2015 In Review Part 3: The Small Games

2015 In Review Part 1: The News
2015 In Review Part 2: The Big Games

2015 was a big year in gaming for both big and indie titles. In this article we are going to focus specifically on the games made by smaller companies, the so called indies of the previous year. From exquisite wonders to absolute failures, we’re going to take one last look at the 2015.

Some amazing indies got well deserved sequels, and of course, we saw a lot of brand new ideas come to life, as that is the nature of indie genre. Alas, not all of the notable indies of the past year delivered what we expected. While some came from virtually nowhere and surprised us for the best, other titles let us down immensely.

Welcome to 2015 In Review Part 3: The Small Games


Rocket League
Developer: Psyonix | Publisher: Psyonix

Rocket League is the spiritual successor to the not so popular Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, unnecessarily complex name, I know. Psyonix essentially took the concept of football and spiced it up with rocket-powered cars and my god, has this not turned out to be an amazing game.

I think that this is one of the best games of the year, closely behind some of the bigger franchises. All of the downloadable content for the game has so far been purely cosmetic and the base price is 20$. I mean, that is a steal, if I ever saw one. Rocket League manages to be many things ranging from an extremely competitive game to an absolutely gorgeous one, and that’s putting it mildly. Great job Psyonix, you really nailed this one.


Trine 3: Artifacts of Power
Developer: Frozenbyte | Publisher: Frozenbyte

Trine 3 was a highly anticipated title in 2015, unfortunately the developers tried to innovate and thought it was a good decision to make the game a 3D-ish experience. I usually welcome innovation with open arms, but in the case of Trine, the ideas they had weren’t particularly implemented well.

Because of the camera changes, a huge portion of the game felt awkward or plain broken and I would assume Frozenbyte ran out of money before they could implement beloved mechanics from the previous installments, such as player levels or character skills, and the game’s still really buggy even though it officially went out of Early Access a while ago.


Kerbal Space Program
Developer: Squad | Publisher: Squad

Despite its goofy characters and cartoony visuals, Kerbal Space Program is a very hard to learn game that’s all about engineering, space, and physics. Being in Early Access for I don’t how long, 2015 was the year it was officially released, and it’s still getting support from Squad.

I can’t tell you a lot because I haven’t really had the chance to play it much, outside of my friend’s house, but from the little experience I had, it seemed really fun, and that’s considering the fact I personally dislike simulation games. The thing that really captured me, for the short time I spent with it, was the sheer amount of possibilities it has to offer.


Magicka 2
Developer: Pieces Interactive | Publisher: Paradox Interactive

Magicka 2 is a sequel that can hardly live-up to what its predecessor was, mechanically inferior, and riddled with bad level design, boring missions and plain cheesy dialog. I have no idea if this is because of the change of developers or something else, but I can hardly recommend it to even fans of the series.

I was personally very disappointed since the first Magicka is a game I hold very dear, with it’s outstanding humor, innovative spell system and various levels and challenges, even if half of them were DLCs, was amazing. I even ignored their marketing, that’s how much I loved that game, after knowing this, just imagine how much worse the sequel had to be for me to be absolutely disappointed.


Downwell
Developer: Moppin | Publisher: Devolver Digital

Nobody knew about this before it was released and yet it just blew the fuck up. Why? Because it was actually fun, more than fun even, addicting. It’s relatively easy to jump into and can consume countless hours of your life. A simple rogue-like platformer, made by people I’ve never heard of before managed all of this.

This is how you make a game, instead of wasting crazy amounts of money into marketing, like other developers do, and not only big ones, they focused their resources into making a good game which has more than enough depth, but isn’t too hard to get into. Best part, it costs 3 fucking dollars. 3 dollars for hours upon hours of pure addicting fun.


The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth
Developer: Nicalis Inc/Edmund McMillen | Publisher: Nicalis Inc

I was so freaking hyped when I learned about this, this game is one of my absolute favorites, It’s the most competent dungeon-crawler I’ve seen and one of the most competent roque-like games I’ve seen. This expansion just makes it better, definitely a must-have for fans of the game.

It adds tons of content, more of everything you love and things you might have not even expected. I would say the pricing is completely justified too, for the amount of shit this expansion adds. As you can probably tell, I’m really biased when it comes to The Binding of Isaac, but can you blame me?


