Indie titles have really taken off over the last decade and going into a new one we will see more indie games top the quality of some AAA titles. I have some indie games under my belt as some of my all-time favorite games. They don’t have the time constraints and corporate oversight that larger budget titles do.
Nothing screams top-notch indie developers like ZA/UM Studios. They came out swinging in the top-down RPG genre that’s ruled by companies like Obsidian, Beamdog, and Larian Studios. Disco Elysium has everything a AAA title has without the nonsense. Great voice acting, art, story, and characters.
Minimalistic indie puzzle/platformer games are something I really adore. Limbo, Inside, Little Nightmares, Unraveled, and many others like it are just full of atmosphere and clever puzzle design, and great platforming. The issue with all of these games is the story. It’s nice to be minimalistic with no tutorials, simple controls, no cut-scenes, etc., but please guys start making stories we can care about. Darq falls under the same problems as these before it with interesting character designs, but no context. Why am I running around themed levels solving puzzles and running away from creatures with lamps as heads, creepy women in wheelchairs, and a guy in a wheelchair with a tuba as a head? Why am I placing severed legs into sockets to solve puzzles? What does this all mean?
I feel like the meaning of the game would mean more than the game itself. Darq is only an hour-long, probably the shortest of these minimalistic platformers I’ve ever played, and yet there’s no purpose to any of it. Sure the concept of walking on walls, flipping switching to shoot you between area, and all the other puzzles are done very well and are quite clever, but why am I doing it? I don’t even know my character’s name, there’s not a single piece of written dialog, and all I know is that I’m waking up in a dream to solve these puzzles.
There are 7 levels, with one being a scripted running level and they get progressively longer and more complex. By complex I mean the game consists of “where does this piece go” type of puzzling and once you figure out where it goes the actual puzzle is fun and not very hard. I had more trouble finding the pieces than solving the puzzles, and there was an occasional section in which I had to hide from an enemy, but it was only a single section of the level. Puzzles range from switch flipping, lining things up properly, twisting things, etc. Nothing Myst level or extremely vague. You can mow through the game in 60-90 minutes and be done, but I honestly wanted more, now only more if there was a story or something.
I found the atmosphere and art design to be rather fantastic. The main character looks like something from a Tim Burton movie with everything in black and white and creatures that could fit into Silent Hill. The levels themselves range from a hospital, train, subway station, four-way street in a neighborhood, to a mine. Each level was unique and memorable and I loved how you can walk on walls as this game just worked your brain and really made you think, but everything made sense. There are no vague hints here if you think it works then it probably works. Each level can take about 10-20 minutes to solve depending on how stuck you get. I found the final level the most challenging, which is expected.
Again, the visuals are amazing, the art style is very unique, great monster designs, the puzzles are well designed too, but why am I doing all of this? I’m tired of these indie developers thinking no story is some niche thing. Are developers catering to some pseudointellectual niche audience who think they “understand” these games or something or are they just too lazy to design a story? Whatever the case may be, the flack “walking simulators” and other indie games that focus on gameplay and “story” over AAA bombastic scenes need to grow a little and maybe add a story and characters that we can care about.
thatgamecompany is a really talented bunch. With Journey and Flow under their belt, they are known for making artistically stunning games on Sony’s consoles. When Flower was released on PS3 amazed gamers around the world with its gorgeous visuals and music. It’s a very simple game, but that’s okay for what it does.
You control a single flower petal and ride the wind to help other flowers bloom and rid gloom and grayness from the world around you. You can control the speed of the petals and the novelty came from using the PS3’s SixAxis controller to move the petals around. On the Vita, you can use the gyroscope or hold the rear touchpad. I honestly don’t like the controls and feel it is very difficult to control at low or high speeds. I always missed a set of petals in a run and had to turn around and go back breaking the magic and flow of the game.
It was like this constantly through the entire game. Once I felt the game had jumped from petal set to petal set only to let me go and lose focus of the current run. As the game progressed this became more complicated as you avoided fallen electrical towers that would shock you and send you flying backward. It’s a beautiful game to behold, even on Vita, but the frustrating controls and mechanics bring it down quite a bit.
Flower also has some underlying environmental message that feels hypocritical. The game goes from green grasses to dark and dreary in a few levels only to have you restoring color to the city (that clearly represents Los Angeles) so I don’t have any idea what the story is or the message is about.
There are about seven levels not including the credits level which was interesting. Flower is a PlayStation classic and should be played just for its beauty and unique gameplay that no other game can touch. The music is amazing and I really felt sucked into the game only to be ripped out again by bad controls.
Skateboarding games have always been one of my favorite genres. They’re intense, require an insane amount of skills and coordination, and are just so much fun to play. I started all the way back to the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and ended at Skate 3. From there the genre pretty much died, but OlliOlli revived the series a bit and I fell in love with the first game.
The second is no different, and that’s both good and bad. On the plus side, the game feels smoother, there are more tricks, the entire game is more responsive, and there are more modes and new levels and themes. The downside is that it’s pretty much the same game with no real evolution of the series.
