Almost three years after starting Later Levels and I’m still a huge fan of indie video games. Independent developers aren’t afraid to take creative risks to bring us something new and inventive; and their smaller releases aren’t as daunting as tackling a large, big-budget experience. Give me an indie title with a great story and I’m a very happy girl.
Two years ago, Dan from nowisgames.com asked for indie game suggestions and this resulted in a short series of ‘beginners guide’ posts. A recent ‘this time in 2017’ tweet then prompted him to ask whether I’d considered doing a follow-up – so I’m back once again thanks to Dan! I tend to favour adventures or titles with strong narratives and this will be obvious from the following list, but hopefully everyone will find something that piqued their interest. Let’s dig into the updated beginner’s guide to indie (part one).
2014: J.U.L.I.A: Among the Stars
Although it has a completely different setting and premise, I kept being reminded of playing Myst for the first time all over again when I began J.U.L.I.A: Among the Stars by CBE Software. It was that sensation of stepping into new worlds, and being confronted with strange contraptions and mysterious structures – albeit in the stars and through AI companions. The developer is currently working on their next title, Someday You’ll Return, and it’s one I’m eagerly awaiting the release of.
James from Killer Robotics very kindly gave me a key for Kona by Parabole in October last year and, although this chilly walking simulator won’t be to everyone’s taste, I really enjoyed it. One of the reasons for this is the game’s narrator. This nameless voice has a wonderful personality about it and the script was written in such a way that you’re never quite sure whether he’s being solemn or joking in his observations. For a title that’s set in a blizzard with a theme of isolation, it lightens the mood when things start to get serious.
It’s hard to explain what Maize is about for two reasons. Firstly, it’s difficult to hint at several plot points without spoiling the whole thing; and secondly, this title by Finish Line Games is just so weird. Trying to summarise the story here would make a lot of readers think it was probably best left in a dark corner of my library but I encourage you to give it a go if you’re a fan of the slightly bizarre. A game doesn’t need to be serious or challenging to make it worthwhile, and Maize is proof that sometimes a bit of silliness can hit the spot.
2017: Stories Untold
If you loved text-adventures as a kid, you need to check out Stories Untold by No Code. It was recommended to me by Bradley from Cheap Boss Attack and ended up being my favourite game of 2017. The fear slowly rises as you make your way through four episodes and see connections until the hairs stand up on the back of your neck every time you’re asked to enter a new command. It’s difficult to say more without spoiling the game for future players except that the developer has crafted some very special, atmospheric moments.
One of Paradigm’s highlights is its comedy but this is also the reason why some won’t enjoy it. There are plenty of jokes about drug use, addiction, deformities and other sensitive subjects so if any of those topics are likely to offend, I’d recommend finding another adventure. But if you’re a fan of the absurd and can overlook how close-to-the-bone some of the gags are, there’s plenty of silliness here in Jacob Janerka’s release that will likely appeal to you – and the awesome Ellen from Livid Lightning agrees.
2017: The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker
Full-motion video (FMV) games are like Marmite: you either love them or hate them. I’m in the former camp and have been lapping up the titles published by Wales Interactive over the past year. D’Avekki Studios’ The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker has been my favourite so far because its characters have a way of sucking you in: will you, a psychiatrist, be able to solve your predecessor’s murder and fix the chaos he left behind? Be careful, because the questions you ask your patients will determine their fate and your own.
2017: Finding Paradise
To The Moon was included in my original beginner’s guide and it’s one of my favourite games. I’ve played it multiple times because I love its emotional story; the ending still manages to inspire all the feels because it’s just so bittersweet. When Freebird Games released the follow-up, Finding Paradise, fellow fan Chris from OverThinker Y and I got together to have a long discussion about the series so far. The title contains some hints about what’s going to happen in the third instalment and I can’t wait!
2018: The Red Strings Club
Let’s finish off today’s list with one of my favourite games from 2018: The Red Strings Club. It’s a release that asks the player how far they’re willing to go to suppress the worst aspects of our personalities for the good of the population, and whether it’s worth sacrificing negative emotions such as sadness and anger. Do our feelings make us who we are, are we shaped by our suffering, and is happiness at the cost of free will ultimately worth it? Deconstructeam has given us an experience that questions who the real villain is.
That’s it for today, so hopefully you’ve managed to find something new for your wishlist! For not if you haven’t though: I’ll be back on Wednesday with part two and eight more indie games worth checking out.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.