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Goomba Stomp’s Top 20 Indie Games of 2017

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2017 was a fantastic year to be an indie gamer. It seems like there was something for every kind of gamer out there, from gamers who are really into the RTS genre to those who just want to chill and play the worries of the world away. The year was also a huge boost to indie developers with the release of the Nintendo Switch which brought a new breath of life into indie gaming with the consoles concepts of either on the go gaming or hooking up your system to a bigger screen.

This year, in particular, it’s worth noting that the smaller games managed to leave as strong of an impression as some AAA titles and were created by small teams who just so happened to capture the attention of a large audience.

Below, Goomba Stomps indie fanatics put together a top 20 list of worthwhile games from 2017.

20: Tooth and Tail:

Developer(s) Pocketwatch Games
Publisher(s) Pocketwatch Games
Release: September 12th, 2017
Genre(s) Casual, Strategy

It goes without saying the RTS genre has hit somewhat of a dry spell in the past few years. While Spellforce 3 is a notable new entry to the RTS library, Pocketwatch Games’ Tooth and Tail is more akin to the classics like Age of Empires and Rise of Nations.  Set during the Russian revolution, the player must take control of the animal versions of the proletariat, bourgeois, religiously fanatical, and government obsessed factions of the highly toxic period in human history.  Squirrels are Bandelier sporting drunks, skunks deliver deadly doses of chemical weapons, and owls bombard the battlefield with their decaying remains of their enemies.  It all sounds very disturbing and grotesque, but the beautiful 16-bit art style and humorous dialogue make it an enjoyable experience.  

Tooth and Tail isn’t like a traditional RTS.  Bases are built on pre-existing structures and can be won and lost in an instant.  A match between two players can take as little as five minutes, or drag on for two hours, depending on the opponent’s playstyle.  This makes Tooth and Tail an addictive experience that, while challenging, offers an immense amount of satisfaction.  Multiplayer is where the game truly shines, as the single player has little to offer.  The story is there but doesn’t really endear the player to any of the characters.  Each faction is decidedly unique, which is a positive, but none of them are easy to get attached to.  The choice to portray the Russian Revolution with animals is superb though, as they fight not for a new form of government but rather the right to eat each other.  It’s this morbid sense of humor, along with easy to learn controls and rapid gameplay, that tie all of Tooth and Tail together, making it a memorable experience and a damn solid RTS. (Carston Carasella)     

19: Code 7

Developer(s) Goodwolf Studio
Publisher(s) Goodwolf Studio
Release: August 11th, 2017
Genre(s) Adventure

If you are part of the younger generation, you might not remember what it’s like to play a video game without a mouse or a controller. For those who grew up in the MS-DOS days, many remember keyboard-only games quite vividly. Code 7 is not a game that is nostalgic for the 80s and 90s, but this indie hacking adventure does rely on the full use of a keyboard, bringing the old-school feel to a next-gen text adventure.

Code 7, developed by published by German-based studio Good Wolf Games, started as a one-week prototype during the Master Studies at the Cologne Game Lab in 2015. Since then, the game has grown into an episodic adventure that saw the release of its first official episode in August 2017. Players take on the role of Alex and, with the help of hacking partner-in-crime, Sam, will attempt to escape a space station while uncovering all the sinister secrets it hides within.

The basic mechanics involve typing commands directly into the computer screen or selecting dialogue options through a numbering system. A complete lack of use of the mouse makes the hacking moments quite immersive. Code 7 is also fully-voiced with super realistic dialogue delivered by a cast of incredible actors—one of the smaller indie games to fly somewhat under the radar this year, but by no means is it one that should be overlooked. With a few episodes yet to be released, Code 7 will have plenty more excitement to offer in the New Year. (Joanna Nelius)

18: Hob

Developer(s) Runic Games
Publisher(s) Runic Games
Release: September 26th, 2017
Genre(s) Action, Adventure

It’s not an easy thing to tell a compelling story completely through visuals. Game developers must be on-point with what and how they communicate, trusting players to connect the dots. In a world that can be described as a futuristic ancient civilization, Hob does just that with interesting characters, personified landscapes, and an ethereal soundtrack to create one of the most memorable gaming experiences of 2017.

From the get-go, Runic Games wanted Hob to be about exploration, not collection and upgrades. They fully accomplished what they set out to do by utilizing subtleties in their visuals, whether world-related or camera angle-related. Along with a stripped UI, camera angles communicated objectives: where to travel next. Other tiny visual elements quietly inserted familiar characters related to the main character, which made a big impact on the story. The combat was simple, featuring unlockable skills that grew in complexity, but nothing to overshadow the exploratory, open-world focus.

Hob also marked a bittersweet end to Runic Games as, not too long after its release, the studio announced they were shutting their doors. While there won’t be any more games from Runic as a company, we’ll continue to see more great work from the sound designers, artists, and others who turned Hob into the amazing game that it is—and if any company is going to go out with a bang, Runic went out with a loud one. (Joanna Nelius)

17: Last Day of June

Developer(s) Ovosonico
Publisher(s) 505 Games
Release: August 31st, 2017
Genre(s) Adventure

Over the last several years, many game developers have shifted toward creating emotional and enriching narrative experiences that hold their own against long-standing, traditional media. Last Day of June from Ovosonico is one of those games. An interactive, puzzle-adventure about love and loss, the game reaches into the very depths of the human soul, trudging up our own pain and healing journeys along with it.

Playing as Carl, Last Day of June gives players the ability to travel back in time in an attempt to right the wrongs of the past to create a better present. It’s a strong, philosophical take on the stages of grief that requires the player to abandon a classic video game strategy mindset and learn to understand the story. It’s in the story where answers to puzzles are found, the how to the why—the meaning of life. The juxtaposing, soothing visuals are June’s paintings, which are also environmental puzzles in which players reenact actions of June’s last day on this mortal coil. It’s Carl’s job to re-order the past to prevent June’s death.

