I haven't been much of a PC guy since 1996, but when my home business necessitated I get a good computer (about a year ago), I was able to catch up on a good decade of PC gaming I had missed. There were a few games I had heard about from friends and internet buzz that demanded I try them out immediately. They were the gaming hallmarks of the 2000s: Half-Life 2, F.E.A.R., Grand Theft Auto, etc. Sure, they were good games, but that's not what got me back into PC gaming.
What really hooked me was indie gaming. I've always kept up on gaming news, and I had noticed a trend of people talking about indie games. One of the first I remember was Eufloria. It was released in late 2009 and made quite a splash on the Playstation Network. That really piqued my interest: how could such a simplistic little game be capturing attention on a system that just released Borderlands, Assassin's Creed II, Batman: ArkhamAsylum, CoD: MW2, etc.? It seemed so simple. So when I got that new PC, of course I got Eufloria. I'd like to tell you all about it, and some of my other indie favorites as well. I have too many favorites, so I've had to pick just a few to write up about, but Ihave links to other favorites that are somewhat similar. [And don't miss the freeware section!]
Why are these recently-made games showcased on retroreviewrevolution.com? Well, the real neat thing about indie titles is that they're [usually] made by small teams without much financial backing. So you get that creative spark and focus on fun gameplay that comes from limited resources, like those early Atari, Nintendo and Sega games we love so much.
This isn't your typical 'review' as it covers well over two dozen games, but as a sampling of a genre, be assured that I consider them all fantastic.
Eufloria is a RTS type game where you control tree seedlings taking over small asteroids. It was developed by just two people (Alex May and Rudolf Kremers), and scored by Brian Grainger. It was one of the first games I tried, having heard so much about it, and I loved it! The action can be a bit intense, but with the aesthetic and the music, it's a very relaxing experience. That's a pretty great combination to capture.
It's tough to find information on the rise of indie gaming in the 2000s, so this is pretty speculative. That said, I feelEufloria was the first major indie success in the 2000s that sparked the rise of small studios creating simple, unique games monetized through digital distribution. It made huge waves(and I'm assuming it's probably made huge bucks, too). If I had to name one seminal indie title, this would be it.
The attention to detail is fantastic. The tree growth is based on a randomzied fractal algorithm, making a familiar and pleasing natural shape. Many indie titles have an overly-simple look, but this manages to blend simplicity with detail. It's quite refined. It took a genius to think of a calming, nature-based RTS.
[For more RTS, take a look at Frozen Synapse, Atom Zombie Smasher, and my favorite tower defense gamesRevenge of the Titans and Sanctum.]
Another indie favorite of mine is Capsized. It's a side-scrolling platformer with a fantastic hand-drawn look. The soundtrack is great, too. It feels a bit like a FPS (e.g., your screen will show the cracks of the protagonist's diving helmet when you take a big hit), but plays more like a metroidvania. The levels are smaller and separated, so it doesn't have that endless-exploring feeling. It's not ground-breakingly unique like Eufloria, but it combines many different genre and thematic elements very nicely. I think the biggest collateral damage of games going 3d was loss of the whole platformer genre. It's nice to see it coming back. [Also see A.R.E.S. and the not-really-a-platformerHammerfight. If you have an XBOX360 check out Chester, but if you have a PC you'll have to wait for a release. Also Bit.Trip if you're into music games!]
Super Meat Boy takes the platforming genre and blends it with a gallon of chaos. Capsized is nice and relaxing (though it does have its challenge), but Super Meat Boy gives you a challenge at every jump. It demands pixel-perfect timing and some serious endurance not demanded since Battletoads. It's fun, and addicting, and anyone who starts this game is guaranteed to be swearing within five minutes. And it'll keep you working til your fingers bleed—the game features over 300 levels of punishment!
What do you get when you take Super Meat Boy, mate it with the Commodore 64 and the NES' Metal Storm? You getVVVVVV [which the dev pronounces "vee"]. It's a gravity-flipping variant of the platforming-twitch puzzler. Any old-school gamer will appreciate the Commodore-64 inspired look, and the soundtrack is some of the best chiptune around (great thanks to Magnus Pålsson!).
Let's slow it down a moment. One of my favorite puzzle games to have been released in modern times is Braid. The protagonist, Tim, has the ability to rewind time a little bit. Not much, just a little. He's off to save a princess, and his only real leg up on this world he's up against is his ability to rewind and try again. The puzzles are good and it lends itself to be a little philosophical as well as fun. [Also see Gish]
You'll like the ending of Braid if you're a thinker.
AtomHex is a great dual-stick shooter. There's not a lot to say about it – if you liked Geometry Wars, and just wish it didn't plateau, you may really dig AtomHex. It's deeper, more intense, more balanced, and ratchets up the difficulty in a better way. [Also see Mactabilis, SteelStorm, Irukandji, and Bullet Candy Perfect for more pew-pew-pew.]
NightSky is another good puzzler, which reminds me of Marble Madness combined with iji. NightSky was created by Nifflas, the same designer who gave us Knytt [see freeware below]. It has nice music, a great look, and some decent challenge. [You may also like Limbo if you like NightSky.]
Vizati is a nice puzzle game, too. It's more traditional; no action or gimmicks here. It's just a nice board you can turn to align the tiles to match. What makes it noteworthy? The challenge is tough enough for an intelligent individual, and the calming music and hand-painted watercolor backgrounds really complete the experience. [You may also like Bob Came in Pieces and Machinarium.]
