For those of you that like to play a little bit of everything, without worrying about big studios or important names in the business, the distinction between “best games” and “best indies”is getting blurrier and blurrier. In fact, our other selection of titles for the MeriStation GOTY already has in it a variety of titles from this list.
However, we couldn’t mention everything back then. This is why, as we promised before, here’s our full list of indies. All of these titles deserve as much (if not more) attention as Bayonetta 3, Gran Turismo 7, Mario+Rabbids: Sparks of Hope or The Quarry - just to mention a few of the biggest titles in the AAA side of the industry. But most of these will pass you by unnoticed unless you take the chance to look for them. So here we go:
We’ve seen a few graphic adventures this year (like NORCO and Monkey Island), but the genre doesn’t stop there. Today we begin with another homage to the 80s. An adventure brimming with winks and nods to the now popular era that appeals to some of us veterans - we who grew up amongst tube TVs, VHS, and grandiose trilogies like Star Wars and Back to the Future - as well as to those young ones who can’t get enough Stranger Things.
And mentioning the series isn’t an empty gesture either, since Unusual Findings doesn’t just sound like said series, but also tasks you with a group of children investigating the appearance of an alien threat in a small rural town. There’s synthwave music everywhere, a script full of humor that puts friendship at the front, important decision making and a good selection of puzzles to relive nostalgia.
This isn’t the first time we talk about Neon White and it won’t be the last either. What is this, which is being considered one of the greatest indie titles of the year, about? Well, you run, jump, shoot at enemies and try to reach the end of the level. In text it sounds quite generic, yes, but then you realize that almost nothing works in the way you would expect.
In Neon White, weapons are cards that can be picked up through the stage and accumulated in a small deck, where you choose between them and either shoot them or use them as melee attacks. You can also discard them to activate special movement abilities like dashes and double jumps. The point of the game is speedrunning through the stages, using whatever tools you’re given to find the quickest route while eliminating every demon in the level. Simple? Yes. Addictive? Plenty.
In a year with not one, but two Pokémon games, where one was a refreshing spinoff (Legends Arceus) and the second one a disappointing main title for the franchise, you also get Temtem. A game with humble origins in the Kickstarter wilds, but with clear and honest intentions and ideas.
Temtem never actually tries to hide that it's only "another Pokémon", and insteads puts all of its efforts at becoming the best game it can possibly be. Colorful and stylish graphics, a competent story in comparison to the subgenre, over 150 creatures to catch and battle, a hefty focus on tactics and two on two fights and online functionality, and even the capability of playing through the entire story in co-op mode. If you're willing to give it a chance and look beyond its simple imitator tag, you'll find greatness.
I was a Teenage Exocolonist
It's difficult to sum up what I Was a Teenage Exocolonist is in only a few words: a social simulator with cards where you only get the whole experience if you relive the same ten years of the protagonist's life over and over, taking different choices and exploring almost infinite possibilities at the time of establishing relationships and helping out with a small colony adapting to a new planet.
In a clever turn of events, the game turns psychological aspects like empathy and stress into game mechanics, and invites you to become a productive member of the small community. This way you get more choices, dialogues, romances, and hints towards one of the many endings available before you go back to the beginning, to try and get a better result.
At the beginning of the year, the OlliOlli skateboarding series made the jump to 2.5D to up the levels of detail and possible routes through every stage, renewing the formula it had done for two games already. Honoring the tradition of games adding World to their titles, this third entry comes with a world map filled with regions and skate gods to impress. Incredibly good for replaying and a huge amount of tracks and moves to unlock make it even better.
Getting to the end of a rail without knocking your teeth off may sound like an achievement in the beginning, but OlliOlli World pushes you to enter a flow state to perform complex techniques and combos, complete optional objectives, and unlock more customization options, all in the name of climbing the online rankings.
The cat game. You all know it: winner of "Best Indie" on The Game Awards, nominated to GOTY, and underdog favorite of many other categories. Stray went viral and became one of the most spoken of titles on the game, and its arrival revealed it had a carefully curated story, gameplay mechanics, and was in general a great experience.
