The IGN crew played a lot of games at Gamescom 2022. A lot of those were through dedicated appointments to write big previews of some of the most anticipated games out there. But my personal favorite bit of every conference is wandering down to the indie floors and seeing what gems are coming up that may not be getting the same mainstream attention, usually because their teams and budgets are much smaller.
In no specific order, here’s a collection of all the absolute best things I played at Gamescom 2022. Most of them aren’t out yet, though a few are, and some even have demos on Steam you can check out now. Chances are you’ll find something neat in here, especially if you’re currently looking at the massive slate of AAA delays right now and bemoaning the lack of games coming up soon. Don’t worry, everyone – the games are still coming (many of them, funnily enough, in exactly one week), and there are some darn good ones.
How to Say Goodbye
While it first caught my eye earlier this year at Day of the Devs, I thought How to Say Goodbye was just a cute puzzle about moving ghosts around. I certainly didn’t expect to be crying at the end of a ten minute-ish demo. I mean yes, it is about moving ghosts around. They’re cute, cartoony little dead guys set down on a grid that you can move sort of like a conveyor belt. The goal is to get them through a door, but sometimes the door is locked and you have to get them a key first; or maybe there are obstacles in the way of the door that require switch pushing, or getting another little ghost to stand on a button. It’s all quite clever and pleasant to look at with its funny little “oo oo oo” ghosty music, its nice and cozy mood akin to a Halloween decor sale. And then you get to the part that’s sad – the part that’s about, you know, how to say goodbye. And how the ghosts aren’t ready to do that yet. Frankly, after such a short demo, neither am I.
Release Date: 2022
I don’t really know what useful keywords or genre names to write here that might adequately explain what The Wreck is. It’s a game about memory and decision and the ways our brains process the former as we try to engage in the latter. It’s about a woman abruptly forced to make an extremely difficult choice on behalf of a family member, and then it branches off into being about many, many other things. Junon, the protagonist, navigates through thought and conversation not simply by picking between a couple conversational choices, but by following trains of thought (or not) that lead to an evolving understanding of the situation she finds herself in. In another section, she ventures into a memory and is able to fast-forward and rewind through it, over and over, picking out new relevant details with each pass that help her understand the event a bit better.
My playtime was too short to know whether or not the different paths and decisions I can direct Junon to make will ultimately result in a unique outcome, but that doesn’t seem to be the point of The Wreck. Rather, it’s a story about how our choices come to be, and beautifully conveys the confusion and clarity of someone on the edge of a defining moment in their life, wondering whether or not they should leap.
Release Date: Fall 2022
A few years ago I played a game called Rain World that I didn’t initially like very much, but have not been able to extract from my brain since. The two things that stuck with me most about it were its gorgeous pixel art that seemed constantly in fluid, living motion, and the ways in which the inhospitable environment I was exploring taught me how to survive through trial and error and observation, often not giving up their secrets for hours until I tripped over them by happenstance.
Animal Well feels, in every respect, like it wants to give me a second chance at loving something like Rain World. After playing it for about 20 minutes, I couldn’t rightfully tell you what’s going on or what my little blobby character is up to. I’m dropped in a gorgeous, dank, verdant cavern with glittering pixelated water dripping down the ceiling and soft, leafy plants giving way to hidden areas buried in the foliage, and I’m left to explore. There are tools I can pick up that have a clear use, like some funny firecracker plants I can throw at a very alarming little shadow snake guy who tries to stop my progress. But there are other items that I can’t quite figure out yet, like a strange obsidian egg hiding in the first area with no clear use just yet.
The secrets are part of the point: Animal Well’s creator hid a bunch of them in the Day of the Devs trailer alone, and the final release promises enough to tempt the most insatiable of cipher lovers. I won’t be among the most hardcore teasing out everything Animal Well has to offer, but I look forward to stumbling along on my own through these shimmering caverns and discovering what I can for myself.
Platforms: PC, PS5
Release Date: TBA
You Suck at Parking
So far I’ve been gushing about beautiful art and mystery and complex emotions, but You Suck at Parking delighted me for an entirely different reason: it’s ridiculous. It’s a puzzle game where you’re given top down control of a finicky little car that you need to find its way into a tiny parking spot. You have some very questionable steering, gas, and brakes, but as soon as you come to a full stop, you’re considered parked and you’ve either passed or failed depending on whether you’re in the spot or not. You Suck at Parking’s levels consist of multiple spots positioned in increasingly more absurd parking spaces past ramps and hairpin turns, and you’re asked to park in as many of them as possible within a set time limit.
Turns out, yeah, I really do suck at parking. But it’s stupid fun. I think the person running the demo station felt bad for me and kept trying to give me advice, perhaps worried I wouldn’t like it. I promise, I was having a blast, and I had a hard time putting it down. You Suck at Parking seems to nail that tiny window of making something just frustrating enough that you know you can accomplish it if you just have one more try, one more try, one more try. Based on how its played out so far, I bet I am even worse at parking than I currently think I am. Can’t wait to have that proven out.
