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20 Great Indie Games from 2013 You Won’t Want to Miss
From exploration games with hard-hitting narratives to quirky roguelikes, there’s been a lot to love in the indie game space this year. Check out our list of twenty great indie games released in 2013 you won’t want to pass up.
A 2D stealth game in the same vein as Mark of the Ninja, Gunpoint puts you in the role of a freelance spy with a pair of super-jump pants and a knack for busting through plate glass windows. After being framed for murder, our intrepid hero is forced to take job after job in order to clear his name and bring the real killer to justice. In order to do this, you’ll have at your disposal a litany of objects meant to aid you in your quest, including a device used to rewire electronics, upgrades for higher jumps and charges, and even a gun to help with the problematic guards sprinkled in each location.
Gunpoint has a neat noir feel to it, jazzy music, a great pixelated aesthetic, and a unique approach to puzzle platforming and stealth that will sate the needs of stealth fans everywhere.
THOMAS WAS ALONE
Aside from eating a chocolate bar or finding a great parking space, you’ll never find yourself caring for rectangles as much as you will while playing Thomas Was Alone. Each sentient shapes with varying abilities, the characters of Thomas Was Alone are deceptively basic, but at their core have some of the most interesting and compelling personalities I’ve ever seen in a puzzle game. While spending your time traversing each of the game’s many levels,you’ll see them fight, wrestle with self-doubt, fall in love, discover their own sense of self-worth, and ultimately learn how they are meant to fit in in a world populated by rectangles.
That alone is enough to make the case for how impressive Thomas Was Alone is, but it also has a fantastic soundtrack, writing, and narration to boot. Sure, some of the puzzles have odd spikes in difficulty that can certainly be frustrating at times, but it’s not enough to overshadow the inherent charm in Thomas Was Alone.
It’s really difficult to sum up the exact experience that Gone Home delivers. Yes, it is an interesting and ultimately moving narrative that manipulates emotion in all the right ways. But it’s also one of the most terrifying games I’ve ever played thanks to its gratuitous use of atmosphere and ability to play on your learned fears.
Really, Gone Home is unique in its ability to connect itself to the player in its own way. On the one hand, I was sufficiently creeped out during my time with the game. But on the other, the themes explored were evocative and fascinating, and more than enough to calm my nerves.
That’s really all I can say about Gone Home without spoiling anything or altering your expectations. Just play it; it won’t disappoint.
If Vlambeer’s mobile title succeeds on doing anything, it’s living up to the hyperbolic moniker attached to it. Ridiculous Fishing is, in a word, ridiculous, and that’s what makes it so fun. A mobile-based game utilizing the gyroscope of the Apple tablet products, Ridiculous Fishing puts you in control of Billy, a fisherman dealing with an “uncertain past” who only has one goal: catch as many fish as he possibly can.
During your time with Ridiculous Fishing, you’ll be able to use different weapons to catch fish (chainsaws and shotguns, anyone?) thanks to a massive list of unlockables. It should also be noted that there are absolutely no in-app purchases contained within within the game, instead giving you everything to unlock after you initially purchase the game for a modest $2.99 on iPhone. You know, the way God intended it.
Narrative has certainly been a main theme here in 2013, with many of our biggest triple-A titles and more popular indie games taking the idea of storytelling and using it to not only justify the act of playing, but to further the potential of the art itself.
Device 6 does this in its own strange and interesting way. A mobile game featuring exploration, Device 6 tells the story of Ana, a woman who has been kidnapped, but remembers very little about herself and her circumstance. Using the touch screen of the iPad, you’ll solve puzzles and help Ana figure out exactly what has happened to her and what she needs to do to escape. It’s a great game with an emotional arc and a visual style that has to be experienced to be believed.
THE STANLEY PARABLE
If we’re being honest, this is quite easily one of my favorites on this list, simply because this game is one of the most unique I’ve played all year. What is it? Really, it’s whatever you want it to be. Yes, it can serve as a fascinating commentary on the illusion of choice and reality in video games (and sometimes in life), but it can also be a game that tempts you to break its systems and thwart the cunning narrator that follows you wherever you go. Depending on how you play it, the game can be beaten in two minutes or twenty, and a massive amount of alternate endings will tempt you to begin again, over and over and over.
Sounds strange? It is…and that’s why I loved it.
