It’s the biggest Entertainment industry in the world, with plenty of high profile blockbusters that hit the headlines. However much like it’s cinematic counterpart the gaming industry has plenty of space to accommodate creative visions of all sorts.
Indie Games arrived in a big way this decade. With digital storefronts giving more avenues for a game to be published and the rise of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter meant creators had new and exciting methods to raise the funds they needed to bring these games to life.
While our previous article Best Games of the Decade celebrated the hottest titles of the era, looking back however we realised that it’s all too easy to focus on big budget studio produced titles without giving Indie games their due. So we’ll be going through the years picking our favourites and once again a cheeky honourable mention (Seriously choosing just one is so hard!)
In 2010 the Xbox Live Arcade was the place to be for all your Indie Game needs. It felt like every week something new was being released that had people talking, and Limbo was one of those titles. Released by Playdead Studios, Limbo at first glance is a Puzzle Platformer with a wonderful film noir art style where you play as a small boy who wakes up in the woods. Then you die for the first time. Killed by a bear trap that came out of nowhere. Ah the joys of youth.
Welcome to Limbo. Where everything is out to get you. Playdead indeed referred to this monochromatic hit as trial and death. You solve puzzles not by figuring out what to do but trying to work out what could cause your demise and avoiding it at all costs. With it’s eerie soundtrack and striking visuals Limbo was a smash hit and has been ported time and time again. The Spider section still gives us chills just thinking about it!
Honourable Mention: Super Meat Boy
Where as Limbo is about subtlety and puzzle solving, Super Meat Boy is about running, jumping and quick reflexes to avoid going splat. Super Meat Boy is 2D platformer game by Team Meat; two friends who came together to create an indie darling where the titular meaty cube tries to save his girlfriend Bandage Girl from the evil Dr. Fetus. You must run, jump and generally just avoid over 300 levels worth of hazards; it’s frantic fun and when you finally finish a level you get to see all the times you didn’t quite make that jump and the results are glorious!
“Hold up Minecraft isn’t an Indie Game!” I can hear you shout as you read this. Yes it’s true these days Minecraft is a multibillion dollar machine, but before it was owned by Microsoft and a cornerstone of the Industry there was a time when this Sandbox game was a passion project of Markus Persson (More commonly known as Notch)
Minecraft has grown and grown over the years with a loyal fanbase and even seeing it used in classrooms around the world to help teach children. The world of Minecraft is yours to own and make as you want; do you want to build a house to avoid the Creepers who come out of night. Or do you just want to make the Enterprise? Because you can do both in Minecraft. It’s immense world to explore and a great space to create and one of the best things to happen to gaming.
Honourable Mention: Bastion
Something has happened to the city of Caelondia. A calamity has fractured the city causing part of it to float away. You are The Kid. Waking up with no idea of what is happening you seek out The Bastion; the place people in Caelondia go in times of need as you try to save the city. Bastion by Supergiant Games is a isometric action role-playing game accompanied by by an amazing music score and featuring a smoothed voiced narrator keeping track of what you’re getting up to. It’s a game that will stay with you and we promise you’ll be humming “Build That Wall.” long after you’re done with your time in this beautiful top down puzzle game.
They say sometimes it isn’t the Destination but about the Journey; for this unique adventure game that is most definitely the case. You can hazard a guess as to why Thatgamecompany decided to name their adventure game Journey. You’re a robed figure simply trying to get from the Desert at the start of the game to the highest peak of the mountain at the end. It sounds simple but as you go you’ll attempt jumping puzzles. Avoid detection by giant metal guardians before trying to ascend the frozen slopes to your destination.
Journey is a game about the experience, it’s beautiful art design, haunting soundtrack and seamless gameplay come together to create an experience unlike any other. As you undertake your quest Journey allows another person to join you through its Online system. With no way to communicate however the two of you simply have to make it work as best you can; which Journey does so well. You’ll figure out how to time jumps together & flip switches without a single word said to one another.
Once you finish the game you’re shown another surprise; your new friend wasn’t a single person but was actually multiple people dropping in and out of your story. It’s an amazing moment that really drives home how sometimes we don’t need to talk to understand someone.