Platforms: PC, Xbox
Release Date: September 14, 2022
The Wandering Village
I’ve admittedly had my eye on The Wandering Village since last year. I can be hot or cold on city builders, but I loved the idea of one perched on the back of a giant wandering beast that requires attention and care in order to sustain itself and the community it carries. A symbiotic relationship. So it was great to get a bit of hands-on time at Gamescom to see how it all played out. I’ll admit I was a bit overwhelmed even with the tutorial holding my hand through basic resource gathering and building – maybe because of a latent worry that while my villagers were still figuring out how to pick berries, my giant dinosaur host would die somehow. At one point, I mined a giant rock formation for ore and inadvertently hurt my big friend in the process, a devastating but powerful move that demonstrated how the relationship between my village and the beast might require tough choices at later junctures.
I think I’ll need a bit more time with Wandering Village to properly dig into the all-important long-term aspects of how it plays, but the brief demo was enough to fuel my curiosity about how all the systems might harmonize. There’s so much I didn’t really get to experiment with for long, like how the environments the beast wanders through can impact my settlement, or how I might foster a better relationship with it. I’m not sure I’ll be able to bring myself to harm my gentle friend even for the greater good of my settlers – sorry The Wandering Village, but you can’t make me.
Platforms: PC, Xbox
Release Date: September 14, 2022
Birth is like if plague doctors and 2004 web series Salad Fingers were beautiful instead of deeply upsetting. It’s an open-ended puzzler about being lonely in a big city full of strangers, and slowly constructing a creature out of bones and organs you find lying around so that you’ll have a friend. This is extremely normal because everything in this city seems to be made up of spare bones and bits – people just hand them out to you for free if you organize their jars neatly for them or something. Apart from its striking art style and attention to wonderfully weird detail, what I love most about Birth is the way in which it makes decay feel welcoming. It promises to be short but sweet, with clever puzzles that offer a feeling of warmth as reward… as well as a handful of eyeballs.
Release Date: January 2023
There’s this live theater experience up in NYC that I’ve always wanted to go to, called Sleep No More. It’s (roughly) a production of MacBeth that takes place in a hotel where the audience is free to wander the rooms at will and see different scenes play out in real time. The result is that Sleep No More ends up being a different experience for everyone, depending on which scenes you’re present for and who you encounter.
Wayward Strand is like that, albeit far gentler aesthetically. It takes place on a floating ship hospital where elderly patients are given care – a real Ghibli-esque nursing home. Casey arrives with her mother, a nurse there, and is instructed to keep the residents company for a few days. So she’s left to wander the halls at her leisure and speak to whomever she wants, while a clock ticks the day away. Residents have their own patterns and stories – a character might be having a conversation with another at a certain time, but if you aren’t there to eavesdrop, you just won’t get that information.
I’m excited to play more of Wayward Strand – though it’s a relatively peaceful game, there’s a lot of story and even a bit of mystery around the airship that I want to untangle, and I’m curious how my choices and time spent will impact the way it makes me feel by the end.
Platforms: PC, Switch, PS5, PS4, Xbox
Release Date: September 15, 2022
Gibbon: Beyond the Trees
When my colleague Joe Skrebels texted me to say he’d just played a “Gibbon-based speed platformer” that was “absolutely rad” I knew I had to see what he could possibly be talking about. Gibbon: Beyond the Trees has actually been out since May – it’s an “ecological adventure about freedom and survival,” so I anticipate the full game has plenty to say with regard to a positive environmental message. But it’s packaged beautifully in the bit that I got to play.
You play as a gibbon – part of a family of gibbons with a mate and a baby gibbon – and travel through the trees with them using a fascinating platforming movement system. You alternate between swinging and sliding up and down tree branches, pressing and holding buttons to move and releasing to leap and fly, trying to maintain momentum as you go. It took me a few minutes to grasp the controls, but once I had them down I was sailing between branches and vines like a pro. It helps that the beginning section I played was reasonably forgiving – the worst penalty I suffered for not swinging correctly was moving slowly for a few seconds before picking up speed again, though I imagine later on there might be some more severe consequences.
Whatever lesson Gibbon: Beyond the Trees aims to teach by the time its credits roll, it’s packaged in a wildly fun ride through a gorgeous painted jungle. I found it hard to stop my smooth, speedy swinging when the time came to move on.
Platforms: PC, Switch, Apple Arcade
Release Date: Out now
[i] doesn’t exist
[i] doesn’t exist first caught my eye at GDC earlier this year, and I was delighted to see it make a return at Gamescom. It’s a text-based adventure, but if you’re the sort who finds that too old-school I’d urge you to try the free demo and see if it changes your mind, especially if you like gorgeous pixel art or games that sit on the unsettling edge of horror without dipping fully in.
You play as a strange shadowy figure who wakes up in a forest cave, with a door in the trees just a short ways away. Your objective? Get through the door. But you need a key, and there’s something off about the forest with its talking mushrooms and strange messages and giant clock and that weird heartbeat sound.
