The 8 Ball 9.10.13: Top 8 Indie Games
Posted by Marc Morrison on 09.10.2013
From the lucha-themed Guacamelee and space simulator Faster Than Light to Hotline Miami, Plants vs. Zombies and more, 411's Marc Morrison counts down the top 8 indie games!
Welcome all to another edition of the 8 Ball. This week the topic is on indie games and how important they've become to the industry. Every year it's another Madden game, another Call of Duty, another Assassin's Creed, etc. The industry has become complacent on franchises set on a yearly schedule that shouldn't be. Luckily, there are indie games to pick up the slack and give us a nice reminder that there actually is innovation going on, just usually outside of the big publishers. So, with that said, here is my list of the top 8 indie games:
I didn't have the revelatory moment when I played FTL, like everyone else did, but I still enjoyed the game. Having to micro-manage your crew and ship while you're in a heated battle is a tense and unique experience. It gets even more hectic if the enemy has boarded your ship or it is currently on fire. Having to carefully balance out putting out the fire, or spacing the enemy crew as they roam around adds to the tension all the more. The only big negative against the game is that the last boss is fairly hard, and incredibly cheap. Having to whittle him down between the 3 forms is a taxing process. Although, to FTL's credit, it did have Nick Breckon as a recruitable crew mate, and considering I went to high school with that dude, that's pretty neat.
7. Tiny & Big's Grandpa's Leftovers
Tiny & Big has a beautiful idea/concepts powering it, but stumbles just a tad with its execution. The crux of the game has you (Tiny) trying to hunt down Big who stole your Grandpa's telepathy/magic-granting underwear. The tools you have are a laser that cuts through most objects, a grappling hook to drag around objects, and a rocket that you can throw to objects to fly them out of the way. Cutting up pieces of rock, columns and other level geometry never gets old. It's basically the old "Geo-Mod technology from early Red Faction games, done in non-shooter game. The puzzles are pretty clever also, having you work out how to get around some of the obstacles with your few tools. I didn't like some of the collision detection with your character, but overall this was a great little platformer to mess with.
I recently just picked up/played/beat Guacamelee! and enjoyed it a lot. It's an interesting fusion of a Metroidvania-style game and a simplified brawler. Actually, it reminded me a lot of how either "Shank" game wasn't very good. Guacamelee! really gets the whole luchadore vibe down, be it that you get your powers from your mask, the bad guy is an evil skeleton charreria performer. The grapple system is also intuitive to pull off against the enemies. You gain new moves in order to progress through the story and open new paths, like in every other Metroidvania style game. It's a little on the short side, but is a lot of fun.
5. Really Big Sky
Really Big Sky looks like a simple clone/rehash of older games, specifically Gradius or R-Type, but it's much more than that. While the framework is the same as those games, Really Big Sky goes further when it comes to the genre though by giving you analog control of your guns (on the right stick) and injecting a lot of humor into the game. I still chuckle whenever I play it, and the super gun goes off, when the announcer yells "LIMIT BREAK!" Unlike in most of these games, the bits you collect actually serve a function; you use them to buy upgrades to your ship. Once the basic upgrades are maxed out, you can buy powered-up one-play only upgrades that can enhance your ship even further. There are some good secrets in the game as well, if you hunt down hard enough for them, and a lot of interesting multiple modes to try out as well.
4. Hotline Miami
Even if you disregarded Hotline Miami's music, it's story, and the 80's aesthetic, it is still a supremely fun game to play. When you added in all the psychedelic stuff, the game becomes weird and almost addictive. The gameplay is the driving factor, but everything surrounding it adds to the enjoyment of the game. As you sweep from room to room, a knife in hand, waiting for the enemy to walk past the door, just waiting till he passes it so you can stun him, slit his throat, run to the bathroom and take care of the second guard before he notices it, there's no more exciting moment in the game. Hotline Miami is a weird game but it has a subversive quality that can get its hooks into you.
3. Plants vs. Zombies
Gather round children, and hear my tale: Popcap used to be an independent studio, its true! Just five short years ago, Popcap was the little studio that could, making small, but addictive/inventive puzzle games, Bejeweled, Peggle, Zuma, and Bejeweled Twist. No game though exemplified Popcap's dominance in the casual/addictive genre then Plants vs. Zombies though. It's mix of tower defense gameplay and cartoony/bright gameplay was a winning combination. It's a shame that EA bought the studio in 2011 and has begun their usual behavior of ruining a once-great developer. See: Bioware, Criterion, Pandemic, and slowly bleeding them dry of talent, ideas of the capacity to make good games, until they are husks of what they once were. It's nice to see EA keeping up the pattern with Popcap and Plants vs. Zombies 2, a thoroughly-disgusting F2P game.
