The Indie Gaming Primer
I spend a lot of time searching through lists of recommended indie games seeking out the best, but as many of you may know, the “best of” lists tend to get a bit repetitive. I wanted to make a feature that listed a number of lesser known games that aught to be tried at least once, and I will… But there’s a problem with that idea. I just can’t keep myself from pulling out the A list.
So… this is not that feature. Instead, this is my repetitive list of must-play indie games, designed to liberate my aforementioned list of lesser known games from the influence of these giants.
The premise of this list is as follows: anyone who wants to be able to hold a knowledgeable conversation must be familiar with these games. That’s not so demanding a task as I make it seem, of course. You probably won’t be able to step away from them.
The order in which these games are listed is arbitrary.
1. Cave Story (aka Doukutsu)
What it is: A side scrolling platformer vaguely reminiscent of a variety of NES era games.
What makes it great: It’s difficult to pinpoint what makes this game as good as it is – everything is just done so well. The compelling characters and plot, charming visual style, well executed weapon system, and lengthy chip-tunes soundtrack are all supported by a level of polish that one rarely finds even in retail games. It would be an understatement to call this one of the best indie games of all time because it’s quite simply one of best in any context.
If you haven’t played this yet, you simply must.
Also see: Ikachan – A lesser known game created by pixel featuring a squid. … … It’s got a great song in it.
What it is: A challenging arcade style game with unique gameplay that defies classification.
What makes it great: Most games today increase difficulty in an artificial and frustrating way: add time limits, throw more enemies on the screen, give them more health and better aim, etc. When this is done, the result is rarely a satisfying challenge. A few other games, Flywrench for example, create an experience which can not be altered through a simple change in variables. Each level is an individually crafted obstacle course designed to test the player’s ability to control his flywrench.
The gameplay is more simply learned through play than words, so I won’t bog you down with specifics, but the basics are this: you control the “flywrench” which has three states of being. Each state, marked by color, reacts to the environment in different ways. By default you are white, which can pass through white barriers, pressing up will switch to red, which slows horizontal movement, but can pass through red barriers, and pressing down will switch to green, which can pass through green barriers with the added bonus of being able to bounce (albeit chaotically) off of the normally destructive yellow superstructure. Switching rapidly between the red and white states will cause the flywrench to fly; otherwise, gravity acts quickly.
You must be quick to react – this game does not forgive hesitation.
Also see: Punishment: the Punishing – another Messhof game. Not quite as unique as Flywrench, but still a compelling challenge.
3. Knytt Stories
What it is: A platform game level editor based around the Knytt universe, packaged with the example level, The Machine
What makes it great: The Machine isn’t about the characters, plot, or even the gameplay. Instead, the experience, reminiscent (as I have mentioned before) of the best of the Myst series (that would be Riven), is about exploration and atmosphere. The ambient music and stylistic visuals subtly demand your attention as you… wander around collecting upgrades in order to save the world, or whatever. Like I said, it’s not about the plot.
Now this doesn’t come across as a glowing review, I realize this, but I assure you that Nifflas is probably the collective favorite developer of ours here at Thank You For Playing. Precious few games embrace such a delicate gameplay experience as you can find in The Machine and even fewer do it so well. Furthermore, Nifflas is a damn good level designer. I know I’ve said that before too, but it bears repeating. Unfortunately, this means that the community developed levels are missing one of the environment’s greatest assets, but honestly, this description is more about The Machine than Knytt Stories at large anyway.
Consistent with the theme of exploration, there’s more to this game than meets the eye. I don’t want to give away too much, but if you enjoy the main effort, take the time to search for the goofy secret ending.
4. Within a Deep Forest
What it is: An upgrade and explore style platform game featuring unique bouncing-ball controls.
What makes it great: Note that Nifflas is the only developer featured twice in this short list of must-play games.
In terms of gameplay objectives, Within a Deep Forest is similar to The Machine, which follows the Metroid style exploration for the sake of upgrades for the sake of exploration model; however, this is about as far as the similarities go. This game, which predates Knytt Stories, is far more challenging to complete (and in a good way too – see the Flywrench entry) and much less atmospheric. That’s not to say that the WaDF world lacks the charm of the Knytt series, just that the stylistic visuals take a backseat to the gameplay here. Missing too is the ambient music, but the relatively upbeat soundtrack suits the experience better anyway.
The back story in WaDF is also a little more robust, but not to all that much effect. The introduction and conclusion slide shows are dandy, but there’s not much going on other than that.
There’s something to be said about the aforementioned bouncing-ball controls, but there’s little else to say that will make sense out of context. Completing certain areas leads to the availability of the new ball materials, which bounce and react to the environment differently. Accessing and working through the final zone, “Dr, Cliche’s Underwater Lab” requires the knowledge of and proper application of all the materials collected throughout.
Like in The Machine, there are a few secrets to be unlocked. In this case, however, they open up a few mini-games rather than a secret ending.
5. Crayon Physics
What it is: A physics based game wherein you can actually draw objects into the environment.
What makes it great: I have a bit of a confession. I don’t like much of anything that comes out of Kloonigames. The gameplay tends to be tired and the audio-visual style is uninspired. Crayon Physics is clearly the exception.
While the capabilities of this demo pale in comparison to the so far unreleased Crayon Physics Deluxe, it serves as a proof of concept that should convince anyone to watch this project through its conclusion.
The goal is simple: move the ball and collect the stars. The remarkable aspect is the manner in which you do so. Players interface with the game by drawing objects on the screen and watch as they affect the environment. In the playable version, this means more or less building bridges, but the preview of Deluxe shows how much more is possible.
Also see: PhysicDraw – a similar draw-to-life physics engine with a less compelling sandbox premise and no ambient music.
6. The Underside
Developer: Arthur Lee
What it is: Another side scrolling platform game, fairly similar to Cave Story.
What makes it great: To be honest, this game is very similar in gameplay to Cave Story. So much so, in fact, that Arthur Lee himself refers to it as the “cave story rip off.” Quite frankly, though, Cave Story doesn’t have the most original gameplay itself and the problem with this sort of behavior is the normally sub-par quality associated with the derivative work. Luckily, there is nothing sub-par about The Underside.
The audio-visual style is (how to put this honestly without compromising my masculinity…) cute as hell (that will do) and the light and humorous tone of the game’s dialogue compliments this well. These features are what really separates the game from the masses. Did I mention that it’s cute as hell? Just look at the screen shot!
Unfortunately, The Underside is only 2-5% complete, according to the developer, so there’s only about half an hour of gameplay involved. Here’s to hoping he sees the project through to the end.
Also see: Merry Gear Solid – the award winning 2D Christmas version of Metal Gear Solid. Santa? SANTAAAAAAA!!!!