It’s a new year, the sun is out while remnants of the hell year that was 2020 may have leaked a little into January, I’m feeling positive, not least of because of the incredible roster of videogames set to release this year. This year will see the culmination of incredible hard work from some of Australia’s most innovative developers. Whether you want to sink into a seaside pastel dream, or challenge yourself in a gothic metroidvania action-RPG, 2021 has a release for you. These are my picks for the new year.
Surf Club, Olivia Haines
When I heard that Olivia Haines was working on a longer narrative game, my heart skipped a beat. Haines’ first full length title, Surf Club, is a narrative adventure game about a young woman named Holly who returns to her seaside town in the hopes of rekindling a past relationship. The game explores the murky middle ground between the past and the present, as her experience of her home town is coloured by a wash of memories.
Having fallen in love with her dreamlike pastel art style, and the tender, melancholic mood from her small art games, Terracotta and Dollhouse, I knew any longer title from Haines would be an instant favourite of mine. I’ve been anticipating further details since I saw she had a game funded in the last round of Film Victoria Games Production funding. As someone who grew up in a small seaside town, I immediately connected with the premise, and the nostalgic focus appealed to my terminal wistfulness. From the dreamy snippet of 80s synths we heard in the announcement trailer, it sounds like Eli Rainsberry’s soundtrack is going to be a really special accompaniment to a narrative I can’t wait to experience.
Knuckle Sandwich, Andrew Brophy
Knuckle Sandwich is a turn-based RPG from Andrew Brophy. Set in the fictional Australian town of Bright City, and inspired by Warioware the game follows a young man on his first day in a new job – a first day that is quickly derailed by chaos, cults and capitalism.
There are so many positive things I could say about Knuckle Sandwich just from playing the demo. I love the massive range of fast-paced minigames; like WarioWare, they come at you so quickly they don’t give you time to feel stressed about skill or performance, and the result is combat design that feels thrilling and rewarding, but also comedic and loose, a dynamic that perfectly mirrors the narrative. The game’s story pairs real world themes like coming of age and gentrification with a strong dose of the otherworldly, perfectly enmeshed in Brophy’s eclectic, experimental design aesthetics.
Outside of the soundtrack, and additional art provided by Olivia Haines and Joanna Tran, Brophy has developed Knuckle Sandwich mostly on his own over the past six years. The confidence of that decision is absolutely apparent in the game itself; it’s vibrant, strange, and the world feels fully realised. It’s so exciting to see work that has such a clear, unique creative vision, and I can’t wait to see it fulfilled. I’m not sure how else to put it except that this game just looks incredibly good.
Knuckle Sandwich will be released on PC and Mac
Innchanted, DragonBear Studios
I don’t play many multiplayer games – for me, videogames are a way to take time for myself. But after playing the demo at PAX Online last year, it’s clear that Innchanted is a game with a lot of heart. A co-op game about running a magical tavern and unseating a powerful wizard (who just happens to be your landlord, Innchanted’s cute, cartoony art-style and lighthearted dialogue belie its radical politics.
Innchanted will be released on PC.
Dead Static Drive, Team Fanclub
Here’s a secret: there’s nothing I like better in a videogame than a good fishing mechanic, or a long drive. By the looks of things, Dead Static Drive has perfectly captured the latter. In its earliest stages, Team Fanclub’s survival-horror game was inspired by isometric, top-down racing; over time, it evolved into a survival-horror game, where the player journeys through a post-apocalyptic America, facing the nameless horrors that the earth has spawned, and making (or breaking) alliances with other survivors.
The game’s dark, warm art style feels at once retro and totally modern; combined with pared back environmental audio design, the world is at once frightening and inviting. To me, this game feels like a Pandora’s box: sitting in the corner, ominous and unknown, absolutely begging to be opened.
Hollow Knight: Silksong, Team Cherry
Hollow Knight: Silksong is the much anticipated follow-up to Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight, a metroidvania action-adventure game that exploded onto the scene in 2017 to near-universal acclaim, selling over 3 million copies on Mac and PC, as well as releasing on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Nintendo Switch. The sequel will see the player take the role of Hornet, the princess-protector of Hallownest, who adventures through an entirely new kingdom, rendered in Hollow Knight’s stunning signature art style.
Ghost Pattern’s Wayward Strand is set in the 70s on a floating airship hospital above regional Australia. The game follows teenage journalist Casey Beaumaris whose exploration of the airship, and interactions with residents, you control. Over the course of three in-game days, Casey can shadow staff, form intergenerational friendships with the airship’s residents, or learn about the airship’s dark history.
There are also a handful games currently in development that I’m keeping a eager eye on, though their release windows aren’t clear. First up is Chorus, an adventure musical game, and the debut title from Summerfall Studios. Led by managing director Liam Esler (formerly of Gaymer X Australia, GDAA), and writer David Gaider (formerly BioWare, Beamdog), the studio launched at the end of 2019, with a view to making narrative-driven games.
Chorus’ camp urban fantasy setting, gorgeous comic-book aesthetic and treasure trove of mythological references tick every box for me; I’m eagerly anticipating the next trailer release.
Last year, Worm Club also received funding from Film Victoria to work on the third installment of the Frog Detective series. Frog Detective is both exactly what you might expect from the title, and also delightfully surprising and fresh; the series follows the eponymous frog’s adventures solving silly mysteries in gorgeous environments, rendered in Creative Director Grace Bruxner’s characterful 3D art style. Frog Detective 3: Corruption at Cowboy County will no doubt be an excellent addition to an already excellent series.
Wood & Weather is a wholesome game about Climate Change (and making friends)
— ☁️Wood & Weather☀️ (@WoodWeather) January 28, 2020