To say that I am excited for Audiosurf 2 is a severe understatement. The first Audiosurf game is one of the big games I initially got on Steam, and it's created an addiction hat persists to this day. Audiosurf is basically a procedurally-generated puzzle/rhythm game where the levels are created from your own songs. You go along the track picking up the blocks in order to create a set of three (or more) which adds to your score. The game has an addictive and almost never ending quality to it, since it's all based on your own music library and each song has its own leaderboard to compete against your friends with. Audiosurf 2 looks like an interesting spin on the rock solid foundation that Audiosurf has built up.
1. The Binding of Isaac
According to Steam, I've sunk 190 hours into The Binding of Isaac. Think about that. While it's not an exact figure, the number is probably closer to around 175 or so, that is still over a week of time that I have devoted to Binding of Isaac. The game appears deceptively simple, it's essentially a rogue-like Zelda game made in flash, the devil is in the details. From the insane amount of items, to the ways different enemies react to you, to the overt making fun of evangelical Christianity, really, the game has it all. The way that some items are useless (The Poop for example), or with items that completely break the game entirely (EPIC FETUS), the interaction with the items is all great. The Binding of Isaac is the essential indie game to get and lose yourself in.
The Better Half with Liana K
Top 8 Indie Games
Firstly, fellow M.U.L.E fans, I salute you! Solidarity! But enough about last week.
Whoo, I thought this one was gonna be easy! I was wrong! There are so many great indie titles out there that so many games I thoroughly enjoyed did not make the list. Games like Dyad, Drip Drip, and Limbo didn't quite make it, and I can't even say why. I think what the entries on this list share is their ability to pleasantly surprise me: when you play as many games as I do, experiencing the "shock of the new" can make you downright giddy, and all of these titles caught me off guard with their unique and/or oddball creativity. Furthermore, indie gaming requires developers to stretch budgets, and create a clear creative vision based on limited resources, and I tried to provide a diverse range of how various games solved that problem.
Please demo, sample, and buy anything that appeals to you here! These games aren't that expensive, and a thriving indie sector is the kick in the ass the gaming industry needs!
8: Dungeon of Elements (Frogdice)
This game isn't quite released to the public yet (scheduled to be released September/October) but I got to play a press build during its Kickstarter, so I thought I'd use a spot on this list to share its unique combination of familiar... pardon the pun... elements. Dungeon of Elements is a fantasy "dungeon crawler" RPG with Dr. Mario-style combat elements. When I first heard the idea, I had no idea how that was going to work, and I was sceptical that it could work at all. However, playing it turned out to be an addictive experience, especially the surprisingly strategic boss battles. So if you're looking for something that's different and familiar at the same time, Dungeon of Elements is a good pick!
7: Super Meat Boy (Team Meat)
I have a love/hate relationship with this game. I love it because it's adorable and gross in equal measures. I hate it because the grading system makes you go super fast, and it makes me nervous! But, despite frequently losing patience with it, I keep getting lured back by the spattery raw meat trails left on the walls, the unapologetic retro look and feel, and THE METAL. It's one of my favorite grudge matches in gaming, and it was one of the early champions of the current indie game boom. And "meat" is a funny word.
6: Outlast (Red Barrels)
If I'd started playing Outlast a week earlier, it might be ranking much higher on this list. Unfortunately, I only got to start it the night before deadline! So, mea culpa, I haven't finished the game yet. But so far it feels like a mix of the original Resident Evil, Clive Barker's Undying, and the original Myst. Its pacing as you enter and explore the mansion benefits from the excellent use of first-person perspective and less-is-more approach to the controls -- you're into the meat of the game extremely quickly, and the instructions right from the beginning are simple: run, hide, or die. It's legitimately moody and scary, and it fills the void of real horror titles now that both the Resident Evil and Dead Space franchises are pretending to be action games. And it's only twenty bucks!
