Brush Up on Your Indies Before No Man’s Sky
Gaming can often be an expensive venture for developers and consumers alike. On one hand, AAA franchises like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto require massive budgets to design, create, and market. On the other hand, $60 for every new game that releases can add up quickly for the average middle-income gamer.
Thankfully, independent games have had a resurgence in recent years, allowing developers to create titles with limited budgets and manpower. Games such as Super Meat Boy and Castle Crashers are prime examples of smaller titles that hit it big with gamers, who undoubtedly are attracted to games that cost a fraction of most AAA titles. And with interesting and innovative games like Cuphead, Below, and No Man’s Sky on the horizon, indie games have never been in a better place.
In celebration of recent indie success stories, and in order to help gamers who might have just recently entered the indie-scene, here are five of the finest indie titles that money can buy.
1) Ori and the Blind Forest
Platform: Xbox One, PC
The newest game to make this list, Ori and the Blind Forest came out earlier this year as a Microsoft exclusive. A 2D platformer, Ori and the Blind Forest stars, well, Ori–a small lemur-like forest dweller. After a mysterious owl one day removes the light source from the great tree in the center of the forest, Ori is forced to navigate the deep, dense, and dark forest in order to save his home and restore the light to the forest. Players who are a fan of Metroidvania-styled games will fall in love with Ori‘s sharp and precise platforming, smart upgrade system, and beautiful art style and animation. Plus, clocking in at around 7-8 hours in playtime, players are getting a lengthy experience for their $20.
2) Cave Story
Platform: DS, 3DS, PC
I’m not going to lie–I never grew up on Mega Man or Pac Man, so the term “retro” games means nothing to me. In fact, I think that indies that embrace the “retro” feel from games of old are doing a disservice to their work. While plenty of games buck the trend (Shovel Knight, FEZ, and FTL are all games that are worthy of play in their own right), I often find myself wondering if developers sometimes decide to go retro in order to avoid putting in additional resources into the graphics department. Cave Story was the title to convince me, once and for all, that retro games deserve a place in the modern day of gaming. With tense, difficult (yet fair) platforming, an amazing 8-bit soundtrack, fun gunplay, and a touching, albeit simple story, Cave Story embraced the retro feel wholeheartedly, and came out better for it. Don’t miss it.
Platform: PS3, PS4
If Cave Story is a title that embraces the games of old, Journey is the exact opposite: a game that dares to go where no game has ever gone before. Upon starting the game, the player wakes up in a desert with extremely little in the way of guidance. The vast land seems endless, and sand dots the landscape. However, a sole mountaintop stands apart from everything else–in particular, a soft, warm, glow of light. Armed with nothing but a jump button and shout emote, the player embarks on a journey unlike any other. Journey has more heart and meaning that most AAA titles–and is absolutely gorgeous to boot, from its striking visual style to its Grammy-nominated soundtrack. Sure, it’s short, but the overall experience is absolutely worth the lack of replayability.
4) Puzzle Quest
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, DS, PSP, iOS, PC
I remember buying Puzzle Quest back when I was still playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion on my Xbox 360. After scores of hours roaming the lands of Tamriel, I had decided to take a breather and try a smaller game on for size. I’d expected Puzzle Quest to be good, having heard that it have garnered rave reviews when it had first come out. I just never expected it to be that good. With it’s revolutionary mixing of the RPG and Puzzle genres, Puzzle Quest essentially made a much more rewarding and exciting version of Bejeweled. With the ability to outfit your adventurer with equipment, take on various quests, and fight monsters and bosses, Puzzle Quest threw the puzzle genre a wrinkle that hasn’t been emulated since. Plus, the game had an amazing fantasy soundtrack that I’d hum even upon my return to the world of Oblivion.
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
One of the first critically-acclaimed XBLA games to hit the Xbox 360, Braid would ultimately set the bar for indie games to come. While only clocking in at around 4 or 5 hours, Braid set itself apart as an game worth experiencing. Initially set up to be a typical “save the princess” story where the hero constantly finds his love to be in another castle, Braid threw traditional storytelling out the window with a late-game twist that I won’t spoil here. Combined with thoughtful puzzle solving, a fantastic soundtrack full of Irish-inspired jigs, and one of the greatest menu-screens in recent memory, Braid is one of the very best indie titles that money can buy.