2012 was overflowing with good indie games. Mark of the Ninja, FTL, Botanicula, Dust: an Elysian Tail, and Katawa Shoujo were just a few of the gems we received this year. Of course, we couldn’t get to all of the indie games that were released this year (maybe next year we’ll be able to afford the Review-A-Tron 5000) so, with the year ending, it only seems fair to highlight some of the games we unfortunately passed up. The only rule for this list was that it had to be on the PC (no particular reason, feel free to mention console games we missed) and we couldn’t have reviewed it, either as a full review or a short review in an article (though demo impressions don’t count). Also, while the game didn’t necessarily have to come out this year, it did have to hit one of the major online distributors (for example, Steam). These are of course only a sample of the many, many, great indie games that came out this year so feel free to share your recommended games in the comments below.
Part first-person shooter, part interactive student movie, and part aerodynamics lecture, Thirty Flights of Loving is certainly one of the most unique games on this list. The sequel to Gravity Bone (which is also included with the game, as well as a Director’s Commentary), only lasts 13 minutes, has very basic gameplay, no intelligible dialogue, and simple, blocky graphics, but it tells an interesting story that makes you experience a full range of emotions and continues the story of Citizen Abel while an excellent soundtrack by Chris Remo plays and entices you. The game also joins FTL in being one of the first KickStarter games to be released, showing that the fundraising system can be used to put out some great titles.
Unfortunately, I can’t say anything about the plot, but I can say that there is a mecha-president. Speaking of crazy awesome things….
Do you enjoy games like Metal Slug and Contra, but want the awesomeness dialed up to 11 while also throwing in some twists to the gameplay? Well how about a game where you can RIDE ON A GIANT WALL-CLIMBING WOLF while firing laser blasts at squid robots and then using the physics engine and movable objects to rain down boulders on enemies. Now you may ask, “What’s the plot?” My answer: “I have no flipping clue and it doesn’t really matter… This is AWESOME.” Add in some awesome bosses (including a bungee-jumping female assassin and a jet with two giant arms that will fist-pump when it kills you) and some great guns and you have one of the most action-packed games released this year.
Of course, this isn’t the only action-packed game on the list that reminds people of games from their childhood.
Yeah, I had to find a way to get this on the list. While this game has been available for awhile outside of Steam and Desura, this year was also when it rose to prominence. Noitu Love 2, made by Joakim Sandberg (AKA Konjak), is a sequel to his Game Boy Color-esque action-platformer, Noitu Love. However, while that game was meant to be a send-up to retro games of the 8-bit variety, Noitu Love 2 is more in line with the Genesis classic, Gunstar Heroes.
The game, which uses your mouse and/or keyboard to tear through hordes of robotic Darns as three characters who control in very different ways, has some of the most fast-based action I have seen in a game for some time. The Darns are as funny as ever (in addition to the old bosses, there are even Geisha Darns) and the bosses are some of the most creative I’ve ever seen (not only does O2Joy make a new appearance at its own symphony but there is a secret boss fight against a theater manager that is amazing). Toss in a great soundtrack and Konjak’s quirky humor, and you have a game that is likely to fill you with child-like glee.
But of course, there were a lot more indie games than action-brawlers this year.
If there is one art form that I hope is never forgotten, it is the art of claymation. While there have only been a few good games that have have used clay and cardboard (namely The Neverhood and its sequel, Skullmonkeys, as well as the Edgar Allan Poe inspired: The Dark Eye), the style lends a unique, surreal feel to a game, which is especially important for a game like The Dream Machine, wherein you take the role of Victor Neff, a newly married man who has moved into his first apartment with his wife, Alicia. While dealing with the stress of giving up his freedom and artistic pursuits, he finds a terrible secret out about their tenement and must now race through increasingly terrifying dreamscapes as he seeks to save his wife and neighbors from a monstrous machine that can tap into the collective unconscious.