5: Castle Crashers (The Behemoth)
Few games hook me as quickly as Castle Crashers did. I have a weakness for old school beat 'em ups, and the art direction couldn't be more perfect for the type of game that CC is. The moment the little chibi knights started rocking out in the tavern, I was sold. It's also a game that significantly more fun to play co-op than single player, which makes my husband happy. There aren't nearly enough good living room co-op games that aren't shooters.
4: Bastion (Supergiant Games)
Yes, Bastion is only number four on this list, which is a testament to just how good the current crop of indie games is. Bastion is (even at number four) an absolute must-play in my books, both for the anime-style graphics that manage to not be annoying and the awesome narrator voice... okay that's kind of a joke. But only kind of. Bastion was the first indie game I played that wasn't just a retro homage, and it really opened up the possibilities of the unique things indie games can offer. At the end of the day, sometimes just being sufficiently different is enough to make something great.
And it was at this point in my list that I became uncharacteristically indecisive. I'm going to list the top three entries in no particular order, because they're all too different for me to really pick which one is the objective "best". This is a first for me. Here goes.
3, 2, 1: Papo & Yo (Minority), Guacamelee (Drinkbox Studios), The Walking Dead (Telltale Games)
Oh god, where do I begin? I'm actually getting flushed talking about these games. It is getting warm in here?
Papo & Yo
Frequent 8 Ball readers know that I love this game. It reaches into my guts and heals my soul. It's like those great tear-jerker Oscar bait movies which get made for cheap and film festival types love, but the earnestness still cuts through the mad amount of annoying hype. Papo & Yo is a game that few of my friends have played and even fewer really click with, but it's one of the most uniquely validating games I have ever had the pleasure to discover.
Hey! I finally get to mention a game I have one of my own videos for! Check me out! Guacamelee is a metroidvania platformer/beat em up hybrid that's uniquely joyous and honest... and contains chickens. It's a game for gamers, and that's something only an indie studio can do in an era of massive sales targets and diluted genre associations. The tale of Juan the luchador is so fun to play that you're forgiven if you miss the nuances of the combo-based controls, the cleverness of the level designs, or the oodles and oodles of classic game homages. While Guacamelee holds up to study, it's meant to be played. It's a serious game that doesn't take itself seriously!
The Walking Dead
I linked to a video of the 400 Days DLC because I don't want to risk any spoilers for the main game. (Also, the guy's commentary cracks me up.)
It's not just that the story is important to the Walking Dead video game: it's the whole damned game! It's definitely more of an interactive story than a full-blown video game, but the art direction is genius, the characters are rich and complex, and the story is better than both the comic books and the TV show. While not the most conventional of shared number one picks, The Walking Dead does what it does so well that it transcends its limited gameplay value. It's an experience you care about, and the hallmark of a great indie title is to do more with less. Just when I thought I was burned out with zombies, this gem of an episodic game came along, and while the gore is just silly and certain moments are overwrought, Clementine ends up inspiring those protective instincts that make a zombie game feel less zombified without really being scary. The emotional immersion factor in this comic-book style game is undeniable and you care about the outcome, as inevitably nihilistic as Walking Dead properties always are.
With Indie games only existing really in this generation, this list is a bit shorter, but here goes some of the games that didn't quite make it on my big list, for one reason or another: Bastion, Fez, Braid, Limbo, Divekick, Papa & Yo, Hell Yeah!, The Path, The Void, Rochard, Mark of the Ninja, Rogue Legacy, Papers, Please, Cart Life, Terraria, Minecraft, Euro Truck Simulator 2, Super Meat Boy, and Don't Starve
The General Roundup
There were a shocking amount of comments from last week, so good on everyone for doing that. I'll address a few of them now: The love of Road Rash is a bit strange, but that's ok. I only played/liked Road Rash 3D on the PS1, so I don't have a great history with it. I wasn't a huge fan of Jade Empire. It had a semi-interesting hook, but the gameplay was just not fun, and WAY too easy. Precursor Games keeps trying to make a sequel to Eternal Darkness, but their Kickstarter's keep failing. Plus, having Dyack around isn't exactly a reason for people to be generous. I think Eidos/Square is trying to reboot Legacy of Kain, but I'm not sure if it'll happen or not. I'd love a new Rival Schools/Legend of Dragoon game, but "no chance in hell" sadly springs to mind.
Also, Liana is only my internet wife. In real life, she's married to her husband, Steven.