And if the story feels repetitive with traveling back in time to find the perfect sequence of events, it’s because that is what grieving individuals often do: repeat the same or different scenarios over and over again as if to help alleviate their guilt or change what happened. Bring your Kleenex; Last Day of June wants you to feel what it means to be human. (Joanna Nelius)

16: Cosmic Star Heroine

Developer(s) Zeboyd Games
Publisher(s) Zeboyd Games
Release: April 11th, 2017
Genre(s) RPG

Despite contrary belief, there is not a shortage of JRPGs on the market. Type any word into the search bar on steam and there a guaranteed to be three or four cheap RPGmaker games that pop up in the results. These tend to range from quietly decent to offensively terrible. The JRPG market isn’t gone, it’s just oversaturated with garbage. Cosmic Star Heroine puts up quite a few of these telltale red flags. American made – just means you’re taking the J out of JRPG. “Inspired by Chrono Trigger”? Sure, honey, they all are. Against all odds though, the game just works. The developer, Zeyboyd Games, has been quietly making great games that subvert and celebrate JRPG tropes since the days of the Xbox Live Arcade. They’ve mostly stuck with crafting comedic games, with titles like “Cthulhu Saves the World” and “Breath of Death VII: The Beginning” (Note that Breath of Death one through six do not exist), but this time they’ve tried to make something on a bigger scale, listing inspiration from not just the classics, but from modern giants like Mass Effect.

So what sets this apart? It doesn’t waste your time.

The biggest JRPG flaw, one no one can ever seem to get right, is that sometimes you just get bored. The game flow usually goes like “enter dungeon, random encounter, press A until you win, walk a bit, random encounter” on and on for 40 hours. Cosmic Star Heroine takes about 15 hours. It doesn’t feel unnecessarily padded, and the battle system focuses more on strategy and less on hoping your numbers are bigger than the bad guy’s numbers. Every battle makes you think, and every town on each of the planets is visually distinct. It shakes up a genre that can sometimes feel lackadaisical and plodding and gives it a shot of adrenaline in the arm. It’s not perfect – no JRPG outside of Chrono Trigger itself is – but it manages to do the unthinkable and shake up a genre that everyone likes to say is dead. Cosmic Star Heroine is living breathing proof that there may never be a shortage of new ideas, especially when inspired by ideas of the past. (Katrina Lind)

15: TACOMA

Developer(s) Fullbright
Publisher(s) Fullbright
Release: August 1st, 2017
Genre(s) Adventure

Tacoma is the follow up to Gone Home, a game developed by the Portland, Oregon based company Fulbright, hence all the Pacific Northwest allusions in both games. Gone Home was considered a breakthrough in narrative-based indie games, by having the player piece together the plot by exploring their surroundings. Tacoma follows this same narrative structure, by dropping the player on the station Tacoma and having them explore and watch their surroundings to figure out the story at their own pace.

It’s hard not to think of Tacoma as a game or even a narrative piece, but the truth is that Tacoma is an interactive experience. It might not reward you in the same ways as other games, or books, or even plays. It’s a different kind of medium, where you get out of it what you put into it. I say play Tacoma, it might not tickle you in the same way it does me, but if you enjoy Sci-Fi and digging through people’s personal lives, you’ll dig ‘Tacoma’.  (Katrina Lind)


14: Little Nightmares

Developer(s) Tarsier Studios
Publisher(s) Bandai Namco
Release: April 27th, 2017
Genre(s) Adventure

Alone in the spotlight of a darkened stage, you are never far from the reach of a puppet’s grasp or the salivating mouths of monsters. Following the story of a child named Six, Little Nightmares stood out this year as a horror puzzle game with a setting that drips with the dark and unexplained, yet even more tantalizing is how Tarsier Studios tease their horror from the untrodden theme of gluttony. Whether fleeing the edge of a butcher’s knife, the sausage-swollen hands of The Maw’s gargantuan clientele or suppressing the groans of your own shrunken stomach, Tarsier Studios are playing with original ideas supported by brilliant execution from the game’s tense atmosphere and Tim Burton-esque art style. If it is let down by anything it is in the refinement of Little Nightmares’ platforming and stealth sequences, yet with more stories to come from The Maw and more gruesome tales to explore it feels like Tarsier Studios are just getting started with this series, and on the merit of its story alone the game falls amongst the most interesting narratives of the year. Little Nightmares is a short game, yet so disturbingly sweet. (Helen Jones)


13: The Long Dark

Developer(s) Hinterland Studio Inc
Publisher(s) Hinterland Studio Inc
Release: August 1st, 2017
Genre(s) Adventure, Simulation, Strategy

One of the common approaches to the “survival” genre is to develop different systems and mechanics that simulate reality. While not a bad approach by any means, it’s not the only one. The Long Dark opts instead for a metaphorical representation of survival. While you still have to manage resources and defend yourself from the harsh wilderness, the game doesn’t require a huge amount of multi-tasking or micromanagement.

The arcadey nature of the survival gameplay allows for the player to take in the environment. A lot of open survival games treat the environment as your enemy. While your surroundings are still a threat in The Long Dark‘, they’re also hauntingly gorgeous. The chill wind breezing past you, the crack of a branch in the distance, the sweeping mountaintop vistas: ‘The Long Dark’ emphasizes a sensory experience that captures nature’s duality. (Kyle Rogacion)

12: Slime-San

Developer(s) Fabraz
Publisher(s) Head Up Games
Release: April 7th, 2017
Genre(s) Casual, Strategy

With today’s focus on high fidelity graphics, it can be easy to forget that strong gameplay is what separates a decent game from a stellar one. Despite being incredibly simple from a visual standpoint, the deceivingly charming Slime-San is easily one of the best platformers this year. The game’s striking 3-color art style isn’t just unique—it’s also ingrained into the mechanics. White surfaces are neutral, green surfaces can be phased through, and red surfaces mean instant death. Though this may seem simple enough at first, each of the game’s 400 rooms (800 for the New Game+ masochists) find new ways to switch up the mechanics and give players a consistent challenge. Just like any great platformer, Slime-San manages to masterfully tread the line between tough and unfair; each level is designed so well that deaths are never a question of unfairness.

