The Most Memorable Indie Games of 2012

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This list isn’t about the best indie games of 2012 though there will likely be some overlap.  This list is a personal reflection on 2012 and covers my personal selection of most memorable indie games.  I had a blast playing Hotline Miami, Awesomenauts, Mark of the Ninja and FTL.  Those were all great games, but didn’t necessarily leave a lasting impression.  This list covers those indie games that are so experimental, artistic, and unique that they are not only memorable this year, but will likely be memorable for years to come.  This list covers games like Braid.  I still think about Braid to this day.  It’s unique time platforming mechanics were great, but it’s dark unfolding story and flowing painted graphics left a much more lasting impression.  The list is in no particular order, but hopefully you all have taken the time to experience these memorable independent games:

The Unfinished Swan by Giant Sparrow

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WTF is it? 

The Unfinished Swan is a game about exploring the unknown.  You play as a young orphan boy who just recently lost his mother and wanders into an and unfinished kingdom.  The game starts in a completely white space where you must throw black balls of paint to reveal the world around you.

Why it’s Memorable:

The Unfinished Swan works because of it’s brevity and charming storybook plot.  The opening chapter where you splatter paint to reveal the world is genius, but the game continues to evolve with each new chapter and has a simplistic beauty.  From the graphics to the story, there’s something about this game that reminds me of the book, Le Petit Prince. This isn’t the best game out there.  It lacks challenge and is only a few hours, but transcends.  The real triumph of the game is the way it plants you in the shoes of Monroe, the game’s protagonist.  The game is a coming of age story, a fairy tale, a story about discovering yourself, and a tribute to lost love ones.  While the game is only a few short hours, it’s time well spent.

 

Little Inferno by Tomorrow Corporation

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WTF is it?

In Little Inferno, you stare at the same little brick fireplace and order new toys, objects, and more to burn right in front of your eyes. Every object reacts differently to the flames and there are combos to discover that will progress you further in the game and unlock new items to order and burn.

Why it’s Memorable: 

One of the most striking things about Little Inferno is that it’s not much of a game.  The fact that Tomorrow Corp was able to make burning things over and over again on the same screen fun and interesting is remarkable.  What’s even more remarkable is the odd post-modern story laid over top of it.  I definitely cannot shed light on what the game is about.  I haven’t quite figured that out for myself, but I do know that there’s something about the game and fire that makes Little Inferno strangely hypnotic.  I lost half a day of work beating the game in one sitting and every time I hear mention of it, I’m strangely drawn to boot it up and play through it again.  Why I’m sure some gamers will find the story too introspective and short, I can’t help but be drawn towards the flames.

 

FTL by Subset Games

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WTF is it?

FTL is basically a digital board game.  It’s a real-time spaceship simulator rogue-like where you are constantly fleeing and jumping across the galaxy.  Each jump constitutes a new randomized situation.  You’ll battle pirate ships, come across stores, get offered missions, hire new crew members, and more.  It’s strategic, can be played at any pace, and is incredibly difficult.

Why it’s Memorable:

FTL is so memorable for primarily 2 reasons.  First, it is incredibly challenging and strategic.  I have still yet to beat it on Normal.  The challenge really makes you mull over every decision, but what makes it so great is that your utter failure only leads to you wanting to start over and over again.  FTL is insanely addictive and easy to pick-up and play on any machine.  It’s also one of the most unique game experiences that I’ve had all year because the pacing and strategy is so very different.  There’s no need for dexterous mouse skills or frantic button presses; It’s slow pace made it perfect to play on the go with my laptop and crappy touchpad (how many games can you play with a touchpad really?).  I have been on many planes and trains this year, cursing to myself playing FTL.  It is an intense single-player board game with a lot of strategy and some luck thrown in for good measure.  The challenge is immense, but you’re always unlocking new tools and ships or simply have new ideas that you think will get you one jump farther.

 

Fez by Polytron Corporation

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WTF is it?

Fez is a game about a little fella named Gomez that lives in a 2D world until he acquires a magical Fez that lets him see that his world is truly 3D.  It’s an open-ended platforming and exploration game that lets you shift the 2D perspective of the world with your 3D abilities.

Why it’s Memorable:

Fez is memorable as much for it’s gameplay as it is from the controversies surrounding it.  Before being released, Fez had been in development for 4 years and as seen in Indie Game: the Movie, there were legal complications and bad blood between some of the original Polytron founders.  Fez was also at the center of the IGF controversy this past year having won the 2008 Visual Arts prize and the Grand Prize this past year as well. This controversy ultimately led to Phil Fish leaving twitter, but that’s not it.   Polytron also criticized Xbox’s patch policies and refused to pay $10,000 to update and fix their game for their fans.  Add to this that the 2-man team split up (Renaud moved to Toronto to work with Capybara) leaving Phil Fish the sole person currently running Polytron.  All that publicity alone has made Fez memorable, but I haven’t even touched on the innovative 3D mechanic and the enchanting world to explore in this game.  There’s no denying Fez’s infamy.

 

Journey by thatgamecompany

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WTF is it?

Journey is a 3D exploration game where you play as a cloaked figure making their way to the top of a mountain.  If you’re playing the game online, other nameless users will accompany you – whose names are only revealed at the end of the the game.  There’s no dialog in this game at all, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a story across the game’s 2 hours. It’s all about the visuals and your own interpretation.

Why it’s Memorable:

Only a fraction of Journey’s beauty can be captured in a still image.  There is truly no greater showpiece for the argument that game’s can be art then Journey.  It’s exceptionally beautiful and a joy to experience.  What’s even more memorable though is the cyclical and infinite story.  It’s amazing how imagery can convey such a spirtual and emotional story.  The mystery of the world, the cloaked figures, and everything that you experience along the way is more memorable than any book or movie that I saw this past year.  Journey is the type of game that you want all of your thoughtful friends to play so that you can discuss it with them.  It begs to be dissected and interpreted like any poignant piece of artwork.

 

I’m sure I left out some games that touched you this year.  Let me know what games you found memorable in the comments below:




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