It’s come to that time of year when we start looking back over the past 12 months and looking forward to the next. Indie games in 2011 became pretty high profile, made possible by the abundance of bundles and quality game releases. After breakout titles like Super Meat Boy and Limbo stunned everyone who played them in 2010, there seemed to be an increase in eyes looking out for similarly surprising titles in 2011. Of course, the success of one indie game in particular was not so much of a surprise – Minecraft. In fact, the game has taken the whole world by storm and will continue to for a long time.
There were enough surprises to keep us on our toes though. Titles like Space Pirates and Zombies, Bastion, Russian Dancing Men and To The Moon offered fantastic experiences in their own right, some blowing our expectations out of the water. These are titles that seem to come out of the blue and we love them for that surprising experience they offer. Constructing a list of titles that are going to surprise people in 2012 seems counter productive then; surely, the ones that will surprise us will be the ones that we haven’t heard much about and therefore will not make it into this list. That is of course true, but there are some titles that not many are keeping an eye on, and they are indeed adding up to be something that will hopefully impress us.
We’re not talking about Journey, Fez, The Witness, Monaco, Scrolls or even Botanicula here. We are looking for games that you don’t know much about but should be keeping an eye out for, ones that are being developed by people you have probably never even heard of before, or maybe just forgot about.
Dust: An Elysian Tail (X360)
In a process of constant development for what seems like forever, Dust: An Elysian Tale is a beautiful side scrolling hack ‘n’ slash that should finally be coming to Xbox Live in the first half of 2012. You play as the eponymous Dust as he attempts to rediscover his past in a hand painted world of discovery. Elysian Tail is actually a grander series of loosely interconnected stories set in a land called Falana, at the moment there is a movie as well as the game in production.
Sarcia is pitched as an immersive video game series crafted in a fully fleshed out universe that even has its own language. You play as a character who has awoken in this strange land and must attempt to learn the various words of the Palnia language so as to fully interact with the environment and progress. A recent demo proved that Sarcia was definitely something special and we cannot wait to get our hands on the first episode sometime next year.
Tink (PC, X360, PS3)
If you have ever moaned about games not having enough color, it’s time to choke on your words. Set in the distinctive Tinkerworld, Tink is an action adventure title that has just been awarded Best Project 2012 at Game Connection Europe. An impressive early prototype shows gorgeous free running mechanics used to spread the color back into the districts of Colortown which would otherwise remain devoid of its charm. Tink really leaps out at you, making it hard to ignore and it certainly knows how to hold our attention.
The Swapper (TBA)
Talking about games that catch your eye, The Swapper has some unbelievable lighting effects that refuse to not draw you in. Of course, we are not basing our high expectations of The Swapper on looks alone; how is this for a description – “The Swapper is a story about treating human beings as objects.” In fact, The Swapper seems to flaunt a whole package of awe-inducing pleasantries: never-before-seen mechanics, intelligent puzzle gameplay and an ambiguous storyline. Where do we sign?
Star Child (TBA)
Since Portal bust in on the gaming scene, we have all become fascinated with teleportation. How about we combine that with some stardust and complex puzzle mechanics as well then? Star Child is still very much unheard of at the moment but it has left us very impressed. Alien architecture and a moon-lit background only serves to highlight the game’s interesting core gameplay – teleporting your avatar and other objects in a 2D plane to overcome enemies and obstacles. Look out for this one, it’s a slow boiler.
Miegakure (PC, Mac, Linux)
Just because this list needs more puzzle platformers (not), we have decided to include the long awaited Miegakure. If you are looking forward to Fez, and we know you are, then this should also be high on your list of must-buys. Miegakure attempts to play with the fourth dimension – yes we know you thought that was time, but it’s not in this case. The fourth dimension is another spatial dimension in Miegakure which we cannot normally enter, and by using it the many impassable obstacles in the levels become, well, passable. If you want to confuse yourself further then feel free to go to the official site and do so. There is no sure sign if Meigakure will come out in 2012, but we remain hopeful.