Helldivers
Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios | Publisher: PlayStation Mobile

Oh man, one of my favorites of the year and definitely the best top down shooter I’ve played in my life, I can safely say that I’ve enjoyed every single second of my experience with Helldivers. It manages to be frustrating in a fun way, if that makes sense, and it’s one of the best, most unique experiences I’ve had playing co-op with friends. It’s made by the same guys that made the original Magicka, and shares some similarities as well.

The only downside is that half of the items in the game are DLCs, but since it was out for so long on console before coming to PC, all the DLCs are already out and come in very nice package deal that’s just 10$ more than the base game. If you decide to buy Helldivers, I really recommend getting the complete pack.


Squad
Developer: Offworld Industries | Publisher: Offworld Industries

I haven’t had enough first hand experience to share my personal opinion with you, but from what my friends say, it seems to be a pretty good military simulator type of thing. I’ve seen quite a bit of gameplay and it honestly looks like a solid game, but I wouldn’t say the current price is worth it.

Despite not having played it, I’ve done my research and I don’t think the amount of content justifies the price. It would serve you well to remember it’s still in Early Access and I would advise caution if you consider buying it. I would be very skeptical of the company’s promises until they start actively implementing them.


Life is Strange
Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment | Publisher: Square Enix

A beautiful adventure game with a unique story and concept. With gameplay centered around player choices and dialog, I can say I was very surprised, in good way, when I first played LiS. It has become a trend to market similar titles as choice and consequence games, but unfortunately most of them lack real and meaningful player choices unlike Life Is Strange.

The unbelievable thing is that the developers behind this beautiful adventure were the same guys that made Remember Me, the “meh” action game released all the way back in 2013. I was honestly surprised when I found out. Anyways, Life is Strange is the game Telltale should definitely learn from.


Black Mesa
Developer: Crowbar Collective | Publisher: Crowbar Collective

After what seemed like an eternity the first glimpse of this outstanding re-envisioning of the original Half Life was released back in 2012 and in 2015 it made it to Steam Early Access as a paid, enhanced version with a new engine and multiplayer among other tweaks.

A lot of controversy surrounds the former mod since to this day the final chapters have yet to be released, but I have good fate in the Crowbar Collective and trust them to fulfill their promises in the, hopefully, near future. I think we just have to make peace with the fact everything related to Half Life takes time. Till this day they keep updating the game and honestly I think the price is fully justified. You have to give them credit for all of the amazing detail and work put into Black Mesa over the years. It truly feels like a Valve game, even if it isn’t.


Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
Developer: Dennaton Games | Publisher: Devolver Digital

Being a hardcore fan of the first game I must say the sequel is really good, but falls a bit short compared to the original. There are a lot of valid complaints by other players I’ve seen, but they aren’t anything that potentially ruins the experience, at least for me. Wrong Number still remains an incredibly challenging and violent action-packed sequel which adds a few interesting mechanics.

I personally don’t dislike that many things about it, but if there was something that made my experience a bit worse compared to the previous game it was the amount of enemies shooting you off-screen. In some cases that would just escalate from being a minor inconvenience to something utterly frustrating. Nevertheless, I honestly liked it a lot in spite of its shortcomings.


Her Story
Developer: Sam Barlow | Publisher: Sam Barlow

Her Story manages to do something completely new even after countless games have came out since the beginning of gaming itself. It combines movies with games in a new and innovative way. Your job is to review actual video footage of a woman who’s husband was murdered and solve the puzzle of who did it and how it happened.

It is definitely an odd game, but in a very good way, the story is very deep and immersive and Viva Seifert does an amazing job as the star of this interesting take on games. Her Story is definitely a milestone and triumph in storytelling. Congratulations to Sam Barlow for pulling off something no one had even thought of prior to this game.


Besiege
Developer: Spiderling Studios | Publisher: Spiderling Studios

A simple, yet engaging and extremely fun game. Besiege is an easy to understand, physics based, sandbox, building game that offers hours upon hours of relentless destruction and pure joy. The goal is to build you own medieval contraption and destroy the enemy minions, buildings and forts.

Besiege gives you the full freedom of building whatever your heart desires. Featuring all kinds of different parts and possibilities. Still in Early Access, the developers have been very active in adding things and implementing bug fixes and tweaks. I have high hopes that we’ll have a full release in the near future and even more devious ways to crush the enemy buildings and minions.


