So indie, it hurts
There's no doubt that the production values of AAA series such as Call of Duty and Assassins Creed are impressive, but if you want to see the cutting edge of gaming, look no further than the indie scene. In recent years, weve played genre-defying classics like Braid and Faster Than Light, along with engrossing adventures like Hotline Miami and To The Moon. Just what else can we expect from the developers that work outside the system?
After combing the web for the best looking indies of the foreseeable future, we amassed this list of titles. We've also scoured gaming conventions--most recently the Penny Arcade Expo--to find the best indie games currently in development. Of course, given the lo-fi nature of indie games, its hard to pin down a real date on any of these, but rest assured that whenever these games come out, theyll be worth your attention.
Defense Grid 2 (2014)
You may think youre tired of the tower defense genre, but that likely means you didnt try Defense Grid and all its DLC. The fast paced, sci-fi title is one of the best in its genre, and the independent developer has at last begun work on a proper sequel. Partially funded via Kickstarter, the sequel promises new enemies, weapons, and locations, no doubt accompanied by the proper British A.I. voice we got so attached to in the first game. The title is planned for PCs in the first half of 2014 (though a beta will come sooner than that), but we wouldnt be surprised to see it show up on the PS4 and Xbox One eventually.
Life Goes On (2014)
Sometimes, you watch a few minutes of a game being played and wonder how no one thought of an idea sooner. Such is the case with Life Goes On, a platformer where your corpse remains after death--a mechanic used for morbid puzzle solving fun. Can't cross a pit of spikes? Try anyway, and then jump on the corpse of the last knight the next time to make it over with ease. Things get much more complicated than that, though, making for an incredible interesting puzzler that we can't wait to play.
Foul Play (September 2013)
Few people have had as illustrious a life as the famous daemon hunter Baron Dashforth. But instead of writing a navel-gazing novel about his exploits, Dashforth takes up the lead role in a vaudevillian play--and it's your job to keep the audience entertained by unleashing the ultimate (but totally pretend!) beatdown on costumed actors. This side-scroller beat-'em-up is endlessly entertaining; each stage comes to life as sets dynamically change while you proceed, and you'll have to use a huge variety of attack combos to keep the audience happy. Best of all, you can play with a friend--Dashforth's loyal companion Scampwick--to double up on the fun.
Escape Goat 2 (2013)
How many times have you found yourself wondering, "if only I were a mountain goat!" Many, we'd wager--and your dreams will finally become reality in Escape Goat 2, a 2D puzzle game in which you control a goat and his mouse companion to escape maze-like dungeons. Each puzzle is devilishly designed, requiring you to move blocks around by ramming them with your horns, and sending your mouse companion up walls to reach switches in areas you can't access yourself. Escape Goat 2 is loaded with humor and challenge in equal measure, and will be launching later this year.
The first thing you'll notice about the vertical platformer Owlboy is just how gorgeous its detailed pixel art and soundtrack are. The second thing you'll notice: just how awesome it is to be able to fly through the skies as Otus, an Owl apprentice who's one of the last remaining of his ancient race. Once Otus' floating sky village is besieged by evil pirates, you'll have to embark on a dangerous journey full of head-scratching puzzles and deadly enemies--but you won't have to go it alone. Otus' best friend Geddy will accompany you for most of the journey; you'll have to pick him up and fly him around as he blasts away at baddies and helps you find powerful treasures that'll provide permanent upgrades and abilities. And after a solid six years of development, Owlboy is primed to launch sometime around Christmas.
Tiny Brains (2013)
If you're going to experiment on lab animals, maybe it's a good idea to not give them superpowers. But for the test subjects in questions, those powers are their only means of escape from the captivity of an evil scientist. In this four-player co-op puzzler, you'll have to use the unique ability of each animal--summonable ice blocks, telekinetic pushing and pulling, and the ability to swap places with enemies and objects alike--to find freedom. Tiny Brains is as adorable as it is fun, and we had such a good time with it at PAX that it easily earned a place in our 10 best games of PAX 2013.
Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora (August 2014)
Best game name ever? Best game name ever. Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore A Fedora is a nonviolent noire adventure game where you'll need to use your wits to get through the stylized world. But just because it's nonviolent doesn't mean you don't have a gun--it just means you don't shoot bullets. Instead, you'll chamber up grappling hooks, gum, fireworks, and other puzzle-solving tools to help you proceed; and since it's a six shooter, you'll be able to line up multiple shots for more complex puzzles. If you're interested, there's a Kickstarter going right now.
