This past year has been a great success for a plethora of indie developers everywhere. With an avalanche of notable indie games being released in the past 12 months–many of them gaining well-deserved mainstream attention–we wrap up 2013 with our favorites in different categories.
Best Mobile Game:
Rymdkapsel is a game developed by Martin Jonasson with music by Nilkas Ström where players take control of a space station and attempt to survive as long as possible. While this doesn’t sound particularly amazing on paper, rymdkapsel contains some of the most incredible art in mobile games and defines video game strategy. With a poetic synergy of simple Tetris puzzles and real-time strategy gameplay, rymdkapsel takes just a few minutes to understand but hundreds of hours to master. Using only single touches and being very easy to pick up and put down, this game is perfect for mobile devices. The simple art and beautiful sound design make this Indie Game Insider’s Mobile Game of the Year.
Volgarr the Viking
Developed by Crazy Viking Studios and published by Adult Swim, Volgarr the Viking is one of the most difficult games that we’ve ever played. Spiritual successor to every difficult old school platformer you’ve ever mastered, Volgarr the Viking makes Contra look like a walk in the park. This game is a side-scrolling platformer that reminds us much of Castlevania, only much more difficult. Best of all is that there is nothing cheap or unfair about the punishment this game dishes out; pure, well-designed brutality instead makes up this tormenting game. The only thing that holds you back from winning is your own inability, and that’s what makes it great. The constant frustrating deaths you’ll suffer–and none of them anyone’s fault but your own–will keep you questioning if you’ve ever even played a video game in your life, and that’s why Volgarr the Viking rings in at our Most Challenging Indie Game of 2013.
Created by developer Lucas Pope, Papers, Please is best described as a boarder patrol simulator. Playing as an immigration officer, you take an emotional toll while deciding whom you will allow into the country, and whom you will begrudgingly deny access to. Though this game sounds like possibly the worst idea for a game that you’ve ever heard of, Papers, Please managed to revolutionize what we thought of video games. It gives you a slightly different view with each person you encounter when you deal with people in toll booths, bouncers at parties, and airport security. Any developer that can take such an uninteresting concept and turn it into something that keeps people playing for hours obviously did something correctly. This is what made Papers, Please receive Indie Game Insider’s award for Best Mechanics of 2013.
What makes the story of Fulbright’s debut title Gone Home so powerful and extraordinary is how relatable and commonplace it is at its core. While most gamers are used to following epic tales where playing as anyone but the hero is taboo, Gone Home places you in the role of an unremarkable young woman in an unoccupied house saturated with clues to her family’s absence. As players explore every nook and cranny of this forsaken mansion, a touching and personable narrative emerges and shows us that not every video game story needs to be crammed with grand characters, sprawling worlds, or explosive set pieces to be memorable. Despite its small-scale presentation, Gone Home still managed to get our hearts racing faster in its final 30 seconds than any other title this year, and that alone secures it as the winner of Indie Game Insider’s Best Narrative award.
Guacamelee! was a gem of a Metroid-vania action platformer released early in the summer this year on the PSN store before eventually hitting PC in August. The story of Juan and his quest to defeat Carlos Calaca to save El Presidente’s daughter was a memorable adventure filled with beautiful art and rewarding combat, but above all else it was it was the home of one of the best soundtracks of the year. The game’s aesthetics are complimented by the score’s unique mix of mariachi-inspired tracks that are blended with electronic elements, giving the world its quirky appeal. We didn’t even fully realize the nuance involved in the soundtrack and the design that went into remixing tracks for when Juan swaps between the living and dead world when we initially reviewed it. After revisiting Guacamelee!, we simply can’t see it as the same game without the brilliant mixing of its soundtrack, which is why it has taken home Best Music award this year.
Picking a singular game that has the best art style is no easy task. There always seems to be a game that releases every year that makes our collective jaws drop just a little lower. This year was no different, with Klei Entertainment’s Don’t Starve being the game that truly grasped us the most with its unparalleled aesthetics. The pen sketch style and steampunk/horror-inspired setting oozes influence from the works of Tim Burton and Edward Gorey, truly captivating a dark imagination in the most wonderful of ways. The cast of characters varies widely from Wilson to Wendy to Wolfgang, and the wild plethora of creatures, no matter how bizarre, all keep consistent with the game’s overarching style and find definitive homes within the setting’s rich world. It’s no coincidence that Klei has had a successful Kickstarter to make plush toys and miniature figurines from the game. Klei has succeeded in making Don’t Starve a visual treat that will look just as good now as it will in 10 years’ time, a feat many games cannot boast, and this is one of the many reasons why it is our selection for Best Art.
Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine
One of the biggest hooks in video games is the feature of multiplayer and the ability for people to socially engage their friends in competitive or cooperative play. No other indie game this year nailed this quite as well as Monaco. Pulling off a heist with the game’s unique usage of vision and applying the game’s minimap directly into the game’s fog of war were compelling on their own, but when attempted with four players, the game shines at its brightest. With different characters that fill different roles, using different combinations to tackle objectives is an utter blast. We’ve had heart-throbbing missions gone wrong where our team is in a mad dash to simply run through the level in a frenzy to slick and clean heists where we run a well-orchestrated operation that put Ocean’s 11 to shame. With leaderboards to conquer and two campaigns to play through, there is a lot to love about Monaco, making it the perfect fit for our award of Best Multiplayer.
Studio of the Year:
Telltale Games blew us away at PAX Prime last summer when it gave us a taste of their take on the Fables universe. While we know Telltale is famous for its brilliant storytelling and gripping emotion in their version of The Walking Dead franchise, the addition of fantastic fight sequences and detective snooping in The Wolf Among Us prove this studio is more than a one-trick pony. This fact was further solidified when it was revealed at Spike’s VGX award show that Telltale will be working on episodic titles based on the Borderlands and Game of Thrones IPs on top of its current projects. Telltale’s unrelenting ambition as it moves into 2014 is impossible to ignore, and with these new projects and the second season of The Walking Dead already in the works, Telltale has earned the title of Indie Game Insider’s Studio of the Year.
Community Game of the Year:
Blood of the Werewolf
Scientifically Proven has lived up to its name by scientifically proving its title Blood of the Werewolf is a fan favorite, considering it’s Indie Game Insider’s first community-elected game of the year. With its challenging-yet-fair platforming where muscle memory and level mastery are keys to success and the fact that the developer is responding directly to player feedback in its updates and additions, it’s no wonder gamers love Blood of the Werewolf. Add in a strong female protagonist and the publishing prowess of Midnight City and you’ve got yourself a recipe for one awesome, classic monster-fueled romp.
Game of the Year:
The profound quality of Gone Home can be attributed to its simplicity and the lasting impact it leaves long after the screen fades to black. Fulbright’s first game may only take two hours to beat, it may tell a relatively natural story, and its mechanics may not be anything to fawn over, but the question it sparked long after its initial publication is one that had never been raised to such a degree before: what makes something a game? While we’re not here to make an argument for one side or the other (as it should be obvious where we stand on the issue), the fact that it elicited such a debate makes it worthy of every video game fan’s attention. Gone Home succeeds in not only challenging classic tropes in terms of storytelling and actual gameplay, but the heartfelt tale it tells and emotional impact it leaves is relatable, convicting, and persistent in a way we’ve never experienced in a game before. The fact that Gone Home is the first and only game to elicit a 10 from us should speak volumes. Our hats are off to Fulbright for giving us Indie Game Insider’s Game of the Year.