Top Ten Indie Games
For the longest time, the only games that I ever bothered to play were the ones sold on store shelves. If it caught my interest or looked like a lot of fun, I would buy it no matter the price. Not so much the case any more when newly released games sell at $60 a piece, not including extra downloadable content. So even if I wanted to try something new I would have to pay an arm and a leg in order to get a game I might not even enjoy. This new mindset, plus a computer built for gaming, has opened up a new area of games that I had not thought to explore the past few years that has been growing at an expansive rate. That is video games developed and produced by independent groups.
Considering how expensive putting together a game can be, I have to give serious props to whoever takes on the significant challenges of trying to make something good and unique with a limited budget. Granted, I'm aware that not all games developed by indie groups can be good, but failure or success they deserve respect for even trying. Some of the greats give you a solid entertainment experience, while others convey a message to the player for them to walk away and discuss. Having looked through a whole bunch of indie games in the past few months, I'm here to give you a top ten list of indie games that both entertained in their own unique way and contained enough heart to encourage multiple playthroughs. As a note, I am a newcomer to this genre of games so my knowledge is limited to the games that I have played so far. If there is a game that didn't make this list, please let me know in the comment section. This is a brand new world of games for me and I know I've only scratched the surface.
10) Analogue: A Hate Story
This is a peculiar entry in that it is more of a visual novel that a video game but it has an interesting interface and story that makes it more than worthy to recommend. Set in the distant future the protagonist (who is silent) is given a job by a friend to look through the records of the Munghawa, a space ship that lost contact with Earth approximately 600 years prior to the beginning of the game, and find out what happened to the people on board. Assisting you are the ships two artificial intelligence programs Hyun-ae and Mute, who locate various journal entries and logs of the ships crew which you must read in order to discover the truth, while giving commentary on the side.
One of the things that grabbed me right off the bat was the game's interface, and how it makes you feel like a space age hacker looking into a ship's logs that is who knows how far away. The AI characters Hyun-ae and Mute have interesting characteristics (though their anime designs kinda struck me as unnecessary), and have a bit more of an agenda in showing you certain logs out of order. Truly it is the mystery behind this ships background that is the strongest point of the game. Made even better when you have two AI's who have their own opinions on said background and it is very unclear about who to believe or if you should just go with your gut. Being a visual novel, reading is the name of the game so if your not a fan of reading, your not going to get a lot out of it, but in terms of a interactive book, this is probably one of the best out there.
9) The Majesty of Colors
I discovered this little gem of a flash game courtesy of the Games for Good campaign which is currently being spearheaded by James Portnow. Created by Gregory Weir, The Majesty of Colors puts you in control of a giant tentacled creature living in the ocean. Prompted by the narration, you use the creatures appendages to explore objects on the surface such as balloons to even human beings. What makes this game so fascinating is that depending on you actions, you can have multiple endings. For example, you spot a man riding on a jet ski and you are prompted to pick him up. You have one or two options, place him back on the jet ski and let him escape or drowning him in the ocean to protect yourself. No matter your choice, the story will go forward and the narration does an excellent job at showing the good and bad of each choice. As a flash game, it is free to play but the downside is that it is very short. By the time it ends, you will want to play more. Fortunately with the multiple endings it there is a high level of re-playability.
8) Racettear: An Item Shop Tale
One word, addicting. Taking control of the owner of a item shop in a fantasy RPG environment my not be the most exciting game out there, it does have a strange appeal in how it makes you want to go one more day to see how much more money you can make. The game's protagonist, Recette Lemongrass, is the daughter of an item shop owner who left home to become an adventurer, leaving behind a huge debt. When a fairy named named Tear comes to collect, Recette is forced to reopen the shop in order to pay off her father's debt.
Kinda of like Harvest Moon or Rune Factory, the game goes from day to day where the player can choose to open the store, go adventuring for materials to make new items, or to explore the town's other stores and guilds but there is a limit to how much you can do in a day. Made all the more challenging when you are given a set amount of days to pay off this huge debt. That being said, the mechanics when it comes to running the item shop is hard to put down. You have to keep in mind the time of day, which will bring in certain customers, item placement, what kinds of items you choose to sell, and even haggling with customers on the price of said items. Though the adventuring sections were probably the weakest aspect of the game, being your typical RPG dungeon crawling fare, it was enough to keep me going to get the items I need for making new items. The story is also a bit slow moving and not really that compelling but the characters are a lot of fun to watch, Recette in particular is strange but so gosh darn adorable that you feel bad that she is burdened with such a huge responsibility. That and anyone who has, “Capitalism Ho!” as a catchphrase is the kinda of special that you need to keep watching just to see what they'll do next.