In terms of story, the game follows a little slime and his bird pal as they randomly get swallowed whole by a giant worm. Separated from their families and friends, the duo spends the game traversing their way back through the worm to its mouth to escape. Though the premise is inconsequential, it’s the way that it’s told that makes players care about the two friends. Fabraz has taken the time to create an interesting world both inside and outside of the worm, complete with a colorful cast of characters and a few extra environments that go a long way in adding personality to an otherwise straightforward experience. If you like challenging platformers that constantly introduce new mechanics (and manage to have a bit of heart along the way), you can’t go wrong with Slime-San. (Brent Middleton)

11: A Hat in Time

Developer(s) Gears for Breakfast
Publisher(s) Gears for Breakfast
Release: October 5th, 2017
Genre(s) Adventure

A Hat in Time is the Kickstarter darling of Gears for Breakfast. It’s a modern 3D platformer with retro vibes that pulls and refines ideas from across all genres. There’s an island stage that feels like it’s straight out of Wind Waker, a survival horror stage that pulls concepts from classics like Resident Evil, and even a stage that turns into a ridiculous Metal Gear inspired parody, complete with avoiding soldiers watching slideshow presentations and sneaking sections. A Hat in Time makes all of these stages cohesive thought, there’s never a sense of genre whiplash, and each level feels like a shiny new toy box to explore. (Taylor Smith)

10: Observer

Developer(s) Bloober Team USA
Publisher(s) Aspyr
Release: September 12th, 2017
Genre(s) Adventure

With cyberpunk re-entering the mainstream, Bloober Team did their homework and captured the signature grittiness of William Gibson, the twisted futurism of Philip K. Kick and, of course, paid homage to one of the most iconic tech-noir films with casting Rutger Hauer as the lead character in Observer. (That film is Blade Runner in case the name slipped your memory.)

The year is 2084. Poland. Those not killed off by the lethal Nanophage virus have turned to drugs, virtual reality, and cybernetic implants—anything to distract them from life in The Stacks. And then there’s Dan Lazarski, an elite neural detective known as an Observer who can literally hack into people’s minds and sort through their memories to gather evidence. He’s also enhanced to the brim with other cybernetic devices, like Electromagnetic Vision, which scans for electronic devices, and Bio Vision, which scans biological evidence such as blood and can read DNA in seconds.

The crux of the story sends players on a long, nail-biting mission to find clues to the whereabouts of Lazarski’s son, whom he has been estranged from for many years. Observer is particularly masterful at creating an immersive environment. Each character players can interact with behind their locked, apartment doors are crucial to building the wonderfully decrepit, future world. Each computer holds information the Stacks’ tenants and reveals a world where people are classified into categories by the mega-corporation that controls their lives.

Packing in a couple of Layers of Fear-reminiscent scares, Observer is much more than a game; it’s a modern gateway to the greatest cyberpunk authors to come out of the 80s and holds its own next to them. (Joanna Nelius)

9: Pyre

Developer(s) Supergiant Games
Publisher(s) Supergiant Games
Release: July 25th, 2017
Genre(s) Action, RPG

From the makers of Bastion and Transistor, Pyre pushed the boundaries of gaming genres this year by mixing two totally alien styles into a shockingly cohesive whole. Sports gameplay and visual novel style storytelling are thrust together in Pyre in a wildly experimental move: one which is not only distinctly different from Supergiant’s previous games, yet which also dismantles sports gaming’s traditional focus on min-maxing stats and micromanaging your way to the top.

Pyre‘s lore-heavy world at first seems like a contradiction to its sports teams and roster-run gameplay, yet both the slow storytelling and the fast-paced matches beautifully tie together with Supergiant’s talents for world-building and quick, strategic gameplay which demands you to mix and match your approach. Coupled with a breath-taking art-style and yet another outstanding soundtrack from Darren Korb and Ashley Barrett, Pyre feels incredibly natural despite its unlikely origins.The wild highs and cruel consequences of sport come together with Pyre‘s compelling cast of characters to make each decision a torment. As outcasts, teammates, and heroes, the bonds you forge with Pyre’s characters make the game come alive and force you to play each match with heart in hand. The speed and challenge of Pyre’s ritual sport feel satisfying, but the game’s best move is that it forces you to change your playstyle and switch up your roster as an integral part of its story.

There are no good run/bad run options in Pyre, and just as the game gives you permission to fail it also puts the pressure on each decision you make in the heat of a match or as you say your last farewell to a close friend. Your future may be written in the stars, but Pyre reminds you at every turn that you’ll never know which path will give your friends their best chance at happiness, or to give the home you once knew a second chance at salvation. This is exactly how interactive narratives ought to be. Pyre is a powerful, stunning game that challenges assumptions about game difficulty and the price of failure. It’s one you need to experience first-hand. (Helen Jones)

8: Sundered

Developer(s) Thunder Lotus Games
Publisher(s) Thunder Lotus Games
Release: July 28th, 2017
Genre(s) Adventure, Action

Sundered came to me at a time when I needed it most.  Fed up with games that followed a similar pattern and the monotony of games coming out in mid-2017, Sundered was a bright light in the darkness.  I’ve always been a fan of both metroidvanias and difficult games, and this title from Thunder Lotus scratches both inches perfectly.  It combines Lovecraftian elements with classic sci-fi to amazing effect, telling a tale that’s both dazzling and terrifying at the same time.  The story of Ashe and her desperate quest to save her tribe from extinction is compelling, and the lengths she’ll go to secure their safety at the cost of her humanity are engaging to partake in.  While there is no understandable spoken dialogue, the in-game text given by the demonic spirit that assists Ashe helps provide depth and understanding to the world they live in.  It’s a game that made me reevaluate just how far indie games have come in the last decade and made me appreciate the hard work a small studio can put into a game like this.       

