Top 10 Indie Games of 2015
Well, guys the end of 2015 is here and it's time to have a look back at the best indie games. This list is my personal top 10, I couldn't fit everything in there, but I hope you like it. So, without further ado, here we go. If you needed a reminder that this list is subjective, here it is straight off the bat.
Dolly, a first-year uni student's first ever game, is a platforming experience that only runs for about 10 minutes. Within it, no words are spoken, instead, its narrative is told by its clever use of visual metaphor, scale, colour and a few lines of text. What is so special about this minimalist style above all else, is that its ambiguity lets you connect and relate to the game in your own way. For us, Dolly left a strong emotional impact with its simple, underlying trail of tragedy, making it a must-add to this video. If you're open to this short and untypical game, then maybe you'll find something profound also.
Apotheon is instantly pleasing to the eye with its Greek pottery come-to-life aesthetic, but it has more than just looks, it has character. You see, Ancient Greece is not just some theme carelessly slapped onto this metroidvania to try and give it a personality. Rather, this game is a faithful and dedicated recreation of Mythological Greece. The original story is in the mould of the Greek tragedies, pitting man against the gods. The deities are presented accurately, with the developers getting their appearance, flaws and sympathies bang on. Other little details like trading your shield for a torch in the underworld or paying a toll for crossing the river add to the extraordinary level of authenticity. It's definitely not as explosive as God of War, but Apotheon is certainly more accurate to its source material. Combat consists of a strategic block and attack system that can get a little repetitive. The controls can also feel floaty at times, but otherwise, the gameplay is fairly solid. Come for the looks, and stay for the myth, Apotheon is a terrific ode to Ancient Greek Mythology.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is still not legal in Australia, but for fans elsewhere in the world this was a fantastic ending to one of the most violent and messed-up videogame saga's we have ever known. Wrong Number remains true to the original in a lot of ways. The fast and brutal brand of top-down action returns, as do the droves of rooms filled with enemies just waiting to be turned into pools of blood. The soundtrack is also once again brilliantly filled with thrilling and dark beats. Still, Wrong Number definitely has its own identity. There are 13 playable characters, a big jump from the two available in the original, and each one provides a fresh perspective on the story. Additionally, although the levels seem the same, they are larger and it's much harder to survive in them. It pretty much feels like Wrong Number has maxed out the Hotline Miami formula, and as such it ensures this arcade-style murder-fest of a series will remain in our memories for a long time to come.
For us, Jotun was one of 2015's most pleasant surprises. Last year's Kickstarter showed us a game with classic hand-drawn art, a cool Valhalla setting and large-scale bosses inspired by Shadow of the Colossus. That last part had us nervous, because how could you replicate such a classic in 2D and on a small budget? But, our fears were proven unwarranted. The boss fights are simply epic. The score does a fantastic job of building drama within them, each boss is unique and designed with real creativity, and the 2D setting actually works quite well by reminding you of just how small you really are. As we said back in October, our favourite part of the game is how it throws you right in the deep end with no instruction. You just have to figure things out on your own, and as such it's a game that always has you thinking. Jotun respects you as a player, it lets you explore and understand it, expects you to be intelligent, and pits you against giant foes. The end result is a game that's very satisfying to beat.
Ori and the Blind Forest
Ori and the Blind Forest is an unequivocal success. It was a triumph commercially, turning a profit in the first week, and critically with a Metacritic rating of 88. For many, it's the indie darling of 2015, and even outside of the indie realm it's made some serious noise, featuring in plenty overall best of the year lists among the likes of The Witcher and Metal Gear. Obviously, it's a shoe-in for this list, but it's placing at number 6 is a bit curious. That's because, for no discernible reason, we just didn't fall in love with Ori. We still had some great moments with it, however. It's moving yet tragic opening is a masterful work of storytelling and one of the best preludes to a videogame ever. Ori is an absolute blast to move, her combined speed and agility make you feel powerful and in control. And as you can see the art is just phenomenal. Ori and the Blind Forest is a top metroidvania that's difficult to find fault with, it's only this low because we personally didn't click with it.