Honourable Mention: Hotline Miami
“Do you wanna cause some mayhem?” is the question Hotline Miami poses to you. Created by Dennaton Games Hotline Miami is a top down shooter where you play as an unnamed man most refer to as “Jacket” who commits a series of gruesome crimes in late 80’s America. Told what to do by a set of mysterious instructions Jacket picks an animal mask to wear and gets to work. Hotline Miami is a game about rushing enemies, killing them, taking their weapons and killing others until you get it right. It’s fast paced, brutal and fuelled by a synth-wave track perfectly picked to fuel the carnage.
2013: Papers, Please
Something Indie games excel at is the ability to tell a story unlike nothing you have seen before. In 2013 former Naughty Dog developer Lucas Pope did just that in creating Papers, Please. A puzzle simulation game Papers, Please puts you in the role of a customs official working the border between the communist nation of Arstotzka and it’s neighbour East Grestin. Each day you need to decide who comes into the country, who is rejected and who the security services should take away. All the while making sure you earn enough to provide for yourself and your family. It’s a game that asks you to empathise with someone put in a terrible moral dilemma and that’s only the first day.
As the game goes on the ruling party of Arstotzka puts more and more outlandish immigration laws into place. It’s simply not enough to check their passports but now you need to see VISA, make sure they have backing statements and a recent photo. If something is misspelt then is that a good enough reason to deny them entry or are you willing to take a bribe to simply call them a potential terrorist and sell them out to the secret police? Papers, Please uses the medium of gaming to explore the issue of modern immigration. and is one of the most unique gameplay experiences out there.
Honourable Mention: The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable is a walking simulator which asks the question. Why when we play games do we listen to the narrator? Can we not make our own decisions in these games or is it just the illusion of choice? Working in an office you play as Stanley with only narrator (voiced by British actor Kevan Brighting) for company you’re told every little thing Stanley does. Except you don’t have to listen to him. If the Narrator tells you Stanley goes left but instead you make him go right. What would happen? Turns out we get a rather miffed Narrator. The joy of the Stanley Parable is to see how far off the rails we can go before we break the experience. It’s a game of laugh out loud moments featuring multiple endings as the world tries harder and harder to get you back on track. For anyone whose struggled with a moral choice in a video game The Stanley Parable is a delightful look at just how silly it all is when you think about it.
2014: Shovel Knight
Nostalgia is a double edged sword. Look too much into the past and you’ll never go forward but refuse to learn from the past and you’ll be doomed to repeat it. As more and more mass media seems determined to mine nostalgia the balancing act becomes harder and harder. It’s a good thing that Shovel Knight by Yacht Club Games manages to find that sweet spot. A side-scrolling platformer, Shovel Knight was successfully funded on Kickstarter and puts you in the role of Shovel Knight; who is armed with nothing but a shovel to take on the sinister knights of the Order of No Quarter in order to save his adventuring companion Shield Knight.
The feel of Shovle Knight is that of a lost 8-bit NES games, just like such classic titles as the Megaman Series, Capcom’s Ducktales game, Mario Bros 3, Legend of Zelda and plenty more. It’s a game that gets Nostalgia right. Taking identifiable elements from other titles and smoothing out the rough edges of their time. You unlock new abilities, take on more varied challenges but as a game Shovel Knight also has the pacing, accessibility and feel of a more modern platformer. It’s a wonderful marriage of both old and new and is well worth grabbing your shovel and leaping into the fray. For Shovelry!
Honourable Mention: Five Nights at Freddy’s
Five Nights at Freddy’s is one of those games that just hit the floor running. Its explosion helped in part by Youtubers streaming the game. Five Nights is a survival horror point and click game created by Scott Cawthon where you play as a security guard for Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. Where to survive the Night Shift you have to switch between security monitors to ensure the self aware animatronics of the restaurant don’t jump out at you. It’s a simple enough concept but the suspense of trying to survive without having a robot bear leap out at you is a gripping one. Despite knowing what is coming we guarantee you each jump scare will still have you screaming out in terror!
Well that was 2010-2014 in Indie Gaming. I think this is a good point to pause for refreshments and save our game. What did you think of the list so far? I’m sure you have some games you’d preferred so why don’t you leave a comment or tweet us here – and stay tuned for part 2 where we look at 2015-2019 and some more excellent Indie Games!