What makes Sundered so special is not simply one thing, but rather a myriad of enjoyable mechanics that meld together into a fantastic game.  Movement and combat are precise and fluid, and the leveling system is rewarding and addictive at the same time.  Enemies can appear seemingly out of thin air, swarming over an absent-minded player with ease, and the variety put into each of the three main areas in breathtaking to behold.  This is further heightened by the random environments generated after each death, making no two run-throughs the same.  There are enough secrets and additional objectives to keep any completionist busy for weeks on end, and the three vastly different endings that can be acquired demand subsequent playthroughs.  Sundered got everything right for me and just might be my favorite game of 2017. (Carston Carasella)

7: Golf Story

Developer(s) Sidebar Games
Publisher(s) Sidebar Games
Release: September 28th, 2017
Genre(s) Adventure, RPG, Sports

Australian developer Sidebar Games gave us one of the most enjoyable indie games released this year. The Nintendo Switch exclusive Golf Story quietly crept out on the eShop with barely any marketing push behind it and yet it managed to capture the hearts of almost the entire Goomba Stomp team who spent countless hours not only playing the game but explaining the rules of golf to those of us who have never played the sport in real life. In all honesty, this adorable RPG disguised as a golf game continually surprised us with the odd situations we were thrown into, whether it was solving a murder mystery, chasing a werewolf, battling zombies, digging up dinosaur bones, stealing from bandits and even playing a Pac-Man-like mini-game. Golf Story features solid mechanics, consistently sharp writing, expressive and lively characters and a touching story about a boy desperately trying to fulfill a lifetime dream in memory of his father. Here’s a game that has successfully captured the trappings of yesteryear’s RPGs, yet it ends up feeling fresh, and one of a kind. As sports games go (regardless of the sport), this one turns in a respectable showing, injecting some intelligence and witty humour into a story that easily could have succumbed to a flood of ‘struggling underdog’ clichés. As for its RPG roots, Golf Story is an eminently likable game, full of eminently likable characters and a leveling system that works for gamers of any handicap. Golf Story is well worth the addition to every Switch owner’s library. Its zany cast, catchy tunes, gorgeous sprites, inside jokes and easy-to-grasp gameplay make for an incredibly enjoyable time. (Rick Da Conceicao)

6: Hellblade: Sensua’s Sacrifice

Developer(s) Ninja Theory
Publisher(s) Ninja Theory
Release: August 8th, 2017
Genre(s) Adventure, Action

If nothing else, Hellblade has changed the way we discuss the difference between independent games and AAA titles. The developer, Ninja Theory, has themselves stated that it is a cross between the two; an “independent AAA”, and released the title in a middle ground pricing to match.

To simply discuss the industry effects of Hellblade, however, is to do the game itself a disservice.  It deals with themes not often seen in other works – grief, loss and mental illness. It does so not only through narrative and classic storytelling techniques but through how it plays as well. Ninja Theory manages to capture something that video games need to more fully embrace – immersing the player in a character different than them. The player experiences the horrific, frightening world through someone else’s eyes, and then processes that information as though it was someone else’s brain. This immersion is further improved by the lack of HUD or pop-style tutorials. This further blurs the separation between game and gamer, further engulfing you into the mind of a tortured young woman. What this develops is empathy for your character, a bond unlike most seen in games. Hellblade may be the best current example of video games as art, and while it might not always be fun in the classic sense, it’s importance to the medium of gaming cannot be overstated. (Katrina Lind)

5: Night in the Woods

Developer(s) Infinite fall
Publisher(s) Finji
Release: February 2017
Genre(s) Adventure

Night in the Woods is the new great American novel as told by an anthropomorphic cat. You should know after reading that sentence whether or not it’s something you would enjoy.

The fundamental irony of the game – one that probably every review points out – is how human it is. While the game goes to some deep and sometimes frightening places, most of your time is just spent figuring out if you want to hang out with your alligator friend or your Fox friend. It’s also quintessentially a game about millennials, thematically rich with the angst that comes from growing up in small-town America. In many ways, that’s all you can say about Night in the Woods without spoiling it too much. The game is about simply inhabiting this town that is both fantastical, beautifully animated, and depressingly familiar. For some people, this will amount to boredom as they wander aimlessly and wonder when the game will “pick up.” But for others, this quiet and quirky experience will be one they’ll never forget. (Katrina Lind)

4: Doki Doki Literature Club!

Developer(s) Team Salvato
Publisher(s) Team Salvato
Release: September 22nd, 2017
Genre(s) Casual

Doki Doki Literature Club is one of those rare pieces of meta-media where it stands firmly on its own merits. At first glance, DDLC seems like any other cutesy anime game. But still, waters run deep. Dan Salvato, the lead developer behind the game, has a love-hate relationship with the anime world. DDLC manifests that dichotomy as a slow descent into madness, wrapped in a cleverly deceptive cover.

The game is fairly standard visual novel fare: you meet characters, you click through dialogue, and you make choices that affect how the narrative progresses. Where DDLC sets itself apart is how it presents its story and mechanics. The game starts out innocuous enough: typical high-school slice-of-life romcom.

To say anything further would ruin the experience. Whether or not you like anime, this game is worth playing.  (Kyle Ragocion)

3: Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Developer(s) Deck Nine
Publisher(s) Square Enix
Release: August 31st, 2017
Genre(s) Action, Adventure

Before the Storm is a prequel, taking place a couple of years before the story of the hit “indie” darling Life is Strange. This time around you play as Chloe Price, who was the rebellious sidekick to the protagonist, Max, in the first game. The central plot of this short series is mainly about Chloe growing into her skin two years after her father’s death while exploring her budding relationship with the most popular girl in school, Rachel Amber. On the surface, it’s a tale about teenage angst, punk rock, and rampant vandalism, but the deeper you delve into the story, it’s a treasure trove of literary and pop culture allusions that are so carefully chosen that it ends up plunging the teenage drama into a fully realized work about depression and loneliness. (Katrina Lind)

2: Cuphead

Developer(s) Studio HDMR Entertainment Inc.
Publisher(s) Studio HDMR Entertainment Inc.
Release: September 29th, 2017
Genre(s) Action

You’ve seen Cuphead. It’s been an E3 staple for years, generating buzz based on the art alone – styled after a Max Fleischer cartoon from the 1930s. Everyone else got excited by how pretty it was, but you knew better. “It’s gonna be all flash and no substance” you said, sneering, “no game stuck in development hell for that long could end up being good.” Years passed, Cuphead continued not to be released, and you chuckled to yourself, proud that you didn’t get on board the hype train. Then, against all odds, the game finally came out and proved you wrong.

