This year was incredible for indie games, with some breakout hits that will enter some lists as one of the best games of all time. There were plenty of surprises this year, especially compared to last year. Shovel Knight took the indie game scene by storm, but this year it feels like we've had a few Shovel Knights in Undertale, Rocket League, Ori and the Blind Forest, and more. The indie scene is certainly flourishing into something great and is definitely something that every gamer needs to pay close attention to in the future. Here is what we thought were some of the best of the year.
The vote here was fairly close, but that's to be expected with more nominees than we had in previous categories. Ultimately, the winner came away with a little over 1/4th of all the responses to take home the award. Here's a reminder of what our nominees were (find out how we chose our nominees here):
- Duck Game
- Rocket League
- Prison Architect
- Ori and the Blind Forest
- Crypt of the Necrodancer
- Kerbal Space Program
5th Place – Huniepop
By Georgina Young
You match three in order to seduce and eventually bed one of twelve virtual waifus. I shouldn't need to explain any more about this game that I have talked about endlessly on TechRaptor but here we are. And I'm not surprised. Huniepop was actually one of my choices for game of the year, so it stands to reason that it would at least end up on the indie picks.
Huniepop stands out for several reasons. The artwork is pretty delicious looking, the music ambient, the dialogue witty and above all the gameplay is fun, addictive, and innovative. Dating sims can get monotonous in their seemingly endless and pointless dialogue, but here there is actual fun could-stand-on-its-own gameplay, and then a dating sim story as the naughty, filthy cherry. Huniepop integrates the notion of dating with light RPG elements, and you really get to know each individual character.
Gaming seems to be lacking in innovation of late, even in the world of Steam, where it seems almost anyone can release their own title. But the puzzle/dating sim/RPG hybrid is something never attempted before, and here it is pulled off to perfection. If you didn't buy Huniepop already, please do. Unless your partner would get mad at you for spending 20 hours of your life dating anime girls. Then of course you should dump them before buying Huniepop.
4th Place – Ori and the Blind Forest
By Don Parsons
We've already talked about Ori and the Blind Forest's visuals, which are nothing short of stunning, so let's talk about the rest of the game. Ori and the Blind Forest is a standout platformer that iterates on many ideas in the genre, while adding in some new wrinkles like its bullet redirection mechanic. The gameplay and the visuals alone would make it a game that stood out in the indie scene, and when you add in some fantastic music, even ignoring everything else, Ori and the Blind Forest would deserve a place on this list.
To do that, however, would fail to do justice to Ori and the Blind Forest. Due to the visuals and the gameplay, Ori and the Blind Forest's ability to tell a story often gets overlooked. While people discuss some how it is able to evoke feelings from the visuals, animation, and music little time is taken to look at how it disseminates its story to players. Ori uses a wonderful mix of short but effective cut scenes, environmental storytelling, animation, subtitles with alienish language, and limited player control interactive scenes. That last part is perhaps the hardest to nail, as it is something that when done wrong feels contrived, scripted, and poorly thought out. However, Ori uses them lightly enough and sets the limits generously enough that it feels like you are drawn into the story rather than artificial limits being imposed. In those scenes, instead of feeling like the game is telling you that you can't run because you haven't hit the mark, you are instead drawn into the plight of the character and the story as a whole making it very effective.
2015 was a great year for indie titles in general, and it's easy to miss a lot of titles with the sheer number of them. Ori and the Blind Forest, though, is a game that you shouldn't miss—not just for its amazing visuals or great gameplay but also for its storytelling.
3rd Place – Undertale
By Alex Santa Maria
Undertale ranked third in the standings for best independent game of the year, and I’m determined to find out why. This is a game that seemingly has it all, even a giant spider! Would Undertale have won more votes with a soccer themed enemy, where you had to dodge a goalie's hands? Perhaps it was missing a giant malevolent owl to go with its assortment of armored dogs and valley girl shopkeepers? Really though, there is plenty of backtracking in Undertale, with layers of hidden collectibles in the NPC dialogue. I think Jerry is from space, although I can tell you from experience that he isn’t a rocket scientist.
No, what Undertale truly needed was more anime. Anime is real, and it is popular with the fans of independant video games. Who needs brilliant writing when you have large eyes and a limited animation budget? Why bother with subversive gameplay when you have giant mechs shooting lasers at each other while hard rock music crescendos in the background? Yes, the inevitable deluxe edition HD console port of Undertale will surely feature 100% more anime, you can bet on that.
Either that, or add in a raptor or two. We’re fond of those here.
Runner Up – Kerbal Space Program
By Robert N Adams
If you want to know how to do Early Access right, you need only look at Kerbal Space Program. What started as a simple spaceship building game with a handful of planets has evolved into a title with an entire solar system and a robust selection of parts for building your spacecraft. Squad has continually put out new content at a reasonable pace and turned Kerbal Space Program into what is arguably the best vehicle building game on the market.
Players have the option of going through a career mode and progressively unlocking parts through contracts or playing a wide-open sandbox with no limits on part availability, cost, or crew. The career mode allows for a framework of goals if the player so chooses, but these aren't strictly necessary to have a satisfying experience. Each planet has its own challenges to land on thanks to a slightly off kilter orbit or an atmosphere of unexpected composition.
In addition, it hosts a robust modding community that adds new vehicle parts, new mechanics, helpful diagnostic tools, and major game changers, such as a fully functional autopilot or connection mechanics that allow the construction of complex ships that would otherwise not be possible.
If there was any one thing that stood out about Kerbal Space Program, it's that the game is downright unforgiving. A poorly-designed spaceship will fail, full stop. Getting into orbit is a significant challenge for new players, and landing on their first planet is even more difficult. Kerbal Space Program requires patience and well thought-out vehicle construction for you to be successful, and a developer willing to let their game actually challenge players to think correctly and plan ahead is a rarity in the age of “Press X To Win.”
Winner – Rocket League
By Shaun Joy
For me, Rocket League is the pinnacle of good game design. It's a game about cars playing soccer ... that plays like a game about cars playing soccer. With other games going for overly complicated designs and adding additional elements to gameplay for gameplay-affecting customization purposes, Psyonix let the base gameplay do the talking, and then carefully crafted the boost pasts, stadium, and aerial shots around that. What it turns into is one of the best pure arcade-like experiences in the past several years: A game that I still play to this day despite a busy coverage schedule.
The ability to hop in and just play a game quickly is fantastic, and all experience levels from rookies to veterans have the ability to have fun. Remember fun? Psyonix understands their game inside and out, as when they've added new content with Mutators for example, they only affected certain elements that affected everyone at the same time, such as messing with gravity or the size of the ball. The playing field is always even, and that's seemingly rare now a days in the multiplayer genre. Sure, the AI in single player can be stupid at times, and you'll get a match to someone who isn't exactly doing their job in multiplayer. But those are tiny blips on the radar compared to a game that controls rather well, and rewards people practicing to hit those sweet airshots. It's a game that has legitimate eSports credibility, as people not only are able to instantly relate to the game due to its simple premise, but it's sometimes just as exciting to watch as it is to play.
This game is like a digital version of adrenaline for me, and it's why it deserves its place as the Indie Game of the Year, even if Renowned Explorers is just as worthy.
Readers' Choice – Huniepop
Huniepop came away with an overwhelming victory for our readers with nearly 40% of the vote. We obviously agreed in giving Huniepop recognition where it was due, both in the nomination and taking 5th place in our voting.
What are some other great indie games from 2015? What was your favorite?