With an indie scene now extremely active, it may be useful to take stock of the best titles of recent years. However, it remains difficult to compile a list, either because by now the proposals have become many, many, to the point of requiring some more stringent requirements in order to select the best ones. To meet this criterion, in fact, those who not only offered solid gameplay, but also those who managed to keep the bar high on a technical level, were awarded.
In particular in the field of pixel art, it was necessary to make a certain speech, as this graphic style is now ending up becoming abused and often an excuse not to make an effort to make a commitment on the cosmetic level of games that now always cost on average more (we are now well over 10-15 euros for a 2010 indie). In fact, very often some indies exhibit bad pixel art, trying to sell it as acceptable as a retro style.
However, certain examples of pixel graphics would have been considered bad even at the release of the Super Nintendo (which could count on titles of the caliber of Super Mario World), thus finding in the "retro" label, almost a justification for offering something of mediocre quality. , which would have disfigured even when this style was contemporary.
Therefore this review of twenty games (absolutely not a ranking, the titles are proposed in no particular order) it therefore wants to reward those who have tried to do that extra kilometer, combining substance and form to try to raise the level of indie productions.
Dead Cells (PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
Dead Cells is on this list for two reasons. The first is that it is actually one of the best indies in recent years. The second is that videogamingallday.com has demanded its inclusion, under penalty of violent repercussions, so here it is. Its advantages, however, are considerable, being a metroidvania with very accentuated role elements, but perfectly set on a functional action part composed of jumps and fierce fights. Its roguelike approach and procedural dungeons may perhaps make it less accessible for those who want a more "calm" title in the way of managing the difficulty curve and a clearer and less intangible progression. The graphics are also truly remarkable, using a very suggestive pixel art and coloring.
Cuphead (PC, Xbox One, Switch)
One of Phil Spencer's “transfer market” hits was the acquisition of Cuphead, acknowledging the Moldenhauer brothers with a skill that was widely reflected in sales, making their game a success worth millions of copies. Its indie origin, however, remains marked by some intrinsic limitations, which make it an anomalous run & shoot, as it is largely concentrated on boss battles, however exquisitely made and with great variety of design. The classic levels, in which to advance horizontally with more complex platforming phases, are a more limited presence. The overall quality, however, is extremely high, not only in playability, but also in the technical sector. The hand-drawn graphics are among the highest points reached so far in the videogame field for drawings and animations, accompanied by an excellent jazz and ragtime soundtrack and an art direction that pays homage to the very first cartoons.
Icey (PC, Switch)
What makes the narrative sector of this game decidedly sparkling is the set of breaks in the so-called fourth wall, worthy of the most memorable moments of Metal Gear Solid 2. As in Hideo Kojima's game, the protagonist of Icey also sets out to defeat a villain. , only to find himself in a series of situations where it is clearly explained that everything that happens happens inside a game, also altering the progression or some events in an anomalous way, just to reiterate this concept. Not only graphically valuable, Icey is also a playable two-dimensional hack & slash with a surprising and creative storytelling.
Return of Obra Dinn (PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
A missing ship and an unsolved mystery are at the heart of this strange graphic adventure. The Obra Dinn is a vessel on which something unclear has happened, leaving its crew dead in anomalous circumstances. An insurance agent then finds himself the thankless task of analyzing each corpse, reconstructing the last moments and the cause of death, until the whole story is discovered. Graphically minimal, in a black and white that seems almost an experiment in pictorial pointillism applied to a video game, yet very refined in every aspect. Perhaps as stingy in guiding the player about progression as The Witness, as exciting for those who want to dedicate themselves to it.
Thimbleweed Park (PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
From the creator of Monkey Island, a graphic adventure with a vintage look, presented with abundant quotes, tributes and references to the same genre that was the first to be able to introduce articulated stories in the videogame media. Brazenly blocky, but in any case well defined and cared for in the graphic sector, the title of Ron Gilbert presents us with a colorful set of protagonists, who carry on their stories in Thimbleweed Park, the place that gives its name to the game and acts as a stage of events. Full of mystery and humor, it is capable of thrilling and entertaining at the same time.
