You don’t need a massive budget to make a masterpiece.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that without indie games, our industry would be severely lacking in both creativity and quality. Unrestrained by and unconcerned with things that often define the direction and scope of so many AAA release, games developed on smaller budgets by smaller teams often end up surprising us the most with some of the best ideas. 2018 has been no different in that regard. The constant and aggressive growth of the indie scene continued in 2018, and it has been a year where we’ve played some truly amazing games that don’t just rank as some of the best indie-developed titles of the years, but as some of the best games of 2018, period.
And while it’s no easy task highlight just a few of these at the expense of all others, we feel that there were fifteen such games that spoke to us more than any of the others. Truthfully, we could have easily listed out as many as 20-25 of our favourite indie games this year, and it pained us to leave out some of the games we did end up leaving out. Regardless, here are the fifteen nominees for GamingBolt’s favourite indie title of 2018.
NOTE: The nominees and winner were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.
THE NOMINEES ARE…
Youropa is not a game without issues, and some of these are problematic enough that they might turn you off the experience entirely. So while it isn’t the kind of game that everyone can enjoy, those who do enjoy it, enjoy it immensely. It constantly keeps throwing challenging and thoughtfully designed puzzles at the players, some of which are truly truly mind-bending thanks to the unique ways in which it plays with gravity. Even beyond that, it’s setting is one of the most atmospheric and beautifully realized settings we’ve seen in a game all year, where simply existing and doing nothing but looking around at your surroundings can be quite the experience.
FULL METAL FURIES
Full Metal Furies didn’t get enough attention and recognition when it launched at the beginning of the year, and we feel that’s very unfair. It’s a solid beat ’em up that respects the legacy of its genre, understands its biggest strength, but also isn’t afraid to try new things. It’s vibrant visuals and its ridiculously over-the-top characters are perfectly in line with how the game never really takes itself too seriously, while the combat keeps you constantly engaged. When played in co-op, it’s an even better experience.
First person puzzle titles have become quite popular over the past couple of years, and Q.U.B.E. 2 perfectly illustrates just why that is the case- because when they’re good, they’re very, very good. It’s beautiful art style is a constant visual treat, while the game also keeps presenting players with some of the best designed puzzles we’ve seen in recent memory. Q.U.B.E. 2 also never seems to run of ideas, with new kinds of challenges constantly being thrown your way. It has undeniable flaws in the narrative department, but in the end, the puzzles are what we’re really here for anyway.
Virtual reality and rhythm are a perfect fit on paper, to the extent that many might find it all too easy to conceptualize what kind of an experience such a game should be. Beat Saber boldly ignores all those obvious ideas, and instead does its own thing. Slashing oncoming beats with wielded sabers is a strangely satisfying feeling in and of itself, but combined with pulsating music that the game knows just how to sync with its visual experience, it rises completely new heights. Beat Saber is addictive, satisfying, and an absolute blast.
Unravel Two came out of nowhere this year, released as a shadow drop halfway through 2018, and perhaps for that reason, it didn’t get as much recognition as it deserves. It’s not the breath of fresh air that it’s predecessor was, but what it is, is more of what made the first Unravel so great. It’s charming, beautiful to look at, and full of inventive and satsfying puzzles. It’s structure as a co-op game adds a whole lot to its moment-to-moment gameplay, and even though it can be played solo and still be a lot of fun, when played with a friend by your side, it becomes so, so much better.
Survival games have carved out a strong identity for themselves over the genre’s long life, and though Subnautica doesn’t completely turn that on its head, it uses staples of the genre in some truly unique ways. The most obvious way it does that is through its setting, taking players to vast and majestic underwater environments that are just as rewarding to explore and survive in as they are beautiful and varied to look at. Its creation tools also offer a staggering amount of options to play around with, and can easily keep you entertained for long stretches.
Frostpunk pulls you in the second you lay eyes on it thanks to its visual aesthetic, but as you play more and more of it, you can’t help but be surprised by the confidence with which it executes its strong vision. Not only is it a compelling city builder, its survival mechanics also make it a tense experience. On top of that, it delivers a genuinely interesting story, set in a captivating world, where each decision that you make has real weight. Recently, developers 11 bit Studios also added an Endless Mode to the game, which addresses some of its biggest issues, and adds even greater value to the experience.
