Triple A? Triple “No Thanks!”
The other day, in what is beginning to be a regular occurrence at work, I was having a water-cooler discussion about video games. That’s when my co-worker uttered this seemingly hipster statement: “There haven’t been any good games since the N64 anyways. It’s all about graphics now”. I was taken aback. I didn’t know what to say. There’s so much more to gaming than the AAA titles my co-worker mentioned. We’re in a digital age of access unlike any we’ve experienced as human beings, and with it comes an unparalleled ability to create. There are more games being produced without the help of publishers’ financial support than ever before. And this guy had no idea the depth of the indie well of games that was there for him to plunder.
How could he not know!?
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there is an entire population that of gamers out there that just don’t know any better. And that’s no discredit to them. They are no less a gamer than me just because they don’t know about something that I do. And so, for today’s 10,000 who think Call of Duty is what gaming means, I give you my five favorite indie titles from 2015. This one goes out to you, Justin From work.
#5. Nuclear Throne
What can I say about this fast-paced arcade shooter that I didn’t detail in my review last year? Nuclear Throne is fun, fast, simple, and disgustingly charming. This top-down shooter proves that games don’t need to be particularly innovative to excel. Nuclear Throne, love it or hate it, does not bring anything new to the table. It’s a very simple twin-stick shooter that gets a lot of mileage out of its tight game play, visceral visual feedback and sound design, and charismatic characters. I’m particularly partial to post-apocalyptic settings, so that was another big plus for me. This game really appeals to the old-school gamer in me because it’s pretty friggin’ hard. I have yet to complete a run, and I love that. I don’t believe gamers are guaranteed to finish a game just because they paid money to buy it. That’s newfangled nonsense that Nuclear Throne and others on my list do not adhere to.
Play if you like: Asteroids, Geometry Wars, and frequent genetic mutations.
#4. Crypt of the Necrodancer
If this list were organized in order by originality, Crypt would be number one. This innovative title takes the rogue-like (or rogue-lite, if you’re a pedantic twit) genre and injects an oversized dose of rhythm and beat. From its roguish roots, the game inherits frequent deaths and dungeon-crawling sensibilities. But the whole experience is engrossed in musicality. Crypt of the Necrodancer must be played to the rhythm of the game’s tunes. The player moves and attacks on a quarter-note beat. The enemies match this cadence, but have unique movement patterns per enemy type. The player’s mastery of Necro is completely dependent on not only their ability to keep time, but also to learn and exploit the movement patterns of each enemy. Crypt of the Necrodancer features several amazing tunes by gaming music creator Danny Baranowsky for you to groove to. The game also lets you import your own tunes and dungeon dive to your favorite jams.
Play if you like: Gauntlet, Pa Rappa the Rapper, and blue suede shoes
#3. Axiom Verge
I said Nuclear Throne would appeal to old-school gamers, but Axiom Verge is a true love letter to a gaming era past. More specifically, it’s the ultimate homage to Super Metroid. The game plays very similarly. I wouldn’t even call it a ‘metroidvania’. It’s just a ‘metroid’. But it’s a very well done ‘metroid’. The game delivers hard on the throwback, but also offers a narrative experience that goes way deeper than your typical SNES side-scroller. I found myself deeply invested in the personal journey of the main character of Axiom Verge, which took me by surprise. Super Metroid is one of my absolute favorite retro games, but the story is paper-thin. I love that Axiom Verge blends old school gameplay with a new school focus on thought-provoking narrative.
Play if you like: Metroid, Super Metroid, and games like Super Metroid
#2. Invisible, Inc.
With XCOM 2 having just released last week, it’s the perfect time to mention Klei’s Invisible, Inc. This game is XCOM that takes place in a futuristic noir espionage setting. Yeah. It’s is as awesome as it sounds. It is a turn-based tactical strategy game with a heavy emphasis on stealth and sneakery. In fact, the best level runs are ones where the enemy never knew you were there. Each character comes with their own pros and cons, and the game features a sweet AI hacking interface named Incognita that allows you to approach each level on an entirely digital axis. The game has a wonderful vector art style and is also brilliantly voice-acted. The game is brutally difficult, and it wears its challenge pridefully on its sleeve. When you start playing Invisible, Inc., the game reminds you that the recommended difficulty is Hard, not Normal like most games. The game is meant to be challenging. So if you’re one of those participation trophy gamers, this may not be the one for you.
Play if you like: XCOM, Volume, and retro-sci fi invisibility cloaks.
#1. Rocket League
Not only is Rocket League my top pick for Indie Game of 2015, it’s my top pick for Game of 2015. In fact, if you listen to my podcast you’d know I’ve gone on record saying Rocket League may be the greatest game of the decade. It’s Just. That. Good. For those that don’t know, Rocket League is soccer with rocket-powered cars. That’s it. The game’s beauty is in its simplicity. It’s the type of game that feels impossibly silly upon first blush, but once you begin playing, it becomes hard to stop. You’ll find yourself slowly but surely becoming a regular rocket hooligan. It has that “just one more!” quality to it. It’s also the type of game that rewards practice. In your first few weeks of play, you’ll see displays of rocket-propelled insanity that just look like pure luck. But they’re not! As you play, you’ll find yourself able to pull of dribbles, aerials, counter-hits, purposeful assist sets, and more. The game is simple, but it’s deep (a designer’s wet dream). As if the pitch-perfect (haha. soccer.) gameplay wasn’t enough, Rocket League also offers more car customization options than you’ll know what to do with. You won’t just be a rocket-fiend out there on the field–you’ll be a beautiful, unique, snowflake of a rocket-fiend. Oh and before I finish, I have to emphasize that you don’t need to like sports or sports games to enjoy Rocket League.
Play if you like: Video games or self-improvement.
So, there you have it. My picks for top five indie titles of 2015. Some people may not know it, but we live in the greatest era of video games the world has known. There are countless titles that didn’t make my list, either because they released before 2015 (Resogun, Mark of the Ninja) or because I haven’t finished them yet (Undertale, Fez). Hopefully, I’ve been able to share something new with someone out there. If you have a friend who also isn’t aware how awsome video games are right now, tell them! It’s your responsibility as a fellow nerd. Make their life just a little bit cooler by telling them about some of these great games.