2014 probably won’t go down in history as one of the best years in video gaming. Players of all kinds suffered through delays, bugs and even hacks on both Xbox Live and PSN. Despite the disappointments though, there was a shining beacon of light in ’14 and it was the indie games.
While the big publishers appeared to take the year off for the most part (with a few exceptions here and there), there was a lot to love in the indie space and here are ten titles that you really need to play in order to restore your faith in 2014.
Just for the record, I’m using a pretty loose interpretation of “indie.” As the industry has evolved, so to has the meaning of independently developed and/or published game products. I’m expanding the term to encompass pretty much everything that was developed and released outside of the standard game industry model.
10. Broken Age: Part 1
Tim Schafer’s lovingly-crafted return to the adventure game genre was a sweet surprise and built on a great story. It’s what a modern take on an adventure game should be and it was sublime.
9. Never Alone
Honestly, just the idea of an Alaskan-native game development effort is intriguing on its own. With Never Alone, however, the Iñupiat lore isn’t just there for the novelty – it actually works to create interesting and unique game mechanics. The graphical style is also fantastic – another must play.
8. Shovel Knight
Like Mega Man 2 on the NES? Get this game now.. don’t hesitate, just do it. It takes literally everything that was wonderful about classic Capcom platformers and adds just enough of a modern touch to make it relevant in 2014.
7. Motorsport Manager
You don’t need to be a fan of F1 to appreciate this strategy game but if you are a fan, and you’ve got an iOS device, pick this up without hesitation. Christian West has put such detail and effort into creating a beautiful strategic simulation that it really must be seen to be appreciated. Not that in 2014 mobile phones and tablets needed further validation as to their game-worthiness, but this is just one more argument in their favor – it’s a perfect fit for a touchscreen device and plays equally well on a large iPad and iPhone.
6. Crypt of the NecroDancer
This game simply oozes style out of each and every pixel. The beat-driven gameplay alone is enough to recommend this to anyone who wants a unique new experience.
5. Monument Valley
This title is part puzzle game, part lovely exploration of an M.C. Escher-esque world and an absolute must-own for anyone with a supported mobile device – I believe the game is now available on Android, though it was initially an iOS-exclusive.
OlliOlli is a grand example of twitchy, ultra-reactive gameplay and so very rewarding once you master its increasingly difficult levels. It’s Tony Hawk meets Canabalt and the formula works.
3. Valiant Hearts
Valiant Hearts tells a story like few other games have and it does so in a way that is a perfect mix of gameplay and a compelling character arc. Stay for the ending – it’s worth it.
Note: I realize that Ubisoft is anything but indie, but I do feel that the small team that built the game fully embraced the spirit of the indie game and from what I’ve heard was given the leeway to freely develop the product they wanted without traditional corporate game development constraints.
Perhaps 2014 will be remembered as the year that local multiplayer really took hold and, if it is, Nidhogg must surely be its indie godfather. It’s just an amazing experience, well realized and if you’ve got another player nearby you’ve got no reason not to play this.
1. Elite: Dangerous
Elite: Dangerous is a fantastic game and offers a real feeling of freedom and exploration that few other titles have yet to capture. The game promises a near limitless opportunity to create your own destiny in a distant futuristic landscape that feels both vast and isolated in the depths of space and yet alive with factions and governmental feuds.
I’ve opted to start my empire by hauling cargo from port to port, but it’s equally valid to begin your legacy as a bounty hunter, pirate or a miner. It’s this sense of absolute freedom, coupled with a plausible, astronomically accurate map that creates such an amazing world to explore.