass subscription should check out. In it, players set out across a black-and-white world, taking photos of its oddball creatures to complete quests. It’s a consistently surprising game that finds creative ways to turn photography into a puzzle tool. Whether you have Pokémon Snap nostalgia or not, it’s a relaxing way to spend a few hours.
I’ve only ever been to a real escape room once, but I loved the experience. Unfortunately, it’s hard to wrangle together enough friends to go consistently. If you’re in that same boat, Escape Academy is the perfect solution. The first-person puzzle game throws players into a series of well-designed puzzle rooms that aren’t too tough or too easy (it’s no surprise that developed Coin Crew Games has experience designing real escape rooms). Each is full of varied puzzles that’ll test your logic on the fly. With a strong co-op mode that lets you play alongside a friend or family member, it’s a satisfying little puzzler that features everything that makes escape rooms so fun to complete — and without all the hassle of organizing a crew.
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