Indie games have always held a special place in my little geeky heart. While large corporations are out there spending their equally large budgets on creating the next action-packed darling (each new release overtaking their predecessors in terms of graphics, story line and gameplay, but ultimately falling back on the same combination of qualities as the rest of them), independent studios are the ones championing change in the industry; exploring new concepts, redefining genres, and challenging what it means to make a game.
Every year, when I sit back and watch the list of indie game releases unfold, I always manage to find a few titles and ideas that surprise me. Sometimes they tease an interesting game mechanic, and other times a gripping plot, but all share the common factor of bringing something different to the table. Today, I want to share my picks from this year’s list with you:
Little Nightmares (Tarsier Studios)
Recently released for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One, this puzzle-platformer horror adventure game has already received a heap of positive reviews. With critics drawing similarity to award-winning indie titles, Limbo and Inside, Little Nightmares gathers inspiration from the creators’ own childhood fears; of places too big and strangers too imposing, transforming them into a world populated by grotesque monsters and an insatiable hunger.
Many have already had their hearts won over by this game’s unnerving imagery, storytelling, and chill-inducing atmosphere, although many others criticise its short playtime and unimaginative puzzles. However, one thought remains clear – if you’re looking for a horror game that will get under your skin, here’s a title you’ll have to add to the list.
Pinstripe (Atmos Games)
Also recently released, Pinstripe is a puzzle adventure game for the PC completely developed, designed and programmed by one person. You read that correctly. The game’s creator Thomas Bush spent five years putting together this project of love, which follows the story of a man named Teddy who is on the hunt for the person who kidnapped his daughter, Bo.
Some of you may have already heard of this game, thanks to the few famous names who lent their voices to it (e.g. Pewdiepie, Jacksepticeye), but that is far from the title’s only claim to fame. Many have praised it for its attention to detail and cohesiveness that far transcends the work of one person, not to mention its fluid graphics, hauntingly addictive soundtrack, and beautiful story. You’ll definitely want to get this for sweet first dibs before it starts hitting all the other “best of” lists.
Oxygen Not Included (Klei Entertainment)
Brought to us by the creators of Don’t Starve is another survival simulation game, but this time, in space! Since its alpha release a month or two ago, fans of its predecessor have already found plenty to love about this new addition to the family. Different from Don’t Starve, Oxygen Not Included has players managing not one, but an entire colony of space troopers; from making sure they have enough food to eat and oxygen to breathe, to managing their stress levels.
Despite only being in alpha, the game already boasts an in depth selection of options and tools, with a degree of challenge that you wouldn’t expect from a game that looks so cute. In fact, it’s already being touted as one of the best resource management games in recent times, and personally, I’m inKleined to agree. (I’ll excuse myself now.)
Cuphead (Studio MDHR)
Out of all the picks I’ve made today, this is probably the weirdest. Cuphead is a shoot ‘em up style platformer available in both singleplayer and multiplayer modes for the PC and Xbox One. In making this game, creators and brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer were heavily inspired by 1930s cartoons; not just the style of them, but also the original jazz recordings, watercolour backgrounds, and traditional cel animation techniques that they painstakingly recreated in order to put together the world of Cuphead.
And if you haven’t already gotten the memo, this game is not one for the kids… unless you want to ruin their ideals about Disney and Looney Tunes forever. The game’s plot follows titular protagonist Cuphead (and Mugman in co-op mode) who loses a bet with the Devil. The rest of the game is action-packed mayhem, with players guiding the characters through never ending chaos and endless boss fights, all in the name of the Devil’s wishes.
Perception (The Deep End Games)
Surely to be a hit among Youtube gamers in the near future, Perception is a first-person horror adventure game that puts players into the shoes of a young blind woman. With her frankly otherworldly sense of hearing, she gives the phrase “as blind as a bat” a whole new meaning. The game’s crowning mechanic is the main character’s “echolocation”, which helps players paint the scene around them with every sound that is made. However, making too much noise is ill-advised, as there is something beyond the bone-chilling abyss you don’t want to awaken…
Honestly, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this concept done, but I’m excited to note that this is the first time I’m seeing it executed on such a large scale. It seems like I’m not the only one to think so, as it’s already been slated to release on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and even the Nintendo Switch!
Kieru (Pine Fire Studios)
While everything about this game screams “weeb” to me, from its romaji title (meaning “to vanish”) to it literally being about ninjas, Kieru easily has the most interesting concept on this entire list. In classic first-person deathmatch style, the game pits two teams of ninjas against each other in a world that is as monochrome as the ninjas themselves. On one end, black ninjas dwell in the shadows, and on the other, white ninjas stand in the light; both completely invisible in their natural territory, except for the blood that they spill upon death.
Greenlit on Steam two years ago, the game is finally coming out for the PC this year with a variety of multiplayer maps, modes, and team play challenges where only the best ninjas will emerge victorious. A tip from its creators? “Death should be unseen.”
Night In The Woods (Infinite Fall)
Dialogue-driven games are my guilty pleasures; I can’t do a game recommendation list without one! Released in late February, Night In The Woods is a single-player adventure game for the PC and PS4 following the ‘tail’ of Mae Borowski, an anthropomorphic cat who recently dropped out of college and has returned to her hometown, only to realise some things have changed.
Since its release, this subtle yet thoughtful game has received nothing short of praise. Players have complimented it endlessly, not just as a game made up of a few connecting cogs, but as an experience they never want to end. A quick scroll through the game’s Steam community page is enough to prove that, with playtime on record coming in at 20 hours on average. So, if you like story-driven games, what are you waiting for?
Hello, Neighbor (Dynamic Pixels)
What better way to end a list than with some good ol’ fashioned breaking and entering? Hello Neighbor is a first-person stealth horror game in which you move into a brand new suburb, only to notice that your neighbor is acting a bit… fishy. Obviously, the only logical thing to do then is break into his house and find out what he’s hiding.
The game’s most interesting feature is its procedural AI which learns from your actions and punishes you for your mistakes. So if you get caught coming through the front door during your first run, don’t be surprised if it’s rigged with traps the next time! If you’d like to test your wits against this tricky AI, you can check out the alpha which is available right now and regularly updated.
Those are my picks for this year’s batch of indie games. If you I think I missed anything worth talking about, feel free to leave it in the comments below. Until then, happy gaming!