Indie Gaming has become a mainstream gaming idea in the last couple of years, which has led to a lot of changes. The first is the rise in popularity and visiblity of these games on some platforms. Another is the crowdfunding revolution, which gaming started taking advantage of and really took off after Broken Age by Double Fine was funded.
That however, also marks another big change in the Indie game market. That is that, beyond just there being more indie developers, there are larger indie teams with larger budgets. Games like Wasteland 2, Divinity: Original Sin, Broken Age, all had large teams and funding available compared to your usual indie game. This rise of 'AA' indie games has caused a bit of an issue in trying to make a category like this, because much like there is typically a gap between Indie and AAA games, now there's one arising within the 'indie' gaming sphere itself. They aren't even the richest indie games going around - a title that still belongs to Star Citizen and its humongous budget that keeps hitting new milestones every time we turn around.
So, we decided that for this we were going to focus on smaller indie games. That's not to say they wouldn't have gotten acclaim, but the big stars of crowdfunding money were left out to let some smaller names pick up some of the limelight. That's not to say we don't enjoy them - we did as Divinity: Original Sin got our PC game of the year, and Broken Age was well received, among other things.
Its just that we think there should be a moment to look at other projects that came out. Given the amount of acclaim, and popularity some of these games have gotten though, perhaps it wasn't a necessary rule to set there. Our top indie pick is no stranger to these lists and has been a big hit this year in general. So while advertising the hell out of your AAA game is still a valid method, making a good, lower budget game is a viable path to recognition. -- Don Parsons
The Banner Saga
The Banner Saga, on paper, sounds extremely ambitious. The developers created an extremely interesting world that easily stands out, while at the same time adding a few twists to the familiar turn-based grid combat we have all at least seen. What everyone should notice immediately about The Banner Saga is how incredibly high quality everything is. The polish visually, and with the music, is nothing short of amazing.
While it does not have the flash of a AAA game, The Banner Saga delivers something even greater tenfold: an aesthetic that fits the world, story, combat, and characters of the game. A game can look great, but if it doesn’t make sense with other parts of the game, then it matters very little. With that high quality, and the interesting twist on gameplay to a well-known genre, there is no doubt in my mind as to why The Banner Saga should not belong on a list with the other games mentioned here. -- Andrew Otton
Currently Available on: Amazon (Digital Only)
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth sits in a weird spot as far as remakes go. It adds way more new features to be just considered a remake, way too many technical tweaks to be considered just an expansion and is only just slightly short of being a full shaped sequel. When Rebirth was announced, it seemed unlikely that it could reach the same success as the Vanilla version. Boy, did we underestimate Edmund McMullen and the Nicalis Inc. crew. The engine for the game has been built from the ground up, abandoning once and for all Flash. All the art has been redone from scratch and the game looks better and runs smoother than the original could have hoped to. New characters, achievements, monsters, bosses and items give the game huge replayability, sending the player in its quest for the definitive synergy. Add to that many new features like challenges and the upgradeable store, and you’ll have in your hands hundreds of hours of great fun. God help you if you decide to go for the “Real Platinum God” achievement, though. -- Luigi Savenelli
Currently Available on: The Binding of Isaac site
D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die
To say Dark Dreams Don't Die is weird would be a massive understatement. Created by the mind that brought you Deadly Premonition, D4 takes you into the world of David Young who is a detective in charge of exploring the mysteries and finding details in the world around you. The game's cel-shaded environments have a lot for you to go through, as there's a real attention to detail, and rewards you for being inquisitive. It plays like a remixed Phoenix Wright, as you use your stamina to determine clues to solve the mysteries at hand, even going back in time to before the incident occurred. It's a twist on the detective genre that feels strange and yet satisifying, even if the Kinect controls do leave a little to be desired. The game does succeed in bringing an interesting world to the user, and the strange nature will stand out as a memorable game for years to come. -- Shaun Joy
Currently Available on: Xbox One Only - Available for Free this month for Gold Members
Runner Up: Goat Simulator
It cost almost nothing and took just a few weeks to develop, and yet it was one of the most talked about games of the year. With less bugs than Assassins Creed Unity and a more inventive and interesting play style than Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, Goat Simulator has been showing up these $60 AAA titles. Ok so it's far from perfect, and it's certainly not redefining games as a medium, but it is reminding us all of something I think many people have forgotten: that games are meant to be fun. Some of the hardest laughs I had last year were spent attached to a rollercoaster by my tongue flying through mountains, or hanging on to a helicopter for dear life in order to headbutt through a private Deadmau5 gig on top of a gay hotel. There's no story to speak of and nothing in particular to do, but it is more than worth the $10 price tag for the instant pick me up it gives over and over. -- Georgina Young
Currently Available on: Their Website
Top Pick: Shovel Knight
Nobody should be surprised to see Shovel Knight take our top pick this year. In terms of what it wanted to do, Shovel Knight is near perfection. It captured everything great in its genre and created a sense of nostalgia that few games have ever done. One of its crowning achievements is its cohesiveness. Nothing feels out of place, the visuals, music, and gameplay all meshed into one. It’s not even that they just seem to work well together, but there almost seems no better way to pair each of the individual components together.
Though, Shovel Knight’s greatest achievement was its ability to make everything so simple. The visuals were deep and focused, without clutter and unnecessary objects to distract the eye. The music is easily identifiable with less going on than one would think, but is extremely gratifying. But, of course, its greatest example in simplicity is the gameplay. Shovel Knight takes a simple concept and expands it to its limits, while adding in enough flavor to have a fairly significant amount of variety. Too many games spread themselves thin with ambition, but what makes Shovel Knight great was its obvious focus on doing just a few things and doing them extremely well.
In an age that is inundated with 2d sidescrolling pixelated sidescrollers, Shovel Knight’s greatest achievement is how far it stands ahead of the competition in terms of quality. -- Andrew Otton
Currently Available on: Yacht Club Website
And that's how we saw indie games this year. Indie games have evolved a lot and are continuing to grow in scope, popularity, and number so we hope this helped you look back on 2014.
Do you think we did the Kickstarter juggernauts a disservice by disallowing them? Do you have an indie game you think we missed? Tell us in the comments below!