Every year, thousands of amazing and unique games are released within our industry, across a wide variety of platforms and genre. Games are a means of expression, a way of establishing connection and putting the player inside of another viewpoint. That is what sets video games apart from other mediums.
Unfortunately, that viewpoint largely comes from a specific demographic. According to the 2019 Developer Satisfaction Survey from the International Game Developers Association, 69% of the industry respondents were white. Seven percent of developers identified as Hispanic/Latinx, 5% as Aboriginal/Indigenous, 4% as Chinese or South East Asian, and a mere 2% as Black or West Asian. There are many barriers to becoming a game developer, but overall, those are disappointing numbers.
There is excellent work being done by independent developers of color. Games based on their lives, their stories, and their viewpoints. We're here to highlight 20 of those games, both current and upcoming. It's a small sliver of everything that's out there, hopefully inspiring others to bring their own contributions to gaming.
Treachery in Beatdown City
On the surface, Treachery in Beatdown City looks like a standard brawler hailing from the 8-bit era of the original Double Dragon. As you dive deeper into the game though, it reveals itself to be more of a modern RPG, with a mix of real-time action and turn-based tactics. This mix of old and new is at the core of this little indie for PC and Nintendo Switch.
Layered on top of that though is a straightforward satire by developer Shawn Alexander Allen. Allen is an outspoken developer on topics like diversity and inclusion within the game industry, and that carries forward into his game. Treachery in Beatdown City is as much about race and his experiences living in New York City, as it is about queueing up the next special attack on an enemy.
Similar to the Japanese Kunio-Kun series—River City Ransom and Renegade on our shores—Treachery in Beatdown City is all about the action, but the jokes and commentary are there to make you think a bit. If in-between all the power bombs and roundhouse kicks you pause for a moment to think about the real-world, then Allen has done his job well.
Sky: Children of the Light
Sky: Children of the Light might seem at first like it bears little resemblance to thatgamecompany's last venture. But there's plenty of similarities to be found between Journey and Sky: both are social adventure games at their core, encouraging players to work together in stunning environments, involving ambiguous characters that are a small part of a greater journey.
Developed by game director Jenova Chen for iOS in 2019 and Android devices earlier this year, Sky might be one of the most relaxing games I've ever experienced. There's an emphasis on meeting other players and bonding with them, but it's never pushed so far as to be intrusive to the player.
Gently exploring stunning environments in a device in the palm of your hand, all while a lush, gentle soundtrack vibrates in the background is wonderful. Sky is thoroughly relaxing and a welcoming social game, perhaps an antidote to 2020.
The Kingdom of Kuru: The Great Race
This entire list is all about highlighting games that you might not know about. The Kingdom of Kuru: The Great Race is a multiplayer game planned for release on iOS. As either Kiros or Kara, players will race each other across 2D platforming challenges. It's meant to be a game that parents can enjoy with their children.
The Kingdom of Kuru, currently in beta, will be the debut title of Brikym Game Studio. The company was founded by Brian Ollison and Kym Pressley, two Black game designers living in Atlanta, Georgia. Ollison and Pressley are doing their best to not only provide a light-hearted fantasy with some representation, but also make sure the next generation is prepared for STEM fields and entrepreneurship.
Their game is still in beta at the moment, but it's only the beginning for the pair. They plan for The Kingdom of Kuru to be a full series of games and products, but first the game has to get out of beta. With a small, tight-knit community, Brikym Game Studio is currently refining their game before its release into the world.
Atgtha in Absurdia
Atgtha in Absurdia is a minimalistic roguelite adventure, in which titular character Atgtha has to venture into the Hall of Absurdia, seeking out a powerful amulet which she hopes will revive her recently deceased brother. This adventure looks to counter everything I find a little bit overwhelming about roguelites. It's an adventure conducted at your own pace, without any overbearing or flashy designs getting in the way of nice, simple adventure.
Atgtha in Absurdia was made during the seven-day Roguelite Game Jam in 2020, and is available for free now through itch.io. Developer Tyriq Plummer, a.k.a. FourBitFriday, is continuing to work on the game after the Game Jam concluded though, and has said on the game's itch.io page that it will receive an update at some point.
Plummer has two other games in orbit as well. His platformer-roguelike Catacomb Kids has been on Steam Early Access since 2015, and he's currently working on UFO 50 alongside Derek Yu and many other game developers.
If stealth-action is your jam, but you don't want saving the world to be on the line, what about some simple revenge? Project Madison is a game from Pauline Martyn and Taylor Adams-Harriott. You play as the eponymous Madison, a secretary who was fired from her previous job after her conniving coworker Jeff lied about her accomplishments. Madison finds temp work alongside Jeff—who doesn't remember her—and dutifully begins planning her revenge.
As a temp worker, Madison has to balance both sides of her life: getting her work done and working to get Jeff fired. You have to print copies and answer calls, while lockpicking file cabinets and sneaking through people's belongings. And time keeps moving forward if you're not in a conversation or your inventory, so don't have too long to enact your revenge.