Alright, let's crack into the top 5 with Soma. Made by Fractional Games, creators of the Amnesia series, expectations were high for this one, but were certainly met. At the heart of this horror game is the choice to forget about jump scares, gore and empty terror and instead disturb the player psychologically with its ideas. Soma asks you to question your identity, your humanity, and your mortality. And the answers you find won't always be comforting. We shouldn't discount the gameplay either. Constantly solving frustrating problems under pressure to survive instils a sense of helplessness and sows the seeds of fear. The isolated underwater facility untouched for years and its machine inhabitants also make sure you feel all alone. Soma is a chilling and distressing experience, that's a must-play for any horror fan.
Crypt of the Necrodancer
Crypt of the Necrodancer is a game we still haven't perfected, but that's because like all good roguelikes, it's unforgiving and takes many hours to even get competent. The roguelike genre has also gotten very crowded in the last 5 years, but Necrodancer keeps things fresh with its unique infusion of rhythm. Dancing to the beat is not only a different way to play, but it also seems to make the turn-based gameplay faster and more fun. For a game so musically-focused, it's a relief to know that the Danny Baranowsky soundtrack is extremely tight. But even if you don't agree with the game's tunes, you can always import your own. We personally recommend some early 80's synthpop, such as Eurhythmics' Sweet Dreams, MJ's Thriller, and Human League's Don't You Want Me (baby). If you want a challenging game to immerse yourself in, then pick up Necrodancer and lose yourself to dance.
Life is Strange
Life is Strange is a narrative-focused game that's been released episodically throughout the year. Its supernatural-charged teen drama story doesn't break any new ground. But that's not too important, because where Life is Strange really impresses is in its gameplay. Of course, we're talking about the game's rewind feature. Following every choice, you have the ability to go back in time and change your decision knowing what the impact will be. This power is limited in that you can only see the short-term consequences of your actions; what happens in the long-run is guesswork. Still, it sets Life is Strange apart from other games in the genre. Rewinding lets you constantly interact with the narrative and have a level of control and ownership of your choices that's unprecedented in these types of games. For weeks afterward, we were left pondering the decisions we made in-game. Whilst Beyond: Two Souls felt like an interactive movie, Life is Strange undoubtedly feels like a videogame and even more than that, it's a proper revelation for storytelling in videogames.
A lot of you guys will argue that Undertale should be the number 1 indie game of the year, and although it didn't quite get there, it still ranks pretty high at number 2. At first glance, Undertale can seem underwhelming with its simple sprites and basic colours, but as Undertale proves, you should never judge a book by its cover. The game itself is what appears to be a classic RPG, with a series of puzzle rooms and random monster encounters. These encounters prove not to be fights to gain experience, but instead moral conundrums. You have to choose to overcome the monster either by killing it or taking the alternative pacifist option like flirting to let it live. Just know your choices will have consequences. Undertale is also a very funny game littered with inside jokes, intertextual references, and metafiction. But it still manages to make you invested in your choices, it makes you care, and as Undertale itself might say, if it could talk, that's what makes a game real, isn't it?
Our number 1 indie game of 2015 is Rocket League. The thought process behind our choice was pretty simple; we just picked the game we had the most fun with and spent the most time with. Rocket League, with its crazy flying car soccer games, has been easy to pick-up and return to again and again. That pick-up and play nature of Rocket League was something we highly lauded during the year, and whilst it's still true, the more we've played, the more we've realised that this game also has an incredibly high skill ceiling. From aerial pirouettes to front-flipping for extra speed, you can always get better at this game. Stepping back and taking a broader view, what is perhaps at the heart of Rocket League's success, is how unlike other popular sports games such as FIFA or NBA 2K, it's perfect for playing with your friends. Lastly, the game has been bolstered by heaps of new content since its mid-year release, including 4 DLC packs, 2 new maps, and mutated game settings that change up things like ball size and car speed. Rocket League is a superb multiplayer sports game that caters for both casual and serious players.
Well, guys, it's been a fun year and from the team here at indieformer, thanks for watching, my names Laurence, and my name's Josh; we'll see you next year here on indieformer.