Undertale
Developer: tobyfox | Publisher: tobyfox

Undertale was among the major indie releases of the year, with a huge following and unique gameplay designed around the idea of the most popular standard top-down JRPG’s and its take on companionship and compassion. This game will make one feel for each and every individual that they meet in their path.

As for me, the experience itself was everything I expected and a lot more. Undertale is often humorous and I found myself in particular situations in which combat isn’t needed, and this is where the game shines; it is absolutely possible to be a complete pacifist, or an absolute harbinger of destruction. Definitely worth the 10$ price tag, as the content and the experience are worth a lifetime.


Jotun
Developer: Thunder Lotus Games | Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games

This. This is one of my favorite indies of all time, I don’t know how to express my feelings in words for this title. Jotun is an incredibly beautiful, hand-drawn isometric action game based on Norwegian mythology. First of all, it is immersive as hell, the story is amazing, and the gameplay, even though simplistic, fits the game perfectly.

I can understand if some people are turned off by the amounts of exploration and the generally slow gameplay, but for me it was an outstanding and almost perfect game. The idea of the game is to make it through (large) areas and solve puzzles and/or kill enemies and collect runes, once you’ve cleared two areas of the same region and have collected both runes you get to fight the main area boss, or the area Jotun. Honestly guys, I love this game, I cannot recommend it enough, but it might not be for everyone.


Ori and the Blind Forest
Developer: Moon Studios | Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Ori is an atmospheric story-driven platformer by Moon Studios and is living proof that Microsoft don’t ruin everything they touch. Featuring a beautifully drawn world and an amazing soundtrack I can’t say you could go wrong with this one. I loved every bit of my experience and was truly immersed in the story and vibrant world.

Ori features a wide variety of interesting game mechanics and clever levels, you can be assured that the gameplay is every bit as good as the story and visuals. I still haven’t beat the whole thing, because of recent computer issues, but I plan to replay it, and this time make it to the very end.


Titan Souls
Developer: Acid Nerve | Publisher: Devolver Digital

Well, I can’t lie, I’m a bit torn regarding Titan Souls. On one hand it is a very enjoyable experience, but on the other hand it takes like, what? A measly 2-3 hours to beat the whole game. I would have considered this acceptable if it was like 5$, but instead it costs like 15 bucks. Absolutely unacceptable price for a game of this caliber.

Definitely quirky and clever regarding its mechanics and level design, but the lack of content was the inevitable downfall of the game, I’m very disappointed by the devs because it seems like this was one of the more heavily advertised indie games of the past year and yet it falls short compared to games like Jotun which essentially have the same premise and much less attention from the general public.


Don’t Starve: Shipwrecked
Developer: Klei Entertainment/Capybara Games | Publisher: Klei Entertainment

While maintaining the core gameplay aspects of the original game, Shipwrecked introduces a shitload of new content. Ranging from mechanics, items and re-skins to a whole new world setting to explore. I thought I would never say anything like this, but I think the expansion is too cheap for what it offers. I feel like I’m ripping Klei off when I buy this for a silly 5$, and that’s the regular price without any discounts.

I’ve never seen so much content offered for such a low price, and the best thing about this is that it’s still in Early Access, wow, I thought I’d never say this too, but Klei have a very, very solid reputation thus far and the only thing that Early Access means for this game is that there is just a lot more to come in the future.


Crypt of the NecroDancer
Developer: Brace Yourself Games | Publisher: Klei Entertainment/Brace Yourself Games

A rhythm-based, rogue-like, dungeon crawler. I know it’s a lot of things, but I really can’t describe it in any other way. It goes without saying this title has a great soundtrack and a rather humorous story. To say the least, Crypt of the NecroDancer is an interesting combination of different mechanics and ideas that turned out wonderfully well.

To make things even better you can upload and use your own favorite music in different stages instead of the original soundtrack. The most innovate thing and what makes this truly stand out is that the music isn’t just a sound in the background. You actually move, attack and do everything to the rhythm, and it feels unexpectedly satisfying.


Soma
Developer: Frictional Games | Publisher: Frictional Games

The creators of the original Amnesia finally blessed us with a true and better spiritual successor.  Soma does everything better than Frictional’s previous games, and instead of relying too much on jump scares, it focuses more on psychological tension and achieves it extremely well.

