I love indie games. Since being introduced by a friend some years ago, they’re the type of releases I pick up most frequently nowadays. They tend to give me more of what I want from my hobby than the triple-A stuff currently being produced: creativity, great storylines that make you think, and interesting characters far removed from the limited representations we’ve previously experienced.
When Red Metal from Extra Life very kindly nominated Later Levels for a Sunshine Blogger Award last month, one of their questions got me thinking: what critical darling do you feel completely failed to live up to the hype? There have been a number of indie games in the past that the critics have gone crazy for, declaring them to be pinnacles of gaming – but I just haven’t been able to understand what all the fuss was about when I’ve picked them up. Here’s a round-up of some of those titles.
I realised that LIMBO was the game which had spent the longest in my Steam library while hosting #LoveYourBacklog week with LightningEllen from LividLightning in February. So after almost five years, I decided to rectify that by scheduling a stream for #MaybeinMarch the following month. I was looking forward to finally trying out the title critics had said ’empowered players to work through puzzle solutions themselves’ and which ‘offered up what feels like a world of meaningful possibilities’.
Four months later and I still don’t get it. Yes, I like the art-style and the way you can never guess what’s going to happen on the following screen; but it feels as though Playdead’s project is trying to tell the player a message in a vague and slightly pretentious way. I understand that not all games need to be completely explained but unanswered questions frustrate me, and I like at least a nudge in the right direction. I had a go at trying to figure out the ending but I still don’t feel the explanation I came up with truly fits.
2012: Dear Esther
It’s strange this title made it on to today’s list because I absolutely adore narrative games, but Dear Esther was one I didn’t gel with. A friend suggested it to me shortly after being introduced to the indie scene and I’d read several news articles which had intrigued me so I was keen to give it a go. Critics had said it had ‘an impressively ethereal atmosphere’ and were praising it for what it did differently: tap into unhappiness, an emotion that few games at the time dared to approach.
I thought it was boring. Yes it was pretty and the soundtrack was good, but the story didn’t click with me and my main thought when I reached the end was: ‘Is that it?’ I went on to try The Chinese Room’s next release, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, in 2015 and it was much the same experience. I still haven’t managed to complete the game because it just couldn’t hold my attention – although I keep being told that its storyline is a fascinating one and I should try to stick with it.
I ended up playing Undertale long after its release, after so many friends and bloggers had told me I needed to give it a try. I could see why they’d enjoyed it: the twist on gameplay mechanics was clever, the soundtrack was excellent, and its story about determination and never giving up was very sweet. It had quickly gained a cult following, critics had said it was ‘unconventional, clever, and occasionally really difficult’, and more than a few ‘Best Game’ recognitions were awarded.
But it just wasn’t for me. Yes, the 12 hours I’d spent with Undertale were pleasant enough but I couldn’t see why everyone was going so crazy for it – and I certainly couldn’t face repeating the process so I could get the alternative outcomes. I thought this would be an unpopular opinion but when I tweeted a question about unliked indie titles recently, several blogging friends agreed. It seems as though Toby Fox’s game may have won the hearts of many but there are a few of us who it just didn’t click with.
2016: The Witness
I was so looking forward to The Witness. Jonathan Blow’s Braid was one of the first indie releases I ever played and I’d really enjoyed it, finding the narrative twist at the end to be unlike anything I’d experienced in the bigger-budget titles I’d been playing. After waiting eight years for the developer to release his second project, I was incredibly excited because the promotional screenshots looked stunning and critics were calling it a ‘beautiful, powerful and cleverly-designed puzzle game with a wealth of mysteries to unravel’.
And I did enjoy it to an extent. But during the 30 hours we spent playing, I kept telling my other-half that some big secret was going to revealed and he kept warning me to not be disappointed. He was right to do so. There was no big pay-off after completing all those challenges and even the secret ending wasn’t particularly fulfilling. I understand that The Witness is an experience – kind of like a mental holiday – but I came away feeling as though this was a work created by someone who spent too much time in his own head.
One of the best things about video games is that there’s a release out there for absolutely everybody, so I’m sure the titles above made it onto some peoples’ favourite lists! Which indie games have you just not been able to get?
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.