Well, another year has come and gone for the gaming world, one that gave us a new generation of video game consoles as well as several astounding triple-A video games that pushed the limits as best as they could, delivering some truly enjoyable games in the process. Which makes it even sadder that this generation and these last few years feel like they’ve given birth to even more cockheads, stubborn and annoying fanboys, and a so-called insufferable “master race” who won’t stop whining and pecking at each other over who’s right, who’s the best, and what’s supposedly utter crap in a world already full of games we’ve only dreamed of since our youth.
But when it comes to indie games, we seemingly call a truce and find some common ground that we can all agree on (for the most part). After all, the whole motley crew of gamers that we are can definitely all agree that the world of indie gaming is one that’s full of creativity and effort, and the types of games that are always welcomed with open arms by us. And with 2013 having brought us whole cornucopia of such games loved by all…well, except for Gone Home, which was acclaimed by critics but somehow seen as pretentious by everyone else and got nothing but vitriol towards anyone who dare praise it. But I digress, this year gave us some truly amazing indie games that we honor today. So without further ado…
Now I’m typically not the type to give into flash over substance, but in the case of Resogun HOLY CRAP DEM GRAPHICS…*ahem* So yes, as a showcase for the PS4’s sheer power in terms of graphics, Resogun definitely succeeds. Thankfully, though, it’s just as much of a damn good shoot-’em-up as well, so the flash and substance are pretty much equal here. Resogun may appear like your standard ’80s-style destroy-the-aliens Defender-esque spaceship shooter, but it’s one filled to the brim with mounds of action, frantic gameplay, massive bosses, a lust for high scores and a use of voxel graphics so jaw-dropping that the game pretty much blows it all up at the end of every level just to show off. So what we have here is basically the classic arcade shooters of your youth juiced up with the technology you’ve always wanted, and the result is a perfect way to start off the PS4’s career.
(Oh, and Peter was right: Hearing “SAVE THE LAST HUMANS” through your controller at the beginning of every level is flippin’ awesome indeed.)
9. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
When I first played Brothers back at E3, I had dismissed it as too much of an “artsy” game with some clunky controls. But now having spent more time with it, I’d definitely like the opportunity to go back in time and smack my younger self upside the head over how wrong he’ll be. Brothers starts out as a unique, dual-stick controlled, single-player co-op game (yes, you read that right) about a journey of two kids out to save their ailing dad, but it quickly becomes so much more.
What you end up doing is exploring a gorgeous world straight out of a fairy tale…an early Grimm fairy tale full of the occasional disturbing imagery, to be precise, but a fairy tale nonetheless. A highly impressive (albeit brief) adventure with some captivating gameplay and an engaging story that leaves you wanting to see more, Brothers is an amazing and even heartwarming tale that one should not miss out on.
8. Charlie Murder
If there’s one type of game I definitely don’t mind having more of, it’s successors to River City Ransom, one of the greatest beat-’em-ups ever made. Except we really don’t actually have a lot of those games, so that just makes me glad for a game like Charlie Murder even more. The game involves the titular band Charlie Murder as they fight to their reclaim their glory as the best punk rock musicians possible, which just happens to involve battling their way through what feels like the contents of the entire purge from The Cabin In The Woods.
It’s a violent, brutal, action-packed brawler that captures the whole “punk” feeling damn nicely, offers up some unique little gameplay mechanics (such as using in-game cell phones to scan for QR codes), and allows for some terrific co-op events that you and your anarchy-loving buddies will enjoy greatly. So indeed, Charlie Murder has earned a little place alongside some of the best beat-’em-ups ever…preferably a place with a 24-hour Ramones soundtrack.
7. Rogue Legacy
It seems as though roguelike games are becoming more and more popular among the indie circuit now, so how does a game like Rogue Legacy stand out among the ever-growing crowd? Well, pretty much by being really, really ood. Okay, there’s a little more to it than that. The fun lies in the game’s central mechanic of having entire generations of your family sent out on treks to explore a gigantic castle whose layout is randomly generated each time. Every time you die (and you will die), you start over with a new descendant with a potentially different class and set of traits.
Maybe you’ll get an extremely large descendant who can’t be knocked back, maybe one with dementia who sees imaginary monsters, maybe even one with irritable bowel syndrome who…well, you get the idea. This is a game as tough as nails that requires you to play it through as long as you can countless times in order to raise enough cash to get all the upgrades necessary to have even the slightest chance at surviving everything. And it’s all done so perfectly, we wouldn’t want it any other way.
6. Ridiculous Fishing
The late, great Peter O’Toole’s speech from the end of Ratatouille has been on my mind a lot lately, largely the part about how even the best works can have humble origins. And while it is incredibly easy of us to dismiss most mobile gaming as a haven of so-called “casual” games that seem more and more geared towards marketability and merchandising than anything else, there will indeed occasionally rise a true work of art that shows what mobile games are capable of.
Ridiculous Fishing is indeed one of those works of art, and one that just happens to involve blowing twenty fish into smithereens at once with the help of a fully-loaded Uzi. And while Ridiculous Fishing’s gameplay of catching fish, flinging them into the air and blowing them away may seem as easy as somehow exterminating some sort of animal contained in some small enclosed area, you soon learn that this is another perfect case of “easy to play, hard to master” and that your attempts at mastery will soon turn into an addiction. A well-earned addiction, though, as this is one of the best mobile games out there now easily worth a few bucks. Now go out there and make some chum, dammit.
5. Papers, Please
Well, given that Papers, Please was one of the year’s most talked-about indie games, its inclusion here shouldn’t be much of a surprise. What is surprising is that one of the year’s most intriguing titles revolves around bureaucratic border control in a dystopian communist country circa 1982…then again, we also thought that games about lawyers and home cooking wouldn’t fly before as well.
