Last Gen brought us so many quality AAA games that is easy to forget about the little indie developers, many times struggling to survive in a medium where a high budget and high definition graphics seem to be the go-to formula for success. Never the less, I bring you these 10 outstanding examples that (among many others) remind us that you don’t need a big team, marketing or even a budget to make a captivating, original or simply fun videogame that can even leave you more satisfied than the big guys.
The 2008 puzzle platformer from Number None Inc. has left a mark in indie games since its release and for a good reason: it has charming graphics, sweet music, really pretty artistic design and one of the most original uses of the time manipulation mechanic to date. Braid has you forwarding and rewinding your way through bright and artistically designed levels in order to complete a small if a bit simplistic story. Part of Braid’s magic lies in its simplicity. The controls are easy enough to figure out so that one may have time to focus in the puzzle solving, and new time-controlling abilities the game so elegantly throws at you. It’s already a classic you wouldn’t want to miss.
Magicka is a noteworthy action RPG that lets you control a wizard with endless spellcasting possibilities right from the start. Its original combat system pushes the boundaries of the genre, encouraging the player to experiment with various elements to create unique types of magic (casting water on enemies to make them wet, and then blast them with lightning is an example). Up to 4 players can team up to tackle the lengthy and funny adventure campaign or rival it up in versus mode. It’s a grand adventure full of fantasy and mischief best played with friends, friends that can cast electric fireballs to your face that is.
8. Castle Crashers
Newgrounds’s Castle Crashers was a tremendous success since its release in XBLA the summer of 2008. Set in a fantasy medieval land it’s a 4 player beat-em-up game in which you and your friends must battle through hordes of varied enemies while using sword, bow or magic (depending on how you level your character), in order to defeat the evil wizard and save the princesses of the kingdom... and then doing it again, because you’ll be deeply compelled to try hardcore mode. If you’re in for some classic sidescrolling beat-em-up action, you’ll have a hard time finding anything better than this.
The gritty puzzle game from 2010, LIMBO, is one of the games responsible for the indie game craze of modern times. LIMBO will have you scratching your head as you figure out the correct solution to the puzzles needed to advance through a dark, mysterious world. Although there’s not much fighting or action involved, there is in turn, a sense of dread and atmosphere that’ll chill your spine if played under the right circumstances (at night with no light and preferably alone). It’s an experience worthy of the success it’s had, it goes deep.
6. Super Meat Boy
Super Meat Boy is a really fun and really challenging platformer that finds its place in the controller-breaking, rage-inducing difficulty, reminiscent of the days of old. Yet, as much as you die again and again in one level, you’ll find yourself coming back to it due to the smooth controls, great catchy music and overall good design the game has. The player wastes no time respawning from death and the levels and difficulty curve are so carefully crafted that it always feels like you’re going to beat it in the next try. It also has plenty of replay value, unlockable characters and a Dark World filled with hardcore levels for the particularly masochistic. Also the same initials as Super Mario Bros. Maybe we're on to something. Not much to say in the story department really, it’s the usual premise about your regular quirky cube of meat trying to save his squared pink girlfriend being captured by an undeveloped fetus in an elegant suit presumably filled with hate and tears, we’ve all been there.
Enter the award winning and critically acclaimed gem from developer Phil Fish, FEZ. FEZ is about a young and silent 2D character living in his regular and boring 2D world until one day acquires the power to see the world in glorious 3D (much like gamers in the N64 era), thus he obtains the ability to manipulate the perspective of his environment, creating a spectacular mechanic for platforming and puzzle solving very rarely used before. It’s a bit too easy, but at the same time a good reminder that not all indie games need to take us back to the era when you needed to hire a personal trainer to beat the final boss.
Now imagine it in 4D
It’s a fun, little and colorful adventure that will leave you wishing for more.
4. Hotline Miami
The brutal and fantastic experience that is the 80’s neon-themed Hotline Miami is the great indie game of 2012; it’s filled with a wide variety of weapons that will certainly fill the blood meter to the max. Inspired by the early GTAs of the past (back when GTA wasn’t the colossus it is now) it will have you completing missions by bringing massacre to your enemies as it is suited for your animal masked mafia bosses. It’s a great over the top game that will probably only be topped by its controversial sequel, coming later this year.
3. FTL: Faster Than Light
Faster Than Light is a space adventure that manages to capture the lore and feel of the greatest space operas to date (such as Star Trek and FireFly), yet still manages to hold an identity of its own. You are in charge of a spaceship and its crew, it is your job to build, augment and repair the ship so that it may become a powerhouse of destruction in order to fight the wide range of spaceships that will stand in your way, there are also sidequests and hard decisions to make (will you let that crude looking alien asking for help on board your ship?). It’s a tight experience with a great soundtrack and endless replayability; it will have you hooked from the first run.
2. The Binding of Isaac
From the developers of Super Meat Boy comes the instant cult-classic The Binding of Isaac. A personal favorite to me, which you are not likely to find so high on other indie games lists. The theme of this game is inspired on the Bible’s famous tale about Abraham and his son Isaac, in which he is commanded by God to sacrifice him to save his soul.
This dark game has you (Isaac), escaping from his psychopath mother in a basement through which only he fits, scavenging and collecting items to fight the incredibly wide range of enemies found in the randomly generated dungeons inside the basement. It’s an adventure filled with psychological torment, trauma and funny references to every retro videogame ever. An extremely detailed and deep experience comes in a really small package, here I post the link to the collector’s edition, which is really worth the price.
In my humble opinion, this is the peak of all indie games (regardless of the fact that SuperGiant Games may not be the indiest developer ever), it’s what all indie games should aspire to be. It features hand drawn graphics that look beautiful, has an inspiring soundtrack, solid gameplay, great and insightful story, and most importantly, the deep sexy narrator voice of Logan Cunningham guiding you through the ruins of the city of New Caelondia, a place devastated by a mysterious calamity that left no witnesses but “The Kid”. The Kid must watch it’s step and fight through each level of the devastated city, finding weapons that’ll suit any play style for every gamer, slashing, shooting or bombarding his way to a possible reconstruction is probably the last hope for your people. Give it a shot if you haven't already, buy it, play it! And thank me later.
So there you have it, I realize that this list will most likely be a lot different from many others, keep in mind this is mainly because there are so many quality indie games out there, at times they are the true face of innovation in gaming today, as the indie developer is (and forever should be) free to experiment with gameplay and story elements while the big companies may prefer play it safer every time, notice for example how there isn’t a single sequel in this list, all innovative in some way, original IPs waiting for you to give them a chance.