The limelight is usually preserved for the AAA games that are bursting at the breeches from the big companies that have bottomless pockets. This means that the smaller, less-known games usually get overshadowed by the bigger, more imposing ones. But no more! We aim to shine a light on some of our favourite indie games, bringing them to the forefront of your attention. So, here are some indie games we think you should check out…
If you’ve never played Shovel Knight before it is the perfect amalgamation of NES 2D platforming games. Shovel Knight takes the classic platformer mechanics and manages to create its own identity making it a perfect concoction of brilliant platforming, thoughtful abilities (which can change the gameplay each run-through) and an unexpectedly engulfing story.
Whether you’re coming back for another bash at this retro classic or this is your first dig, Shovel Knight provides for everyone. A brief overview of the original game sees Shield Knight, our protagonists’ partner, possessed by a cursed Amulet. Whilst mourning for his lost one, an evil enchantress takes over the land. Shovel Knight must journey to the Tower of Fate to free his beloved from her curse.
Indie games in this style have a knack for creating their own unique artwork and soundtrack. Shovel Knight delivers on this trend. As simplistic as it is you can find yourself lost for hours exploring and using various skills to battle your way to the tower. On its own, this game is easily one of the best indies I have played. But Shovel Knight isn’t on his own in this ‘Treasure Trove’.
Shovel Knight ‘Treasure Trove’ has not 1, but 5 different game modes: Shovel of Hope, Plague of Shadows, Specter of Torment, King of Cards and Shovel Knight Showdown.
This collection is the gift that keeps on giving and if you’ve already played the original game you have best to experience it at its best. Specter of Torment is without doubt the best Yacht Club Games has to offer. Building on its predecessors creating a game that is beautifully fluid and a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Unlike the original, this collection now provides Multiplayer for all game modes. Play Co-op and battle enemies together or play free-for-all and battle against each other in Gem clash or showdown.
So, can you dig it? YES, YOU CAN!
Hades is awesome. Industry leaders in just being infinitely more badass than other developers, Supergiant Games have brought their juggernaut status fully to bear. Greek Mythos has never looked so sexy and shaded. We’ve talked about Hades, and Zag’s relationship status, a lot the past few weeks at Zatu and for good reason. Everybody loves a man with an exposed nipple. Last week Hades took home the illustrious Best Game prize at the 2021 BAFTAs, continuing its Olympic-level award-run after its Best Indie Game win at this year’s VGAs.
Critically adored and communally beloved, Hades has won admiration and respect for both its imaginative and innovative approach to rogue-lite mechanics and the dateability of the majority of its cast. It might seem a little early to be making the claim that Hades deserves a spot among the best of the best. We dare you to start playing and tell us otherwise.
Among the many impressive ways that Supergiant Games have made Hades just so absolutely radical, it’s the depth and care in fully marrying story and game design which has created an experience that is so transcendent. Hades is not a game just for fans of the rogue-lite genre. It has adapted the ideas of games in this space and challenged both the fans and the genre, to look at its own hellish reflection. Sometimes these games, where you die and go all the way back to the start, can be, understandably, repetitive. You need to replay large sections of the game, once, twice, two hundred, four hundred times, each time chasing a smaller and smaller sliver of new content, or the rush of managing to get just a little further. Hades challenges these notions and they make it look so goddamn easy!
Supergiant Games have taken the building blocks for rogue-lite games and from these foundations created something new and magnificent. Hades deserves its spot in the Pantheon of great games and Greek Gods from which it draws its gorgeously-shaded inspiration. If you’re thinking about joining the Zag Fanclub, be sure to check out our full review for Hades. We’ve sailed the Styx a bunch and we’d be happy to help you navigate your first few breakouts.
Lately, I’ve tried to put some serious effort into routing for the little guy by playing more indie games. I also recently wrote a piece on my Top Five Indie Nintendo Switch Games. But I felt I needed to stick my oar into this article and highlight a game that just missed a spot on that list - My Memory of Us.
My Memory of Us by Juggler Games is a 2D sidescrolling puzzle adventure game. The story follows a boy and a girl trying to survive an invasion by the armies of the Robot King. Which is a less-than-subtle allegory for the Nazi invasion of Poland that began World War II.
