Our Favorite Indies of 2018
As the video gaming industry continues to grow, we have the pleasure of having a vast amount of new titles to choose from every year. Now that this industry has moved into a new level of social acceptance, gone are the days of only having a few developers coming out with games that will grace our systems. While AAA titles will still hold a certain level of pedigree and instant recognition, more and more indie developers are using this medium as not only a fun way to entertain players, but also as a way to convey fascinating narratives and create incredible works of art. 2018 has been a stellar year for smaller indie developers and we’re thrilled to take a look back at some of our favorite indie games from this year.
Into the Breach – Jason
Turn-based combat games are a sadly outdated genre. We’re seeing fewer hit the market and even less that succeed. Subset Games, the creators of FTL: Faster Than Light, defied the market and released their second game, Into the Breach. This procedurally generated turn-based, kaiju bashing, citizen-saving, mech fest reminded me of the patient and experimental approach to strategy that made me fall in love with turn-based combat in the first place. The enemy kaiju’s next moves are always displayed on the board removing the element of surprise from the mix. But the combat’s transparency gives players little advantage and each move requires difficult decision making and taking regular collateral damage. With a library of unlockable mechs, pilots, and stages, I can’t help but go back to Into the Breach between new releases.
Pixel Ripped: 1989 – Todd
2018 is the year VR made the turn from cool tech to being a must play console. This is the year that VR titles didn’t just stand out amongst their own, but truly stood toe to toe with non-VR hits. Pixel Ripped: 1989 is a fantastic indie title made by a very small Brazilian developer, Arvore. It instantly took me back to my days in high school, sneaking in my Gameboy. Revisiting that period, feeling like a game that truly belonged in that time rather than simply retro graphics and homage to similar titles. Pixel Ripped: 1989 didn’t try to reinvent a wheel nor did it simply port a genre. It took an already great and proven genre, broke it down, and built it from the ground up with mechanics and style that work best for Virtual Reality.
The Messenger – Leo
This is a no-brainer for me. The Messenger was the best indie I played this year, as well as one of the best games I’ve played in a while, period. Not only are the visuals great and the soundtrack good for the most part, but the game also features the single most precise and deliciously rewarding gameplay I’ve ever seen in a 2D platformer. Couple that with some amazing level designs, some very well-hidden secrets, challenging but fair boss battles, and one of the coolest plot twists I’ve seen in years, and you get a heartfelt celebration of retro gaming as a result. This isn’t just a Ninja Gaiden clone, this is a game that makes Ninja Gaiden look like a LJN shovelware title in comparison.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire – Thomas
Despite being a huge Obsidian fanboy, the first Pillars of Eternity didn’t particularly impress me. It felt like it had been done better before. Deadfire on the other hand felt like fresh air in a genre in desperate need of it. Set in an archipelago, you’re dealing with pirate ships not bandit camps, scheming with rival trading companies instead of Kings, and traipsing through jungles instead of forests. You get your very own ship to customize, to use both to explore the world map and take part in ship battles through a unique (yet very fun) Choose Your Own Adventure layout. It feels like the game the first one could have been and more of what the RPG genre needs. The post-launch support, through sizable free updates and paid DLC has been top notch as well, which is always a nice touch.
Dead Cells – Jan
Take about 5 dozen-innovations to the Souls-like genre, put them in a gorgeous world and then mix the HECK out of them and what do you get? Pure awesomeness! Dead Cells will hold a special place in my heart for years to come. The level of precision poured into each facet of the game is incredible. Controls are tight, environments are beautiful, core-game loop is highly addicting and the sheer amount of player driven combinations are staggering. I’ll never forget the adrenaline that surged through me when I had conquered six worlds in a row thanks to a sneaky build I concocted on the spot. I was on top of the world and nothing could stop me; until it did. Three hours of hard grueling work torn asunder due to a new enemy type I encountered. After a few guttural screams I went at it again without a second of hesitation. If that’s not a testament to Dead Cells quality and polish, I don’t know what is.
Celeste – Kyle
2018 was a fantastic year for indies, but for me Celeste was the best of the bunch. Celeste is a hardcore platformer that manages to be brutal yet fair thanks to the responsive controls that make Madeline a joy to control. As you progress the game gets more and more challenging but it never feels overwhelming and once the story is over there’s even more to do. Then you’ve got the beautiful pixel art visuals and techno music that elevate the gameplay to the next level. All of this is tied together with a surprisingly touching story that tackles themes of depression with a great cast of characters. It’s rather unusual for a platformer to have such a deep story, but Celeste manages to pull it off. I can’t recommend picking up this game enough, even to people who aren’t familiar with the genre.
GRIS – Heidi
I’ve played a lot of indie games this year and I have to say that the one that has stood out the most to me this year is GRIS from Nomada Studios. GRIS is a prime example of a title that is more of an interactive work of art than a traditional game. It follows a young girl on her journey to deal with her grief after the death of a loved one. Not only is the subject matter deep with a beautifully done poignant ending, but the art style and the music throughout GRIS are absolutely superb. It’s a fairly easy game because it’s meant to be more about the journey of the young girl as she works to overcome her grief. Without a doubt, it’s absolutely an experience worth having.
What did you think of our list? Did your favorite make the cut? Feel free to let us know in the comments!