I haven't even begun to touch dungeon-crawlers, so I'll only mention my new favorite: Cardinal Quest. It's a game that uses randomly-spawn dungeons to give you a unique experience every time. Many RPG/rogue-type staples are in here, but Cardinal Quest has a slick, modern layout. The games are fairly quick (about 45 minutes or so), and there's no saving or anything, so you just sit down and see if you can complete it. Great concept and great execution to go with it. (See also: Dwarf Fortress, Delve Deeper, Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World.)
If you're looking for a deal on indie games, you can often get them heavily discounted in bundles. You'll find bundles all over, often in a pay-what-you-want [PWYW] model. My personal favorite is the Humble Bundle, which occasionally releases a whole batch of independent games together, DRM free, as PWYW. IndieRoyale is another bundle, but it has a price floor. It's not too much, and it releases on a more regular basis than Humble. IndieVania in an indie-game marketplace, and they have specials going all the time. You'll find anything and everything on that site. I've never seen a bundle there, but I have seen a lot of deep discounts and PWYW. Last, watch Steam and Desura for your favorite indie titles. They're both proud to offer deep discounts (especially around holidays), and Steam even offered their own indie bundles in 2010. Maybe that will come back in the future. They were great deals!
If you're a real cheap gamer, good for you! Me too; that's half the fun of collecting old-school. There are loads ofFreeware indie games that are just as good as the paid releases. Shoot, some are even better!
Cave Story is the first to come to mind when I mention "even better than a paid release." This is one of the best games ever made. It's a metroidvania-type exploration/action game with a gorgeous retro pixel art look. The music is fantastic, and the story is compelling. Did I mention multiple endings? I don't think there's anything bad you can say about this game! The top link provided is to a fan-site, which is more informative than the real site. The game itself is free, but it has been ported to the Wii and DS, and now has an enhanced PC version available through Steam. So grab it for free [guilt-free!] if you want (there's also a free PSP port), or pay for it if you'd rather.
It's quite worth mentioning that Cave Story was released in 2004 and may have been the true impetus for this indie-explosion. But from my own observation, I don't think the community really flourished until developers like May and Kremers [Eufloria] aggressively defended their IP and managed to monetize their success.
Another favorite atmospheric-puzzler in the vein of NightSky and Limbo is Knytt. Knytt is a freeware release (made by the developer that did NightSky, in fact) that gives you beautiful, simple visuals, a peaceful soundtrack, and tough puzzles. [I'm realizing this must be one of my favorite combinations.] Knytt throws in some action, to boot. It doesn't cost a thing, so go get it! Don't miss the sequel-ish Knytt Stories,and you masochists will love the “brutally unfair” mod.
GunGirl 2 is a great zombie-killing action platformer. Sadly, killing zombies wasn't a popular thing when the NES and SNES were around, but I imagine if it were, one of the best games would have looked a lot like Gun Girl. It's tough, bloody, and all around a great time. Is it a great, sophisticated experience? No, but sometimes I prefer some cheap whiskey to a fine bourbon.
I Wanna Be The Guy is the twitch/trial-and-error insane platformers to end them all. The inspiration behind Super Meat Boy, this one is even more brutal, unfair, and relentless. You mad memorizers who love to try-and-try-again will love this. I never got too far in it, but I really appreciate it for the 100% pure brutal challenge that it is. Best of all, it's free!
Super Crate Box is a killin' arcade type platformer. You get a box, and it gives you a new weapon. You collect as many boxes as you can until you die. Some weapons are a lot easier to use than others, so the challenge gets pretty randomized. The onslaught of enemies is constant, to you'll be working very, very hard. A personal favorite.
Steel Storm was mentioned in the pay section, but I think they get some props for freeware. Steel Storm is divided into two episodes, Steel Storm 1 and 2. You know, the same way that older PC games had episodes. If you download the trial, the first one is free and totally worth it. It's really tough, has a great look, and keeps you shootin' and strafin'. That's my kinda game! The first episode is worth a play if you're not interested in purchasing the full experience.
Desktop Dungeons is the freeware rogue-type game that the hardcore fans rave about. I've read people logging hundreds of hours into this one. I'm not that into Rogue, but I thought I'd give it a shout-out since it is unarguably among the best indie freeware. Looking into it, I realize that you can pay for a pre-order – apparently this is a beta to a commercial release. I'll remove this from the freeware section when it's no longer freely available. So grab it while you can!
I think this is a good toe in the water to exploring indie games! Did I miss one of your favorites? Be sure to talk about it in the comment section!!
An interview with Rudolf Kremers, a Eufloria developer:
Indie Games weblog:
Wikipedia's list of indie game developers:
Daniel's Base: tons o' fun freeware:
IGM, the Indie Game Magazine:
Wikipedia's list of freeware games:
A site dedicated to listing great freeware:
Indie Games on Steam:
Do you enjoy 90s-stylized Japanese inspired deep-story RPGs? You could spend the rest of your life here:
All screenshots were taken either by myself, or official marketing material was used. Okay, I admit, I borrowed a couple from some gaming blogs when they were so good I couldn't replicate it. Hope there's no hard feelings. All copyrights held by their respective owners; screenshots all used under fair use.