Little Nightmares (PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
Now close to receiving a sequel, Little Nightmares has already captivated millions of gamers with a dark fairytale setting a la Tim Burton. The little protagonist must escape from a hostile place, populated by creatures with orcish features, aided only by her small size to sneak around, using makeshift platforms, solving puzzles and escaping from pursuers. A little platform, stealth and puzzle, Little Nighmares is a multifaceted adventure both in playability and in the imagery that it manages to create, overturning the fabulous tones in a macabre context and proposing a good series of situations to be faced up to the epilogue.
Fox N Forest (PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
A platform with great pixel art, which comes with some pretty cool game design ideas. The fox protagonist in fact ventures along the forest, altering the seasons at will to overcome obstacles, create passages and platforms, where needed. To overcome a lake, just go from summer to winter and walk on ice, or change spring into autumn and take advantage of the falling leaves as temporary platforms to leave behind a ravine otherwise too long to jump. Fox N Forest also has a good number of secrets and items scattered throughout each area to collect, showing a focus on replayability, level design and exploration that is mature in terms of design and worthy of the best 2D platforming examples tested on Mega. Drive and SuperNintendo.
Banner Saga (PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
Having recently reached the third chapter that concluded the trilogy, this saga of turn-based strategy is perhaps one of the best cases of videogame craftsmanship of recent years. A very structured gameplay, combined with excellent hand-drawn graphics and a plot capable of reaching epic peaks worthy of a Tolkien fantasy. The Banner Saga is a title perhaps not easy for novices of the genre, but capable of combining a certain brutality in the choices of game design with those of the narrative. With the responsibility of surviving a boundless caravan of people, the player must not only fight his battles as best he can, but also make choices that affect progression with bonuses and penalties that make it difficult to determine which is the best solution.
Nex Machina (PC, Playstation 4)
The Housemarque studio has distinguished itself for a series of games with an arcade feel and extremely deep gameplay, as immediate and simple as they are rich to master. Nex Machina perhaps reaches the peak of this game design approach, offering a fast, frenetic and challenging isometric shooter in multiple shades. Race through a hail of bullets, rescue people held captive and defeat waves of overwhelming enemies. Few rules, but translated into an adrenaline-pumping experience, the kind that connect each game over to the next game in an almost automatic and addictive way.
The Witness (PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One)
Peaceful and not very talkative, the world created by Jonathan Blow is a container of puzzles tailored to the voracious consumer of puzzle magazines, painted with a palette that mixes the colors of spring and autumn in a very successful digital painting. At each step forward you discover some short audio diary that offers nothing but a philosophical dissertation or quotation to make the player reflect on some theme that concerns the "maximum systems". The island is empty, deserted, leaving a mixture of calm and silence in preparation for finding the solution to yet another new puzzle placed in front of it. In full antithesis to the action, the crackling dialogues and the punchy jokes, the roguelike game overs or any other aspect found in another game on this list, The Witness is a completely authorial and personal product to the point of not looking for in the least to captivate his audience.
Severed (Playstation Vita, Switch, 3DS)
From the authors of Guacamelee, Severed is a dungeon crawler that has made perfect use of the touch screen controls of the Playstation Vita (and now the Switch and 3DS too). The player's finger thus becomes the protagonist's sword, who can deliver blows and slashes to attack or defend herself from the numerous monsters. Stylistically original, both in graphic cosmetics and in shaping the shapes of enemies, it perfectly mixes dungeon exploration and backtracking without ever making any of these elements too heavy or complex. An exemplary level design allows you to tackle a section, leave aside some casket or passage, only to then reconnect it later with excellent naturalness in managing the progression. A must-have purchase for anyone who owns one of these handheld consoles, and one of the rare tactile-controlled game cases exploited for something more complicated than a random Fruit Ninja.
Pawarumi (PC, Xbox One, Switch)
Ikaruga had completely overturned a videogame genre that seemed by now crystallized, proposing an idea as simple as it was capable of affirming innovative game design principles in the field of shmup. Pawarumi takes up that idea and expands it, inserting a tri-chromatic firing system in which each color is more effective against an enemy marked by an opposite color, according to a rock-paper-scissor principle. In addition, managing the fire in a reverse order can be useful for enhancing the shields, thus creating an extremely varied, dynamic and engaging offensive-defensive firing circuit, even for the most experienced player in shmup. He evokes the setting that mixes ancient Aztec civilizations with science fiction.
