Guest post by Katheryn Key
In spite of all the money that’s pumped into making them, mainstream video games can feel surprisingly bland. It’s a symptom of developers trying to cash in on the latest trends, rather than having the confidence to innovate with something fresh.
Thankfully in the world of indie gaming, taking risks is far more common. Here are just six independent titles which have pushed the design envelope in recent years.
Beautiful, bold and oddly bitter-sweet, Braid is an engrossing experience which has been the poster boy for imaginative indie game design for the past decade. It’s also a critical darling, which has remained relevant over time.
From its watercolor aesthetic to its time-warping gameplay mechanics, every detail has been carefully crafted to surprise and delight players. That’s not to say that some of its platforming puzzles aren’t a bit frustrating. But the overall effect it has on the way you think about playing is unforgettable.
While Braid has players toying with time to overcome challenges, the quirk of Fez is the perspective-shifting graphics engine it deploys. Acting as a hybrid between two and three-dimensional space, our hero Gomez has to don the titular headgear and navigate levels that can be shifted by the player to give an entirely new viewpoint.
The cute pixel-art style and the soothing soundtrack are deceptive, as under the surface lies an incredibly deep, cryptic story that will go right over the head of casual players. Get a pen and paper ready if you want to unravel the mysteries of Fez, rather than just marvel at it on a technical level.
Before Limbo landed in 2010, indie games tended to be colorful and upbeat. But this monochrome masterpiece plunged players into an unforgiving world of darkness and light, taking control of an essentially helpless child and attempting to navigate the terrors lurking in the shadows.
Quite unlike the first person shooters that dominate the best sellers charts, Limbo isn’t about empowering players. Instead, it mirrors the Dark Souls formula of putting them in a strange, intimidating situation and leaving them to push forward with sheer grit and determination. It might not have the same hard-as-nails gameplay as anything From Software has ever released, but it set the tone for a more serious, adult period of indie gaming history.
The Unfinished Swan
At the start of most games, you’re thrown into a training level that talks you through the basics. Even the most pared-down titles tend to at least let you see the world that your character inhabits.
Not so with The Unfinished Swan, which dumps players in a white, featureless room that is almost the exact opposite of Limbo’s dank forests. A quick button press reveals that the only tool available is a gently thrown splat of black paint. This allows you to gradually reveal the outline of objects and move through the world, effectively etching it into existence as you go along.
The game does have a fairly well-told story at its core, which deals with tough topics like bereavement and love. But even without the voiceover work, it would still be a compelling experience which relies entirely on exploration, rather than combat or competition.
This incredible indie game ruins stereotypes about typical car driving games. It feels like you’re driving in another dimension among satellite view maps.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
The title may be a little silly, but the gameplay mechanics used in this indie title are undeniably innovative, and its visual style is attractive and engaging.
Players take control of the two main characters at once, all via a single gamepad. It’s an intriguing idea that makes you divide your attention between each of the brothers and get the odd feeling that you are cooperating…with yourself.
Like a large number of indie games, the action isn’t especially intense and the main goal is to complete the puzzle-based challenges which lie in your way. If you want, you can even sit back and enjoy the view, alongside the brothers in the game itself.
It’s a good idea to support indie games if you can, as sales are struggling at the moment. In fact, most releases make a tiny amount in their first year. So if you’re inspired to pick up one of the famous titles mentioned here, or experiment with a less well-known game, now is a great time to pump some money into this segment of the market!