Indie games are officially in style. Amidst all the bundles that have been offered for so very little money all year, it can sometimes be hard to take a step back and gather one’s thoughts about which of the indie games released in 2011 really stood out among the crowd. We have taken the time to rifle through dozens of these games to find the very best, and the following list, presented in no particular order of quality, are the ten we have chosen. Feel free to suggest your own favorites in the comments below, or yell at your monitor for any startling omissions from the list.
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: July 20, 2011
Release Date: Xbox 360, PC, Chrome Web Store
The Xbox Live Arcade game Bastion has consistently been the talk of the indie game world all year. Supergiant Games‘ first release turned heads at E3, receiving praise from every outlet under the sun, hyping up its release just over a month later. This isometric action game revolves around the Kid, the player character who must restore his world after the terrible Calamity that befell it. The Kid has a whole host of items at his disposal with which to tear apart foes and complete challenging obstacle courses that hone the player’s use of each weapon. One feature that cannot go without a mention is the stirring performance of Logan Cunningham, the voice of the dynamic narrator who follows the Kid throughout his entire journey, both berating and extolling the protagonist without end.
It topped charts, broke hearts, and proved just how successful a well made, original indie game could be on XBLA. In fact, the game has become popular enough to not only be ported to the PC via Steam, but Bastion is also one of the first games of its scope and size to make its way to Google’s Chrome browser.
Release Date: May 16, 2011
It’s hard to imagine any indie game-related list any more without including the ultimate sandbox game, Minecraft. Luckily, the fine folks at Re-Logic have given us a 2D world much like Minecraft to stick on this 2011 list. The similarities are impossible to avoid: players are set loose on a randomly generated world with nothing but a few tools at their disposal, and then must collect materials in order to create shelter, clothing, weapons, and hundreds of other doodads in order to survive in the hostile environment.
As players progress, the “Minecraft-clone” mentality begins to wear off rather quickly. The sheer amount of craftable items, terrifying enemies (including enormous bosses), random events that can change the entire game, and useful NPCs(!) should be enough to prove that Terraria has its own slew of features worth investing hours of gameplay into. Plus, the recent 1.1 patch seems to have almost doubled the amount of content in the game.
3. The Binding of Isaac
Developer: Edmund McMillen
Publisher: Edmund McMillen
Release Date: September 28, 2011
Edmund McMillan‘s The Binding of Isaac might be one of the strangest and most polarizing indie games to ever gain this much popularity. Isaac, the titular child, is threatened to be sacrificed by his crazy mother on one terrible day, forcing him to hide out in the basement, where he goes on disgusting adventures using his tears as bullets to fend off monsters. It’s even more disturbing than it sounds.
The gameplay is similar to the original Legend of Zelda. Each level is made up of several rooms full of baddies and bonuses and keys, the latter of which are necessary to progress. As Isaac goes deeper into the basement, he can upgrade his weaponry and defenses by finding the items scattered around. The story is told through flashbacks to past events in Isaac’s childhood, all equally terrifying. It’s not just worth sticking with this dungeon crawler for the fun of it, it’s worth discovering a few of the multiple endings to see just what ends up happening to this sad little boy.
4. Serious Sam Double D
Developer: Mommy’s Best Games
Publisher: Croteam, Devolver Digital
Release Date: August 30, 2011
Double D is one third of the Serious Sam Indie Series, a triplet of indie games from three different developers released in the weeks and months before Serious Sam 3: BFE. It was hard to pick just one, as each are markedly different experiences, and certainly worth your time if you haven’t picked them up yet. Double D is a side-scrolling shooter with hordes of enemies ranging from the typical headless mobs to giant robots, and even dinosaurs (if you survive for that long). Of course, the main draw of Double D is its unique Gunstacking feature, in which up to four different weapons can be stacked on top of one another in order to create an unholy amalgamation of mechanical warfare.
There is always a place for thought-provoking and well-written titles like Bastion and Binding of Isaac, but the pure dumb fun of Serious Sam translated this perfectly to a 2D side-scroller deserves a mention as one of the most fun indie games of 2011. And remember, both Kamikaze Attack! and The Random Encounter (the other games in the Indie Series) deserve your attention as well…once you’re done stacking four chainsaws and charging through Tyrannosaurus rexes.
5. Frozen Synapse
Developer: Mode 7 Games
Publisher: Mode 7 Games
Release Date: May 26, 2011
Every step of every unit counts in Frozen Synapse, the most fist-clenchingly intense online turn-based tactical shooter of 2011. Both in its thorough and entertaining campaign and asynchronous online multiplayer, Frozen Synapse gives you control of the most minute decisions to best take out the opposing force. The matches are played from a top-down view, and each turn is only a few seconds of deciding on the best positioning of each unit in preparation of an attack.
Offense and defense must be balanced carefully, because holding out in a building too long could lead to an ambush, whereas rushing in to the field of battle could leave your units completely unprotected from a more cautious foe. The pressure of having to keep up with each of your own troops and the movement of the opponent’s fleet can be overwhelming, but it makes the victory all the more sweet. Sneaking up behind a sniper has never been more satisfying than in Frozen Synapse.