Stray offers an alternative look at a cyberpunk world where there's place for the beauty of neon and the melancholy of the absent humans, as well as platforming, puzzle solving and life or death chases. It is short and lineal, but knows how to use its time and space to offer introspection and pull on your heartstrings without limiting itself as a walking simulator.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge
From a cat to some turtles, although these ones don't need an introduction after decades of series, movies, comics and, of course, video games. Some of great quality, specially those from the 90s that had Konami's signature, capable of rising above the rest in the beat'em up genre and licensed titles. Now, Tribute Games took over the franchise, and did so with respect and love to the classic adaptations.
Shredder's Revenge is, in essence, a gam that any fan would dream off when going back to games like Turtles in Time. With amazing graphics and gameplay that dance to the tune of exquisite pixel art, seven playable characters that differ greatly in their gameplay and not just looks, huge stage variety, a wide selection of bosses to fight, and even six player multiplayer modes with online crossplay.
As Dusk Falls
You know what game also has multiplayer,even when on paper it sounds like the least likely candidate to have it? exactly, As Dusk Falls. A narrative adventure in the style of a TV series, with characters painted over real life actors where you don't even have direct control of the action and instead resolve every situation through quick time events or decision making. And it's right there where multiplayer comes in, since the game lets up to eight players join in and vote towards the way the story progresses.
Maybe it's not the most original idea in the world, but it fits the format well, dealing with situations such as a robbery-gone-wrong that crosses two families, with unexpected twists and plenty of flashbacks to deepen the backgrounds of every character. The ability to go back and reach alternative paths to explore other options without having to restart from the beginning also contributes to its accessibility and replayability.
Cult of the Lamb
Imagine a game where you can plant and harvest crops, fish in a river, and venture deep into procedural dungeons to gather resources before going back to a village where you live surrounded by adorable animals. Now, picture the fact that you serve a Dark God, have indoctrinated the entire village, and you have the option of ritually sacrificing any of your neighbors to get experience points or simply to send a message: you're the leader here, even when you're a tiny wide-eyed lamb.
That's the premise behind Cult of the Lamb, a mix of simulator and roguelike that pairs up mechanics you wouldn't believe fit together, like dungeon raids filled with combat where you can find new cult members and kill other gods to resurrect your own, who gives you powers from beyond the grave. The contrasting daily life of your cult sees you tending to their basic needs, as well as preaching your evil word to keep them in line and working, without thoughts of revolt. Either way, a good punishment is always at hand's reach, no?
Signalis is not only a true Survival Horror, that brings back the necessity of constantly checking the map and limited inventory space that makes you curse under your breath every time you find a key item or useful resource - making you rethink going back to a safe room or just gulping down something to make space. It's also a game full of uncertainty and existential anxiety.
Set in a mining space colony that's out of control, your main challenges go from stalking enemies to cryptic puzzles that not even Resident Evil would thare put in their games in fear of stumping its audience. Finding the answers to the messy story also requires attention (and maybe a few playthroughs) to find every different ending. Signalis is a meticulously orchestrated delirium that makes you doubt yourself about how much you're missing out on, whether or not it actually exists or not.
If you want cryptic, there's none other than Tunic. This spiritual successor to Zelda doesn't just limit itself to dressing its hero in green, giving him a sword and letting him explore prairies, forests, and dungeons in search of items. It does all of this and does it well, taking some lessons from Dark Souls because why wouldn't it? and besides all of that, Tunic is one of the most interesting games of the year not because of what it does, but how it pushes us to find out by ourselves.
The game is an intentional anachronism, with everything in the game (from the adventure's goal, to item uses, puzzle logic and lore) being a complete mystery to be answered only to those that persevere and gather the pages of an instruction manual. Through its clues, hints and illustrations, most of the time next to a fictitious language, you'll be able to decipher the various mysteries of the game, just as many of us did back when we were 10 years old and less.
To close the article, we have an ode to First Person Shooters and Heavy Metal where both are combined to create a metal hell worthy of DOOM, to the rhythm of head-banging music that dictates your every action in the game. Every firefight is a harmony of action and beats that wants you to get into the flow to be better at the game, just by following the rhythm.
Even if you have the option of simply playing the game as a traditional FPS, if you pay attention to the sound and attack in sync with the music you are awarded increased damage that multiplies little by little, eventually adding new layers to the music, resulting in a cacophony of metal to reward the player with an epic experience. It’s simple, but it depends on your own ability, and of course, you get graded at the end of each stage.