Cuphead is an amazing achievement on so many aesthetic levels, which makes it easy to forget there’s a great game buried in there. Just as the art direction borrows elements from bygone works, the gameplay borrows from a fading genre – the run n’ gun. Cuphead explicitly recalls Contra, Mega Man and Gunstar Heroes in its gameplay, and makes subtle nods to everything from Street Fighter during the Ribby and Croak Boss, to a musical reference to the athletic theme from Super Mario World. The game riffs on classic animation and classic games to make something familiar – and this warmth is essential to keep you from feeling too beaten down by its brutal difficulty. All this adds up to make something you can never quite get tired of playing – It’s always a pleasure to look at, and there’s nothing quite saying “one more try” over and over until you hear the most beautiful thing in the game: “A KNOCKOUT!”

Against all odds, Cuphead is finally here – proclaiming itself to be a knockout loudly and correctly. (Katrina Lind)

1: What Remains of Edith Finch

Developer(s) Giant Sparrow
Publisher(s) Annapurna Interactive
Release: April 24th, 2017
Genre(s) Adventure

While the initial trailer for What Remains of Edith Finch certainly stirred up some buzz, gamers could be forgiven for wondering what would set this walking simulator apart from the pile of them which had been released over the past few years.

As it turned out though, what set it apart was quite a lot. You see What Remains of Edith Finch isn’t just a walking simulator, it’s the next stage of evolution for the genre itself. It’s a flying simulator, a swinging simulator and an honest to god sea monster-writhing simulator.

It’s a game that asks you to do a mundane task with one hand while focusing on a much more interesting one with the other hand. It’s a game that sends you through a dozen interconnected slices of life in a house too magical to ever really exist. And ultimately, it’s a tragic tale of a family that seems to be cursed by the fates themselves to face one unfortunate mishap after another.

More than any other game on this list, What Remains of Edith Finch is a game that I would recommend to absolutely everyone. With its low asking price, short running time, and lasting emotional impact, this is a game that deserves to be experienced by any gamer who is at all serious about this medium as a means for artistic expression. (Mike Worby)


If 2017 taught us anything about the video games market, it’s that indie games have moved on from being a niche genre for a few gamers to compete with AAA titles. It’s probably the reason why we’re seeing a shift in the landscape, with gamers flocking to the PlayStation Store, Xbox Live Marketplace, and Steam Early Access to purchase these hidden gems. If next year follows these trends, then we are looking a bright and over-stocked future for indie gamers.

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Game Reviews

‘Woven’ Review: Comfortably Soft and Lumpy

Despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure.

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With a sincere warmth and fuzziness that conjures up dreamy recollections of 3D games gone by, Alterego Games’Woven mostly overcomes its blurry visuals and technical jankery to somehow create a pleasant, old-fashioned experience. Those excited by modern gaming probably won’t give this lovable hand-me-down a second look, and perhaps they shouldn’t; extremely simple actions and soothing narration support a fairy tale quality that’s probably best suited to younger players. However, anyone willing to look past the well-worn exterior in search of a relaxing break from stressful button pushing may squeeze more fun out of this familiar stuffed toy than they might originally expect.

Woven tasks players with taking control of a meandering patchwork elephant named Stuffy, and guiding him through a sparsely populated knitted world that seems to have met an untimely demise. Because Stuffy has cotton for brains, he is assisted on this journey by a much smarter metal firefly named Glitch (a reference to his role in this story?), who floats alongside the curious-but-clumsy plush toy and provides hints as to how he can use his various abilities. Together, this odd couple will traverse open plains blanketed with colorful yarn grass, maneuver around impassable felt trees and plants, and hopefully discover the secret of where Stuffy’s clueless kin have all gone.

Along the way, the duo will walk great distances (often without much event), solve the occasional environmental puzzle, and generally just keep on keepin’ on.Woven is mostly straightforward in its campaign, merely about getting from point A to B by whatever means the path requires. Most often this involves finding new blueprints that allow players to change Stuffy’s design from an elephant into a wide variety of other animal shapes, each with a set of abilities that come with a new set of arms, legs, and a head. For instance, while the stocky (and adorable) bear can push plush boulders and perform a mighty stomp, the goat and frog can both use their legs to hop, while the kitty cat is able to push buttons on rusted consoles that activate dormant machinery.

However, these abilities are usually only able to activate when context-sensitive prompts from Glitch appear, so don’t expect some sort of platforming freedom. Woven handles a bit clumsily in that regard and others; strolling is definitely the order of the day, as long as Stuffy doesn’t get hung up on the geometry.

But these actions do help provide variety; a tropical bird of some sort (toucan, maybe?) can sing certain notes, while a pelican-thing can fly (sort of) over land and shallow water with great speed. And so, it often becomes necessary in Woven to alter Stuffy’s look with a total reweave. These designs can be applied at various sewing machine-like stations scattered about, which go a step further than just swapping Stuffy the deer for Stuffy the ape. Each blueprint is comprised of five parts, allowing for players to create a Frankenstein Stuffy made up of all the best abilities the player has on hand (or cushioned paw). By mixing certain sets, Stuffy will soon be able to scale mountainside crags, cross piranha-filled rivers, and pick up industrial cogs without the need to make a pit stop and bust out new needle and thread.