7) Cave Story
My friends couldn't recommend this game enough to me, and after playing it I can understand why. Cave story, a Japanese freeware PC sidescrolling platformer developed by Studio Pixel, seems to hit all the right nostalgic notes for someone who grew up with the classics such as Super Mario Bros, and the classic Megaman. Yet, it has its own spin on the genre that pays homage to the games of old but also shows how far video games have evolved since then. The story in particular is one of the highlights. The main protagonist, a boy named Quote, wakes up in a cave with no memory (cliched I know but bear with me) but as you explore the island outside the cave, you discover the islands inhabitants and their oppression at the hands of a evil doctor and his henchmen.
Though it sounds straightforward at first, there is a lot of twists and turns in the plot which pulls you in as you keep playing. Another aspect that I found amusing is the game's sense of humor. Fore example, in the beginning you see a younger native of the island, get kidnapped by the bad guys. One of them, the bigger one, stays behind and is shown to be a sort of first boss type of character. Do you have to fight him? No. The game give you an out to completely bypass this confrontation and move on with the game. Granted, this can't be done with every boss character but it is quite humorous through back to games that railroad you to the first boss. Level design is masterfully done and a blast to explore, though I in particular had a hard time configuring controls before I could really get into the game. Once I got the hang of it though, it was a nostalgia trip from start to finish and is a game deserves the hype it receives.
6) Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Having already done a review on this game I will avoid going into too much detail save for what makes this game such a unique adventure game. Games that encourage cooperation between players can be challenging enough, but Brothers pushes the envelop by having one player control two characters that need to cooperate and work in sync in order to progress can be just as hard. Difficult it can be to just have both characters move in a straight line, there is a lot of emotion backed into this short game and how it tackles the relationship between brothers as they set off on a journey to save their sick father. One of my favorite aspects of this game is how you can have both characters interact with the same object but have completely different reactions due to their different characteristics. Such as, little brother pets a cat and the cat purrs though when big brother tries to pet the same cat, it hisses and swats him away. Little things that shows who these boys are as characters without a line of dialogue so we care about them every step of their journey. Making it all the more heart-wrenching when the two encounter hardship after hardship.
5) Papers, Please
You would think that a game about looking through passports and stamping them would be about as boring as watching grass grow. Yet, I can tell you with the utmost certainty, that this game had me on pins and needles the entire playthrough. As the newly hired immigration inspector for the country of Arstotzka, it is your job to check the pass ports of everyone coming into the country and keeping an eye on any errors or discrepancies that don't apply with the rules given by your superiors, such as letting in people who belong to a specific country, or making sure that the passport hasn't expired, etc. As the game progresses, these conditions change or intensify making you extra careful on how you examine these documents, but in order to make money, it is critical that you make decisions quickly to approve or deny as many people as you can. Made all the more personal when the game gives you a family that you need to support through this job. If you do poorly, you don't get paid. If you don't get paid, your family suffers for it.
This harsh setting makes the moral dilemma even more grey when you deal with desperate immigrants who give you sob stories about meeting a long lost relative or escaping poverty, but have a glaring discrepancy with their information or are from a country that has been denied entry. At the time, you have no idea whether their story is true, since it is possible that they are simply a terrorist faking the information in order to get inside (And terrorist attacks at the border are possible). Yet it is still up to the player to trust this individual and allow them in or to stick to regulation and send them back, or even detain individuals who could be potentially dangerous. It was these difficulty of these moral choices that made this game more of an experience than just a game.