The art style of the game is outstanding. Black and white 1930s-style 2D animation with splashes of red to highlight things of importance is used to great effect. It’s also more than a little reminiscent of Schindler’s List. With the exception of cutscenes, there is no dialogue or text. It falls to the music to do all of the emotional heavy lifting, which it does superbly.
As well as telling Poland’s tragic tale through the story, My Memory of Us also has collectables that unlock historical information about the real-life invasion. Collecting items littered around the game world allows you to read about important Polish figures or events that took place during the occupation.
To top everything off, the cutscenes in My Memory of Us are narrated by the magnificent Sir Patrick Stewart. His rich tones add real gravitas to proceedings.
Indie games don't seem so indie nowadays. There are so many smaller studios producing their own stuff, and a lot of it is absolutely incredible. I find that the big corporations of video gaming are regularly big hitters, but it's the small-scale projects I often remember. And my current favourite? Hollow Knight by Team Cherry. It's a story-rich action platformer with Metroidvania elements where you play as a bug!
Hollow Knight is centred around the player fulfilling their destiny. It's set in the kingdom of Hallownest, a once-mighty land reduced to ruin by a strange infection. No bug can resist the disease for long before becoming instinctive and primal in its actions. They're then no more than a husk for it to control. Your destiny is a mystery and is tied heavily to the fall of the kingdom and the infection but becomes clearer as time goes on through interactions with the remaining inhabitants and the ancient scrawlings left by the now infected citizens.
Adventure and discovery are the biggest elements here and drive the narrative without your character ever speaking a word. It's beautifully done! There are secrets to reveal, mysteries to unravel and shocking truths to uncover. It'll tug on your heartstrings too!
This game wears its Metroidvania badge on its sleeve and shows it with pride. It's not afraid to say what you can and can't do yet. Those moments of "If only I could..." will drive you to find ways to tackle problems - be it through unlocking abilities or developing an understanding of the platforming. What else works well is the level of control you have over your character. Even in the early game with no new abilities, your control is excellent. Using your rusty nail, you can strike enemies down... Or! You can use it to pogo off of enemies, spikes and other hazards to survive longer or access new areas. But the game leaves these discoveries to you!
The crowning achievement of Hollow Knight is its story and what is, and isn't, told. In my first playthrough, I saw less than half of everything there is to offer in the game. From collectables to hidden dialogues and side quests, it hosts a whole bag of goodies and exciting extras. All of which contribute to the hidden depths of what happened to Hallownest and its inhabitants. It's got so much to it that, I promise you, 30 hours will fly by and you'll still be adventuring through the spiralling tunnels of the ancient Kingdom. If a quality adventure and a tale to tell is your thing, Hollow Knight is the way to go.
This is a series of games that well and truly took me by surprise. I occasionally buy games out of boredom. Not really giving much thought to what I am opening my wallet up to. Danganronpa was one such game. And after playing the game for an hour or two, I had the rest of the trilogy bought and downloading ready to be played back-to-back. It caught my undivided attention from the get-go.
Do not get me wrong, this game is certainly not for everyone. The concept of the game is actually quite barbaric. There's a group of ‘ultimate’ kids trapped inside a location (changes from game to game) and only allowed to leave if they successfully get away with murder. The absolutely insane/sentient/mechanical/unbeatable knee-high black and white bear called Monokuma serves as the main antagonist throughout the series and acts as the judge in your trials.
What are the trials you ask? Well, for someone to get away with murder, they have to successfully convince everyone else that they are innocent during the class trial. If they do so, then they are allowed to leave the confinement, and everyone else is brutally murdered by Monokuma. It is our job as the player to adopt the role of Sherlock and figure out who the real murderer is. In which case, it is then the murderer who will be brutally murdered by Monokuma.
It is hard not to be smacked right in the feels with this game. As you interact with the other characters, form bonds with them, get to know them, love their quirks and personalities etc, then it is heartbreaking to know that they could be killed at any time. Or indeed, become a murderer at any time.
The characters in the Danganronpa series are truly unforgettable. From the sadistic enigma that is Monokuma, to your fellow ‘ultimate’ companions, there really is tons of personality from this little anime-style game. You will grow to love characters like the ultimate clairvoyant, ultimate gamer, ultimate hacker, ultimate chef, ultimate cyborg, etc. All being chosen for being the absolute best in their field of expertise. But who will survive and who will not? Play this amazingly written, little masterpiece and find out!