Best “Indie” Game
I put the word “indie” in quotations because that word has less and less meaning every year. It used to mean an independently published game, but now it can mean any game that’s small, artsy, downloadable, inexpensive, or made by a small team. With that in mind, these are my favorite “indie” games of the year. This is a longer list because smaller games deserve special attention in this kind of atmosphere, where gamers tend to write off a game just because it doesn’t cost $60.
I checked out Luftrausers mostly based on how much the guys from Giantbomb loved it, and I totally see the appeal. The game wasn’t very complex, at least early on, but it had kickass music that adapted to how you equipped your ship for each run. It also had a very hip, retro visual style. It’s a very well made “high score chasing” kind of game.
A Bird Story
This isn’t even really a video game so much as it is a lightly interactive story, but it’s an impressively touching one, considering the minimalist design. It’s super cheap on Steam and just over an hour long, so I won’t ruin the plot for you, but if you’re a sucker for coming of age stories or you’re an animal lover like I am, prepare to cry like a baby.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the gameplay in Never Alone, but it’s worth mentioning as it shined a light on the underrepresented Inuit people. The graphics and art design were cute, as well, and really did a service to the subject material.
I get more into certain aspects of this game in other categories, but it’s worth repeating how much I loved the visuals and story. The gameplay, on the other hand, was a different story. The ending was incredibly powerful, cemented by the real-life WWI infographics and anecdotes sprinkled throughout the game. Hopefully, we get another game like this, set in another lesser-known war.
Shovel Knight was, unfortunately, a game that I just didn’t have the time to fully sink my teeth into, but I loved the few hours that I played. It was punishingly hard in an old-school way, and followed through on that NES nostalgia with 8-bit graphics and chiptune music.
I haven’t played enough of this game to speak in depth about the mechanics, but the three towns I started were incredibly fun to create, despite them being completely doomed due to my inability to sustainably feed my citizens. I’m not a big “city builder sim” player, so I can’t compare it to most other games in the genre, but I loved the look and feel of the game, especially the complex but clean UI.
Child of Light
Like Valiant Hearts, Child of Light is hardly an “indie” game considering it had the might of Ubisoft behind it, but it embodied all of the ideals of other indies: a personal story, lovable characters, an interesting art style, and surprisingly deep combat.
Let’s get this out of the way, Transistor isn’t as good of a game as Bastion. The story was a little too obtuse, and there wasn’t as much reason to explore the world. But it looked gorgeous, the music was super rad (and so was the minimal voice acting), and the combat had a ton of depth and customization that wasn’t readily apparent. It didn’t click with me until half way through the game, but once it did, Transistor was a blast to play.
Neverending Nightmares is the type of game that was obviously conceived by one person. It was incredibly dark, atmospheric, brutally gory at times, and it alluded to some kind of traumatic experience. The visual style was one of the most unique that I’ve ever seen in a video game.
I’ve sung Banner Saga’s praises in plenty of other categories, so I won’t rehash that here. It’s just a really good game, you guys. It’s ambitious, polished, has great music, and an awesome, throwback art style. It’s like Game of Thrones mixed with Oregon Trail. Sounds pretty great, huh?