A Valley Without Wind (PC, Mac)
No doubt some of you have already been playing A Valley Without Wind in its beta stage, and why not – the game is great! A “procedurally-generated 2D side-scrolling adventure of limitless proportions”, AVWW is a much needed way to kill things, collect other things to craft and help survivors rebuild settlements. If that isn’t enough to heat up your loins then the addition of co-op in the future certainly will. No? Oh just go and download the beta, play the game, love it and tell us we were right you Nazi!
Shadow Of A Soul (PC, Mac, PS3)
We loved the teaser trailer for Shadow of a Soul so much that it’s proving very hard to contain our excitement. With no proper gameplay to finalise our verdict as of yet, we have to remain sceptical, but oh-my-god-it-is-another-first-person-survival-horror-that-has-some-great-potential! The developer seems to have the right frame of mind in approaching the genre and is looking to make an atmospheric, story-driven horror game in the same vein as Amnesia: The Dark Descent. We will pay lots of money for that if it delivers. Yes we will.
Alone (PC, Mac)
Expressionism has always held a little space in our hearts; the weird, distorted architecture and disturbing characters connects us with our dreams and captures our imagination. Alone is a game that attempts to grab that connection and smother itself in it. It is quite clear that Alone will have a unique appeal with its concentration on soaking its players in a particular atmosphere, but it’s intended for all ages yet retains a sense of the adult about it. We are very intrigued.
Blink (PC, Mac)
While we are on the topic of surrealism or thereabouts, it’s worth taking a look at Blink. Our typical indie gamer minds were drawn to Blink‘s oddity – somehow you can transcend between two states of the world. While you are continually freaking out at the ever-changing environments you are then sadistically forced to solve puzzles and mysteries, as well as traverse floating platforms and other equally dangerous scenarios. Sometimes we do not know why we sign up for these types of “immersive” experiences. Oh wait yes we do, we’re bored by things that are normal and want to confuse our tiny human brains. In that case, feel free to slap us silly with your mind-bending puzzles then, we dare you.
Children of Liberty (PC, Mac)
No it’s not the Famous Five, but in all honesty, Children of Liberty might not be far off. Set on the eve of the American Revolution, Children of Liberty takes classic 2D platforming, updates it some and then complements it with stealth mechanics. You play as four kids adamant on breaking their parents out of jail, and in typical over-determined kiddy style, they somehow get wrapped up in helping the Patriots uncover the details of a British Conspiracy. The little buggers. In its current Alpha version, Children of Liberty is already great and continuing to get better.
The last time you were told to take a photo in a game it was probably of a posing Pikachu or a very pissed off zombie, so you can thank Retro Affect for making photo-taking an art. What do you mean it already is? Oh forget it. Snapshot is probably influenced by Portal considering it takes similar mechanics but replaces the portal gun with photos. Yeah, that is going to confuse you so you better watch the gameplay. The game also has a cute little robot and a delightful soundtrack to bounce along to, oh and in case you hadn’t realised it looks like great fun – you can bounce on elephants, nuff said.
ibb and obb (PS3, PC)
Simply saying the title out loud to yourself is hilarious. ibb and obb is no joke though, far from it, these little tykes have plans to take over the world! Okay, so that’s just an assumption but they are good at working together to traverse the extremely bizarre place they exist in. This is definitely a game for those of you who live for co-op gameplay and especially if you like extreme sports; apparently you can surf gravity!
Lone Survivor (PC)
Pixelated graphics, check. Survival horror, check. Great storyline, hopefully. Lone Survivor is a game of great ambience and gameplay due to a creepy soundtrack, weird environments and spooky enemies. Your goal, if it isn’t obvious, is to survive the horrors all around you. Hiding in shadows, running and combining items is what will be need to get through this nightmarish game and we cannot bloody wait to play the full game.
Oh what’s that? Another puzzle platformer. Yeah, well shoot us because we would be stupid to not include Parallax in our list. It may look like a game we have seen before – since Portal there have been a few knocking about – but Parallax really stands out. The presentation is very sophisticated and sumptuous, but it gives us that same ‘what the hell just happened?!’ feeling every time the player looks or walks through those holes. While we’re not sure what is going on, we are sure that Parallax is going to impress us when it comes out.