Godus (September 13)
Part Civilization, part Minecraft, part Black & White, and part Populus, 22Cans' GODUS is an attempt to bring the "god game" genre back to life after a lengthy hiatus. You'll start on a small plot of land and build structures and appease your people as you slowly expand across the game's massive, procedurally-generated world (filled with thousands of other players, each controlling their own society). Though many worried that Peter Molyneux's involvement would mean that the game would spiral out of control into an overambitious product that could never be released, that doesn't appear to be the case--a beta is due to launch before the end of the year.
That Dragon, Cancer (2014)
That title is a little bit misleading--as far as we can tell, there are no actual dragons in That Dragon, Cancer. Instead, you play as Ryan Green as he cares for his cancer-stricken son, Joel. According to Ryan, the game is "a videogame composed of pain and hope. It is a story of my son. It is a script written day by day. It is life that moves us space by space, propelled by a mystery we call grace." We couldn't possibly find better words to describe it than that.
We've played Supergiant Games' Transistor a few times now, and every time we're blown away by the sci-fi setting, the amazing gameplay, and the incredible music. You play as a young woman named Red who ends up with the mysterious sword Transistor. The exploration is fast, but in combat the Transistor slows down time, allowing Red to plan her actions as in a turn-based strategy game. Once shes planned out her moves, Red executes them at incredible speed, then waits for the sword to recharge before her next move. Additionally, because Red is also a singer, expect a similarly wonderful soundtrack as Bastions when it comes to PC and PS4.
Contrast (November 2013)
Contrasts play mechanic of shifting between 2D and 3D worlds is clever, and its all in the name of helping a little girl. Didi lives in 1920s Europe and something (the game wont say what) has gone terribly wrong in her family. You play as her imaginary friend, manipulating shadows from behind the scenes to find the root of Didis troubling situation. The shadows look great in the games lovely film noir setting, but were scared of what well find when we solve its complex puzzles. Secrets will be revealed when the game comes to PS4 and PC, as well as PS3 and 360.
We can't get over how fun this game was. Ridiculous Fishing developer's next game is absolutely ludicrous, and has you flying around, blasting apart enemies in fast, crazy battles. The minimalist graphics are beautiful, and lofty physics make combat absurd. It's chaotic in all the right ways, and it's as addictive as anything else we've played recently. It's due out "soon" for a bunch of things you already own, and believe us when we say you're going to want to play it.
Super T.I.M.E. Force (Q4 2013)
After successes like Critter Crunch and Super Brothers, the team is almost done with Super T.I.M.E. Force. The game follows in the footsteps of punishing 2D shooters like Contra and Metal Slug, only with a time travel twist. Whenever your character dies, your respawned soldier will be supported by a replay of your characters previous playthrough of the stage. You actually get to fight alongside your time-shifted friends, and have the ability to use them to team up on tough enemies to beat them faster--you can even save them (or, rather, you from a few seconds ago), picking them up as additional health. Beyond the clever gameplay, the title is slathered in early 1990s imagery, including a totally radical dinosaur on a skateboard. We need little else to be excited to play this one on the 360.
Shadow Warrior (September 2013)
A modern reimagining of 1997's cult-classic FPS of the same name, Shadow Warrior is all about over-the-top arcade violence. As Lo Wang, it's up to you to decimate legions of demons with a variety of stylish weapons, ranging from traditional shotguns, submachine guns, and rocket launchers to Wang's badass katana. Best of all, you can summon powers of your own, including a shield, knockback, and a healing ability, which will help you stay alive as you slice the heads off of hundreds of monsters.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (TBA 2013)
At first glance, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime might look like another in a long line of indie space shooters, but its really about teamwork between the titular lovers. Two players must work together to pilot a spaceship and liberate planets from hostile alien occupants. Because there are multiple stations to man (and only two people to man them), you'll have to coordinate with your partner as you run from the thrusters to turrets to a giant rotating plasma canon and more, all in hopes of surviving the onslaught of alien ships. The co-op gameplay is as tense as it is fun, summed up perfectly by the games tagline: "Death may be a given, but at least you don't have to face it alone!"
