12 Days Of Xmas – Indie Must-Buys
Editor’s Note: Welcome to our 12 Days of Xmas feature, a feature where we reminisce in the spirit of Christmas. Each day will focus around a separate aspect, but please keep in mind, these are not lists; we wanted to provide stories and feelings of nostalgia from our pasts. We hope you enjoy.
Everyone’s suddenly a big fan of the indie market. We’re all jumping aboard the bandwagon that’s been rolling across the gaming world picking up mainstream gamers and handing out a whole horde of great games from small origins. Bundles galore have introduced profitability to the indie side of the industry and from this every potential developer can now be one and see their work appreciated.
I do have to actually don my Trilby, chequered scarf and cardigan combination at this point and say something that I wish I could phrase in a less abhorrent way: I played indie games before they were cool. I’ll remove the gear however to say that I was pretty much unaware that my frequent forays into the indie side of gaming were simply because there were many hidden gems that were pointed out to me by others or appeared randomly on my radar. I didn’t actively seek out the lesser known games, instead playing and enjoying them when they fell into my lap (then using that to engage Douchebag Hipster Mode when the opportunity presented itself).
I love finding the little things and enjoying them, but I love to show them to other people too. If there’s a great game to play that a fellow gamer doesn’t know about I feel it my duty to inform them – whether with the trilby-scarf-cardigan combo or otherwise – because I’d want the same in return. There’s so many games out there mainstream or otherwise that there’s no way I or anyone else can honestly find the time to find and play everything they’d want to. I hate to think that for every game I buy and play there’s a dozen more I’ve missed. The best I or anyone else can do is play what we can, tell others about them and hopefully find new games to play in return…
…which brings me to this: here are some indie must-buys I recommend to you, along with some honourable mentions:
Braid (PC, XBLA)
What a game this proved to be. This time-bending puzzle-platformer changed the way we looked at the platformer this generation all the while incorporating elements of the genre from the past to produce something that pushed the boundaries of independent gaming while simultaneously giving many great cause of reminisce.
Jonathan Blow made a stunning, challenging, involving game here that challenged your gaming thought processes and logic with twisty inventive puzzles that shook up the gameplay that made Super Mario such a household name. This is a progressive title that I’d consider to be right up there as one of the best indie game of our time: Braid is a beautifully drawn and developed indie game that stands as a benchmark for all other indie developers to aim for.
LIMBO (XBLA, PC, PSN)
“LIMBO captivated me from beginning to end though. Sure, the spider creeped me the hell out and it took me a few days to return after killing the thing but I saw it through to the end. The art style, simple gameplay and tricky puzzles were terrific. PlayDead created a masterpiece last year and I love them for it.”
Don’t shrug this off as pretentious malarkey, LIMBO’s got some supreme character that really does help make this one of the best indie games we’ve had the pleasure of diverting our attentions towards in the past few years. As Ryan mentions there, the three key components of this game – its aesthetic, gameplay and puzzle – make this a sublime puzzle-adventure title. It’s fairly short to play through but like Braid before it has an achievement that if you’re a competitive/completionist sort of person will probably grab your attention and have you playing long after your initial playthrough.
It’s a beautiful, haunting little adventure that does so much with so little. Give Davs’ review a look if you’re still not convinced.
Gemini Rue (PC)
I’m gonna throw you a link to a review for this game I wrote earlier this year before my MediaKick tenure, because then you can get a real grasp of why I recommend this game as a must-buy. It’s a superb point-and-click adventure that opened up doors for me I’d had previously left closed out of apprehension: the strong story, inviting gameplay but intentionally aged neo-noir setting created a fusion of generation-dividing gaming styles that only served to make this game the stunning indie entry you should definitely consider buying.
Bastion (PC, XBLA)
“I was lucky enough to get to play through Bastion earlier in the year and I still maintain that it is one of the best downloadable games to date. It has an old school feel about it that taps into my nostalgic bones, and that makes me anticipate the next game from SuperGiant Games.”
After a praising review and affirmations of its quality there’s only so many times we can wax lyrical about this game before my words become tired and the point becomes lost: Bastion is the best downloadable game this year. If you haven’t got it yet, please rectify this immediately!
Pro tip: I purchased this again on Steam and it looks even better on PC than it does on the Xbox 360, plus it’s controlled enabled so if you have a wireless 360 pad and you fear keyboard gaming you can play Bastion with ease.
Super Meat Boy (PC, XBLA)
Offering challenge and reward of the highest caliber, Team Meat’s renowned indie title oozes so much charm it’s hard to play this without a smile on your face (even when the game beats the crap out of you). There’s a princess capturing story tying the events occurring together that the game riffs off wonderfully – nefarious monocle-clad villain included for paid-off comedic value – and the genre mashing is plentiful as you furiously fling your meat all over the place.
