Well, with a heavy sigh of relief attached to it, 2018 is over.
Gaming-wise, when celebrities weren’t trying to be relate-able by mentioning Fortnite, the year was filled with all sorts of good games. In fact, one might go so far as to say it was better than 2017 for games, and 2017 was bloody huge. With this in mind, we have found it appropriate to pay attention to the little guys in the independent scene.
Spread across two parts will be ten games that me and fellow writer, Zachary Kauz, feel showcased the best of indie gaming in 2018, with the exception of Matt Makes Games’ magnum opus, Celeste, with the reason being that Celeste is the only indie title good enough to see it to the normal Game of The Year list. The only rules in play are that their first releases had to have been this year, and they’ve been reviewed by us at Sick Critic. With that in mind, here are three honorable mentions that couldn’t make the cut for one reason or another.
Honorable Mention: Subnautica – Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
The first honorable mention goes to Subnautica, the underwater survival simulator that made this cynical world fall in love with “early access survival sim crafting system” games once more. With a brilliantly executed spin of the formula, an atmosphere that’s both comfortable and terrifying, and a narrative that keeps you intrigued throughout, it’s dead set to be on anybody Game of The Year list, let alone an “Indie” section. So why is it here?
One simple answer: I’m crap at it. Aside from having a paralyzing fear of the ocean, the amazingly dense world of Subnautica is one you need to devote full time to, and that’s the time I simply didn’t have before this list was curated. Nevertheless, Subnautica is the best survival crafting game released since Terraria, and it’s worth a playthrough no matter what.
Honorable Mention: Forgotton Anne – Developer: ThroughLine Games
The next honorable mention goes to Forgotton Anne, one of several titles Square Enix’s “Collective” program, which has been pushing out several unique titles over the past two years (Another one of which is in this list, wink wink). Forgotton Anne’s best quality is quite easily its anime-influenced animation, which translates quite smoothly to casual platforming. Aside from that, the meat of this meal comes from an interesting narrative revolving around the idea of forgotten household items and clothing, leading to an adventure brimming with creativity.
Why is it here? Well, it’s good, but it’s not as good as other titles on this list. Forgotton Anne is a game that misses being called a “walking simulator” by a fraction of an inch, with a lot of moments simply being you looking at some of the wonderful vistas on offer. It has memorable characters, smart but fleeting puzzle design, and visual design that’ll make it memorable, but as a game? It’s fairly lacking, yet it’s still worth mentioning and putting it onto this list for the visual presentation alone.
Honorable Mention: GRIS – Developer: Nomada Studio
Now, our own Nathanael Hueso would consider it blasphemy and curse on bloodlines for not including the recently released GRIS on this list in some way, shape or form. However, it didn’t get reviewed, so here he is explaining why it’s so bloody good while it stays on the honorable mention list:-
GRIS doesn’t necessarily try anything groundbreaking with its gameplay or art style. What it succeeds so well in doing is taking established ideas and using them to prod at you emotionally. This game awakens something deep, maybe even something spiritual, that you didn’t know you had locked away.
Relegating GRIS to the genre of hand-drawn platformer robs the game of its spirit. If you finish GRIS and feel nothing, you walked into it with the wrong expectations. Go into GRIS looking for an experience, not a simple game. Even if you don’t end up a huge fan, at least you experienced this beautiful work of art.
Right, onto the winners! Here’s five of them.
Vesta – Developer: FinalBoss Games
This year started off on a strong note with Vesta, the sophomore release from Spanish studio FinalBoss Games. Following the story of a 6-year old girl with an eye for exploration who is paired with a robot named DROID to do all the hard work for her, the puzzles simple yet smart design provided a solid and cute journey, along with having some well-done pacing.
If there’s one complaint that can hamper your experience, it’s the dull aesthetic, which can lessen the strong tone and atmosphere the game set up in the vein of Portal. Other than that, you had puzzles that made you feel good, a soundtrack that fit perfectly with the vibes the game gave off, and gimmicky boss fights that weren’t a complete pain in the arse. Stellar stuff all around.
Minit – Developer(s): JW, Kitty, Jukio, and Dom
The more you think about your experience with Minit, the deceptive adventure game from what seems like the game developer equivalent of rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, the more wholesome your thoughts become. Faced with the seemingly impossible task of making a Groundhog Day mechanic not awful, the four-person team pulled through to the end to create an experience of flip-flopping atmospheres and comedic timing.
It’s the achievement of making every microscopic moment worth experiencing that makes Minit such a fantastic game. Regardless of how janky the gameplay can be, JW and co. paid attention to the finer details throughout, from characters to new areas, to the jaunty little tunes Jukio created for all areas. With that in mind, some of the gameplay can be overlooked, and JW, Jukio, Kitty, and Dom can be commended for making a game that lasts less than an hour in length radiate in players memories for so long.
Octahedron – Developer: Demimonde
Just like Celeste, Demimonde’s Octahedron is an old-school platformer subscribing to a specific trend, but with an emphasis on one mechanic in particular. In Celeste, it was the dash, and in Octahedron, it’s the power to create a platform underneath your feet at the apex of your jump. Add a few bells and whistles to it, and you get the platforming equivalent of finding a tin of all your favorite Quality Street chocolates, and there’s not a single Toffee Penny in sight.
Set to a mesmerizing synth aesthetic that somehow feels fresh in this age of overdone Blood Dragon knock-offs, along with a fantastic soundtrack by chiptune artist Chipzel, everything goes right for this title. Sure, it may seem like originality wears thin once you get past World 5, but it’s the journey you’re taken on before then that makes the trip worthwhile. It’s just a really nice platformer with a really forgiving difficulty curve, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice by avoiding it.
Ashen – Developer: Aurora44 (A44)
“Better late than never” is a motto that’s gotten me through everything in life, and even though it’s just barely scraped past the deadline for this list, that doesn’t lessen the blow that Souls-like Ashen gave players. With beefy combat, a beautiful aesthetic and vibe flourishing from it, and a narrative focusing on a community effort, nothing could stop this from being the best Souls-like money can buy at the moment.
As stated in the review, the one thing most heartbreaking about Ashen is that it misses mere perfection by inches. There’s something about the elements, the formula, the fury and fire– It simply never clicks properly. Regardless, Ashen is still an enticing experience, and if you’re sick to death of half-baked Souls clones littering your hard drives and game libraries, then this will surely be a breath of fresh air to you.
Dead Cells – Developer: Motion Twin
For the final entry in this list of five, it was a no-brainer: Dead Cells, the 2D tribute to Dark Souls which feels more like a tribute to Final Fight, than anything else. That’s not a bad thing though, absolutely not, as it simply means that Dead Cells holds more cathartic action and beat ’em up flavor in its gameplay than anything else out there, and for that alone, it deserves endless praise.
With murky yet beautiful pixel art, a soundtrack that gets you more than pumped up, and combat more refreshing and gratifying than finding out your worst enemy stepped on a plug this morning, there’s barely a bum note hit throughout your time on the endlessly shifting island of Dead Cells. Go visit it, go experiment with the tens of weapons the game houses, go seek out the small handful of masterfully crafted bosses, it’s all waiting for you.
To Be Continued…
For now, those are five of our Independent GOTY picks, along with three that missed the cut by an inch. Stay on the lookout for part two of this list, where fellow snob Zachary Kauz will list another five games that deserve to be a part of this list. From there, we’ll have a recap of what happened in 2018, and finally, we’ll look towards the future, with a showcasing of fifteen games set to arrive in 2019.
Bye-bye for now.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.