Avalanche 2: Super Avalanche (TBA)
Don't be fooled by the cutesy art of Avalanche 2: Super Avalanche--this game will ruin you. As a series of blocks fall from the heavens, you'll have to scale them to outrun a rising ocean of lava. The only thing is, the pattern in which they fall is procedurally generated, meaning you'll easily get stuck if you're not mindful of where you're moving. As you climb toward the sky, you'll find money and power-ups that'll aid your ascension--just know that they may alter your jumps in such a way that they'll do more harm than good. And as if climbing forever wasn't difficult enough, you'll even encounter bosses and enemies along the way, adding plenty of depth and challenge to a wonderfully addictive experience.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (2014)
Last years release of Hotline Miami turned more than a few heads with its startlingly graphic violence and twisting story. And the developer is already preparing a sequel to conclude the franchise. Hotline Miami 2 looks to maintain the same top-down mix of stealth and shooting action with a similarly impressive soundtrack, but we have to wonder whats hiding underneath this time. The sequel takes place after the first titles violent end. Protagonist Jacket now has to deal with the bloody aftermath, including a number of twisted fans and copycat vigilantes. Promised to be the final entry in the series, the game is planned to come to PCs in the near future.
A Hat in Time (2014)
There are a number of indie titles on this list that take inspiration from iconic 8- and 16-bit platformers, but A Hat in Time pays tribute to a different age: 64-bit. Using cartoony, cel-shaded graphics reminiscent of Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, A Hat in Time takes clear inspiration from Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie by recalling a simpler era of 3D, open-world platformers. It looks like it wouldve been quite at home on the N64, though its currently planned for PC release following an impressive Kickstarter campaign. Early buzz has been good for the game, but well see in 2014 how well it compares to its unforgettable inspirations.
Mists of Stagnation (TBA 2013)
Mists of Stagnation is a steampunk multiplayer shooter with a twist--besides running around and blasting apart your well-dressed opponents with steam-powered weaponry, you'll also be able to jump into a powerful robot suit. Yeah, just like Titanfall. While inside of this mech you're the "commander," capable of assigning orders to your team that give you morale if you complete them. Morale can be spent to give your teammates new abilities, powerful weapons, and temporary boosts. The build we played at PAX was super rough, but there's definitely the potential for greatness here.
Dead State (December 2013)
Zombies have almost become as big a plague to the video game industry as they are in fictional adventures, but we still have room in our undead-loving hearts for another zombie game, particularly one that melds braineaters with turn-based RPGs. Not unlike last years Walking Dead games, Dead State doesnt focus on zombie massacres, instead favoring the humans left after the collapse of society. Your team of scrappy survivors are holed up in an old school, where theyll exchange branching dialog and plan just how theyre going to make it out alive. Teamwork in and out of battle will lead to success or failure in one of the games multiple endings.
Shovel Knight (Q4 2013)
WayForward is an already successful indie dev that created a number of memorable 2D throwbacks, but a number of devs left that established team to form Yacht Club. After heading to Kickstarter, the newly formed team started their own brand of retro platformer via Shovel Knight. Taking cues from titles like Mega Man and DuckTales for NES, Shovel Knight has a distinctly 8-bit look thatll warm the hearts of players who remember blowing on an NES cart. Planned for PC and Wii U, the devs promise a challenging experience and killer bosses thatll earn your respect through multiple playthroughs. Lets just hope the shovel-swinging knights adventure isnt as punishing as Ghosts n Goblins.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch (2014)
The original Octodad was an imaginative freeware title for PC, but the devs are looking for something a bit bigger in the oddball sequel. Gamers will take on the title role of Octodad, an octopus trying his hardest to pass as a human stepfather and husband--but his floppy, sticky arms arent making it easy. Players will be tasked with simple objectives like mowing the lawn and chopping wood, all of which must be done using the intentionally difficult controls that approximate his eight wobbly appendages. Youll be able to test your fatherly skills on both PC and PS4 sometime in the next year.
Barkley 2 (TBA)
Barkley, Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden is one of the funniest pieces of freeware the internet has ever seen. It combined NBA star Charles Barkleys 16-bit game with JRPG gameplay as well as that genres propensity for ridiculous stories, though Gaidens world was closest to a cyberpunk version of Space Jam. The original was made with no fear of copyright, but the sequel is coming together as an actual sellable product. Even if the devs are being more careful with their referencing, the same commitment to satire and absurdity seems to be present in the continuing adventures of Charles son, Hoopz Barkley. To give you some idea of the games wackiness, the full title is The Magical Realms of Tr na ng: Escape from Necron 7 Revenge of Cuchulainn: The Official Game of the Movie Chapter 2 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa.
