2012 indies you may have missed
by Jeff Mattas, shacknews.com, Jan 28, 2013 12:30PM PST
2012 proved that indies could compete with the rest of 'em. Noteworthy indies, such as Mark of the Ninja, Faster than Light, Journey, and The Walking Dead, all made the Shacknews Best of 2012 list. But there are quite a few titles that you may have missed last year.
Equal parts violent and surreal, Hotline Miami gets in your face, right from the start, and tasks you with exterminating buildings full of bad guys. The original soundtrack and throwback visuals are a real treat, and the twitchy, high-octane action has a puzzle-like element to it, and a dizzying number of weapons add a lot of flavor to the action. I particularly like it because it's reminiscent of early, top-down GTA games, but infuses a puzzle-like element to the twitchy action. Not only does Hotline Miami require a quick trigger finger, but it also asks players to play in a way that allows them to effectively manage each stage's flow of bad guys. The game's retro visual style and fast-paced gameplay lend a surprisingly comedic tone to what is a decidedly brutal experience, both in terms of content and difficulty, making it an experience fans of pure action games shouldn't ignore.
Dust: An Elysian Tail
Gorgeous art and fluid animation makes playing Dust: An Elysian Tail feel like you're controlling a Disney-quality animated movie. That alone would be enough to earn it special recognition for presentational achievement, but the game's got a solid 2-D fighting engine to back it up. Not only that, role-playing elements like equipment crafting, and leveling-up stats create a constant sense of becoming progressively more powerful, all the way up through the game's final moments. Ridiculously high combos are really fun to achieve, thanks to the ability to juggle enemies and deploy spells on top of more traditional attacks. Don't let the anthropomorphic critters fool you. This game has some serious chops in the gameplay department, has a story better than most games of its ilk, and is easily one of the best side-scrolling beat-em-ups of 2012.
If you can imagine a game that takes the foundation of the arcade classic, Tempest, and infuses psychedelic visuals, an array of fresh gameplay mechanics, and a stellar soundtrack, you've got an idea of what makes Dyad so great. The gameplay borders on trance-inducing, as the player pulls himself deeper and deeper into a vortex of color and sound. Furthermore, making one's way through the level-based campaign is made even more enjoyable by some stellar audio. Each collected power-up and "enemy" grabbed adds extra auditory flavor to every level's specific soundtrack, and the pulsating tunes pull the player further "into the zone." Despite its intensity, I found Dyad could be a very meditative experience, once I let the music and visuals take me over. The transcendent feeling most folks get while playing isn't really comparable to any other game released this year, making it an experience not to be missed.
Though similar to 2012 mega-release Diablo 3 in a number of ways, Torchlight 2 actually ended up being an indie game I enjoyed a bit more than Blizzard's blockbuster. With questing and looting aplenty, the game successfully recaptures everything that made the first outing so addictive--including its SteamPunk aesthetics, while improving on the game systems in a number of cool ways. Improved systems for pets and fishing, a streamlined UI, new characters and skills, and a more open world with multiple town hubs are just a few of the things that improve Torchlight 2 over its predecessor. The addition of multiplayer in the sequel is quite welcome, and overall, it's one of my favorite action-RPGs of 2012.
Prior to 2012, fans of exploration-based adventure and creative puzzles had been waiting for Fez's release for a long time. For my money, it was worth the wait. You'd have to be pretty jaded to not find the red-hatted protagonist and colorful old-school art style charming, and the gameplay--based largely on solving environmental platforming puzzles by rotating the world--is a relaxing, often head-scratching experience. Fez is beautiful, adorable, and devilishly clever. Fez also served up some of the most ingenious puzzles of the year, often encouraging an out-of-the-box style of thinking. In short, it's a really good, relaxing blend of puzzles, platforming, and exploring, and you should play it.
It's probably not surprising that most of the best examples of storytelling this year were provided by adventure games, but The Walking Dead isn't the only title this year to shake up the genre's tried-and-true gameplay mechanics to great effect. Resonance may look like a typical point-and-click adventure game at first, but upon playing, it's almost immediately apparent that the game is something special. From its clever changes to how inventory and dialogue systems are used, to its non-linear story progression, to its exceptional writing, Resonance weaves a thrilling and intelligent yarn about a race to reclaim a dead physicist's new invention, lest its power be used for evil. It's one of my favorite adventures of 2012, and proves that there's still opportunities to make adventure games feel exciting and fresh, even after all this time.