CrossCode is a fascinating game. It’s a single player RPG set in an MMORPG world, and it uses that unique blend to great effect, not just in terms of quests and the way it is structured, but also with how it tells its story. It’s art design is also instantly appealing to anyone who has any fondness for 16-bit era RPGs, while it also features one of the most innovating and enjoyable combat systems we’ve seen in a game in a long, long time.
RETURN OF THE OBRA DINN
Return of the Obra Dinn makes a strong statement from the get go that it’s not going to be an ordinary experience, immediately hitting players with its unconventionally monochromatic visuals- and its disregard for conventions doesn’t end there. It tells an engrossing narrative that unfolds in a very unorthodox manner, and works with its ingeniously designed puzzles in almost perfect synergy. It’s a captivating journey all the way through, which is solidified as something you won’t soon forget thanks to how perfectly it sticks the landing.
Guacamelee! 2 is everything that its predecessor was- but more. The zany characters and setting, the slick combat, the excellent boss fights, the eye-popping art design, and the excellent level design you remember from the first game are all here, but taken to new heights with even better execution. It is, in many ways, the ideal sequel- it doesn’t try to do too much that is completely new, and instead focuses on building on the foundations that have already been laid down. When the foundations are as strong they are in the case of Guacamelee! 2, that can only be a good thing.
At first glance, it can be all too easy to dismiss Tetris as just a regular Tetris game with some ancillary aesthetic bells and whistles- it’s Tetris, it’s perfect as it is, what else can it do? As it turns out, it can do a lot. Yes, the fundamentally flawless and addictive gameplay of Tetris Effect is that of any Tetris game, but it combines those aspects with visuals and music that are not just there to make the game look and sound pretty- they actively add to the experience in amazing ways, and deliver the kind of Tetris experience we never knew we wanted.
French studio Dontnod Entertainment has made a name for itself in the last few years thanks to the excellent Life is Strange, while many also fondly remember the 2013 title Remember Me. With Vampyr, the developer once again tried something ambitious and bold, and it turned out to be a successful experiment yet again. Vampyr’s uncompromising dedication to its dark and gothic setting makes for one of this year’s most engrossing settings for a narrative, while its emphasis on choice and consequence mechanics also make it a journey worth taking. Though the game has its fair share of flaws, its stronger elements help it rise up above those issues.
It’s not very often that everything in a game just feels perfect the second you start playing it- but the moment you begin your journey in Celeste, everything just feels right. The tightness of its controls and the inherently strong layout of its levels compels players to keep on playing even in the face of ever-increasing difficulty, while the game also weaves a tale that hits you harder than you might expect. It’s a game that delivers on all fronts, and delivers in spades. It’s hard to believe that this is a game that was made by just two individuals, because its displays a level of quality that even some of the most well-staffed studios in the industry cannot match.
Dead Cells’ concoction of the Metroidvania and rougelike genres shouldn’t work. One is about having a clearly defined, multi-layered world, and the other is about randomization and procedural generation. But Dead Cells makes it work. It’s procedurally generated levels are a blast to play through, while running through freshly stitched levels after every death with potentially new or upgraded abilities also manages to scratch that Metroidvania itch. Dead Cells also features excellent combat that encourages its players to keep striving to improve, and all these elements come together to make the experience incredibly addictive- “just one more run” is something you’ll often find yourself saying while playing Dead Cells.
INTO THE BREACH
Into the Breach is one of the best turn based strategy games to have come out in the last few years- that is very high praise when you look at just how many of those we’ve had in recent memory. It’s battles are bit-sized and easy to grasp, but deceptively hard to master, and can provide the kind of challenge that feels satisfying in all the right ways, while the variety of unlockable mechs and ways to upgrade them makes the progression equally rewarding. Excellent music, strong art design, well written characters and solid world building also help elevate the entire experience to untouchable heights.
AND THE WINNER IS…
In a year that has seen as many excellent and memorable indie-developed games as 2018 as, you wouldn’t think that any single game would be able to stand head and shoulders above all others, but that is exactly what Celeste does. It’s that good- it can’t be praised enough. Celeste succeeds on multiple levels, each as meaningful as the others- visually, its art design is vibrant; narratively, it tells a surprisingly emotional and moving story that is propped up by excellent writing and characters; from a gameplay perspective, it’s inch perfect platforming and ingenious level design make it a game that you simply cannot put down; in terms of value for money, it’s a game that is infinitely replayable, on top of already having plenty of content on offer as it is. Celeste is an absolute masterpiece, which is a statement we can make without reservations, and is a game that you owe it to yourself to experience at least once.