KERBAL SPACE PROGRAM
Kerbal Space Program made its Steam Early Access debut earlier this year and was met with enthusiasm from outlets big and small. With a variety of parts and accessories at your disposal, you are the head of the esteemed Kerbal Space Program, whose goal is to explore the endless universe and boldly go where no Kerbal has gone before (I couldn’t help it).
Combine parts, strategize, and create the most space-worthy crafts you can possibly conjure, all while trying to do everything within your power to not get any of your brave Kerbal astronauts killed. Trial and error is key to success in KSP, and the experience of seeing your craft successfully launch into orbit is a beautiful one indeed. That is, if you can achieve it.
With their often complicated and skill-based systems, the fighting game genre isn’t necessarily the most accessible to the average gamer. Sure, one can button mash and still have a modestly fun time with the likes of Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter, but the ones who go on to become great or compete with others often have to approach fighting games with a near-obsessive mentality that requires practice and effort above and beyond the norm in order to achieve excellence.
That’s where DiveKick finds its strength. Rather than having long lists of combo strings and button sequences, this fighting game is controlled by using two buttons. And no, I don’t mean two buttons and the direction pad; I literally mean two buttons.
One button allows you to jump, or “dive”, while the other controls a kick attack that varies from character to character. These simple controls allow players to really experiment and build their skills with spacial awareness and timing, and a quirky sense of humor and decently-sized roster yields hours of fighting game goodness that lends itself well to even the most inexperienced of fighting game players.
With so many standout horror titles getting the action/horror treatment in order to make them more mainstream, indie developers have become something of a savior for horror fans by delivering the great and terrifying experiences larger companies simply won’t risk.
We saw this especially with Red Barrel Game’s release of Outlast, one of the creepier and more disturbing horror games in recent memory.
Outlast is made up almost entirely of tropes and conventions we’ve seen everywhere else in the horror genre at this point, but it does so with a a new approach and string of ideas that serve to make it feel unique and interesting. You’re an intrepid reporter who, while chasing the next great story, finds himself locked away in an asylum gone straight to hell. Armed only with a video recorder and flashlight, you’ll have to stealthily find your way out without ever being discovered by the nightmarish patients that stalk the hallways. It’s horrifying and manipulative in all the right ways, making it a great title for horror fans who have been left for wanting in recent times.
For more on Outlast, check out our own Aaron Randolph’s playthrough of it below:
Pairing the best elements of both Contra and Metal Slug, Mercenary Kings is a great 2D shooter currently in development by Tribute Games.
I say currently in development, because as of right now it is available only on Steam Early Access technically as a beta. That beta, however, is a fully formed and playable game that looks pretty, sounds fantastic, and is an absolute joy to play. It’ll be released on the PlayStation 4 sometime this winter, and PC players have access to the 60 levels currently available with over a hundred levels promised in the game’s eventual release.
It’s fast-paced, allows for crafting and loot collection, and is an all-around good time to be had. For those who love indie games with retro sensibilities, make sure you check out Mercenary Kings after picking up your PlayStation 4.
Starring a randomized cast of characters with their own game-changing quirks, Rogue Legacy is a goofy Roguelike that both charms and infuriates thanks to its quirky sense of humor and challenging difficulty.
Rogue Legacy gets its name from its main feature. Each time you select a new character after death, you’ll be able to choose between three of your previous character’s offspring in your next venture into the castle, each with their own quirk or attribute that effects the gameplay in one way or another. Pick a character with Gigantism, and you’ll find that your adventurer takes up a larger space on screen and moves much more slowly. Pick one happy with Nostalgia, and the screen will take on a nice sepia tone with soft edges. Or, perhaps you go for the one with a paralyzing fear of chickens who happens to encounter the little buggers along with all the other enemies in the building.
Rogue Legacy is tough, but its fun legacy convention and upgrade system makes it worth every new venture into the castle. Like every Roguelike done right, there’s an inherent tension in seeing how long you can go with a character before they meet their demise, but few things feel quite as satisfying as making your longest run through the castle yet. It’s because of all of this as well as great level design and tight controls that Rogue Legacy is easily one of the better games released this year.
THE WOLF AMONG US
Telltale’s 2012 release of The Walking Dead is definitely a hard act to follow, and The Wolf Among Us was the property that had the challenging task of trying. Borrowing the lore from the Fables series of comics, The Wolf Among Us puts players in control of The Big Bad Wolf, or, Bigby, the Sheriff of Fabletown. Bigby is tasked with keeping the peace between all the Fables now living within the same vicinity, and things only take a turn for the worse when he also has to track down a murderer.