Blazing Chrome (PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
When the big software houses leave their historical series in the cellar despite the pressing requests of the players (or dust them off in a questionable way, see Contra Rogue Corps), the indie scene can offer putative sequels that have nothing to envy to the originals to which they are inspire. Blazing Chrome is literally the ideal sequel to Contra, endowed with a playability in all respects modeled on that of the title to which it refers, to the point of being perhaps not original, but perfect with the pad in hand. The pixel graphics are rich in nuances and details along all the levels, which not only differ from each other in terms of setting, but host well-articulated boss battles, which really seem to have come out of one of the best run & shoot.
Unruly Heroes (PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
Produced by former Ubisoft developers who signed the two Rayman Origins / Legends, Unruly Heroes is an action-platformer exquisitely close to the pictorial in its graphic form. The game reinterprets the famous oriental legend of the monkey hero, putting at the controls of the player also a shortlist of three supporting characters with different moves and attacks, which can be alternated with the protagonist at any time. Overall a fun and well-articulated title in its playability, embellished with a decidedly high production value for an indie game.
Hollow Knight (PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
Extensive and structured in a very complex way, with an equally consistent challenge. Hollow Knight is a metroidvania that however is aimed at veterans of this videogame genre. A fairly steep difficulty curve and an often exaggerated backtracking presence, in fact, make it not very accessible for the less experienced, but just as demanding for those who want a title capable of entertaining for a long time. From the very original artistic direction and with a very valuable graphics, the title of Team Cherry seems almost an epic fairy tale, but with an insectic imagination to outline places and creatures, definitely new.
Detective Gallo (PC, Playstation 4, Switch)
An Italian production that takes up the Thimbleweed Park discourse but does not stop at paying homage to the golden age of point and click, focusing instead on a fresh aesthetic, made up of real hand-drawn tables, becoming almost a semi-animated cartoon. The atmospheres echo the films of investigators of the 30s, but presenting characters that seem to have come out of a Donald Duck book, creating a funny humor made of parodic contrasts. The puzzles remain a central part of the playful sector, but without ever being too complicated or difficult in their solution.
Wonder Boy Dragon’s Trap (PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
When it comes to remaking a classic, the Lizardqube developers have made an art of it. Wonder Boy is the reinterpretation of one of the best 8-bit titles, a little action, a little platform and even a little RPG and adventure. The protagonist must pass a series of levels having different transformations into an animal at his disposal, each of which gives him a specific ability suitable to pass a certain point. The gameplay therefore overturns its foundations in each area, putting in the player's hands something that is always new to use. The hand-drawn graphics are perhaps among the best examples for years now, perhaps inferior only to the titanic work of the Moldenhauer brothers of the Cuphead mentioned above, but still extraordinary.
Redout (PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
The production values in this case are so high as to leave the doubt whether it is an indie game or a real AAA published by a larger studio. Redout also falls into those cases in which independent developers are able to make up for some serious lack of the contemporary market in a more than excellent way. Hiding a new official chapter of Wipeout or F-Zero for too long, a good replacement can be found here, thanks to the reproduction of futuristic races perfectly modeled on the style of the two illustrious colleagues. Fast and adrenaline-pumping, perfect for anyone who wants a different racing game than usual.
Bloodstained (PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
The Castlevania which is not called Castlevania. Koji Igarashi has gone from producer of a great software to indie developer in order to give fans the new chapter of a saga that has established him among the best developers and game designers ever. There is little to say about this title, except that it is an unofficial sequel to the Symphony of the Night itself which after twenty years continues to be re-released, played and studied as a perfect example of game design and how hybridizing playful genres. Role-playing action platformer, as it could be defined, Bloodstained also focuses on the exploration of a castle with a map designed in a meticulous way to contain thrilling fights, precious objects to collect, obstacles to overcome and anything else that makes its substance dense.
Ori and the blind forest (PC, Xbox One, Switch)
With a sequel to be published soon, the first Ori continues to be enchanting, both in its graphics and artistic direction, and in its action platform structure, with a slight presence of puzzles to make everything more varied and elaborate. Difficult to find suitable words to describe it, Ori is pure amazement applied to the video game.
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