Each quarter, two NCG editors sit down and exchange suggestions for indie games to one another, based on the other’s preferences.
(In purple text) Will: I’m fully aware I’ve recommended several of these to you before to no avail. Now is my chance, on the public forum that is our own website, to shame you in to playing them.
(In teal text) Garrett: Let’s be honest, I still won’t play them. But if this is how you need to vent, I totally understand. Most of my picks for you, to be fair, are picks for myself. That being said, us having been friends for fifteen years is probably enough to share at least some touchstones in what we like in video games.
Preach. So without further ado, let’s kick things off. It’s worth noting that all of the games below are available on Steam for $30 at the very most, but usually less. Each game title links to it’s respective Steam store page.
Not exactly the most spring-time-y game, but one I’ve really been enjoying. Neo Scavenger is an isometric, turn-based roguelite with a spartan aesthetic and a strong desire to see you fail. Your character wakes up in a cryo-chamber and soon discovers they’ve joined the few remaining humans in a bleak The Road style post-apocalypse.
Most of the game, as it’s name implies, is spent scavenging for supplies. And by scavenging for supplies I mean finding just one left-footed shoe, or a plastic sack full of rocks, or a broken shard of glass. Or if you’re really lucky, maybe a tattered sleeping bag. The last item crucial to your progression as your character is constantly draining a handful of metrics including thirst, hunger, temperature, and sleep.
The survival mechanics are fine, but the game really shines when you enter the surprisingly complex combat. Combat is messy, dirty, and brutal. That it can convey such a gritty and malodorous sensation purely through text is remarkable. Oh, the guy who jumped you is now trying to run away? You better chase him down, pin him on the ground, and stab him repeatedly with that shard of broken glass. He might have an ancient Twinkie or a handful of mushrooms that will keep you alive for another day. Remember the climax of 28 Days Later when Jim is shirtless, bloodied, covered in mud, and murders a dude with his bare hands? That’s this game.
Hyper Light Drifter is a game that manages to cobble together tropes and mechanics from many other games, ultimately creating something completely new and different, something that FEELS undeniably original.
The game mechanics are familiar to anyone who has played any sort of 2D action RPG, a la many classics from the SNES golden age, particularly A Link to the Past. Where this game truly shines is its artistic direction, in terms of both visual art and sound design. The soundtrack, composed by artist Disasterpiece, is a masterpiece of ambient electronica–ghostly and sparse, yet catchy, perfectly complementing the expertly crafted pixel-art dystopia, and punctuating the vague, mysterious story beats fed to the player piecemeal.
The game is largely text-free, leaving the player to discover their next objective, and the overarcing story, based only on the natural flow of play, and by visual cues that lead you without holding your hand.
I wanted to provide as much tonal whiplash coming off Neo Scavenger as I could, so here you go!
Super Hexagon is an extremely special game to me. Along with Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City it was one of the few things that kept me afloat when I was living in rural Japan with no friends and a crumbling relationship. Oh, and cigarettes and Chu-Hi.
There’s not much to say about Super Hexagon other than that is the most feverish, addictive, and guttural gameplay I can think of. It’s in some ways a music game, in others a bullet hell game. The only input is moving left or right – you’re a little triangle and you have to dodge oncoming concentric polygons. Most play sessions last under 30 seconds, maybe one minute if you’re a Hex-God. It’s all accompanied by a handful of blistering chiptune tracks from Chipzel and the game’s dizzying visuals.
The most important facet of Hexagon’s gameplay, though, is that it’s a canvas for you to grow as a player. Because of its simplicity, the sensation you feel as you perfect your skills is akin to something like Pacman.
I’d recommend buying on iOS or Android – the control input is (somehow) more accurate than a keyboard.
You and I are both huge Dark Souls fans, so I’ll start by saying this: Salt and Sanctuary took me by surprise. What I originally thought was going to be a half-assed 2D Dark Souls ripoff became one of my favorite recent indie titles.
All mechanics present are, without a doubt, derivative of Dark Souls, from your health and stamina meters to your method of healing, even including the way the game is saved and resources are replenished, and the game makes no secret of this. Most character classes will feel very familiar, as well as how weapons and items are equipped and used. Even the pace of gameplay is similar, favoring careful, measured progression over gung-ho suicide charges.
As a metaphor: Playing Ocarina of Time kindled my interest in A Link to the Past, a Zelda title I had never played before. Imagine if Dark Souls was a sequel to a 2D Souls entry that never was. If that sounds good to you, pick up Salt and Sanctuary; you’ll almost certainly like it.
I know I’ve written about Invisible, Inc. a lot for NCG, but goddamnit do I love this game.
Invisible is another isometric, grid-based, turn-based roguelike. Saying it’s closest kin is X-com would deny the game its sense of mounting tension and dread. You’re the operator of a group of corporate espionage agents. You sneak your troop through increasingly elaborate corporate strongholds and use your AI, Incognita, to hack into the areas systems to disable cameras, doors, etc.