Some truly hilarious (or horrifying, depending on your sensibilities) aberrations can be created; seeing Stuffy hobble on hooves as he flaps a wing on one side and swings a muscular gorilla arm on the other, all with the head of a squirrel, is freakishly entertaining. In addition, for those who like to wander off the beaten path, there are a plethora of knitting patterns to discover, tucked away in both obvious and devious locations (and denizens). These cosmetic enhancements can also be applied at the sewing stations, essentially giving players seemingly endless amounts of customization. And these aesthetic changes even get in on the puzzle act every once in a while, especially when a pesky cobra shows up.

But outside the odd ‘connect the power line’ or ‘raise and lower platforms’ objectives, Woven doesn’t throw much at players that even young children shouldn’t be able to handle — and that seems to be the aim. Stuffy’s adventure lives or dies on its wholesome and serene vibe, which players either buy into or they don’t. There’s no combat here, very little to actually do outside hunting down those patterns, illuminating some painted caves, and activating some of Glitch’s ‘memories’ contained by machines hidden in the soft folds. Ongoing narration is pleasant to the ears, often conveying old-fashioned morals and cutesy jokes, but there’s no more story than in a classic fable.

And make no mistake — though the world is certainly bright and cheerful, it’s also quite fuzzy around the edges. The tactile nature of the cloth textures is lessened greatly by the low definition (at least on the Switch version), eliciting memories of the Wii-era. An increased crispness would have really made the world of Woven pop off the screen, perhaps luring in a larger audience who have become accustomed to such. There is still plenty of charm, but it feels like a missed chance at that true magical feeling the game seems to be shooting for.

Other stumbles come when certain worlds try to open up a bit more, which might lead a younger audience to get frustrated by the lack of direction (especially when they keep getting hung up on that geometry!); Woven definitely works better when it’s casually guiding players along, letting gamers of all ages envelop themselves in the easygoing atmosphere instead of requiring tedious backtracking. There’s just something nice about sitting back and relaxing to hummable music, watching the roly-poly amble of a stuffed kangaroo.

Woven will not be for everyone; those who play for challenge or eye candy won’t find either here. And yet, despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure. Woven certainly has its share of lumpiness, but somehow remains cozy regardless.

‘Woven’ is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch (Reviewed on Switch).

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‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ Review: Moon’s Haunted but Still Shines

‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ returns to a familiar destination but Bungie is reworking Destiny with each expansion and Shadowkeep is no exception.

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Destiny 2 Shadowkeep Review

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep may be a return to a familiar destination, the Moon, but Bungie continues the trend of reworking Destiny with each new expansion, and Shadowkeep is no exception. Replete with a reworked season pass system, progression systems, customization options, sandbox re-tuning and quest interface, Shadowkeep is both a welcome iteration and extension of the existing Destiny 2 experience offering more RPG-esque player agency than Destiny has ever seen before. While the game is still haunted by some overly familiar issues, Shadowkeep is a welcome expansion and a promising start to the third year of Destiny 2.

Old Haunting Grounds

The Moon isn’t the only familiar face in Shadowkeep. Keeping with tradition, Eris Morn has returned from a long absence for another dark, lunar expansion (the first being D1′s The Dark Below when the character was first introduced) as she investigates a disturbance deep within the Moon. Quite literally haunted by the past, Eris has called upon the Guardians to assist her in finding the source of the phantoms plaguing the Moon and vanquishing “Nightmare” versions of familiar visages from the past.

All is not entirely as old players might remember. An immense hive structure, the Scarlet Keep, now overshadows previously unexplored territory on the Lunar surface. New Lost Sectors hide in the depths of the Moon, and new secrets a la the Dreadnaught or the Dreaming City lie waiting to be discovered by inquisitive players. And at the very center of the expansion an ancient, unknown threat lies in wait, an ominous foreshadowing of the trials ahead.

While the expansion does a decent job ensuring the familiar haunts don’t feel overly recycled, it’s hard to say Shadowkeep makes the most of the Moon. The campaign opens on such a high note as players storm the moon in an unexpectedly matchmade sequence before individual Fireteams independently uncover an unanticipated twist that absolutely shatters expectation. Unfortunately, the narrative quickly devolves into uninteresting fetch quests that fail to live up to the intrigue of the initial mission nor live up to the narrative heights of some of the most memorable missions the Moon previously housed including fan favorites The Sword of Crota and Lost to Light to name a few. That’s tough company to keep, and Shadowkeep fails to measure up.

Similarly, a bit of that intrigue is reintroduced in Shadowkeep‘s final mission, but, like the campaign as a whole, it’s over before the player knows it and fails to live up to the precedent set by previous, lengthier campaign conclusions. More mileage is gotten out of the narrative and destination in the post-game in the way of a new weapon farming system, a new activity known as Nightmare hunts that play like mini Strikes, and a Strike proper, but that does little to alleviate the disappointment of an overly terse campaign that reads like a teaser for what’s to come over a distinct, fleshed-out story.

A New Era, a New Season

Part of that is presumably courtesy of a shift in Bungie’s approach to content releases. While the previous expansion, Forsaken, similarly opted for procedurally released content over the course of the season, Bungie has doubled down on that strategy with Shadowkeep ensuring there’s something new to be experienced each week that players sign in. While certain activities have alway arrived post-launch including raids, dungeons, and exotic weapon pursuits, Shadowkeep and its “Season of the Undying” has seen new PvE and PvP activities launched after the expansion’s initial drop, adding to an already lengthy list of Destiny to-dos.

Central to the season is the new PvE, matchmade activity, the Vex Offensive, which pits six players against waves of Vex combatants paired and features some minor puzzle elements, all for the sake of earning a series of weapons exclusive to the mode. While the Black Garden locale of the mode is certainly eye-catching, the Offensive, with its recycled mechanics and familiar enemies, doesn’t leave much of an impression beyond that. It might pale in comparison to activities introduced in past seasons (like Warmind‘s Escalation Protocol, or last season’s Menagerie), but is intentionally terse, intended to match this new seasonal philosophy, and will be removed from the game after Season of the Undying (though the exclusive arsenal will still be available in the loot pool obtainable through undisclosed means). Like the Vex themselves, the Vex Offensive might not seem like much independently, but collectively is a piece of a greater whole challenging and rewarding players for participating within the specific season.

