It's always nice to see standout indie games on the E3 stage, and in terms of sheer quantity, the Microsoft E3 press conference 2016 was ahead of the pack. Only problem was, it crammed a whopping 18 games into a sub-two-minute sizzle reel - so if you weren't familiar with some of these titles, they might've passed by without giving you any sense of what they're about or how they play. Fortunately, you can peruse this comprehensive rundown of the upcoming titles in Microsoft's ID@Xbox program, see what's what, and get hyped accordingly. Here's a closer look at the indies incoming to your Xbox One.
It's a bit worrying how this year marks Cuphead's third E3 appearance without a definitive release date - but all is forgiven every time we get a gander of its distinct, old-timey-cartoon art style and co-op shootouts against larger-than-life bosses reminiscent of Contra and Metal Slug. Rumor has it that Microsoft is helping pour more money and time into Cuphead to expand the game beyond a series of lovingly animated boss fights, so we're willing to wait a bit longer if it means more Cuphead content.
Who doesn't love being hunted by deranged killers and huddling for dear life inside a hastily chosen hiding place? Outlast 2 leaves the asylum from the first game to run screaming around a wide-open farm, with such classic horror settings as the treacherous cornfield and a barn full of severed body parts. If you're a sucker for first-person scares and almost unbearable amounts of tension, Outlast 2 is for you.
Deliver Us the Moon
It's the year 2069, and predictably, Earth's inhabitants have drained it of most resources and are scrambling for a solution. A lone astronaut - that's you - may be the key to averting all-out extinction, but first you'll have to piece together the mysteries of abandoned bases on the Moon. This story-driven survival game looks like an atmospheric (pun intended) adventure with plenty of creepy, lonesome ambience that can be lessened when you're accompanied by a little drone called the All-Seeing Eye.
The folks at Tribute Games have positively mastered the art of classic 16-bit sprites and addictive, arcade-style gameplay loops, as seen in previous games like Mercenary Kings and Ninja Senki DX. Flinthook captures the spirit of Capcom's platforming classic Bionic Commando, albeit with a greatly improved control scheme that lets you grapple around with your anchor-on-a-rope to speedily collect coins and dodge obstacles. As you zip around each level, you'll have to avoid what appears to be a crew of alien pirates.
Boasting one of the least-Google-able names ever, Far is a surreal 2D game in which you pilot a train-like, possibly sentient vehicle across a massive expanse of dried-up ocean. You'll have to move around the craft to deal with the current conditions, like raising the sails to gain speed or repairing parts for additional energy. Far seems like it could be bleak in some parts and uplifting in others, which should make for an intriguing contrast.
The slime has the distinction of being the only video game creature to maintain high levels of cuteness and viscousness at all times. You can learn that valuable lesson for yourself in Slime Rancher, playing from the first-person perspective of Beatrix LeBeau as she cultivates a corral full of regular livestock and adorable blobs of all shapes and colors. Not since Viva Pinata has a farming adventurer packed in this much delightful weirdness.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
If you have an appreciation for the real-time, isometric espionage of the old Commando series, or the stealthy ninjas of Tenchu, Shadow Tactics will be right up your alley. You and your team of highly trained shinobi must sneak across rooftops and around sightlines to set up coordinated eliminations. Provided you've planned ahead and positioned yourself just right, you could score an impressive chain of assassinations in quick succession.
Every frame of Figment looks like a cross between Bastion and a Dr. Seuss picture book, which is a pretty brilliant combo if you ask us. The supremely colorful visuals evoke the charm of something like Samorost, and you could ostensibly spend hours just gazing at the strange, imaginative backdrops.
Like Battle Royale and The Hunger Games before it, The Culling turns the most dangerous game into a reality show, where 16 players must kill or be killed until one one remains on this tropical island. This brand of multiplayer survival always delivers an appealing mix of bona fide tension and hilarious antics, and The Culling's wide variety of weapons to find and traps to craft should make for some pretty memorable fights for your life.