It's a unique style of stealth game, occupying a world and time period akin to Mad Men. It's also wonderfully cathartic to get the wildly evil Jeff fired. You can play Project Madison right now on itch.io, with a browser version of the game available immediately. Give Jeff his just desserts, will ya?
An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs
Alright, hear me out with this one. An Airport For Aliens Currently Run By Dogs sounds on paper like it might be a little too silly for its own good, but it's one of the more vibrant and wholesome games I've seen in a long time. As the player, you're one of the last two human beings left on Earth, the other being your fiancée. It's not just the airport that dogs are running: they've got control of the entire world, and you need to stay in touch with your fiancée while puzzling your way through alien logic and stock photos of dogs.
An Airport for Aliens Run by Dogs (phew) is being developed by Xalavier Nelson Jr., a former journalist who has previously worked on well-regarded games like Hypnospace Outlaw, Skatebird, and Can Androids Pray. Honestly, I can't wait for this game. I have always dreamed of engaging in conversation with dogs, whether that's 2D cutout photos of the canines or real life creatures. An Airport For Aliens Currently Run By Dogs will let me achieve this fantasy, and so I salute it.
Where Cards Fall
Where Cards Fall is one of the best games on Apple Arcade at the moment. Not only is it a fantastic-looking game with slick work from animator Cedric Adams, but the core conceit of the game is so visually interesting. You're a young man trying to navigate his fleeting youth, moving ahead by shuffling around different houses of cards.
You build and knock down these houses, using them as platforms to guide you toward the exit. Each level is a tiny diorama, a moment in the character's life. Where Cards Falls is about all those memories that take you from childhood to adulthood, the choices you made that you might look back on fondly or regret.
The arresting aesthetic, combined with a chill soundtrack, and 52 levels to tackle will take you on a journey through the protagonist's life. It'll also probably make you think deeply about your own childhood in the process.
Insecure: The Come Up Game
Back in 2016, HBO premiered Insecure, a comedy series starring creator Issa Rae based on her web series Awkward Black Girl. It's a lovely series about being a Black woman, illustrating the more relatable side of the two protagonist's lives. Alongside the current fourth season, there's now a game that's all about lead character Issa Dee's life.
Insecure: The Come Up Game is a title from minority-led studio Glow Up Games. Part of the planned game is a narrative life sim involving Issa Dee navigating the ins-and-outs of her life. There's also a rap-based word game, where you'll help Issa psych herself up; players will be able to share their rap results with their friends too.
Glow Up Games was founded by Latoya Peterson, Tara Mustapha, and Dr. Mitu Khandaker with an aim of creating diverse experiences for gaming, mobile, AR, and VR. Insecure: The Come Up Game is just the start to a larger, brighter future.
ValiDate looks like a charmer. A game that posits itself about maneuvering through the twisting paths of young adulthood is bound to pull on the heartstrings a fair few times, with a few reflections on life along the way.
But ValiDate doesn't just put you in the shoes of one character: you're taking command of 12 total "struggling singles." As each, you'll have to make life-altering and affirming decisions as you struggle down any one of the 30 chosen pathways the game has to offer.
There's a demo available for ValiDate right now, and it'll be out in full next year. This is definitely a striking visual novel adventure to keep an eye on.
SweetXheart (pronounced Sweetheart) is a game by Catt Small that puts you in the shoes of a modern Black woman, and tasks you with surviving for one week.
It's a narrative-driven, choice-based game at its core, putting you through five days in the shoes of Kara, a 19-year-old Bronx resident. You attend art college, intern at a tech company, and interact with people in your day-to-day life, each of which will have an impact on Kara's stress levels and feelings.
SweetXheart actually launched on itch.io as a small project by Small last year. I'm still including it in this list though, because the noted points it makes on gender and race are still extremely important in 2020.
Evicted posits that you have, well, been evicted. Before you're even done unpacking your things and setting up your new life in a brand new location, you're handed an eviction notice and basically told to get the hell out.
Evicted isn't interested so much in the process of receiving the eviction notice, but what happens in the aftermath. In this first-person adventure game, how much can you grab before your time is up?
It's a simple premise yes, but I really like the hard-hitting nature of this game. Evicted may have been developed by student Tiger Collins in 2019, but with the COVID-19 pandemic displacing thousands across America, it's incredibly timely over one year after release.
Dear Gregorie, Dear Accordio
Dear Gregorie, Dear Accordio was created during Rainbow Jam 2019, a two-week game jam created to celebrate diverse and queer creators and projects. It was the work of artist and animator Tiffany McFarlane and programmer and writer Sean Wejebe.
Dear Gregorie, Dear Accordio is the story of Gwendoline, a messenger pigeon tasked with delivering letters between two boys who met at a tavern once. They're not very good at the whole letter writing thing though, so Gwendoline has to edit the letter mid-transit in order to push their relationship in new directions. You can put your powers of wordsmithery to good use and spin up a little romance in this colorful cartoony world. You can find the game on itch.io, like many of the titles on this list.
