The Wholesome Games Direct is always a great showcase of a lot of upcoming indie games. Each of the titles shown in the hour presentation has their own unique style, voices, and quirks to them that really appeal to the more casual side of gaming, a severely underserved audience in some respects.
While there were many games shown as the Wholesome Direct, here is a list of ten favorites that were highlights of the show as a whole, and are definitely games to be on the lookout for.
When creative director Saffron Aurora introduced Pekoe, I didn’t really know what to expect other than ‘tea and cats’ would be involved. What we got was a quaint little game that combines the two into something memorable for me.
The high-pitched speech of the cats is Animal Crossing-esque, the designs are super vibrant and animated, and the premise is the kind of easy-going idea that you could only see in a video game. What caught my attention was the fact that Pekoe is a game about self-care as a primary theme, something that many of us had to contend with recently due to COVID-19.
Learning how to make tea and sharing it with your fellow cat neighbors just seems to be the right amount of cute and challenging to make Pekoe stand out on the gameplay side of things too. With what we got to see, it is definitely a game to watch out for.
The premise of Letters caught my attention immediately. The idea of a game where you can communicate with someone whom you never met over the course of several years, that is based wholly on the words you choose to say, is ingenious. It is also a very intimate way of telling a story between two characters.
The fact that your choice of words can affect how your correspondence goes as time moves on is strong enough. Throw in solid animation that caters to your words and changes the shape of each letter you send provides an extra bit of visual flair to the whole presentation.
Letters has a lot of potential to be a great, introspective adventure for anyone looking to give it a try.
Hoa returns for another showcase, with art director Son Tra introducing a brand new environment, a cool but mysterious cave. This underground location was filled with magical floating rocks you must navigate on, all the while being guided by the magic around you. You then begin to climb through a spiderweb that slowly disintegrates as you walk along the silken threads.
Hoa’s atmosphere is still amazing, and the simplicity of its platforming underlies more complex mechanics and paths to follow. The biggest news given this year was that Hoa finally has a release date for August 21st.
We Are OFK
Pianist Sumi is just one of a number of young musicians looking for their place in the world. We Are OFK is a narrative adventure game that is a gorgeous blend of music and story that really captures the feeling of a young, wayward soul that seems isolated in a sea of people.
The fellow musicians you meet can lead to growing relationships and unique conversations, but it is the mix of visuals and music to tell a story abstractly that steals the show. The presentation of We Are OFK is flawless in this regard, and it is not a stretch to say it had the best soundtrack out of the entire Wholesome Direct.
A Walk With Yaiyia
Trent Garlipp may be the only game developer to ever introduce their grandmother, Ann Pesuvani, to the world to talk about his game A Walk With Yaiyia. A game about a boy and his grandmother.
The premise is really straightforward, you help your grandmother by accompanying her on a walk soon after she had a nasty fall for herself. The entire game is a mix of narrative scenes and interactive storytelling, all told in crisp, black and white pixelated graphics.
Of all the games seen at the Wholesome Direct, A Walk with Yaiyia had the most heart to it, as you guide your grandmother in this little moment that you capture with them, in the hopes of slowly getting her own confidence back. Easily the sleeper hit of the entire showcase.
The Gecko Gods
The Gecko Gods is slick, eye-catching, and unique. An adventure game where you play a gecko who traverses what seems to be a hidden valley of some kind, interacting with the environment as it slinks across the walls of rocks, mountains, and eventually a long-lost temple.
The Gecko Gods seems to take a lot of cues from adventure puzzle titles, like Tomb Raider, as the gecko can swim, jump, swing, and crawl through the gorgeous cel-shaded environments. The puzzle-solving looks straightforward, but who knows what other secrets The Gecko Gods holds in its entirety. What I do know is it was an eye-catching title that is definitely worth a look.
Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan
Rainbow Billy takes all the madcap energy of a Chuck Jones Saturday morning cartoon and puts it into a video game with ease. When a monochromatic Leviathan curses the world to be in Black and White, it is up to the vibrant Billy and his trusty friends Rodrigo and Friendship (the living ship!) to put an end to the colorless world.
Rainbow Billy is a puzzle game where you hop from island to island to restore its color. Meeting the unique inhabitants of the islands gives you a chance to not only colorize their lives with Billy’s own charming empathy but to restore them to their more colorful, unique selves in the process.
Rainbow Billy is an indie game with a lot going on for it, and will certainly be a title to look for when it does eventually release later this year.
It’s a game where you photograph dogs. How can it not be on this list?
Pupperazzi is pretty straightforward, you snap photos of cute dogs all over unique backgrounds and situations, as they go about doing some lovely dog things like swing on tires, dance on a stage, and ride a seesaw.
Pupperazzi might not have the sophisticated animation of other photograph games, but it adds to the indie games charm somewhat. Even with the slightly stiff jitters of the animation, Pupperazzi is the kind of wholesome game that anyone can enjoy. Even if you are a cat person.
Running a shop on an island filled with dinosaurs (known as paleofolk) sounds like a good twist on the standard life simulator. Amber Isle is a unique blend of Animal Crossing and shop simulators, one where you are in the shoes of the shopkeeper as you try to get to know your paleofolk neighbors by getting what they need in your store.
With the colorful graphical style attached to it, Amber Isle definitely makes a strong first impression. With a sea of Animal Crossing-styled games to contend with, it stands out as the most authentic of the bunch, one where it takes the basic premise and puts a unique twist on the whole genre.
Woodo is a game about wood. A very simple storytelling game where you interact with a world filled with wooden objects to explore, build, and repair. Everything, from the green-colored leaves to the oblong-shaped utensils on the table, is wooden on purpose. All you need to do is match the shapes of the objects on screen, but they give the small scenes around you more dynamic colors and character than ever before.
Visually, Woodo is one of the most impressive titles in the whole Wholesome Direct. Many scenes are just small pictures of wooden art in their own right, little dioramas hand-crafted with minute details on display to make it as photo-realistic as possible. Woodo is charming in this way, a visual art within an interactive medium that offers light gameplay, but plenty of subdued personality.
So what do you think of our picks? Any other games from the Wholesome Direct you want to highlight. Let us know and be sure to check out the rest of our E3 2021 coverage here.