Frustration… Frustration is the key word that defines Getting Over It, although there are a few others that spring to mind. It’s a game designed to infuriate you and push your patience to its very limit, but not without purpose. Getting Over It wasn’t designed just to be difficult, there’s an underlying message to the suffering the player faces that give the tormenting gameplay an unseen value.
This game teaches you that the determination to overcome a challenge is important. Things might be hard, even unfair but, if you strive to do something and never give up you’ll eventually get to where you want to be. Ultimately, that doesn’t mean beating the game and reaching the end screen, but that it’s the trying to that matters and it is the strength in trying that gives this game meaning.
Underpin all this to philosophical voice-over commentary by creator Bennett Foddy and you’ve got a challenging, thoughtful experience that makes you question your expectations of what a video game is and their value as entertainment products.
19. Slay The Spire
Taking the indie roguelike tradition and pairing it with an emerging digital translation of a tabletop favourite, Slay The Spire become an indie hit almost overnight at the start of 2019. You’re getting a deckbuilder with all the card collection and turn based combat you could ask for, but on top of that you’re getting a sublime blend of classic roguelike mechanics in there as well. The result is an incredibly addictive experience, of which the nuances and strategies required of you become clearer and clearer with every restart.
Don’t be mistaken by thinking you’re going to be dredging through the same old card battles to get anywhere in each new run, however. What Slay The Spire does to just top everything off with a cherry, is offer a fast-paced style of gameplay that seamlessly slots into the more chess-like strategic set up of the main mechanics.
18. Shovel Knight
Yacht Club Games’ charming homage to Nintendo-era 2D, side-scrolling platformers offered up a fresh slice of nostalgia with a polished edge thrusting a classic formula in front of a modern audience. Presented through a retro, 8-bit style, players take control of enigmatic hero Shovel Knight on his quest to defeat the evil knights of the Order of No Quarter.
The game was praised as a homage to the classics that inspired it whilst still delivering something new to the genre with its polished graphics and intuitive controls. The game went on to sell upwards of two million copies proving that genre is far from dead and buried.
Development on Shovel Knight has continued since its release in 2014 with the game receiving various updates including three new campaigns in which you play as some of the more colourful characters from the Shovel Knight universe.
17. Stardew Valley
Originally based on PC, Stardew Valley had somewhat of a rebirth when ported onto the Nintendo Switch this year. Developed by Eric Barone and Sickhead Games, Stardew balanced a combination of farming management simulator and RPG elements, housing all the right ingredients to make you addicted.
With plenty of idiosyncratic people to get to know, crops to grow and a dungeon-like mine to explore, Stardew Valley had something for everyone. The freedom it allows the player makes this little game a delightful place to while away the hours.
Oxenfree is proof that there is always more room for indie games that focus on telling a story, building character relationships and giving players choices to modify the outcome of their playthroughs. Oxenfree’s supernatural tale captivates easily and maintains the much needed suspension of disbelief very much alive throughout the whole game.
With Oxenfree, Night School Studio added one more grain of sand to the great amount of well received dialogue-driven and story oriented games released in the last couple of years finding its place beside worthy contemporaries like The Red Strings Club, Kentucky Route Zero, Night in the Woods, Firewatch, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Gone Home and many, many more.
For a queer millennial in a committed relationship living in a poor, small town, Night in the Woods got me. It explored themes games rarely explore, like millennial disillusionment and the working class, and portrayed characters never seen in games, like a queer couple in a committed relationship and a deeply human mother.
It was also a fantastic murder mystery, at times utterly creepy and at times beautifully surreal. Night in the Woods was a feat for representation in games and a lovely adventure that forced us to examine our world, demonstrating the power of games as an artistic and cultural force.
Kentucky Route Zero was, without mincing words, a weird game. Split into 5 Acts, with their releases spanning all the way back to 2013 (and with Act V still yet to release) the experience of playing Kentucky Route Zero has literally lasted years. But that does not mean that its imagery, characters, theatrical framings or original use of magical reality have faded from our memories.
In fact, it has been quite the opposite.
Kentucky Route Zero’s unique depiction of Americana has remained as strikingly juxtaposed between the familiar and strange as it ever was, and its continuing legacy can be seen in many of the games that have released over the intermediary years. To put it simply, we are as keenly awaiting Act V, as we were Acts I through IV.
Campo Santo built itself a position in the AAA Indie developer list with the release of this narrative driven, adventure/walking simulator. It’s not quite either of those, but rather a greatly crafted mixture. The amazing thing about Firewatch is that you genuinely can’t foresee what’s coming next. And that’s the great accomplishment: the unexpected transformed into a constant.
Great looking graphics, amazing music and strong voice acting make of Firewatch a must play in so many different ways. Its story is compelling and emotionally moving, with just two deep, believable characters and many more narrative avatars to complete the equation.
12. Disco Elysium
StudioMDHR’s frantic shooter is a game that instantly grabbed people’s attention thanks to its striking animation that was inspired by classic 1930s-era cartoons. Emulating the aesthetic of a retro-styled Walt Disney cartoon in every aspect, including the video quality and sound design, players take control of either Cuphead or Mugman in a battle to repay their debt to the devil after a deal goes wrong.
The game was praised and, in some instances, even criticised for its challenging difficulty which often drew parallels with criticism levelled at the Dark Souls series regarding elitism despite their clear design differences. The bullet-hell, boss-rush style of gameplay clearly resonated with the gaming community though with sales reaching over two million copies by the end of 2017.
All the animations were hand-drawn and backgrounds beautifully painted in using watercolours before being colourised in Photoshop. This resulted in a truly standout game that many loved for its style and never forgot for its difficulty.