The start of the year is traditionally pretty arid for major videogame releases, but even allowing for this, 2021 is shaping up to be a very quiet year for triple-A. The ongoing global pandemic has disrupted the industry worldwide and caused a cascade of delays, meaning we may be in for an even longer, dryer spell than we’re used to.
But it’s not all bad. While the big games are still coming, of course – just check out our list of upcoming PC games – now seems like the best time to look at some new indies. That’s just what we did in the recent Steam Game Festival, which featured hundreds of free demos, and we spotted a trend that we’d like to shout about: a number of promising games like Zelda on PC.
If you’re a fan of the 2D Legend of Zelda games, or you’ve always wanted to try out Nintendo’s flagship RPG series without splashing out on a console, then here are three promising new and upcoming indie games you should keep an eye on.
Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos
The first game in our list is probably the closest to an actual Zelda game. Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos is more roguelike than a classic Zelda, but the top-down pixel art aesthetic and gameplay is Zelda through and through.
After waking up in a small village, you’re free to explore a world that’s ripe with monsters to slay. There’s a dungeon, you collect gems as your primary currency, the combat relies on basic sword attacks and blocking, and there are plenty of puzzles to solve.
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The dungeon also houses a boss – a giant, fire-breathing crab that can make the ceiling collapse by slamming its pincers. I didn’t last long in our first encounter, but mercifully those gems can open shortcuts so you don’t need to complete previous floors again.
Speaking of gems, they unlock lots of different things back in your colourful home village, like shops where you can buy new items, facilities that upgrade your health and attack stats, and gadgets like a bow, bomb bag, or even a boomerang. New character classes can be purchased at the village tailor – who else? – from spellcasters to archers, each with their own special attack (the warrior can charge with his sword, for instance).
Rogue Heroes also has local co-op for two to four players, so if you miss the madness of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, this game might be perfect for you and three friends. The demo’s still up on the Rogue Heroes Steam page – you can check it out here.
Dwerve is another fantastic spin on the classic Zelda formula. Instead of an elf-ish lad with a sword, you’re a dwarf with blue hair. And rather than directly attack his enemies, said dwarf prefers to build turrets to do the attacking for him.
Every structure you place costs spirit stones, and the number you can spend is limited in any given dungeon encounter. This means Dwerve is more about placing and replacing your structures strategically than it is about amassing heaps of spirit stones and covering the dungeon in defences.
There were three types of turret in the demo: a totem with spinning blades like a food processor, a tar pit to slow down enemies, and a ballista for gouging great holes into oncoming crowds from afar. Your dwarf can throw a boomerang at nearby enemies as a kind of desperate defensive measure, but really you’re relying on your tactical nous and swift turret redeployment to survive.
It takes a while to get used to, but working out the best places to build those turrets makes for an entertaining challenge. Sure, that part is a far cry from the action-adventure gameplay of classic Zelda, but hey, you’re still clearing out dungeons with glorious NES-era graphics.
Also, an optional pressure pad puzzle had me stumped for a few minutes. Classic Zelda.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale
But tower defense isn’t the most peculiar take on a Zelda-like that appeared during the Steam Game Festival. Chicory: A Colorful Tale has you fight monsters and solve puzzles like any of the classic Zeldas, except you’re also wielding a paintbrush and repainting the world after all its colour is suddenly erased.
Your palette is rather limited in the demo, with just four colours with which to paint the town/universe, but the full build promises more, as well as different paint types. For the most part you’re solving puzzles, helping the citizens of Picnic Province to paint their houses, and generally making a mess.
The best bit is that Chicory makes every scene a blank colouring book, and while you’ll need to fill in key areas to solve puzzles, you can decorate the rest however you see fit. You can even bring a friend along in co-op to paint scenes together.
Sadly the demo ends just after unlocking the glow-in-the-dark paint, and I don’t get to mess around with some the paint types that have special effects, like one that can open up new paths. But paint doesn’t need superpowers to be fun to play with – there are plenty of cosmetic items around the world, each hidden behind a puzzle, and through a combination of clothes and paints I’m able to express myself in a really novel yet intuitive way.
There’s no confirmed release date for Chicory: A Colorful Tale, but Dwerve is coming to Steam in the summer and Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos is out today (also on Steam), so there’s at least one Zelda-inspired games on PC to try.