About a week ago, I was sitting at my desktop and decided I wanted to play a video game, as I do quite often. I pulled up my Steam library and started to peruse my options. “Dota? Nah, I don’t feel like pulling my hair out. Fallout 4? I never enjoy my time playing that game anymore.” I scrolled for a bit and decided, “Ahh, there’s a game I haven’t played in a while, and one I very much enjoy too.” Faster than Light was the game I decided to spend my time with, and I enjoyed every minute I played of it. I managed to salvage a ship and recruit a snail man from it. He helped man my ship’s weapons and eventually dies a tragic death at the hands of a space pirate boarding my ship and executing him, leaving my other crew men and women missing their new slimy friend. It’s such an expansive marvelous experience, compacted into a fairly small package. This got me thinking of all the good memories I’ve had over the years. not in AAA titles, but generally in indie games. With that being said, I’m going to list indie games that have given me some of the best memories over the years, in no particular order.
OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood
My first time playing OlliOlli 2 was actually at an indie game tournament at the local university. I was a bit frustrated with the controls initially, as it uses the same control scheme a Tony Hawk or Skate game would, which was never particularly comfortable to me. But the more I repeated the levels the more comfortable it came. Instead of focusing on making sure I can even land a trick, I was in turn trying to do the best tricks I could to nail a higher scoring combo. You know those games that are incredibly satisfying because of how smoothly the movement system works? You know the ones, games like the original Sonic the Hedgehog and even more recently the Serious Sam titles. This game gives you exactly that satisfactory feel. The art direction is simple, but nice and the trip-hop/house soundtrack is catchy and fitting for the way the game is presented. This is a perfect example of a score attack game in my book.
Electronic Super Joy
I never thought I would enjoy unforgiving platforming mixed with pornography so much. Well maybe not pornography, but definite sexual themes, and for what reason? Well, everyone secretly loves a little bit of potty humor, right? Each save point reached triggers a moan to sound out and the sole purpose of the game is to steal back what was stolen from you, what was rightfully yours: your butt. All crude jokes aside, ESJ is an incredibly challenging platformer with simple yet addictive gameplay elements and wildly colorful visuals. A pulsing EDM soundtrack perfectly encapsulates what ESJ is, a rave of a game.
So many different gaming terms could be used to describe this game. So let me list off all the ones that come to mind. Rogue-like for starters, dungeon crawler, RPG, platformer, randomly-generated, bullet hell, loot-based, etc. Do you enjoy any of those? Well if you do, please play this game. It sucked me in about as well as Stranger Things sucked in Netflix subscribers this year. Every run through the dungeon is randomized, meaning a new adventure after every death, but not only that, you are also given a new hero with different strengths and weaknesses each go through. Combat is simplistic yet perfectly fit for a game of this nature. The RPG-esque skill system is tailored to suit any build you wish to endeavor, whether it be a tanky brute or a frail warrior that deals hefty amounts of damage. Rogue Legacy is perfect if you want something easy to pick up and sink hours into.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Video games using this same style of narrative are becoming more abundant nowadays, such as Dear Esther or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, which isn’t a bad thing! Players will usually label them as walking simulators as a joke, but they’re not far off since the majority of time spent in TVoEC is walking from one destination to another. This should get old right? No, in fact that is probably the best part of this title; the vast landscapes and remarkable detail you find in just about any area you can explore. It’s like taking a visual trip through a breathtakingly detailed landscape portrait. Exploring areas of interest will reveal pieces to the puzzle of a story that is obscured in a ravishing paradise. It will only take around 4 hours to completely finish the game, but it will be a very delightful 4 hours, I can promise you that.
This is one fine little masterpiece of a game. Gunpoint excels in everything is sets forth in doing. The puzzles are compelling, the platforming is swift and elegant, the noir themed story is tacky enough to live up to old detective films, yet keep all the charm they had as well. Hacking light fixtures and keypads is essential to completing levels because you never want to be more than a shadow in this game. Confrontation should always be avoided and it’s your job as the protagonist, Richard Conway, to make sure security patrols never see you on your mission to retrieve intel. The way the puzzle system works is unique in the way that there is not always one solid answer that can be used to progress. Maybe you can turn off a light fixture to allow yourself to sneak by a guard, or possibly you want to sound an alarm causing attention to be focused in that area so you can slip by. Also, Conway comes equipped with mechanical trousers that allow him to leap inhuman distances. This adds a new layer to the puzzle system Gunpoint already has in place. One last note I would like to add is how the soundtrack incorporates one of the sexiest saxophones I have ever heard. Seriously…It’s great.