Even their website is hilarious at times – read some of the blog posts for laughs – and it’s clear that the two guys who worked on this had tons of fun making this. I’d be amazed if you haven’t heard of this before but if so, it’s available on the 360 via the Marketplace and via digital distribution on PC if that’s your kind of thing.
Atom Zombie Smasher (PC)
I’ve just started playing this and already it looks devilishly fun: minimalising the tired zombie-killing genre of videogames, Blendo Games have given us a delightfully manic ‘prevent the infestation’ top-down shooter that’s simple in design but offers a real challenge. There’s even a story, would you believe: everything seems to get wrapped up into a pulp fiction-style narrative that adds a welcome depth to proceedings.
The environments are unique each playthrough, there are mods to add further variance to the experience and the gameplay is very addictive. It’s a digitally distributed game you can pick up for quite cheap in the right place: hunt around for the best deal if you’re unsure about this but what I can say assuredly is that already I’d consider this to be good bang for your buck.
Dungeons of Dredmor (PC)
Gaslamp Games’ odd dungeon crawler took a little while to grow on me but after a little while playing I can safely say this is a game I’ll return to frequently. Dungeons of Dredmor is… well, it’s hard. It’s not frustratingly hard though: the ‘Congratulations: You Are Dead’ message and the silly ways I’ve died to receive this have made the nuisance of death and restarting weirdly fun.
It’s a funny game that explains little but contains a lot: Dungeons of Dredmor is deservedly labelled ‘comical’ by its developer because it’s humourously ballsy in the way it goes about its business, and I respect that. There’s a decent levelling system present and the enemies are really well characterised and styled: I like this game, can’t be more succinct than that.
Zenonia (Android, iOS, PSP)
The first of four games currently, Zenonia is a side-quest laden RPG with faint traces of the Zelda and Final Fantasy games of old that offers a vast experience in a bite-size package. It plays superbly on my Android device – I’ve clocked seven hours so far and am showing no signs of leaving this game behind for the next – and with its availability extending to the iOS and PSP you’ve got a great chance of getting access to this great little game.
It’s superbly presented, offers many potential hours of gameplay (developer GameVil suggest there’s forty hours worth) and is really well designed for portable gaming. I hear the PSP Mini port hasn’t made a fantastic transition – lag issues abound apparently – so perhaps try to get the Android or iOS version if possible.
Pew Pew (Android)
I’ve thrown this in here because any fan of Geometry Wars should consider that an absolute necessity to download; for anyone else it’s a must-try. It’s not a must-buy but only because it cost exactly zero pennies: Jean-François Geyelin‘s multi-directional retro-styled shooter is an addictive little game and one that throws in the slightest hint of cheek in its menu system to add to the charm.
There is a new and improved sequel which I’ve yet to acquire but that’s only because the original is keeping me more than happy. Great game, and at the grand old sum of £FREE you can’t really not pass on this if you have an Android device (2.1 or more).
Trials HD (PC, XBLA)
“While I don’t own it myself, Trials HD signified a single night of many frustrations but also some very big victories. If the phrase ‘just one more go’ can be applied to any must buy game it’s this one. With a sequel round the corner, you should certainly keep this franchise on your radar.”
As Dave rightly points, trying to stop playing once you’ve started is a tough feat: Trials HD is super addictive and the yearning to best times and master tracks is one that will have you battling furiously with yourself to keep from playing this constantly. I say this is a must-buy with caution: if you don’t have a lot of time to spare, this probably isn’t the game for you because you’re gonna lose it.
Minecraft – There can’t be an indie recommendation list without mentioning Mojang’s triumphant open-world explorative title; there’s massive time-sink potential, plenty of mods to try to a ‘campaign’ to sink your teeth into. This is definitely worth the higher-than-your-usual-indie-game price tag.
Flower – Relaxing, charming and pretentious: That Game Company experimented greatly with this, and the pay off is big.
Splosion Man – I heart Twisted Pixel: these guys are mad and channelled their silly brilliance to make a manically fantastic game.
Plain Sight – A personal favourite, was released a few years ago and developed by some lovely folks at Beatnik. Weird but wonderful.
From Dust – Ubisoft’s god game was a fun distraction over the summer, good way to spend a few hours and some Microsoft points.
SpaceChem – Got this sitting on my laptop, will jump in this soon and see what all the excitement and raving is all about.
Frozen Synapse – Bloody difficult but highly inventive.
Joe Danger: Special Edition – I hear tremendous things about this, should really get around to buying this at some point…
Canabalt – Simple single-finger gameplay but very addictive. Give it a go, see what I mean.
Alright, one more:
Happy Wheels – I suggest this only because it’s absolutely hilarious. It’s pretty awful to be honest but it’s a free-to-play browser game that will have you laughing at its ridiculous stupidity.