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E3 2021: My highlights from the Wholesome Direct


If a game conference was a warm pastel-coloured hug


Head over to our E3 2021 page for all of the articles about this year’s show!


The Wholesome Direct, run by the independent volunteer-run group Wholesome Games, is a more joyful, positive addition to the E3 season of hype and video game glut. Focusing instead on the brighter, cheerier games out there, typically by much smaller but ever passionate independent developers, the Wholesome Direct continues to be a much appreciated addition to this hype-centric gaming season.

After a successful showcase last year, which helped fill the gap left by a particularly lean E3 season, Wholesome Games has returned with a second direct to showcase 75 new and upcoming games. Game developers Waking Oni (@wakingoni), Kimchica (@kimchica25), and Victoria Tran (@thevtran) hosted the event, which was full of chill photography, warm cooking sims and whimsical slice-of-life titles — and which also spotlighted the humanitarian aid organisation International Rescue Committee.

I’m not spotlighting every game here, so check out the full list of games on either the community’s website or the Direct itself, which is chaptered and easy to skip around — very wholesome indeed.


Spirit Swap: Lofi Beats to Match-3 To

A queer and diverse story-driven puzzle-adventure where you hang with your cool witchy demon friends during the day and solve puzzles at night to help transdimensional spirits get back home. Cool music, cool puzzling, cool folk — check out the (cool) demo here.

Spirit Swap is scheduled for release in 2022.

SkateBIRD

A new clip of everyone’s favourite skateboarding bird, this time with lead developer Megan Fox explaining a couple of new accessibility options for the game. Skatebird’s other new trailer at IGN’s Summer of Gaming showcase also revealed its long-awaited release date: later this year on August 12.

Yokai Inn

An isometric slice-of-life Harvest Moon-style sim meets Spirited Away, Yokai Inn looks utterly gorgeous. Grow your inn from scratch while you hang out with the spirits and monsters who only appear when the sun sets. Unfortunately, there’s no set release date just yet.

Button City

A colourful low poly narrative adventure set in a pastel diorama world, Button City is filled with quirky Animal Crossing-style characters, costumes to wear, puzzles to solve and arcade games to master. It’s set to release later this year.

Hot Pot For One and Soup Pot

They both look lovely so I paired them together: Hot Pot For One and Soup Pot are two cooking games with affectionate atmospheres that let you experiment with cooking, each with a slightly different vibe and focus. Go for Hot Pot For One if you want atmosphere, Soup Pot if you want to cook – and there was even a short glimpse of Venba, an upcoming story-driven cooking game. Even more cozy cooking games, please.

Soup Pot and Venba are set to release later this year, while Hot Pot For One is out now.

We Are OFK

From real-life indie pop band OFK, We Are OFK is an interactive making-of-the-band episodic musical drama with bold, stylised visuals and a striking original soundtrack. It’s coming later this year.

Paralives

An upcoming “doll house life simulation” game, Paralives looks to have most of what you want from The Sims with less of the stress. Make the house and people of your dreams (or nightmares or whatever) and live out the life you’ve envisioned in its open world town. Development is currently supported on Patreon without an announced release date.

KeyWe

A cute co-op puzzle game starring two kiwi birds working in a post office – it looks adorable. KeyWe is slated to release later this year on August 31.

Dordogne

A nostagic narrative adventure game, Dordogne might be one of the prettiest games I’ve seen in a while – which is saying a lot. Fully rendered in watercolour paints, investigate letters and puzzles to uncover Mimi’s childhood and creatively build your own unique scrapbook-like journal. Set to release later this year.

Bear & Breakfast

Here’s a new trailer for the cute management adventure where a bear builds and runs a bed and breakfast, which continues to look stellar. Expect to see Bear and Breakfast later this year.

Unpacking

A zen puzzle game with excuisite pixel graphics about unpacking and moving stuff into a new home, fitting each item into each space as you find new clues about the owner. It’s due to release later this year.

Cloud Jumper

Explore a crunchy low-fi fantasy world of blue skies and floating islands in a flying tug boat, meeting new characters and creatures as you split your time between trade, exploration, and researching the old world. No set release date.

Moonglow Bay

A slice-of-life fishing RPG set in 1980s Eastern Canada with a charming voxel art style, Moonglow Bay looks to be a relaxing little life sim that lets me do a lot of my favourite things in games: fish and cook. It’s set to release later this year.


This year’s Wholesome Direct was full of more of the warm and fuzzy feels that Wholesome Games is known for. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take a nap and dream about business bears helping me move house while my skateboarding bird friend talks to OFK about performing on the flying boat parked outside.


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