Bungie is further defining each season with the inclusion of a seasonal artifact and a season pass system. The artifact, again only available for the season, offers players an avenue for additional, limitless Power gains while also offering unlockable gameplay mods encouraging players to utilize specific classes and builds. The Oppressive Darkness mod, for example, debuffs enemies hit by void grenades, encouraging players to construct discipline-oriented, void builds. Another mod, Thunder Coil, increases the power of arc melee attacks by fifty percent, giving all new life to the Hunter’s Arcstrider subclass. Meanwhile, the season pass operates similar to that of Fortnite or any number of games and replaces the previous cosmetic only level up system of Destiny 2‘s past. From the season’s outset, any and all experience goes toward unlocking rewards from the pass including new armor, armor ornaments, exclusive weapons and exotics, and engrams. The experience requirement for each level is static, meaning progress is fair and steady throughout and never feels throttled. Both seasonal systems are fantastic new additions that reward players for playing the game while making experience gains more purposeful than any other time in Destiny‘s endgame.

New Duds to Boot

Shadowkeep also marks the debut of Armor 2.0, a new system that allows players more agency in character customization than ever before. Whereas armor previously rolled with random perks and a roll of only three stats (Mobility, Recovery, and Resilience), Armor 2.0 comes with no perks and six stats as Destiny 1‘s Intellect, Discipline, and Strength (determining the charge rates of player’s super, grenade, and melee abilities) make their triumphant return. Instead, Armor 2.0 has slots for modifiers so players can pick and choose whatever perks they want just as long as they’ve unlocked those mods. Mods are acquired from most activities, while enhanced mods (better versions of certain traditional mods) are exclusive to some of the game’s more challenging content. While the grind for mods seems excessive in the face of the rest of the game’s grind, it’s a one-time affair, some of the best mods are unlocked via the seasonal artifact, and the payoff is astounding, providing customization like never before.

Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.

Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.

Axe to Grind

Speaking to the grind, Destiny has often struggled and failed to find the perfect balance of meaningful power climb and tedious grinds recycling the same old activities. Luckily, at the outset of the climb towards max power, Shadowkeep strikes a much better balance centered on beloved ritual and new and or seasonal activities. Power drops now operate on a clearly labeled, tiered system, incentivizing players to prioritize new or challenging activities for maximum gains. Ritual activities (Strikes, Crucible, and Gambit), though tier one, retain their relevance by offering multiple weekly powerful drops for match completions, vendor bounties completed, and rank progression. Previous, otherwise irrelevant avenues towards power have been retired, but this is a welcome reduction and there is no shortage of powerful drops in the climb to max power. That isn’t to say that the grind couldn’t be shorter ensuring more players can participate in endgame activities when they first arrive, but progression generally feels smoother than any time in Destiny‘s past.

Conversely, content flow might overwhelm casual and even dedicated players as there’s simply too much to do and grind for players tight on time. Bungie now considers Destiny and MMO with proper RPG mechanics, and, in terms of time commitment, that really shows with Shadowkeep. On a certain week, a player might have an accomplished week in-game after sinking only three to five hours into the game. Other weeks the game seems to demand closer to the ten to twenty-hour range. One week, for example, saw the release of the new dungeon, a new Crucible game mode, an exotic quest, a new public event, and the start of the Festival of the Lost, a limited time, Halloween event. That’s simply too much, feels like poor pacing, and favors streamers, Destiny content creators, and hardcore players for whom Destiny is their exclusive hobby, a burgeoning theme with Season of the Undying. While it’s certainly exciting that there’s always something to do in D2, it doesn’t seem true to the game’s roots as a hybrid, a shooter with MMO elements, that could be taken at a more casual pace but still offered an engaging endgame for the dedicated audience. Now, there’s only an endgame with no end in sight.

A Better Destiny Awaits

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for players who want to pay a minimal price for seemingly unending content, and in that regard, Shadowkeep is a steal. A sensational new raid (minus some finicky new mechanics), a foreboding dungeon, an immense new arsenal to grind for, and a better tuned PvP and PvE sandbox in which to enjoy them mean Shadowkeep will keep Guardians’ attention the whole season long and is an excellent proof of concept for the seasonal structure going forward. If Bungie can keep this pace up, year three of Destiny 2 could easily be the best year in franchise history. As a general caution though, Destiny 2 now clearly caters to the hardcore, requires MMO levels of commitment, and is best enjoyed with a regular group; casual, time-restricted, and solo players beware. It might not be the best single expansion release in franchise history (that’s still a toss-up between The Taken King and Forsaken), but, beginning with Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, the third year of D2 is the closest the tumultuous title has ever come to Bungie’s ambitious vision for the shared-world shooter and the game fans have been waiting for these past five years.

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What Are Some of the Switch’s Best Indie Devs Making?

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The Nintendo Switch has quickly become the preferred platform for some of the most talented indie studios in the industry. Its pick-up-and-play form factor and Nintendo’s concerted effort to court smaller developers this generation (complete with indie-specific Directs) has resulted in a library that’s positively flourished.

Despite the eShop falling victim to some of the discoverability and shovelware issues that long plagued Steam, there have been some real standouts over the years. Since video games take quite a while to produce, there’s often speculation as to what some of the premier developers have been working on. Let’s take a look at four of the most recognized indie studios on the platform and have some fun trying to figure out what they might be up to.


Sidebar Games

It’s hard to believe that 2017’s Golf Story was Sidebar Games’ first project as a studio. The two-man team from down under balanced a delightful dose of Australian-tinged humor with clear callbacks to the Mario sports games of old to deliver one of the best Switch exclusives in 2017, bar none.