In the fictional nation of Arstotzka, your job as a border guard is to make sure anyone attempting to get through has all of their papers in order and is not, say, a criminal planning an assassination, all while attempting to make enough money to provide for your family. Now, those of you who work in menial jobs for a living here may ponder where the hell the fun in something like this is. Well, “fun” is a bit relative here, but the enjoyment here lies in the emotional stakes involved. For example, will you let someone’s long-lost love through even though their papers aren’t in order, even if it means getting penalized and having your pay docked? It may feel like menial work, but it’s work where it actually feels like you make a difference in people’s lives, and it has to be played to be believed. Glory to Arstotzka!
4. Stick It to the Man!
Well, I can definitely say that this was one of the year’s most pleasant surprises. I mean, a puzzle-platformer that played like a combination of Super Paper Mario, Psychonauts, and a healthy spoonful of ’90s animation? How am I not supposed to fall in love with something like that?
The game’s lavish, stylistic aesthetics are enough to draw your attention, but what keeps you playing is the tale of our beloved schmoe Ray and the giant pink spaghetti arm that suddenly grew out of his head after an accident. Said arm grants him an array of fun powers, though, such as mind-reading, ripping apart buildings, yanking away stickers for later puzzles and having all of his world’s dialogue replaced with the works of Ryan North (the current writer for Boom!’s impeccable Adventure Time comic book, amongst other things). And it goes without saying that all of this makes for one weird, trippy, and insanely fun platforming adventure you definitely need to check out.
Let me tell you what you need to know about Gunpoint: You control Richard Conway, hard-boiled spy who wears a pair of hypertrousers that allow him to leap thirty feet into the air and pounce on an unsuspecting security guard where you then proceed to punch him in the face two dozen times. If you need to know anything else, clearly there is some kind of communication error going on here. So, just in case, I’ll mention the brilliant combination of stealth-like mechanics and hacking activities involved in addition to the terrific level designs, allowing for a nice variety of different methods to tackle your various challenges with as you perform heists and investigations for the highest bidder.
Speaking of which, the game’s intriguing little murder mystery story deserve a little applause as well, and the clever writing, down to Conway’s noir-laced, snarky dialogue, even more so. It basically just all boils down to a fantastic game that deserves all the accolades one can mention…even if you do have to work to make the title relevant.
2. Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine
Given that Monaco seemingly spent over three years in the making, winning awards and garnering acclaim in the process, we all had one question on our minds when the game finally came out this year: “Does Monaco live up to the initial praise?” And my reply was…well, I couldn’t deliver a reply, because I was too busy being addicted to Monaco. A virtual heist flick played out in a 2D top-down setting, this is a game that takes various dashes of stealth games, Ocean’s Eleven and Gauntlet and serves them up in one stellar dish worth sampling.
Make sure to bring some friends along as well, because experiencing the game’s multiplayer is the best way to go here. Pulling off various capers with a group of friends and a wide variety of thief classes makes for some tense, thrilling, fun little moments you’re going to want to go back to again and again…insert joke about stealing one’s heart or something here.
…This was bit of a tricky one for me. Unlike my overall #1 Game of The Year (BioShock Infinite, a decision I stand by), there wasn’t any one particular indie game this year that I felt immediately stood out as the year’s best amongst its peers. But in the end, it was Guacamelee! that ended up winning the top honors here in the end, largely thanks to its vibrant, luscious, and inspired graphics and art style, first-class writing, characters, and sense of humor, and an all-around A-1 take on the “Metroidvania” genre.
Juan Aguacate’s dimension-hopping adventure to save El Presidente’s Daughter from the undead is a bountiful one indeed, packed to the brim with hefty infusions of Mexican culture and folklore, a wide variety of lands to explore and unique enemies to beat up in said lands, and a near-infinite amount of visual gags and easter eggs that will have you searching every square inch this world for some truly wicked and memorable sights. But more importantly, Guacamelee! is just the light-hearted, colorful, and all-around fun platformer that we absolutely need more often in video games these days. Truly a mind-blowing video game easily deserving of being called the year’s best.
7X2&. The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable was also one of the year’s most talked-about indie games, but this is a case that’s…different. You see, describing the genius of The Stanley Parable would be nigh-impossible to do, as it is simultaneously a game and yet not a game, a deep story that really doesn’t have a story, a commentary on interactive mediums that might not say anything, and it might also be some sort of meat product. It is weird, is what I’m trying to say, and yet it is also genius at the same time.
The only concrete thing I can say about The Stanley Parable is that…it’s an experience. An experience that almost reaches some sort of gaming nirvana, and one that causes The Stanley Parable to go beyond a mere “normal” ranking system and into something you see here. It is unique. It plays by its own rules. It might be alienating and weird or brilliant. And you must play it. That is all.
Honorable Mentions: Device 6, Shadowrun Returns, Outlast, Goodbye Deponia, Don’t Starve, SteamWorld Dig, Reus, Shadow Warrior, The Swapper, Gone Home
Well, as usual, we hope you’ve enjoyed this latest look at some of the best the gaming world has to offer these days. If you have any thoughts about this year’s crop of indie games or noticed any other notable titles we missed (and yes, we know we missed at least one notable one), feel free to let us know in the comments. So goodbye for now, and here’s hoping 2014 is also a damn good year for indie games as well! Hell, the incredible ’30s-animation-inspired run-&-gun game is a good sign already! ^_^
Previously by Kyle LeClair:
The Ten Best Games From PAX 2013
Ten More Great Games From E3 (That Might’ve Flown Under Your Radar)
Ten Video Games to Look Forward to in 2013
The 10 Most Kickass and Kid-Friendly Modern Downloadable Video Games