Now I said that I won’t be ranking this list, and I’m not, but I do have to admit this one is my favorite of them all and that I could gush about it for hours on end. So with the being prefaced, let me explain in my ultra-biased opinion, why Hotline Miami is the greatest indie game ever created. It starts simple enough, receive a cryptic phone call, go somewhere, kill people, come home, rinse, repeat. This goes on for a while until things start to unravel and your actions simultaneously are given meaning and lose all meaning at all. Doesn’t make much sense, huh? Exactly. I played this game on release in 2012 and still form theories on its narrative. So the story is gripping, what else? Delicate planning as well as reckless abandon both work as a play style in Hotline as you clear floors of mobsters with all sorts of shabby weapons including a pool cue and a power drill. Be careful though, you will die just as easily as your enemies do. The player’s screen will almost always be covered with neon and drenched in blood. It’s a thrilling experience of a game that is only bettered by debatably it’s strongest aspect: the soundtrack. Bashing heads to a pulp and ripping eyes out of their sockets is surprisingly well complimented by pounding and pulsating synthwave music. I actually got a few of my friends to play it just because they enjoyed the music I showed them. Hotline Miami ties in everything I want out of a game: a mystery-riddled plot, incredible gameplay and a bad ass soundtrack. Please play this masterpiece.
The Cat Lady
Susan Ashworth is the epitome of depression. Not a day goes by where she doesn’t contemplate removing herself from a crumbling, bleak existence and when she finally decides to go through with the act she gets the last thing she wanted: life. For certain reasons that I don’t want to spoil, Susan cannot die, which is both a strength and weakness. The Cat Lady tells a story of finding personal worth in a world that is insistent on keeping you down. This opposing force is displayed by a manner of mentally ill individuals the player is given the displeasure of meeting. The most interesting aspect of each encounter is how their actions and motivations display the twisted psyche they live with. Susan will realize she has to overcome these human burdens and just like a black cat, anyone who crosses her is met with an unfortunate fate.
FTL: Faster Than Light
I mentioned an experience of mine with FTL in the intro to this list and the thing is, this game is full of experiences like this. Tragedy will strike every time you traverse this extensive galaxy, but you may also find pleasant surprises if you look hard enough. To describe the gameplay is simple, picture a spacecraft management simulator crossed with Oregon Trail and throw in some rogue-like elements considering that death is permanent. Battles between your ship and others are tense and can sometimes be avoided but if times are tough and you need more supplies, the best way acquire them is salvaging ships you’ve bested. It’s a big game of “do or don’t” but also, randomized encounters can make it a game of “goddammit, please leave me alone space pirates, I’m sick of seeing you”. The most enjoyable way to play this game I find, is to fantasize about the story of your space voyage. Rescuing a bruised and bloodied space slave from their captor is nothing more than a bit of text on screen, but if you think of it in the sense of a narrative, each playthrough will become an grand experience documenting the tales of your crew mates. FTL is the most grandiose indie game I have played, and it holds a special place in my heart because of that.
Slummy neighborhoods and drug peddling crowd the streets of Deadbolt‘s fictional city. It’s your job as “The Reaper” to bring a demise to the drug pushers congesting the streets. Utilizing a varied arsenal or melee weapons or firearms you must clear the 3 gangs out of their dingy residences. Each gang is designed after a specific horror creature, those being zombies, vampires and skeletons. Why this game was so enjoyable to me was because the gameplay perfectly mixes two games I have already listed, Gunpoint and Hotline Miami. Fast paced violence and unforgiving AI is met with the same style of environmental interaction Gunpoint offers and it works out so perfectly. Blending a jazzy hip-hop inspired soundtrack just adds to the overall dirty atmosphere as well. This game will leave you wanting to go back just one for try at level, knowing you can get through it that try.
Everyone recognizes films such as Rambo or The A-Team, and just about everyone knows of their badass protagonists. Broforce takes the “America is badass!” belief to whole new level. Players will take the role of iconic characters renamed as Rambro, Indiana Brones, Double Bro Seven, etc. Every character fills this archetype with their name being modified by the word bro in some way, and they all have unique abilities reflecting on their cinema counterparts. Running and gunning though a fictional war locations is fun all alone, sure, but Broforce is best enjoyed with friends rampaging along side you. It’s twice the fun, twice the guitar solos and twice the freedom.