What makes this game so unique goes beyond the permadeath of your characters. If your characters are spotted, they have one move to rectify the situation, or they’re dead. That means avoiding patrol routes is paramount. Since the ‘fog of war’ includes everything your agents can’t actively see, information is your greatest weapon. Knowing how, when, and where, guards will patrol is really the only way to survive. The game is balanced to a razor’s edge.
Garrett, please buy this game. I know you never will, but man.
Vagante is a pixel-art action roguelite. It’s closest relative, if I had to pick one, would probably be Spelunky, although I prefer Vagante for a few reasons.
Graphics are essentially 16-bit, with a dark, dim aesthetic. You choose to play as one of several classes (more are unlocked as you progress,) each offering benefits and handicaps. As you explore deeper into each area, you uncover weapons, armor, potions, and various bits of equipment that facilitate your progress. Some pieces of gear bestow magical buffs, and other effects, such as enhancing your elemental defenses or movement (climbing, jumping, decreasing fall damage, many others.)
This game is currently early-access, but developer support is solid and, in my opinion, the game already provides a very satisfying experience. If you enjoyed Spelunky or Rogue Legacy, you will almost certainly have a blast with this game.
Still in Early Access, Streets of Rogue is a gem. You can read my impressions here.
I’ve played a half dozen more hours of the game since that write up and the game continues to impress. It continues to build its repertoire of Deus Ex-style interlocking “clockwork world” mechanics to a crazy degree. As you begin to unlock more characters to work with, the complexity of the game begins to unfold into so much more than a real time chessboard. As you progress floor by floor the level layout becomes absolutely devious, requiring you to manage your inventory and character traits with a fine-toothed comb.
The music is right up there with games like FTL–catchy, appropriate, sometimes haunting. It somehow manages to distill the essence of games from 20 years ago without sounding hamfisted or cheeky. Props to the developer.
Deadbolt is a puzzle game disguised as an action game, much as Hotline Miami was. What I mean by that is the mechanics involved require a healthy amount of trial and error, understanding a specific set of systems, and ultimately uncovering one several ways to complete each encounter.
In this game, you play as The Reaper, sent to eliminate gangs of zombies holed up in various safehouses. Gameplay is in 2D, each level consisting of a building or house, cut away to reveal the contents of each room from a side view. Play consists of strategically opening and closing doors, managing visibility and stealth via strategic operation of light switches, hiding behind couches, and blasting ghouls in the face with pieces of found weaponry before an opponent can land a single, fatal blow to you.
Being Death Himself, you are able to navigate levels via toilet plumbing and ventilation shafts as a plume of black smoke (obviously.) The action is quick, and the game’s strategy mechanics are intuitive and satisfying. If you’ve ever wondered what Hotline Miami would be like from a side-view instead of top-down, check it out.
I’m not quite sure if this counts as an indie game? I bought it for $30 and it’s still in Early Access, so that’s a satisfying enough metric for me to call it an indie.
I am more than pleasantly surprised with PUBG. It’s transformed from a curiosity to an absolutely maddening nightly addiction. It is without a doubt the most fun I have ever had in a multiplayer game. For the uninitiated, PUBG is essentially a Battle Royale simulator spanning a massive, vaguely Eastern-European island. It has a long lineage starting as an ARMA mod, eventually becoming H1Z1, then distilling itself down into the fine elixir that is PUBG.
My new joy in PUBG is running as a duo or squad of four. Because the game has a very low time-to-death, bullets travel very far, and there are no respawns, playing tactically is the way to survive. Being a hero will only result in your death. Idle comms chatter clogs up the airways and prevents you from hearing a car or foot steps. The utter silence of the game is your greatest ally. Combat discipline is a must–you only start firing if fired upon–otherwise it’s best to inform your teammates and wait for everybody to line up a shot.
I have to be in a very specific state of mind and body to play Battlegrounds. I can’t have too much caffeine or I get shaky. Not too much beer or I get sloppy. It’s the only game I’ve played where near the end of the round my heart is absolutely jackhammering. I genuinely have to practice deep breathing to keep my nerves settled and my hands loose. I’ve never won a game, but that’s OK with me.
This is without a doubt, one of the best 2D action/adventure games I’ve played in recent memory, and perfectly satisfies my fetish for metroidvania-style games.
Perhaps you’ve read my longer piece on this game here, but for those who haven’t, here’s the quick and dirty:
This game is a Super Metroid style game which takes place in an ancient, ruined bug-kingdom. The graphic art and design is extremely detailed and expressive, rendering characters and environments that feel organic and alive. The soundtrack is emotive and complimentary, accentuating each area without being repetitive or overbearing, yet I still find myself absentmindedly humming some of its themes at work.
Gameplay will be familiar and fulfilling to anyone who has played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, as combat is typically carried out with your sword, although various abilities make things a little more kinetic and strategic as you continue on. New items and abilities make previously unavailable areas accessible to you, and secrets abound. If you have ever had even a passing interest in ANY game from the metroidvania genre, you would be doing yourself a great disservice to ignore this game.