Thanks to the ever-expanding selection of viable digital distribution platforms - including Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and the iOS App Store - it's easier than ever for independent game developers to dream up fantastic new ideas and get them into the hands of willing players. And they're responding in kind by spawning some truly amazing and slick-looking game ideas for all sorts of platforms, many of which recently enthralled us while wandering the floor at PAX. We've collected 10 of our most anticipated indies across various platforms and genres, so if you're seeking something fresh and unique in the months ahead, here's a look at some of the more enticing possibilities on the horizon.
Spelunky began life back in 2008 as a much-loved (and free) downloadable PC game, though the impending release of a significantly updated Xbox Live Arcade should bring this slick platform/action game to a much larger audience. How can we best describe this game? Let's just say it looks like a blend of Castlevania, Indiana Jones, Bomberman, and Cave Story. Oh, and it has jetpacks, shotguns, boomerangs, and various other amusing items. Basically, it's just a collection of really rad elements that somehow seem to work extremely well together.
The free PC downloadable version is still available, but the upcoming XBLA version implements enough enhancements and additions to warrant consideration as one of our most anticipated indies at present. Beyond the very slick makeover, which transforms the pixel-centric characters and settings of the PC release into a more hand-drawn aesthetic, the console adaptation also adds local four-player multiplayer, which from the debut trailer looks to be an absolute blast. We're excited. You should be too.
We'll buy cheap iPhone and iPad games without a second thought, but it's still odd for us to get excited for an upcoming App Store release without seeing a second of gameplay. But Faraway's teaser trailer strangely sucked us in with its classic faux-guitar chiptune anthem and contemplative text wonderings, like, "How can you travel so far if your life is a tiny glint?" Seriously, it's a beautiful bit of lo-fi trailer design, and even if we hadn't dug around for little bits and pieces about what to expect from the game, we'd probably drop a couple dollars regardless.
Luckily, the game itself also looks and sounds pretty stellar, as you'll control a pulsating comet via gravitational pull to create constellations in space, with the goal to create as many as possible during the limited timeframes. Faraway looks like it could be one of the next big leaderboard-obsessive releases to hit the App Store when it drops this fall, and the prospect of slinging pixel-stylized comets to the tune of memorable chiptune jams has us jazzed already.
Platforms: PC, Consoles TBD
We love a good heist film, book, or television show, but Monaco looks like it could be something even more elusive: a great heist video game. This enticing indie, which is planned for PC and at least one unnamed console, delivers a four-player co-op heist experience in which each player mans a certain player class, working together to bust into dozens of targets like museums, mansions, prisons, and corporate offices.
What results is a highly intriguing blend of stealth and teamwork, as each player (whether online or on the same screen) uses his/her abilities to assist each other and complete the task at hand. Plus, folks can use the included level editor to design their own stages, which should result in some truly frantic fresh challenges to tackle. Monaco seems to have it all - an interesting premise, smart co-op design, and even a highly distinctive and alluring visual aesthetic. We just wish it had a proper release date (beyond the vague "2012")!
Platforms: PSN, PC, iOS
We spent a little time playing Snapshot at PAX last month and came away curious to see much more of this interesting little indie platformer. Essentially, Snapshot gives your robot camera hero the ability to take photos of the world, and then transfer anything within that shot elsewhere. For example, if you see a large crate atop a platform that you cannot reach without stepping upon said crate, you can simply snag it with your photo and pop it in the place of your choosing. Easy as pie!
We only tried a handful of tutorial stages for the upcoming PlayStation Network, PC, and iOS release, but even those showed the expanding potential of the concept. Some areas of the stage block your photo capture technique, which poses fresh obstacles to deal with, while other objectives require flipping your photos, swapping between multiple photographs, or even build an item's velocity in a seeming nod to Portal. And you can even grab photos of Pic himself to spawn clones, which should create some really interesting paradoxes to work through.
Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor is one of the absolute best original games on the iPhone and iPad, so when we recently heard that developer Tiger Style Games is working on another fresh iOS idea, our interest was certainly piqued. Better yet, the slick screenshots depict what looks to be a Metroid-esque side-scroller, albeit one viewed through the lens of classic science fiction films. And to put the absolute cherry on the top of all those exciting developments, Lost Mars also happens to be significantly focused on gardening.
Wait, what now? Along with using a jetpack to avoid enemies and hazards on the rocky red planet, you're also tasked with bringing locations back to life by planting "cerobranes," which open up new caverns and push you along the mysterious adventure. It's fair to be skeptical, but considering the fact that Tiger Style made the mundane act of catching flies in spider webs fun, we have little doubt they'll find a way to enthrall us with deep space plant life.