Career mode is where you will spend most of your time. Here you have six different goals varying in tricks, scores, and special spots. Using the left analog stick you can push down and then up to pop the board up and flick it around to do tricks. Holding it down over a rail will allow you to grind. To properly land a trick you must press X right before landing or they will all be sloppy. This trick system is similar to Skate’s and is a great evolution of the button combo system.
Sadly, you can’t do grabs and there’s no vert skating. Half-pipe rounds would have been fun and it’s sad that the sequel doesn’t really add all that much. There are two other modes which are trick spot and just a leaderboard tracker. They’re fun but aren’t different from the career mode really.
The game looks nice with fun music, awesome 2D sprites, a great Hollywood/Los Angeles theme and it’s just super smooth. With all that said, OlliOlli2 is a great entry for newcomers and veterans who will find enough new stuff in the career mode to consider a purchase.
A mysterious girl in a red cloak sets sail on a strange SteamPunk inspired machine to always move to the right. It’s never clear what your purpose is, or why you’re going on this short two-hour journey, but you’re doing it, and it’s quite interesting.
Your ship rolls instead of flies, but that’s okay. Inside the ship, there are several red buttons that do various tasks. The whole purpose of the game is to keep the ship moving by either hoisting your sails when there’s wind or using fuel and keeping the engine running. By the ignition button, there’s a steam release button and a brake. Behind the ship are buttons to suck up fuel on the road and a lift to insert objects into for fuel. The front of the ship has a pulley system and there is a fire hose and repair torch. Most of these items you won’t get until you come across them in your journey. It’s pretty satisfying to micromanage something as simple as always stopping the machine to grab a box of fuel on the road to having a machine pull it in for you.
As you sail across the landscape you will bump into a few puzzles. These require a little platforming mixed with figuring out how to get your ship through a door or across a lake. They are fairly simple and after a little fiddling you will figure out what to do. Outside of this though the game is void of anything. Once your ship is moving there’s literally nothing to do, especially when you have full sails and aren’t needing to micromanage your engine. I also was annoyed that the music starts and stops so abruptly and several minutes will go buy of absolute silence.
The game looks beautiful with hand-drawn art, but it drives me crazy not knowing what the purpose of this game is, and I don’t like that. I’m all for minimalist game design, but developers who make you go on a journey with no background or story are just lazy and not cute or innovative. The various button pressing mechanics are fun and a brand new concept I have never played before, but what’s the point at the end of two hours? Did I actually make a difference or accomplish something besides finding the credits?
Far: Lone Sails has very interesting gameplay mechanics, but it’s hard to recommend outside of sheer curiosity. Don’t expect a grandiose or heartfelt story here, just an interesting game to look at and button pressing gameplay.
Playing as a ball of yarn isn’t a new concept. Nintendo first did it with Kirby’s Epic Yarn and it was a charming blast. Coldwood tries its hand at crochet platforming and it’s done fairly well. I can’t really explain the story much as it really doesn’t exist. Yarny, the character, is on a journey to find various crocheted figures to attach to a photo album. Who this family is and what the reasoning behind Yarny’s animation and coming to life is never explained. The entire idea doesn’t make any sense at all, but we’re here for the platforming.
The game has physics-based platforming and puzzle-solving. There’s a trail of red yarn behind you and this is your lifeline. It can wraps around things, create bridges, and is used as a grappling hook. Simple puzzles involve hooking the yarn on points and creating bridges to drag objects up, while more complex ones involve wrapping the yarn in various ways to activate a pulley or open a door. It’s very interesting and unique and there are so many different types of puzzles, but the problem relies on the mechanics around it.
The platforming is either heavy or too springy. Yarny will jump on an object and immediately bounce off of it in a forward motion only. It’s very hard to control this movement especially when the camera doesn’t pan over quick enough. The game is also hindered by poor pacing. I enjoyed running around pushing objects, pulling levers, and swinging around like a monkey, but once I got my groove and momentum a big puzzle would halt my progress interrupting the trance. I prefer just going forward and enjoying the scenery while swinging around and knocking things over, but once those puzzles started I got frustrated.
Part of this has to do with most mechanics not being explained early on, the objects you need blend in too much with the background, or it’s very unclear that there’s a hook off camera that you must jump to. Checkpoints are placed frequently, but some are misplaced as I would have to repeat a long easy section just to get to the one annoying jump or off-camera grapple and fall again and again. Some areas I started over a dozen times just to get right.
Outside of that, the game plays fine with 13 levels. You will be busy for a good 4-6 hours since some areas are really tough to get through. I loved the scripted moments and some of the dangerous areas where Yarny runs from animals are pretty fun, but those big puzzles just really halted all the fun.
The game looks absolutely stunning with realistic-looking textures and such a huge variety of environments from forests, tundras, toxic waste dumps, construction sites, and swamps. It’s incredible to look at and experience and the music is great despite the same track repeating over and over through each level. It got irritating quick.
