With each passing year, we’re continuously surprised by the standard of independent gaming. Smaller studios have created experiences that consistently compete with offerings from big publishers (that too without loot boxes). This year was no different and we got a chance to experience some of the very best in first person adventure, side-scrolling Metroidvania and old-school run and gun platforming. Here are the nominees for Best Indie Game of 2017.
Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight doesn’t break much new ground. However, with its gorgeous art-style, stellar combat, massive and mysterious storyline and excellent environment design, it’s one of the finest Metroidvania titles ever. The aesthetic will immediately grab you before pulling you under into a dark fantasy world full of adorable (and deadly) insects. No matter which platform you’re on, Hollow Knight must be experienced.
Something is up in Krusz, an Eastern European country with mutants and genetically modified sloths. The game centres around Paradigm, a cast-away mutant who develops a love for electronic music before having to save the world. It’s bizarre, sure, but Paradigm is also memorable, embodying a retro future aesthetic and world design that’s best described as “Pixar meets Fallout”.
Fleischer-style animation meets swing music across a range of devilishly tough bosses and stages. Studio MDHR’s Cuphead is simply a triumph in visual design, embodying the 1940s seamlessly into its gameplay while presenting a unique platforming shooter for old and new school fans alike. It’s difficulty might push some people to the edge but if you stick with it, Cuphead is immensely satisfying.
SteamWorld Dig 2
Instead of the randomly generated areas of the first game, SteamWorld Dig 2 takes a decidedly more Metroidvania approach. As Dorothy, players are tasked with finding Rusty, the protagonist of the first game. That means digging through rocks, harvesting minerals, purchasing upgrades and solving the mystery of all these darn earthquakes. SteamWorld Dig 2 packs charm, enough freedom to make your own path and tons of challenges for the Metroidvania fans among us.
What happens when you’re tasked with solving puzzles in virtual reality? It sounds innocuous enough but Statik places a box around your hands, challenging you to figure out which button corresponds to which mechanic. There’s an intriguing story in the background, which also serves to provide hints to the puzzles, but Statik otherwise uses its VR premise to immerse you in a strange, hostile world with plenty of intrigue.
Night in the Woods
A talking cat traversing a nightmarish landscape while asleep and trying to make sense of her life while awake – that’s only the beginning of the rabbit hole that is Night in the Woods. This side-scrolling adventure game set in the town of Possum Springs sees protagonist Mei returning from college and trying to make sense of, well, life in general. Despite its relatively slow pacing, Night in the Woods scores with its aesthetic, quality of dialogue and strong character interactions. Greg rules, okay?
Housemarque’s Nex Machina: Death Machine could be described as part Smash TV, part Robotron, three-fourths of a frantic action game and all arcade. It imbibes the spirit of old-school shoot ’em ups with a variety of weapons, screens full of enemies and a dash mechanic that adds some much needed mobility to the action. With its neon aesthetic and addictive gameplay bent, Nex Machina will eat up many, many hours of your life.
A dead body has turned up in Thimbleweed Park and two agents are on the case. But there’s a clown running about, a game developer torn between ambition and family, ghosts and much more swimming in the background. What is going on? A grand adventure from Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, the legendary developers behind Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, that’s what. Come for the old-school visuals and stay for the laughs in this bizarre yet compelling puzzle adventure.
What Remains of Edith Finch
A great narrative in today’s world, especially in the realm of gaming, is tough. What Remains of Edith Finch makes it look easy, floating seamlessly from one perspective to the next, exploring lives across time and space. The narrative style is simply breath-taking; the aesthetic is one of the year’s best; and the story will affect you in more ways than one. Needless to say, go in blind and be ready for an incredible experience.
Far From Noise
Games that focus purely on dialogue aren’t uncommon in the indie space and few are as effective with it as Far From Noise. Set on a cliff with two characters trapped in a car, a discussion begins about the nature of life, the likelihood of death and making peace with one’s self until the end. It’s involving, interesting and worth a look, especially if you’re up for a casual playthrough about life, the universe and everything.
When recommending Cuphead, we often fall back on the fact that despite not being for everyone, this is a game that everyone should play. Cuphead isn’t just a beautifully animated, imaginative title filled with heaps of awesome boss fights. It’s not just tribute to the 1940s style of cartoon making or the swing music that influenced countless legends. The game itself is a glowing return to the days of run and gun platformers that tested your wit, reflexes, muscle memory and most importantly, your attention to detail. Forget about being the Dark Souls of platformers – Cuphead is a love letter to fans of Mega Man and Mega Man Zero, proving that run and gun gameplay with a fairly high skill ceiling is still an experience unlike any other in today’s industry.
Cuphead is delightful in that its very aesthetic invites players in while the compelling gameplay keeps pushing them forward. It’s a heady, addictive mix and even with a difficulty that prevents most people from immediately picking it up, Cuphead is subliminally impactful and wonderfully charming. It may not be reinvent the wheel as far as action platformers go but in terms of visual design, production, presentation and setting, Cuphead can’t be missed.
Note: GamingBolt’s Game of the Year categories, nominations and awards are selected via an internal nomination, voting and debate process. You can check the rest of categories and the respective winners here.