Everyone has played with their food at some point in their lives. It probably (hopefully) happened when you were a child, but Nour is going to recreate that feeling in glorious HD for your adult self.
Developed by T.J. Hughes on a Kickstarter-driven campaign, Nour has somehow gone from experimental indie game at GDC in 2017 to a PlayStation 5 game. It's quite strange to think that one of the few confirmed games for the PS5 is a food physics sim, but I actually love it.
I can't wait to get my hands on Nour. It looks surprisingly relaxing and fulfilling, but perhaps that's just the clean freak in me getting pushed to one side for a change.
Swimsanity! is one of the larger games on our list. It's a multiplayer underwater shooter, putting your squad of submersible soldiers up against a host of underwater foes. Shoot your way through giant crabs, sharks, turtles, and more in co-op or versus modes. Swimsanity! has full cross-play on Steam, Switch, and Xbox One.
Swimsanity! is the work of Decoy Games, an indie game studio founded by two brothers, Ahmed and Khalil Abdullah. The game was started when they attended University of Massachusetts Amherst ten years ago, and they were later joined by visual artist Chris Venne.
It's been a long road for the studio, and there's still more Swimsanity! to come. A revealed roadmap promises a full solo adventure, improved matchmaking, in-game tutorials, and some balance improvements. All that in addition to an upcoming PlayStation 4 release.
Before I Forget
Before I Forget is developed by 3-Fold Games, a team of two women, Chella Ramanan and Claire Morwood, in southwest England (hey, that's near me!). It's an adventure game that aims to open up dementia, putting you in the shoes of a woman with early-onset dementia.
What an amazing, ambitious story to try and tackle. Although we know that dementia is largely an attack on the brain, manifesting itself through different conditions, there's still ultimately a lot that we don't know about dementia, which is what Before I Forget really picks up on.
It's a stunning game, to put it mildly. To say some more meaningful words about it, please read my good friend Christian Donlan's review of Before I Forget.
She Dreams Elsewhere
Now this looks like a stunner. She Dreams Elsewhere is a surreal, vibrant 2D RPG, taking place entirely within a coma, as you play the role of a woman attempting to escape from her current condition.
As Thalia, you venture around the world of your mind with a fellow party, engaging foes in a simplistic-yet-tough turn-based battle system. She Dreams Elsewhere looks like it'll be constructing a really deep, personal narrative around Thalia, and I can't wait to play it.
Yes, it might be coming out next year in 2021, but you might have seen She Dreams Elsewhere doing the rounds in years past, especially if you follow GDC and similar events. You can listen to our interview with developer Davionne Gooden on Axe of the Blood God, our RPG podcast.
Aerial_Knight's Never Yield
Like She Dreams Elsewhere, Never Yield is the work of a single developer. Neil "Aerial Knight" Jones is a Detroit-based 3D artist and developer who is crafting this 3D side-scrolling. Never Yield is part endless runner, part narrative experience, as you guide the acrobatic protagonist through obstacles and enemies alike.
You'll run, slide, and dodge your way through a futuristic Detroit with Wally, a hero that looks a little like Jones himself. As you make your way through the city, you'll find information that'll help you save the city, and be treated to a dope soundtrack from Detroit-based musician Danime-Sama. That soundtrack is going to feature artists of color from around the world for its vocals.
Never Yield is planned for release on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X, though there's no release window just yet, given that Jones is largely working alone on this passion project.
5 Force Fighters
Black people have always been a strong part of the fighting game community. Developer Kaizen-Creed, his brother, and a friend are working on 5 Force Fighters, their first attempt at making their own fighting game. Inspired by the hyper kinetic action of games Dragon Ball Xenoverse, the team is trying to create a fighter that casual players and hardcore joystick jockeys can enjoy.
It's very early days for 5 Force Fighters, with no firm platforms or release dates yet. The team currently works out of their personal Discord, offering new looks at the game and asking for feedback. The early test builds of the game are already looking impressive though.
Garden Story is part-social sim, part-RPG. You play as a grape named Concord, and it's your job to breathe life back into the grove.
I love the look of Garden Story. It looks like it's taking the gameplay elements of Stardew Valley, and meshing it with the aesthetic of something like Forager. It looks charming but not garish, and the gameplay looks more involved to a satisfying degree.
And it's all made by one person, Picogram! Garden Story launches on Nintendo Switch and PC in 2021, and it's looking like a lovely contender for one of the more exciting indies on the horizon.
Art Club Challenge
Now this is a game I can really get behind. I get so overwhelmed with artistic challenges, to the point where my anxiety-riddled fingers can barely draw a circle, let alone anything to impress anybody.
But Art Club Challenge wants to take the pressure out of art. It wants to hand you a simple color palette, and tells you to have fun no matter the outcome. Art without the pressure of people looking in on you is a really heartfelt, touching concept, and I think it really captures why many people are so fearful of artistic expression.
More power to Art Club Challenge. I love a game that not only understands its audience like this, but is willing to incorporate other design philosophies to be more accessible to a wider audience. Oh, and coolest of all, it was featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum Arcade showcase.