I love adventure games as they tell incredible stories with such detail that most other games can’t put out. They put action and gameplay on the back burner to bring the story upfront and in your face. They are typically slow-paced and keep you hooked with interesting characters, settings, and atmosphere. Night in the Woods is about a cat named Mae who drops out of college and comes back to her hole-in-the-wall town to hang with friends and discover a mystery plaguing her town.
The game starts out fine with several scenes of character introductions and plot setting. Mae meets up with her four friends and each day goes by with several activities such as talking to people, attending band practice (complete with a rhythm mini-game), and checking your laptop. This is fine and all, but this dragged on for way too long. Several days went by and almost nothing happened outside of character development. The game talks about the real-life struggle of today’s younger generation (Millenials) and the day-to-day life of lower-middle-class Americans. The game is set in a cartoony paper cut-out style but set in real-world problems which are very unique and interesting. I really connected with the characters and their problems were genuine and real, but I wasn’t sure if I was playing a game sometimes.
Each night you go to sleep (after several days go by) you are presented with the only real gameplay here which is annoying platforming on confusing “maps” to find four band members to complete the dream sequence. You go through five of these maps and they are boring and a chore to navigate and feel like forced gameplay. Outside of these sequences, there’s nothing but text and story. I really think this should have been a visual novel or just an animated cartoon rather than a game.
The actual relevancy of the title only comes into play during the last half-hour of the game and it’s forgettable and almost feels forced compared to the day-to-day struggles of the characters which are more interesting. I like how the game is written and the characters it portrays, but if you’re going to make this a game actually give me a game to play. I started getting bored towards the end and just wanted the entire game to end.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this game, but the praise it is given is a little ridiculous. It doesn’t do anything special in its own genre and as a game itself, it’s barely that. I can only recommend this game to hardcore adventure games or visual novel fans who are okay going through hours of text and dialog with almost zero gameplay. It’s a great time killer and a fun way to burn away a lazy weekend afternoon, but nothing more than that, and there is no memorable story to care away from this.
I understand everyone wants to praise indie games. I get it, I really do. It’s a middle finger to the corporate world and developers can explore interesting new ideas without the weight of a watchful eye. A Mortician’s Tale kind of explores this exact idea, but with a funeral home.
The game starts out well and gave me an idea of how the game would progress. A mortician named Rose gets a new job right out of med school at a family-owned funeral home, you slowly perform different ways to prepare bodies from embalming to cremating. It’s a cool concept and things started getting weird when the game walked me through every single body preparation. I thought I was in for a long game as I thought it would take a while to see everything the game had, thus the extended tutorial times.
The story is told through emails on your computer between employees and Rose’s school friend. The sad morbid music painted an atmosphere I was starting to get into and the emails told me that something was going to happen. Of course, the tides turned when a corporation bought the funeral home and I was thinking this is when things will start picking up, but they didn’t. Then the game ended. Yeah, just like that.
I really admire indie games and these unique little adventures and stories they tell. Some are the most memorable I have such as Soma, Observer, and even Journey, but this isn’t how you do it. Don’t drag the player through tutorials, build an entire game system, create characters and an atmosphere, and end the game when most would start picking up. I hate this so much and I refuse to give these developers any credit for what they did. They literally skipped to the end of the story and everything building up to it had no meaning. I also understand short games, I’ve played games this short and felt very satisfied with their ending. This tale is not worth a second of your time.
Indie games are no longer becoming cute little distractions between AAA releases, they are now becoming the AAA releases as major companies have lost their imagination and ability to create new and unique experiences. Every year this just builds up more and never falters, with many of my most memorable games being indie, you should not overlook this category.
Cuphead is passion incarnate. I have yet to play an indie game that strives to be this original or stunningly beautiful. While the game is brutal, there’s no denying that the attention given is something we stopped seeing in major companies years ago.
Monument Valley is one of the most memorable mobile games I have ever played. The game helped show that mobile games have a place with many of the great console games. It was smart, beautiful, unique, and a blast to play. It felt like a mix between echochrome’s (PSP) gameplay and Journey’s (PS3) art style.
With Monument Valley 2, I got really excited to play this. I expected more and new at the same time. That’s not entirely what we got. We just got new really. MV2 is an extremely short game and not very challenging. The MC Escher-style puzzles were a breeze to get through, which is a shame, as the first game had a few head-scratchers. Using various switches, you push, pull, spin, and align the various platforms through optical illusions to get the character to the door. At the end of each stage, the player can swipe their finger around to create a star that goes into the heavens, the meaning of this is unknown.
In the first game, we understood it was a journey, but this time around all I know is the character is a mother who is seeing her child off for her adventure and they reunite, that’s it. I like subtle stories, but this one was too subtle. At least a few new elements are thrown in such as controlling two characters at once, it creates a tad bit more of a challenge.
The game still looks amazing with gorgeous art direction, music, and heartwarming colors. It’s just a shame it’s in such a short package with no challenge. I still recommend playing this game, but I sure did want many more puzzles than the dozen we got.