If you ask me, indies ruled Gamescom this year. While the event drew a whopping 311,000 visitors this year, getting close to pre-COVID numbers, a lot of gamers were left hungry for big AAA releases to satiate their hunger for new content. Sony didn’t have a PlayStation booth, Nintendo only brought titles you can already play at home to the Gamescom show floor and Xbox decided that they had to transform half of a hall into a golf course with a giant green carpet, but nary an upcoming game in sight. Even Starfield only had a trailer to show to the audience.
It’s weird that Netflix probably had the most expensive booth this year and they were little more than backdrops for photo opportunities if you’re into Stranger Things or Wednesday.
But that perception changes entirely when you dive into hall 10 of Gamescom, which is where you can find the indies. There was simply too much to play here and almost zero waiting time between spotting a game you’re interested in and getting your hands on the controller – with a passionate developer at your side giving you personal insights on how the game was conceived.
If I didn’t have to spend the majority of my time for work-related reasons at Gamescom, this is where you’d have found me this year, playing every game available and talking to the people behind them.
Sadly, I didn’t have that much available time so instead of a “best indies at Gamescom 2023”, you can see this more as a list of games I played and enjoyed. I’ll also make a point of not listing them in any particular order, just know they come with “BloodyGoodReview’s Seal of Approval”
Without further ado, let’s get this list on the road!
This is the first VR game I’ve played that actually made me feel like I stepped into a giant mech, complete with manually loading giant shells into gun chambers, teaming up with other players and fighting off waves of invading aliens. I already tried Big Shots last year, but watched one of the devs having a go at a handicapped run where he only used the laser upgrades and it was awesome.
The visual quality is top-notch and with plenty of roguelike elements, this could be a game you play for hours and a good reason to dust off your VR headset. And to top things off, it’s Belgian too! They are pretty hard to find online though, so their marketing presence could still use a little boost.
Moving on to another Belgian title that I also discovered last year at Gamescom 2022 but that has made great improvements since then: Slimy Knight. Not to be confused with Slime Knight, a monster type from Dragon Quest, or the same-titled Steam release from earlier this year. (I swear, our Belgian games have to research their game titles a little bit better and make sure they are SEO-friendly!)
The game itself though, is nothing short of amazing. It’s a platforming action-adventure that looks visually stunning and seems reminiscent of the PlayStation classic Medievil, or even the more recent tribute to it: Pumpkin Jack. The combat looks fun, the movement fluid (pun intended) and the puzzle-solving adds some nice touches as well. Definitely one to keep an eye on!
Tom the postgirl
Now here’s a game that I would initially look past if I saw it in a line-up, but the bow-wearing devs at Courage Cologne, the night before Gamescom, drew me in to play Tom the postgirl and give it a go. Her name comes from the expression “peeping Tom” because you see, she has a bad habit of peeping into people’s houses before delivering their package.
To give one example, you can look through some windows in a house with a weird-shaped bathtub and couch and it’s only when you look through another crack in the fence that you notice the house is occupied by a Siamese twin (which also has a Siamese twin dog). If you then open the package instead of simply delivering it, you notice it’s a chainsaw. Just how those twins are going to use the chainsaw, I’ll leave up to your imagination.
Oh, and you can slap some stamps on chickens and send them back to their cage. It’s more fun and satisfying than it sounds, trust me.
Boti: Byteland Overclocked
Adding this title to the line-up feels a bit like cheating because I’m actually doing the PR for Boti: Byteland Overclocked during the dayjob. But I genuinely adore the aesthetic they are going for and it also helps that they placed the game’s setting inside a computer, reminiscent of Astrobots’ latest adventure.
The devs also brought a super-awesome replica of Boti to the booth which certainly helped to draw in a crowd of players. The PC version of this fun 3D platformer is launching on Steam on September 15th, but if you’re eager to play it on Xbox you won’t have to wait too long, with console versions launching early next year! If you want to try it our yourself, you can already check out the prologue on Steam or watch my playthrough on YouTube.
If you let me play as a dog in a game, you already have a leg up on the completion (or a paw). In Farewell North, you play as a Border Collie who can sniff out the path forward and bring colour to the world by discovering items to interact with. I played the demo a while ago and was pretty impressed with the setup.
When you’re not playing as the dog, you can take control of its owner and navigate a canoe from island to island and there is just something about this chain of exploration that was super satisfying to me.
It’s also published by Mooneye studios, who have yet to disappoint me with their own inhouse game Lost Ember or their published titles Haven Park and Smushi Come Home.
Water: Me & You
I couldn’t find the trailer for this on YouTube, but you can check it out on Water Me & You‘s Steam page. I’m not too sure about the title and how SEO-friendly it is (I can’t help myself, I’m in games PR and I always think of how to better market a game) but its concept is one that drew me in.
It’s a co-op game you can only play together and you play as a water droplet or a small seedling. They have various interesting interactions with each other and need the help from their partner to navigate a cute-looking miniature world. The aesthetic and gameplay are somewhat similar to the more well-known It Takes Two, but it still manages to do its own thing, earning it a spot in my list of anticipated titles.
Some time ago, I played a very interesting demo for a Belgian game called Nej. It was made by a solo developer but easily managed to evoke emotions through stunning animation and cute characters. Fast-forward a year or more and the team has grown considerably and it’s being published by DON’T NOD. With all that change also comes a new name and now we know it will be released into the world as Koira, which is the Finnish word for Dog.
In Koira, you save a little puppy and embark on a big adventure together. There are musical elements, it’s all hand-drawn, and the game is programmed in Godot, which isn’t the typical choice of engine, but it all cumulates into a wonderful mix of elements that draw me in. I can’t wait for this one to release and take the indie world by storm.
There were quite a lot more interesting indies at Gamescom 2023, but I want to avoid making the same mistake that the Indie Arena Booth and others made: including too many titles and decreasing the discoverability because of it. Instead, I curated a small list of 7 titles for you to keep an eye on and I hope you’ll consider supporting the indie game developers by buying their games and helping to spread the word yourself!
Robby lives and breathes video games. When he’s not playing them, he’s talking about them on social media or convincing other people to pick up a controller themselves. He’s online so often, he could practically list the internet as his legal domicile. Belgian games-industry know-it-all.