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Image via Vertical Reach, Strange Scaffold, Wishfully, and Gius Caminiti

May 2023 Indie Spotlight: Sunshine Shuffle, Planet of Lana, Summer Trip Cruise & The Tartarus Key Will Get You Through May

Four of the most interesting indie games releasing in May 2023 that are well worth your time, plus a Playdate and demo bonus.

If you only count triple-A titles, there have been three big game releases in recent weeks. However, in that time, dozens of indies have snuck under the radar, each one packing a punch and offering something new and unique. It’s impossible for me to go through each and every one of them, no matter how much I’d like to, so here are a few that I think are worth your time if you’re looking for something cheaper than the average blockbuster that doesn’t come with a drop in quality.

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Last month, I showed off three awesome indie titles you could jump into. This month, I’ve got four, plus a couple of tiny bonuses, and I’ve ensured there’s something for everyone. Whether you like dogs playing cards, steering a wild cruise ship, first-person horror, or off-world adventures, I promise you’ll see a title that speaks to you.

Related: I Can’t Stop Playing OTXO – Review

Sunshine Shuffle

I think Sunshine Shuffle is something really special. Twelve years ago, a group of cute animals managed to rob the largest bank on the Eastern Seaboard before getting mixed up with the Fishie Mob. They’ve been on the run ever since, but you can offer them an escape. The game revolves around playing poker with this eclectic group of working-class animals turned Robin Hood-esque criminals while they tell you all about how they pulled off the heist of the century in exchange for a clean slate. As you play, you’ll earn money to spend on decorations for the ship and outfits for all those playing poker.

What drew me to this game is the juxtaposition of the visuals to the story. It looks like a seafaring version of Animal Crossing but plays very much like a hard-boiled detective story. It packs in an intense ska soundtrack, hidden dialogue trees you must unlock through careful poker plays and choices, and an amazingly interwoven story that will keep you guessing right up until the end. You can experience it for yourself on May 24 and play away a weekend through cutesy poker.

Planet of Lana

I was glued to Planet of Lana from the very first screenshot of it I saw. It’s an off-world odyssey that takes you on an epic rescue adventure. The deep narrative is spread across an unfamiliar world occupied by unnerving machines and unfathomable monsters. Everything is gorgeously presented in an almost hand-drawn style that heightens each and every moment, turning them into landscape paintings you can’t help but pause to absorb.

The core gameplay of Planet of Lana, which just so happens to be releasing on Game Pass day one, revolves around solving puzzles between the protagonist and her tiny cat companion. Developer Wishfully has told fans to expect the unexpected, with robots behaving independently of their planned programming in many cases, and monsters surprising you out of nowhere. The game is reminiscent of the FAR franchise, culminating in a long journey to the right-hand side of the screen with fantastical worlds filling up the foreground and background. The game will be out on May 23 and is the perfect way to spend a Saturday.

If you’d like to know my thoughts on the game, you can check out my Planet of Lana review, where I dive into what makes the game tick and offer more insight into why it’s worth playing.

Summer Trip Cruise

Do you remember when the Suez Canal became blocked by a single cargo ship in March 2021? The ship had gotten snagged on a sand bank beneath the water’s surface, causing it to slowly turn and comically cordon off the entire route, causing delays to the shipping of all sorts of goods for weeks. Well, that’s when I first heard about Summer Trip Cruise. Developer Gius Caminiti was sharing videos of an early build at the time, demonstrating how easy it was to do something similar with a colossal cruise ship in their upcoming game.

On May 25, you’ll be able to play a much more polished and final version of the game, sailing a giant ship filled with paying customers around fictional locations on their holibobs. You’ll need to dodge obstacles, such as strong currents that threaten to smash the ship against sharp shards of stony outcrops, and guide the vessel using a physics-based control scheme that sees you frantically turning the wheel and hammering the brakes every few seconds. Steering a cruise ship is no joke, and this game will show you why. If you want a bonus, you can swing by a few fictional landmarks to give your customers a chance to grab a souvenir or two. Just be sure not to get too close.

The Tartaturs Key

I love horror games, and The Tartarus Key, out on May 31, looks to fill an interesting niche between first-person scare-fest and retro-style survival horror games. The visuals are straight out of a PS1 horror title, but the puzzles, smooth mechanics, and thought-provoking narrative pull the game into the modern age. It’s a totally different type of first-person mystery thriller with an edge that’ll never let you relax.

You play as Alex Young, who wakes to find herself locked in an unfamiliar mansion with cameras tracking her every move. You’ll need to solve puzzles and dodge traps to unearth the truth behind her capture and that of the mansion’s other victims. That’s right, you’re not the only one that’s been kidnapped, and you can choose to save or sentence those around you as you progress, making for many potential playthroughs. This game pulls the vibes of Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil and crafts them into something new. I can see it being something you can’t quite match anywhere else. Something that haunts your every waking moment with puzzles you can’t quite solve but know the answer is just around the fold in your brain.

All four of these games can stand by themselves. While they might be inspired in some small part by other games you’ve played in the past, they each offer an intriguing, memorable experience that will see you through the weeks you spend waiting for bigger releases.

Playdate: Shining Gadget & Shadow Gadget

Screenshot via Panic!

Released as part of the Playdate Catalog 2 update, Shining Gadget & Shadow Gadget are passive, creature-collecting idle games. Think of them as a simple version of Pokémon Red and Blue. These online-enabled specter-catching games have 140 ghosts to seek out and wrangle with using the device’s crank. Each one you catch has a unique entry in the collection screen, so you can read about all of them as if you were looking through your Pokédex. To top things off, you can use a custom-built Windows application to trade ghosts with your friends, helping every player build a complete collection across both games. I’ve not seen anything capture the ideals of the original Pokémon games and bring them to life as these do by using the Playdate’s whimsical design. If you enjoyed Casual Birder in the Playdate’s first season of games, you’ll love this. Though the lack of a world to explore and a story of any kind to absorb yourself in is a bit of a blow.

Demo: Sushi for Robots

To round things off, I wanted to give you a slice of a game you can play right now without it costing a penny. Sushi for Robots is being developed by Ludipe & Friends, and is a hilarious new take on the sandbox puzzle genre. You need to serve a bunch of robots the correct type of sushi in order, and according to where they sit around a giant sushi carousel. You’ll need to set up plates to ensure the correct type of sushi appears in front of the corresponding robot or risk upsetting them. I think this game is a lovely little slice of fun and blends a lot of ideas together really well. It reminds me of playing the Bloons series in browsers at school but requires much more forward-thinking if you want to succeed. Give it a try and wishlist the game if you want to see the full release when it comes out.

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Jamie Moorcroft-Sharp
Jamie Moorcroft-Sharp is a Staff Writer at Gamepur. He's been writing about games for ten years and has been featured in Switch Player Magazine, Lock-On, and For Gamers Magazine. He's particularly keen on working out when he isn't playing games or writing or trying to be the best dad in the world.