However, it’s not only the style and setting that make The Dream Machine such an interesting experience. The writing is excellent, doing the difficult task of explaining the weird worlds you explore, while also making the characters believable and likable enough so you keep playing, even when you hit a brick wall when trying to solve a tough puzzle. Even when you encounter a character who has done something terrible, the game makes you understand where he or she is coming from. That’s to say nothing of the clever dreams (as well as the references to shows like “The Prisoner”) you run through or the sheer amount of terror and dread that builds throughout your encounters with the titular machine (WARNING: Episode 3 should not be played by children).
The game does have a couple puzzles that are tedious, though one of them (the one with the detector) has been made easier. Now, the game isn’t complete at this point, with only three of the five planned episodes being released, though what has been released is excellent and the hints they have dropped about the contents of the remaining episodes have made them seem extremely ambitious. If you like good adventure games, this is one you cannot afford to pass up.
Speaking of games you can’t afford to pass up….
I like tower defense games. I also like RPGs. However, the two don’t always meet and, even when they do, usually the tower defense portion wins out. That’s not always a bad thing though–Cursed Treasure: Don’t Touch My Gems! is a really good game that deserves to be played, for example. However, I’ve always wanted a tower defense game that has all gameplay mechanics I’ve become addicted to, while also adding an epic story, memorable characters, and enough content to keep me busy for days on end when I’m snowed in and being set upon by were-llamas (don’t ask). So imagine my surprise when Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten arrived on GoG in a much improved state from its initial January release.
While admittedly the cutscene art, which can be seen above, isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste (personally it makes me nostalgic for the old Flash animations I used to watch), it’s a small problem in what is otherwise a great game. For one thing, Defender’s Quest has an interesting setting. Yes, at the end of the day, you’re still fighting off hordes of the undead with berserkers, mages, healers, and knights but there’s a few twists that shake things up. For one thing, the setting isn’t just high-fantasy, it’s also an apocalyptic setting where all the dregs of society have been tossed in one huge pit as a crude quarantine effort. This means that your party members come from fallen kingdoms, your weapons are hand-me-downs, and the only currency you have are scraps. This also influences your party’s actions as they have little interest in destroying the forces of evil, they just want to get out of the pit.
That’s not to say your party is one-note, however. The writing is clever and extremely humorous, especially when Slak, the mostly-insane berserker, is involved and each of the game’s main characters has their own motivations and interests. Toss in some menacing villains (and their excellent boss fights) and you have a journey that is extremely memorable.
However, where the game really shines is in its gameplay and content. Without going into a long rant, I’ll just say that this game understands the tower defense genre better than any other game I’ve played. Normally, this type of game falls into the trap of having some towers be clearly better than others but this game makes it so all of your party is useful in battle and turns even the most straightforward affair into a tactical battle. Additionally, while there have been other games that have made the point you are defending into an offensive placement, this game takes it to the next level by making her a wizard who is in charge of powering up units, slapping whole columns of enemies back towards their spawn points, and casting devastating spells that can be customized with books you find by completing bonus challenges, which you can unlock by completing encounters at harder difficulties, which can also net you unique items. The game even has an entire new game+ mode that gives enemies new abilities and stats, new ways to upgrade your weapons, sidequests, and the opportunity to see read Azra’s (the games lead) journal to see what she really thinks about her adventure. By the time you get the 100% completion, you’ll have spent over 100 hours on it.
That’s to say nothing of the game’s accessibility. In addition to including a “casual” mode where you can beat the game with little effort and the ability to pause a battle at any time, this game allows you to change the bonus modifiers for XP and Scrap, as well the speed (up to 4x) that the missions progress, meaning you can make the game as easy or hard as you want, even on the more difficult missions. The ability to level up characters also allows you to grind your way through if you can’t figure out the strategy you need and if you feel you’ve taken your party members down the wrong path on their skill trees, you can redistribute their points whenever you want. This accessibility makes Defender’s Quest go from a really good game, to an almost perfect one.
So, that was the list. All of these games are available on Steam, Desura, or Gog and are well worth playing. As always, feel free to give your picks and discuss the list in the comments below. Have a good holiday break, and may 2013 be just as full of indie goodness as this year was.