The Witness (2014)
Jonathan Blows Braid introduced indie sensibilities to a whole new audience when it launched to great acclaim on Xbox Live. He made a lot of new fans, and theyve been waiting patiently for his next game ever since. After a lengthy development, The Witness almost seems ready for release, though were still not sure exactly what it is. It seems to be an adventure game akin to Myst, only players are tasked with solving environmental puzzles on a seemingly uninhabited island. Knowing Blow, we doubt things are as simple as they seem, but we wont be able to unlock the secrets until its timed-exclusive release on the PS4 next year.
Galak-Z: The Dimensional (2014)
Within weeks of launching Skulls of the Shogun, 17-Bit was already showing off its next title. The top-down space shooter Galak-Z is a trippy shoot em up that takes its inspiration from old school hits like R-Type and Gradius, but it goes for a much deeper experience. The level design allows for Metroidvania-like exploration, while the enemies arent the usual drones that fly straight into your line of fire. The enemy A.I. is intended to be far more tactical when attacking players, meaning each encounter will push players to come up with new strategies if they want to survive. The game is one of several that was shown on PS4 at E3 as part of Sonys new push for indies, though the release feels a little far off.
Republique is another title on this list that got its start on Kickstarter, selling itself on its interesting view of what little privacy will be left to us in the future. The team is led by Ryan Peyton, a developer that worked on Metal Gear Solid 4 and Halo 4 who decided he wanted to focus on something more personal after working on such huge franchises. Featuring voice actor vets David Hayter and Jennifer Hale, Republique has players hacking surveillance cameras and other devices to assist the A.I.-controlled Hope, a young woman trying to escape the totalitarian environment she was born in. Originally planned merely for iOS, the game is also getting a PC release relatively soon.
Mew-genics is from the creators of Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac, but the cat-loving game seems totally unrelated to those challenging throwbacks. The devs have been pretty mysterious about the game so far, but one described Mew-genics as a cross between Pokemon and The Sims with a sprinkling of Animal Crossing and a dash of Tamagotchi. Still, were betting Team Meats approach to cat breeding will have the same darkly comedic tone as their previous titles, so expect to see a lot of hilariously dead cats.
Mercenary Kings (2013)
After smartly adapting the Scott Pilgrim comics into a pixelated brawler, the games developers left Ubisoft to form Tribute Games, and Mercenary Kings is their first project as an indie team. Mercenary Kings has the same cartoonishly 16-bit graphics as Scott Pilgrim, only this title is a Contra-style shooter, with some addictive weapon crafting and epic boss battles on the scale of Monster Hunter. Funded via Kickstarter, an early version of Mercenary Kings is on Steam Greenlight currently, while the finished version is coming to the PS4 as well as PC.
Some indie hits show a clear love for the NES era, but Hokra sets its sights on a time before Nintendo defined 8-bit gaming. Hokra was first designed as a student exhibit, but the Atari-inspired, hyper-minimalist sports game is far too compelling to stay in academia. Hokras two-on-two gameplay has players controlling four cubes that are trying to move a ball into one of four goals, and the abstract look doesnt diminish the competitive feel of the game. Hokra shows that sports games dont need official teams or HD graphics so long as the gameplay is strong enough.
Though PlayStation 4 has been leading the charge when it comes to the next generation of indie games, the Xbox One has begun to pick up steam as a home for indie titles, with Capybaras Below leading the way at E3 2013. The visuals look like Zelda meets Journey, but the brief bit gameplay shown has been described as closer to the punishing roguelike genre. Combat is said to be tough but fair, and will feature permanent player death in some form. No matter how difficult Below might be, as long as it has that certain Capybara charm, were in.
One of the nice things about indies is that they can tell stories at their own pace, and from the look of Tengami, the 2D adventure title wants players to take their time soaking it in. Based on classical Japanese art and folklore, Tengamis world is full of puzzles and secrets, all gorgeously rendered in papercraft, pop-up book style. The graphics are like nothing weve ever seen before, and theyre backed up by lovely music composed by veteran David Wise (Donkey Kong Country, Wizards and Warriors). Originally imagined as an iOS title, it should be out for PC and Wii U by the end of 2013.