Soma is probably the best of the “Walking Simulator” horror games, in which your main line of defense is hiding. This time around Frictional made us actually care about the story and achieved one of the best atmospheres I’ve seen in any type of horror game, I think that Soma surpasses even Triple A titles like Alien Isolation with how it does things. I actually felt real suspense and fear while playing this.


Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Developer: Steel Crate Games | Publisher: Steel Crate Games

One of its kind. After decades of gaming I have not seen a game like this. What this game is, is a bomb defusal game. The interesting part is how it works. You need two players, one of which defuses the bomb by solving all kinds of intriguing and innovative puzzles and the other person is the guy that instructs you how to solve the puzzles.

Player 1 tells player 2 what he sees and then player 2 tells player 1 how to solve it. It’s a very unique concept that I can’t believe someone hasn’t thought of in the past. I honestly don’t know where this game’s been all my life. It manages to be fun, challenging and extremely clever all at the same time. Only one person needs to buy the game in order to play it with a friend, but only the person that buys the game gets to defuse the bomb.


Nuclear Throne
Developer: Vlambeer | Publisher: Vlambeer

Hard as balls, endless replay value, tons of items, should I continue? Every moment of this game is pure heaven. What describes it best is: a top down, rogue-like, action, bullet hell, shoot-em up. A damn lot of things. It also features certain RPG elements as if the previous categories weren’t enough.

You basically get to choose a character, all of which have unique abilities and start the endless fight for survival with the ever shrinking hope that you’ll one day, after many deaths reach the Nuclear Throne. It reminds of The Binding of Isaac in a lot of ways, but doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s ripping off of it. This game is very close if not tied to the Binding of Isaac as my personal favorite rogue-like game.


Layers of Fear
Developer: Blooper Team | Publisher: Aspyr

Definitely among the best horror games of the past year, Layers of Fear has an amazing atmosphere complimented by an engaging story, and tense soundtrack. When I saw it on the front page I admit that I expected another cheap and forgettable, even maybe bad horror game. I only started paying attention to the game after I saw the amount of positive reviews, but I must say I’m definitely happy I picked it up.

Layers of Fear introduced a lot of new ideas and concepts many horror games could benefit from, the gameplay mechanics are simplistic, but the game truly shines with its brilliant atmosphere and innovative scare tactics. If you like the “Walking Simulator” type of horror experiences I’d definitely say to give this game a try, because it is truly unique.


Axiom Verge
Developer: Thomas Happ Games | Publisher: Thomas Happ Games

A surreal and gruesome take on the metroidvania genre, Axiom Verge stays true to the games which inspired it, but implements interesting mechanics to keep the experience fresh. Outright addicting and extremely fun, even satisfying at times, it truly captures the essence of what what made Metroid and Castlevania amazing.

This indie doesn’t only shine with its gameplay though, visually pleasing and with exquisite atmosphere and story, it’s a win on all fronts. I might go a little too far with this, but I consider Axiom Verge the all time best metroidvania game, it does everything its predecessors did, but better.


Apotheon
Developer: Alientrap | Publisher: Alientrap

Apotheon is a 2D action adventure set in Greek mythology with great combat, which feels downright brutal and pleasing at times. Featuring a very wide variety of mechanics and surprising levels of depth. I expected this to be a bare bones side-scroller when I first saw footage of the game, but was quickly proven wrong.

The story, although cheesy, is relatively alright, but it definitely isn’t one of the game’s strong points. I’m very  happy with what Apotheon turned out to be in the end. It’s surely an interesting title and it definitely surprised me with how competent it is more than once.


Broforce
Developer: Free Lives | Publisher: Devolver Digital

I’d say Broforce captures the essence of what it is to be American very well. All jokes aside, it’s a hell of a fun 2D shoot-em up, platformer with lots of clever levels and ideas. I love how brutally violent and bloody this game is. Combining  brilliant platforming with unparalleled action and gore it manages to bring absolute satisfaction to players.

It reminds of lots of different games, but doesn’t feel like it steals anything from them, more or less it is unique for its genre. If you ever wanted to experience what American democracy feels like, this is a title you’ll most definitely enjoy.


Other notable indies of 2015 are:

How To Survive 2
Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones
OlliOlli 2
Five Nights at Freddy’s 3
Five Nights at Freddy’s 4
Mini Metro
I am Bread
Invisible, Inc.
Dungeon Defenders 2
Flywrench
The Beginner’s Guide

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