For the past ten years, the video game industry has seen a renaissance for independently developed video games. With the new accessibility of digital distribution and technology's rapid progression in this digital revolution, it has never been easier for small teams of developers to go out on their own and create quality gaming experiences.
This independence also grants these developers artistic and creative freedom. While the creators behind big AAA games can oftentimes be restricted and censored by their publishers, independent developers are at liberty to pursue their visions with little to no pressure from commercially driven executives.
With the rise of indie games, the medium has seen a massive influx of promising developers coming out and displaying their talents for all the world to see (and play). Each year sees more games from this rapidly growing ecosystem, and as always, some gems stand out among the rest. As 2015 comes to a close, we thought it pertinent to look at some of these games and decide which of them stands as the "Indie Game of the Year."
Here is a list of our first five nominees!
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture
From The Chinese Room, a small independent studio based in England, comes a story of how the end of all things begins in a small town.
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture features little to no gameplay mechanics, and instead has the player explore the little village of Shropshire to uncover clues as to what brought about the apocalyptic event. Guided to key locations by a mysterious ball of light, the player watches as ghosts of the town's inhabitants act out the events of their last days.
Slowly uncovering the truth through this excellent cast of deep and likable characters is enough incentive to explore what is easily the PlayStation 4's best looking game world. Lush environments, photo-realistic lighting, and incredible sound design make Everybody's Gone to the Rapture aesthetically and musically awesome.
This revolutionary level of presentation combined with an intriguing story and a wonderful cast earns this indie a nomination for best of the year.
Developed by Ubisoft Reflections, Grow Homeis a 3D platformer that embraces the genre's intrinsic imprecision and creates a simple, yet often awe-inspiring adventure of an E.T.-like critter trying to find his way home.
Your goal is to climb and grow the Star Plant upwards through three hovering islands to reach the mother ship for refueling. However, with power-ups to unlock and wildlife to collect, there's plenty of excuses to explore this vertical game world.
Upon first taking control of the Botanical Utility Droid (BUD for short), I found him clumsy and awkward to navigate. But after getting a sense of the climbing mechanics and BUD's sensitivity to momentum, guiding him through his efforts to grow the Star Plant back to the mother ship became less tedious and more endearing. Navigating the floating islands by climbing, leaf-bouncing, and flower-gliding is a jovial experience, especially when coupled with the exhilarating risk of falling back to the earth.
Beside some occasional bugs (like glitching through objects and semi-frequent drops in frame-rate) and some graphical monotony, Grow Home is a delightful platformer with satisfying mechanics and rewarding exploration. It easily makes our list of nominees for best indie of 2015
Three Fourths Home
Year after year, our beloved medium extends the boundaries for what definitively is a "game." This year, Bracket Games further pushed the envelope with Three Fourths Home. More of a choose-your-own-adventure novel than a video game, this narrative experience has the player assume the role of Kelly - a twenty-something college girl coming back home to help out with family bills and weather her quarter-life crisis.
While driving home in a storm, the player dictates Kelly's mood, relationships, and overall character by choosing pre-written dialogue blurbs. Three Fourths Home stands out in its bold choices in themes, exploring issues like addiction, disability, student debt, and the bitter cold that is regret.
Though not a game in the most traditional sense, Three Fourths Home delivers a brilliantly written script and seamless dialogue mechanics novel to the medium, and earns itself all four fourths of a nomination for indie of the year.
Ori and the Blind Forest
Indie developer Moon Studios' premiere title aims to enamor and hits its mark. Ori and the Blind Forest is a gorgeous Metroidvania game that borrows from the greatest of the genre while also innovating with new and uniquely clever platforming mechanics.
The forest is one of the most beautifully rendered game worlds of any platformer; with cascading waterfalls, massive ancient trees, ominous swamp lands, and many other locales all designed with beautiful backdrops and immersive foregrounds. This endearing quality is brilliantly juxtaposed with the game's classically hardcore difficulty. Though enemy design is a bit repetitive, the level design and platforming challenges presented will test the mettle of any NES-SNES aficionado.
Easily one of the greatest 2D platformers of the decade, let alone this year, Ori and the Blind Forest's world is a joy to experience and a compelling challenge to overcome.
Sporting an art-style reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and a format inspired by Shadow of the Colossus, Titan Souls is a gruelingly difficult game which rarely yields and never forgives.
With nothing more than a bow and a single retrievable arrow, the unassuming David of this game is tasked with seeking out and slaying a dozen gargantuan Goliaths in this vast (yet oddly sparse) gameworld. While lacking in terms of narrative and world building, Titan Souls shines in its precision-based gameplay. Players must locate and target each boss's fatal underbelly (so to speak) while dodging the monster's constant barrage of deadly attacks. Each titan encounter comes with death, and each death must be learned from in order to conquer this pitiless pantheon of pixelated opponents.
An incredible achievement from the three-person team at Acid Nerve, Titan Souls earns itself a nomination for best indie of 2015
What did you think of our first five nominees? If you didn't see some of your picks for this year's best indie titles, let us know! We will be taking community nominations into consideration for our list. Send us your nominations, send us your votes, and keep an eye on GameSkinny for the results!