I felt like I was having some sort of existential episode playing this. It was great. What really delights me is that while my session had a fairly clear(ish) endpoint, apparently there’s going to be more when this comes out next year. I’m bracing myself for one heck of a fun mental breakdown.
Release Date: 2023
Endling: Extinction Is Forever
Also in the camp of “games that are already out that I somehow totally missed til I tripped over them at Gamescom,” Endling: Extinction Is Forever had the misfortune of dropping at the same time as Stray – another game about a cute small animal running around a post-apocalypse. But in play style, the two couldn’t be more different. Endling follows a fox mother and her kits in a future where food and resources are scarce, and she must keep her little family alive. Initially that’s by hunting for food, but when one of the kits is captured by a human, she must track it down and bring it home again.
She’s not alone, though. The remaining kits grow a little more with each passing day, gaining new skills they can use to help their mother and getting stronger as they age. The world is still dangerous, though, especially during the daytime, so Endling plays with a delicate balance of requiring exploration, clue hunting, and foraging for food while also knowing when to retreat and rest to avoid humans and other dangers.
It’s a tense game, despite the cute aesthetic of the foxes, and it will absolutely rip out your heart if the fox or her children get injured in any way. But if you can stomach it, Endling is also lovely, embracing a grim but empathetic message about what all living creatures are willing to do to avoid not just death, but total extinction.
Platforms: PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox
Release Date: Out now
Gamescom’s indie selection was a smorgasbord of gorgeous artstyles, but none captivated me quite so much as Dordogne’s lovely watercolor backdrops. I wandered them as Mimi, a young woman visiting her recently deceased grandmother’s home, where Mimi previously spent a summer as a child. Dordogne drifts between present day Mimi and her childhood self’s exploration of the house and surrounding area, taking photos, saving descriptive words, and recording sounds for a scrapbooking project.
Mimi’s relationship with her grandmother transported me back to my own memories of summers spent with mine, where I both enjoyed the unconditional love of the much older person while simultaneously struggled – and later learned – to understand her. I loved that nostalgic connection, but I think if you’re looking for something peaceful and emotional with gorgeous artwork, Dordogne is worth checking out whether you can relate or not.
Platforms: PC, Switch, PS5, PS4, Xbox
Release Date: 2023
This Bed We Made
I love a good mystery, and This Bed We Made has all the trappings of a good classic mystery film, taking place in a 1950s hotel and featuring an extremely snoopy maid who gets in way over her head. In my short demo I had a brief moment of discomfort playing as said maid, Sophie, but once I got over my personal hang-ups about digging through strangers’ belongings I had a ball of a time hunting for clues as to why a hotel guest was apparently stalking Sophie’s every move.
It’s clearly important to be bold, but equally important to pick your battles, because Sophie’s snooping can result in consequences depending on what she learns and who finds out about it. There’s promise of a lot of interesting interactions based on everything she does, from which of her two coworkers she chooses to ask for help, down to whether she puts objects back where she found them or tidies up rooms.
Even in just the first room, I found an abundance of information, leads, and possibilities that I can easily see playing out in a number of ways down the line. That’s a lot of pressure on one maid – but it sure has me ready to get very, very nosy.
Release Date: 2023
Nothing embodied the question “What the heck did I just play?” at Gamescom better than Darkweb Streamer, a mind-bending game best described as an occult horror version of Hypnospace Outlaw. You play as a streamer who focuses on weird, spooky stuff, and can choose what nope-worthy items in your possession you can show off on stream in an effort to earn donations and grow your audience.
But there’s so much more to it than that. Your character has stats that can be influenced by basically everything you might dig into, from random events to how your streams end up playing out. There’s a chat function where you can converse with procedurally generated NPCs who might send you links to (in-game) webpages or even new items to stream with – or just mess with your head. There’s a web browser with massive late 90s internet vibes that generates bizarre pages like one that encouraged me to “Buy a doctor” in either a Premium or Budget variety (I opted for budget, he showed up at my door the following day and lacerated my brain a little). There’s crafting, too, and rituals that can be done, but I’ll need to track down the right ingredients on the darkweb first.
Everything is punctuated by sudden cut-ins of terrifying narrative text that presents choices and skill checks – do I open the door to the creepy mewing sound outside (yes, of course, it was a kitten, I kept it)? Do I investigate the weird noises or do I turn my stereo up louder and ignore them? Why is everyone sending me creepy dolls?!
I have no idea how much of Darkweb Streamer is guided and how much is just beautiful, emergent randomness, and that rules. It’s a roguelike, promising short playthroughs and perma-death (oh no help). But I’m told that every NPC, item, crafting recipe, and event I run across is procedurally generated, which means Darkweb Streamer will have seemingly infinite possibilities for how it can play out. Yet even this early on in development, every new encounter I had lent itself to dark hilarity melded with a number of genuinely creepy moments where some entity on the other side of the internet seemed to be staring intently back at me.
I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I’m hooked by this delectable, terrifying absurdity and don’t want to close the dark web and go to bed.
Release Date: 2023
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.