4) Thomas Was Alone
Though this little puzzle platformer started as a simple flash game, it has grown considerably enough to get official release on Steam, Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita. To be honest, I can't agree more that this is a game worthy of all that attention. Fun game play that challenges you to think on how to get solve each level, has interesting level design, but also gives interesting and dare I say charming characters that are represented by colored rectangles. Even though the story is given through narration (excellent narration that gives Bastion a run for its money) you come to love these little guys and their struggle to discover more about their ever changing world and how to escape it. Complete with a relaxing soundtrack, Thomas was Alone is great game to play to unwind after a long day and a look into how friendship can overcome any obstacle.
3) Dust: An Elysian Tail
As I stated in my review of this game, I went in with a negative mindset that as a RPG with action hack and slash mechanics, that I was not going to enjoy it. However, this game actually made me learn to enjoy the genre with smooth controls, a enjoyable levelling system and a story that was immersive enough for me to want to see more of this world and its characters, even if most of them are all furries. Even backtracking to areas already explored is enjoyable when you unlock new abilities to reach new highs to areas you couldn't access before. The RPG elements, such as item crafting and equipping items can be fun, I found that it was a bit on the simplistic side for my tastes. The many sidequests that are present in the various areas were so enjoyable that it is a shame to ignore them for the main story due to the fact that they not only introduce more about the world, but give more characterization to both the protagonist, Dust and his sidekick Fidget and their growing friendship. With so many good things going for it, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a must play for any indie fan.
2) To the Moon
As one of the first indie games that I have ever played, there is a special place in my heart for To The Moon. I'm not sure if its because I'm a sucker for story heavy games or if its because of the nostalgia value I get from playing games animated with the 8-bit style. The story, for those of you who don't know, focuses on two Doctors working for a company called the Sigmond Corp, Dr. Roselene and Dr. Watts. Their job, to use the company's technology to construct artificial memories for individuals on their deathbed in order to fulfil their final wish or dream they never managed to accomplish in life. Their recent client, Johnny Wiles, final wish is to go to the moon. However, he can't remember the purpose of the wish. As a result, both Doctors must use their machine in order to go through the memories of Johnny's life to discover the truth behind this wish and how to make it come true.
Though there really isn't too much to do in this game, gameplay wise other than look for clues, observing each memory, and solving minor puzzles, the primary focus is to follow along with the story from beginning to end. However, the story and how it is presented through the game is one of the best I've ever seen. A good video game narrative, to me, is one that would never have the same impact on the person experiencing it, if it was presented in any other medium (a book, a movie, etc). I couldn't even imagine enjoying it as much as I did if it was animated in 3-D models instead of 8-bit sprites. And you would think that the old-fashion look would tone down the drama, when after playing the game 3 times, it really doesn't. While the tragedy surrounding Johnny's character can be extremely heavy, fortunately we have our pair of protagonists to lighten the mood (they have a great funny man, straight man combo going) as they watch events unfold from a outside perspective, much like the player. For people looking for a more gameplay driven experience, there is a good chance To the Moon won't be your cup of tea, but for someone looking for a great example of video game storytelling, this one of the best games out there.
I had to do it. There was no possible way for me to justify not to, this game was the whole reason I got the Playstation 3 in the first place. As much certain indie games have surprised me, such as To the Moon, Cave Story or even Papers, Please, none of them comes close to achieving the mystic almost spiritual wonder that Journey was able to reach. There has been so much praise to this game for its visuals, story that is the perfect representation of the hero's journey, fun co-op play, and magical musical score that has been said time and again, so I'm not going to bother parroting what has already been said. What I will say is that the first time playing through this game has been a experience that has not been matched in any game I have ever played in my entire life, no matter the genre. Travelling through that desert, not knowing where the journey would take me, meeting fellow travellers along the way and assisting them in their journey and them helping me without a need to even speak to each other, overcoming hardships and difficulties making the end of the trip all the more satisfying. Even to the point that after overcoming that the final hurtle to the end level, reuniting with my long time companion and the two of us running around each other in circles. Ecstatic that we had both made it to the end, and we didn't even know each other. It was nothing like I or anyone I've shown this game to has ever seen before. To this day, it is the only game that my family will watch me play. My dad even enjoyed it so much that he went out and bought the soundtrack. It is that one game that I can put on whenever I feel depressed that will cheer me up without fail and make my problems feel small. Because of this, Journey is, in my opinion, one of the best indie games if not one of the greatest video games of all time.