So it’s been nearly a full decade since games like Limbo and Braid helped to begin a revolution by offering small, digital-only titles that offered something very different and unique from all the big budget, full price physical games that we were used to. Some of these games offered the familiar, like time-travel mechanics or side-scrolling platforming, but the game worlds that they set them in were creative, engaging, and beautiful. Art styles that popped off your screen, like Limbo’s minimalistic black-and-white, or Fez’s use of Tetris shapes in its serene landscapes and puzzles.
A lot of these games have very easily drawn me in with that mix of familiar and unexpected, and now I want to share with you some of my favorites and hopefully you can give them a try.
This game wears its inspiration on its sleeve. It has heavily pixelated 8- and 16-bit sprites that harken back to the NES/Genesis/SNES days of the 80s and 90s. The music sounds like it’s straight off a classic console’s sound chip and the soundtrack is just as catchy as anything Mario has ever had (Strike the Earth especially). The overworld map is taken almost directly from Super Mario Bros. 3, and the game mechanics use a mix of Mega Man with magic projectiles and power-ups, and DuckTales with the pogo hopping that the titular character uses to bounce off of enemies heads and reach otherwise unreachable heights.
The best part is that they’ve added free expansions along the way if you bought it way back in 2014 for $15, letting you play full campaigns as some of the other knights you face off against during the main quest. Even if you jump in now, you can still get the game for an inexpensive $25 and play all the expansions, with one more still to come. Definitely a must play.
If you pay attention to indie games at all, you’ll already know about this game. It’s a wonderfully made game that was in development for a long time. The trials of it’s development are chronicled in Indie Game: The Movie, which I believe is still on Netflix. Check that documentary out as well, it’s captivating.
The game is just as captivating, with it’s sound and graphics also taking inspiration from a simpler time. A big difference in this game is that you don’t fight any enemies; you don’t jump on anybody’s head in this side-scrolling adventure. No, in this game you must collect mini-cubes to make even bigger cubes to restore your world back to order. To do this, you use a very clever camera rotation mechanic to climb walls and make jumps that you can’t make in a different perspective. It’s a wonderful mechanic that I’m surprised hasn’t been mimicked in games that I’ve played since.
Super Meat Boy
Another game that has it’s development team featured in Indie Game: the Movie, this game is a call back to the difficult platformers of yesteryear. It’s got a killer metal inspired soundtrack, and each level is meticulously crafted to make you throw your controller in frustration. This difficulty makes it all that more rewarding, however, when you finally do beat that level that you’ve been stuck on for ages. The platforming is so precise, you can’t miss a jump, because if you do you will surely die. The nice thing is that you have infinite lives, and when you finally beat a level, you get to watch all your deaths in a crazy instant replay. It’s fantastic.
The same team that made Limbo brought us this gem from last year. The game is haunting, and you never quite feel comfortable during the 2-3 hours that you play. It’s another challenging game that doesn’t hold your hand or give you any indication about what it wants you to do at any time. It trusts your intelligence as a game player, and that’s really refreshing in the age of overly done tutorials in big-budget titles.
The game’s story unfolds without any spoken dialogue, and it’s done so well. It may be very weird, and it’s certainly open to interpretation, but it provokes you to think and converse with others about what you just experienced.
Well, those are just a few of the indie titles that I recommend. Please check them out if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path. They’re wonderful games, each with their own charm and challenges.
So have fun and keep playing.