For the King
You won't find too many roguelike RPGs with online co-op out there - certainly none as alluringly illustrated as For the King. Whether you're playing solo or with pals, you and your party will square off against reanimated skeletons, magic golems, and a host of other fantasy baddies in turn-based battles. The turn-based aspect gives you the perfect opportunity to gaze in awe at the angular, deeply hued visuals.
The style points are off the charts for Beacon, a top-down shooter starring clones with cool helmets and yellow jackets. It has the vibe of Hyper Light Drifter's style grafted onto Helldivers' chaotic shootouts, and the aesthetic - of the exotic environment, your character, and their prism-headed robot enemies - is drop-dead gorgeous. You'll use futuristic firepower, special abilities, and Nuclear Throne-style mutations to survive the dangers of randomly generated levels (because, as a rule, the indie scene is obligated to comprise at least 40% roguelikes).
This Harvest Moon-alike (made by a single developer, amazingly) became a celebrated hit overnight when it debuted on Steam, so ID@Xbox bringing it to consoles is a godsend. If you've ever enjoyed watering virtual crops, tending to livestock, winning over NPC townsfolk, and maybe settling down with your beau on your expansive, prosperous farmland, Stardew Valley is going to absolutely consume your spare time.
Hand of Fate 2
The original Hand of Fate mixed the random nature of card games with the fast-paced action of a third-person brawler, and Hand of Fate 2 continues to iterate on that clever mash-up. You'll test your deck-building prowess against the enigmatic Dealer, then delve into lore-filled story beats and combo-tastic combat as you move between encounters decided by the cards you've been dealt. This sequel expands the stakes and scope of your games, and introduces NPC companions who will battle by your side.
Take the difficulty principles of the Souls series, the survival elements of Don't Starve, and the vast scale of top-down adventure found in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, then mix 'em all together. What you've got is Below, the next game from Capybara, which is an incredibly artistic, challenging quest through the cavernous inner workings of a colossal mountain. We've been waiting for Below since it was announced at E3 2013, and it looks like that long wait is nearly over.
Raiders of the Broken Planet
MercurySteam, the studio behind the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow series, teased Raiders of the Broken Planet months ago, but now we finally get a look at some gameplay. The stylized character designs, hectic third-person shooting, and high-tech desert setting makes Raiders look a bit like a cross between Darksiders and Bulletstorm, which would make for a stellar pairing. There's also the added wrinkle of multiplayer; MercurySteam dubs Raiders a "Multiplayer Online Asymmetric Adventure". You best believe you'll be blasting, punching, and drop-kicking hordes of cyborg soldiers in your quest to unleash chaos on the Broken Planet.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
Veteran developer Koji Igarashi, most famous for creating Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, escaped the shackles of Konami and drummed up copious crowdfunding for Bloodstained, a new platforming adventure featuring gorgeous, gothic locales. Judging by our hands-on time with this spiritual successor, Bloodstained looks and plays great, despite the fact that it's only 1/10th of the way finished. Fresh mechanics like multiple weapon types and environmental puzzles evoke the feeling of classic Castlevania without being a mere rehash.
Here's another Kickstarter title specifically engineered to tap into your brain's nostalgia lobe. Yooka-Laylee promises to build on the basic premise of the cute, challenging collectathon that is Banjo-Kazooie, starring a chameleon and hit bat buddy in place of the bear and bird duo. Expect to be enchanted by the vibrantly colorful visuals, delighted by the old-school 3D platforming, and obsessed with every collectible littered throughout each level.
Space shooters are all the rage right now, and Everspace is a crowdfunded contender that adds its own twist with a single-player campaign full of roguelike-style randomized encounters. Whether you're cruising around and blasting lasers in first-person cockpit view or classic third-person, the galactic dogfights and impressive visuals should be a treat for fans of space combat.