Unlike the other studios on this list, Sidebar has been extremely silent on development progress; we can only glean bits and pieces from the few interviews they’ve done. We know the game has been in development for roughly two years and that Sidebar was still in active development as of March 2019 when they put out the call for a pixel artist for their next project. There’s also a fair chance that the new game will either be Switch-exclusive or target Switch first, seeing as how Golf Story is still one of the Switch’s top 10 best-selling indie games to date as of Spring 2019. If exclusivity worked so well the first time, why not try it again?

What Can We Expect?

Whatever Sidebar is working on, it’s almost guaranteed to be single-player and story-focused. One half of the dev team, Andrew, has gone on record multiple times saying that he’s “very partial to story modes.” This also players into one of their strengths; though there was a great time to be had with Golf Story’s golf, it was all elevated by the game’s ridiculous-yet-lovable characters and wacky situational humor.

Since the team has already deconfirmed a sequel as their next project, there’s really not much to go on. While I’d personally love them to tackle something Mario Tennis-inspired next, there’s a good chance they’ll avoid sports altogether. As long as the wit found in Golf Story is alive and well, though, their core audience is sure to be interested.


Fabraz

Despite being incredibly simple from a visual standpoint, the deceivingly charming Slime-San is still one of the best platformers to come out in recent memory. The game’s striking three-color art style isn’t just unique, but it’s also ingrained into the platforming mechanics in inventive ways. Beyond having a look all its own and a stiff challenge for players who wanted it, however, Fabraz went the extra mile to build a fun cast of characters and even a hub world to explore outside of the main game. It was a pleasant surprise from a relatively unknown developer at the time.

Fabraz has been anything but complacent since Slime-san’s launch. The studio released two free content expansions, ported the game to other consoles, and even got into the publishing business. No matter their other ventures, however, the team has made sure to tease their next project every so often since the start of 2019.

What Can We Expect?

Fabraz speculated that their new game was already roughly 60% complete at the start of October. Since it only began production in December of 2018, it’s safe to assume that the next game will be relatively small in scope. It’s also likely that Fabraz’s next outing won’t be “Slime-san 2,” since the original game received such heavy content additions months after release (including an expansion literally titled “Sheeple’s Sequel.” The team certainly knows how to make magic from very limited resources, so it’ll be interesting to see what they can do with a bit more of a budget, a new art style, and tons more experience.


Game Atelier/FDG Entertainment

It feels like Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom came out of nowhere. The team at FDG Entertainment had published indie darling Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King just the year prior and the console port of Oceanhorn before that, but there wasn’t much talk about FDG’s capabilities as a developer. As it turns out, however, Game Atelier’s choice to bring them on as a co-developer was the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to Monster Boy. Five long years of development later and fans were treated to one of the best platformers in recent memory.

Though it launched on all consoles, Monster Boy famously sold eight times more on Switch than PS4 and Xbox One combined, reminiscent of the sales of Blossom Tales on Switch. Needless to say, FDG’s next title will be targeted squarely as the Nintendo community. But what could that next project be?

What Can We Expect?

A Monster Boy sequel. FDG recently celebrated their collaboration with Game Atelier on Twitter and announced that they’re collaborating once more. The commercial and critical success of Monster Boy can only lead one to believe they’re hard at work on a follow-up together. Thankfully, with such a solid base to work off of now, this one shouldn’t take nearly as long to release.


Chucklefish

Chucklefish has garnered a great deal of respect in the indie community as both a developer (Starbound, WarGroove) and frequent publisher (Stardew Valley, Timespinner, the upcoming Eastward, and others). Their eagerness to bring so many of their top-notch titles to Switch has made them one of–if not the–most lauded indie studios on the platform. If it’s coming from Chucklefish, there’s a good chance it’ll be of the highest quality.

What Can We Expect?

Witchbrook! Chucklefish announced the game way back in 2017 and instantly had both Harry Potter and Little Witch Academia fans foaming at the mouth. It’s a magical school simulation/RPG where players will attend class, learn spells, make friends, date, and work towards graduation. The company’s CEO and lead designer, Finn, has been incredibly open about the game’s development from the beginning. In fact, he made the ever-changing Witchbrook design document public in August of 2019 to give some insight into the game design and planning process.

Since there’s already so much we know about where the game’s going, this is going to be used as more of a “Hopes for Witchbrook” section. To keep it short, let’s focus on two of the game’s most make-or-break elements: dating and world-building.

Dating

One of the things many RPGs struggle with is making dating feel meaningful after the relationship starts. People love romancing in Stardew Valley, but the experience itself is really rather shallow; bring characters their favorite items, talk to them daily, experience a few touching cutscenes and voila! All that’s left is to put a ring on it and have a baby.

My hope is that in Witchbrook, the real fun starts after the relationship begins. Being able to have lunch together, go to festivals, celebrate anniversaries, plan outings, and even introduce them to the player’s in-game friends would go a long way in making the relationship feel more than a ribbon to be crossed.

World-Building

When someone asks the seminal question “What fictional world would you love to live in?” the world of Harry Potter almost always tops to list (right next to Pokémon, that is). It isn’t just because of magic itself or the emotional ties people have to the cast, but more so because of the immense amounts of personality and lore J.K. Rowling infused into the world. From the dark history of Hogwarts to the vast array of magical beasts to the establishment of Quidditch, there is a whole movie and video game series that has been created based on mere slices of the Harry Potter universe.

Naturally, it’d be silly to expect Chucklefish to achieve as much depth in an indie project as one of the most successful authors of all time did over the course of seven books, but there’s still plenty of potential. Since the game will primarily take place at the school, exploring why the school was created and how it’s changed over the years could be quite interesting. Then there’s how different populations of the world at large feel about magic, how various magical species play a part, the favorite magic-imbued pastimes of students in the world of Witchbrook, and so on. The key will be to infuse magic into every element of the world (and gameplay) as naturally as possible. And after reading through the extensive design doc, I’ve no doubt Chucklefish will be able to pull it off.


The indie scene on the Switch is thriving more than ever. New talented developers are making the platform their home every day, and those who’ve already proved themselves are hard at work on their next premium experience. The next wave of releases from these studios can’t come soon enough.

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