Indie developers deserve their flowers. Not only are they responsible for amplifying fiction (and nonfiction) with immeasurable swells of immersion and creativity, but they are also proficient at submerging us in tiny pockets of humour, curiosity, and affection when we find ourselves at our worst.
In the age of social distancing, Hades found love in a hopeless place, Among Us sussed out social anxieties via long tasks and emergency meetings, and Fall Guys filled the Mario Party-size void in our hearts by introducing humanoid jellybeans to the concept of “drip” and yeeting them through randomised elements of Takeshi’s Castle.
A multitude of directors, producers, animators, level designers, composers, and the like remodelled the limitations of the medium to introduce players to the worlds and protagonists we never dreamed possible. Here are some of the best indie games that you should add to your game library in 2021!
Image Courtesy of Sunhead Games
If you’re tired of dystopian post-apocalyptic games piling up in your gaming backlog, take a look at Carto. The game is a charming one that makes heavy use of puzzles to unlock and explore the title character’s adventure. Instead of battling monsters, you use her cartography skills to meet and learn about new characters.
Not only is the gameplay unique, but its look is as well. The almost hand-drawn look relies more on art than realism, giving it a gorgeous, colourful atmosphere that doesn’t rely heavily on a powerful graphics engine. That’s great for anyone wanting to play Carto on a less-than-powerful machine since you can still boot it up without having the latest and greatest from Nvidia or AMD.
Carto is also a relaxing game. If you’re a fan of games that let you chill out instead of stress out, then dig into this game.
Image Courtesy of Thunder Lotus Games
Spiritfarer has been one of the most talked-about games released in 2020, and for all the right reasons. Thunder Lotus Games’ latest offering is a management sim that tackles mature themes in the vein of Oxenfree and Night in the Woods– with hand-drawn environments, stellar writing, and thought-provoking mechanics being used to frame bittersweet moments of reflection.
It’s just in this tale, Stella’s role as a ferry master to the deceased is what makes death more comfortable. She cooks, farms, mines, and crafts anything her new spirit pals desire and, in turn, uses their bonding time to acquire boat upgrades that better the lives of everyone on board.
Those cosy Disney moments can fall victim to repetition. Still, the way they implement individual traits and personal anecdotes that remind us of our loved ones is what makes Spiritfarer a present-day relic. It completely floors you when you least expect it and asks only for a hug in return.
Image Courtesy of Polygon Treehouse
Developed by Tom Jones, Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou, Ali Tocher, and the rest of Polygon Treehouse, Roki is a narrative adventure that modernises the point-and-click genre mesmerising depiction of Scandanavian folklore. In it, a girl named Tove sets out on a search for her younger brother and the mysterious forces who took him – prompting a deep dive into loss and grief, and the ancient wilderness around them, and how “every dark fairy tale has its monster.”
Every corner is layered with satisfying puzzles, fantastical creatures, unique explorer badges, and an explicitly gorgeous art style that embraces accessibility and unfolds into a welcome escape from reality. Roki isn’t perfect, but it will forever be immortalised as a defining moment for smaller stories.
Image Courtesy of Annapurna Interactive
The Pathless is a tranquillising hit of escapism. Its subtle beauty, Mesoamerican influences, and admiration for archery are a seminar on How Annapurna Makes Art Students Cry, but traces all of the above along your heartstrings to dissect the complexities of “finding your way forward.” Its Breath of the Wild scope is punctuated by lush environments, spirit masks, corrupted souls, eagle companions, and a big boss known as the Godslayer. It pins its essay on good versus evil to an ensemble of original scores that might magnify the highs and lows of exploration.
Composer Austin Wintory is very much in his bag – with works such as “Cernos” and “The Rain Infects All Waters” being playable myths in their own right- and if ABZÛ was a transcendent experience, then The Pathless is Giant Squid inching toward perfection, one grandeur note at a time.
Image Courtesy of House House
Who knew an untitled game about a goose could be so fun? A bit of an unexpected hit, Untitled Goose Game quickly went viral after its avian nuisance-making brand was unveiled to the world.
Set in a dopey village in the English countryside, you play as a goose tasked with terrorising your human neighbours: stealing their crops, locking them in closets, and honking all the way through. Inspired by the stealth-action series Hitman, but with its charm, it’s hardly a surprise that the Untitled Goose Game became a huge hit. You’ll zip through the game in a handful of hours, but it’s very much work throughout the journey.
There were plenty of weird and wonderful indie games to look forward to in 2020, and there are plenty more to keep an eye out for in 2021! It’s been a good year for AAA games, with the likes of DOOM Eternal, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Ghost of Tsushima, and Half-Life: Alyx.
And yet, there was thrill galore being offered by indie developers. Their games may not have grabbed the limelight during a packed 2020, but they’re just as deserving of your support, if not more so.