Indie games have become quite the force to be reckoned with in recent years, with something of a resurgence in the 2010s. Many years ago, particularly in the UK, a huge number of “bedroom coders” created games that have since gone on to be legends. I shan’t focus on those old ones today – instead I’m going to discuss a few of my favourite indie games from this new golden age.
Super Meat Boy – I may as well start strong… Super Meat boy is one of my favourite games of all time! Well-polished, with excellent music, varied stages, tight controls, and an amusing array of characters, the game has you, as the titular Meat Boy, navigate increasingly deadly stages to save your girlfriend, Bandage Girl. Spinning saw blades, lasers, spikes, salt, hypodermic needles, lava…. there are many obstacles in your way – and they all kill you. Many times. Complete a stage within a quick (but unpublished) time limit to achieve an A+ rating. Certain levels contain hidden bandages (plasters to us Brits) to be collected, and yet others contain warp zones which take you away to weird and wonderful lands drawn in the style of retro consoles – notably Super Nintendo and Game Boy – which present new challenges and physics for a laugh. In a game full of genius moments, perhaps the greatest is that upon completion of each stage you are presented with a replay of every attempt you made – enabling you to watch sometimes dozens of Meat Boys meat their sticky end. These replays can be saved for posterity!
Originally slated as a Wii exclusive, the game never came to that console. It did, however, come to both Wii U and Switch, Xbox 360 (backwards compatible on One), PlayStation 4, PS Vita, and the usual PC operating systems. To give you an idea of how much I love the game I have bought it on every single one of those systems!
Shovel Knight – Honestly I didn’t enjoy this one a lot the first time round, but given time it has worn away at my scepticism and become another favourite. Yet another retro-styled game, with graphics and music that wouldn’t be possible on retro consoles but still evoke the memory of olden-times gaming, this one has you play as Shovel Knight as he seeks to save his partner in adventuring – Shield Knight – who is under a curse. As his (or her – you can sex swap any major character in the game, why not) name implies, our hero’s weapon of choice is, rather unconventionally, a shovel! Use it to strike enemies in the usual manner, or in a downward attack reminiscent of Scrooge McDuck’s pogo attack in Duck Tales, you will adventure through (quite long) stages as you overthrow various other knights who stand in your way.
A secondary objective is the collection of treasure, found in chests, dropped by enemies, and dug out of the ground with your trusty shovel. Die during a level and a portion of your treasure is left behind, waiting for you to collect it – unless you die again then it’s gone forever! Oh No! Each stage has a few checkpoints at which you will continue after death, but you could choose to destroy a checkpoint and gain a nice amount of extra treasure. A nice risk/reward mechanic that can be used to your advantage once you’ve learned your way around the stages.
Bosses are ostensibly the same throughout, with most of them vanquished by holding down throughout and drop attacking them over and over until they fall. Once you get the rhythm of things there isn’t too much challenge, and you can afford to lose a little health as you fight.
The main game is long enough to present great value for money, and when you add in the (free) DLC packs that have you play as other (enemy) character with their own play style, it’s something of a no-brainer for fans of old-school platform fun.
The Swindle – I first got hold of this one via Sony’s PlayStation Plus service, but loved it so much I’ve since purchased it on Switch. Break into houses, steal all the money you find therein, hack computers to syphon money to your bank account, and avoid guard robots along the way – all with the intention to prevent Scotland Yard from launching a new initiative that will end your line of work forever.
You have a 100 days to achieve your goal, with each new heist counting as one day. Get killed by a guard (or a mis-step) and you get no swag from that day’s efforts. Spend the money you earn on upgrades to your toolset, and to unlock new areas with bigger houses and grander hauls – but also with better security. It’s a tense game and one I’ve yet to complete though it’s exciting to progress a little further as your skill improves.
Sally’s Law – A strange one this. It tells two tales, which come to converge. I don’t want to spoil anything but I will say I found this one to be quite moving. It made me think. Its quite a short game, a couple of hours or so, and gameplay is relatively simple, but the narrative pulls it along expertly. Essential for those who are fatigued by the fast pace and big bangs of modern gaming.
Axiom Verge – Sitting firmly in the Metroidvania genre, Axiom verge is another not-quite-retro-styled game. Explore the large map, shooting beasties and gaining new weapons that unlock new paths. You know the drill. What makes Axiom Verge stand out is the fantastic sense of style – from the graphics, animation and design to the fantastic soundtrack. Seriously, I’m not one for listening to video game soundtracks when I’m not playing, but this is an exception. Find it on Spotify and hopefully you’ll agree with me that it’s a thing of beauty.
Another thing it does incredibly well is to give a sense of power as you progress – but the end you feel like a superhuman, with massive guns and other augmentations leaving the weedy peashooter of the early game a distant memory.
Available on every platform, I recommend you pick up the Multiverse Edition which comes with an artbook, poster, making-of DVD and (Switch only) a soundtrack CD – all for a great price. I don’t know why the soundtrack is only with the Switch version, but I imagine they’re using it as a sweetener for the extra €10 of Nintendo tax you’ll pay for that edition. Well worth it.
Not A Hero – A fun game in which your main goal is to assassinate various gang leaders, with each stage hiding a selection of optional bonus objectives. Different characters have different strengths that will affect your approach (and sometimes your chance of success). Highly-stylised, with a great cast, this is an outlyer that you will often find for a very cheap price.
There you have a few of my very favourite indie games from the last few years. It’s a good time for indie devs. Except that guy who made Fez then snapped. It’s not a good time for him. So, what do you think? Have you played any of the above? Loved them? Got any other “essential” titles you’d add to the list? Let me know below, or find me on Twitter @BitlandGaming. Peace.