While it’s not necessarily as ground breaking or engrossing as The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us has some great atmosphere and performances that make it unique enough in its own right, all while patching up some of the gameplay complaints leveled toward The Walking Dead.
Episode One is currently available with Episode Two on its way, and fans of the comics and the adventure game genre will find themselves sated with its strong approach.
Playing as a border patrol agent doesn’t sound like the fun, action-packed good time we’ve come to expect from many of our games today, but Papers, Please is an effective and engrossing empathy game that forces players to deal with real life scenarios in a sobering and grossly evocative way.
Acting as a border patrol agent, you alone have the say in whether or not an immigrant is allowed to enter into the country, or if they must be denied due to faulty paperwork or suspicious conditions. Add to that the fact that you have a family at home to worry about, and your decisions suddenly carry new weight. No, it’s not the feel good game of the year, but Papers, Please is a fascinating little game that will stay with you long after you’ve shut it down.
Playing like an M.C. Escher painting in real life, Antichamber is a strange exploration-based game that plays with your mind in ways you didn’t know it could be played with. Things vanish, objectives become muddled, elements of the game seemingly make no sense, and yet, the game manages to come together in a way that is both mystifying and engaging. For those who love a good mind bend, Antichamber is sure to deliver.
Mixing elements of both 2D and 3D platformers, Contrast offers players a chance to switch between both the “real” world and the “shadow” world in order to traverse through its environments and solve its many puzzles. Featuring a great jazz soundtrack, stylized visuals, and a unique mechanic system,
Contrast is a great starter title for those who purchased a PlayStation 4 at launch and a neat experiment for those who prefer the PC. It isn’t perfect, but the game has enough to offer to make it interesting and engaging in all the right ways.
A free title for those with a PS Plus subscription, Housemarque’s Shoot-em-up Resogun quickly found itself the subject of popularity once the PlayStation 4 released. Twitter raved about its tight and adrenaline-fueled gameplay, Twitch featured multiple channels streaming the game, and leaderboards have been a place of hot contention as people try to outdo each other’s scores. In many ways, Resogun is the Geometry Wars of the new generation, and a great little indie gem that shouldn’t be missed by new adopters of Sony’s console.
A game that mixes elements of puzzle and simulation, Reus tasks you with finding the best ways to optimize each plot of land with different animals, vegetables, and minerals. This is also coupled with figuring out how to further evolve the human population and striking a balance between keeping them in check while also prospering.
Playing as a God really evokes Iron Giant themes, especially when the humans decide you’re not helping them and start attacking.
There’s no real campaign mode, but players can unlock 30 min, 60 min, and 120 min game modes, each with the goal of doing progressively better on each run. Simulation fans will find themselves pleased with all the Reus has to offer.
The golden age of exploration may seem a strange setting for a classic style tactical RPG, but it works so well in Expeditions: Conquistador that the game forges a unique identity for itself in an already crowded genre. Featuring detailed and stylized art design, engaging combat, great writing, and an undeniable sense of adventure, Expeditions is a great game for those who love the combat of XCOM and the RPG storytelling style of Baldur’s Gate.
Coffee Stain Studios took the original formula of their 2011 game Sanctum and made it into a bigger and bolder product with the release of Sanctum 2. With the sequel, we get more of the great first person tower defense action as seen the first time around, but with new maps, four unique classes, 4 person co-op, and a stylized art design that’s easy on the eyes. Fans of tower defense games like Dungeon Defenders will find themselves right at home with Sanctum 2, and for good reason: it’s a great game.
Yeah, that’s right. I put a browser-based game on here. Why? Well, simply put, Cookie Clicker is easily one of the strangest and most interesting games of the year.
The purpose? Generate as many cookies as you possibly can per second by clicking, purchasing upgrades and new production items, and watching the ticker quickly climb as it racks up an ever-increasing number of cookies.
Cookie Clicker essentially makes a game out of an economy system. There’s little to no strategy to it, and it’s nearly impossible to lose. You just watch the number rise, purchase upgrades, and continue the cycle over and over until the number reaches astronomical heights.
From the game’s impossible loss to the fact that it’s completely free, there’s literally nothing to lose. Check it out here.