With the newest generation of consoles, the industry is again gearing itself up for the latest batch of AAA releases. While I’m as excited for Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart as the next guy, I wanted to take the opportunity here to take a look at some of the smaller games that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed over the past few years. As of recently, I’ve probably spent more time playing indie games. And, I’ve found myself enjoying them more than the “latest and greatest”. I felt burnt out from the last generation’s trend of “edgy third-person open world game featuring a skill tree!”. I also have a ton of respect for studios producing just as impressive titles as the big boys. Often with less than half the team and budget. So, here are 5 indie games that you must buy on PC right now! (Or else)
If you’re looking for a tough as nails 2D platformer that harks back to the classics, while adding its own new and inventive spin, then look no further than Celeste. While it’s admittedly a silly premise, Celeste is about a girl determined to climb to the top of a mountain. What I love most about Celeste is its genius level design. Each section of the mountain are split into levels, which are subsequently split into ‘screens’ a-la old school Mega Man. Meaning, Celeste is required to ascend from the bottom left corner of the screen to the top right. The platforming tasks presented here not only challenge your timing and reflexes, but are also somewhat of a puzzle. Getting from A to B isn’t always as straightforward as it might look. So trust me when I say that you’ll be dying, a lot.
Celeste not only asks you to perform, but to perfect intricate combinations of hops, skips, jumps and air dashes as you make your way through the series of increasingly dangerous traps, pitfalls and chasms. Also, while it isn’t the main draw, I wanted to give a nod to Celeste’s story. It revolves around mental health, handling the subject with a sincerity and consideration that I really appreciated. So, if you consider yourself a platforming aficionado having conquered the likes of Crash Bandicoot, Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World, but somehow missed Celeste, then do yourself a favour and buy it immediately.
I’m not well versed in the world of visual novels. But every now and then I’ll give one a try. And I’m grateful I did here, because If Found… ended up becoming one of the most thought-provoking games I’ve ever played. The story follows Kasio, a transgender woman from a small Irish coastal town, recounting her youth. We get to view her very raw and emotional account of what life was like growing up in the 90s. She reveals her conflicting relationships, struggle with identity, and the suffocating societal pressure on her at the time, experiencing all of this through the writing and illustrations within her diary. Because of this, the sole game play mechanic of If Found… involves using your cursor as an eraser, to wipe away everything written on these pages. This is a powerful, albeit literal metaphor, for how our protagonist is currently dealing with this challenging stage in her life.
Something that really stuck with me from the experience was the setting. Ireland doesn’t just play backdrop to this story, it’s the star of it. If Found… is an inherently Irish game. It’s a window into a specific time and place that very few of us will have experienced. And because the zeitgeist was captured so well, the game also comes equipped with a glossary of terms. This helps us foreigners decipher the countries’ eclectic range of colloquialisms, most of which still leave me scratching my head. However, for our Australian readers, you might find yourself surprised with just how many societal touchstones and sayings we share with this small island in the North Atlantic. So if you’re willing to try something a little different that’s sure to leave a lasting impression, by all means check out If Found…
In the words of Sarah during Episode 31 of Thermal Talk, Stardew Valley “isn’t a game, it’s a lifestyle choice”. OIce you begin playing, you’ll quickly understand what she means. Minutes turn to hours, days to night, your grip with reality slipping ever further. By the time you realize you might have a Stardew Valley shaped problem in your life, it’s already too late my friend. But to outsiders, I understand the hesitation. Stardew Valley is a farming/social sim. What fun is there to be had in a game where you complete LITERAL CHORES? Well my naïve friend, to me the appeal of Stardew Valley lies in that very tedium. The structured, organized process of my ‘lil dude waking up, watering his turnips, then sprinting into town to give Penny a melon (don’t worry about it) creates this super cosy game play loop.
There’s a simple joy to performing the activities here that I’ve only ever felt in a handful of other games (e.g Harvest Moon, pay your respects SV). And with an overwhelming amount of content (that continues to receive support by its developer and dedicated mod community) there is more than enough good vibes here to hold you over for a year (or seven). It’s also worth noting that Stardew Valley was a game entirely created by one dude. The art assets, the writing, everything! Usually that’s something you might here as an excuse when discussing how an indie game is a little unpolished around the edges, but here it’s nothing but unabashed praise. So if you’re ready, willing and able to wave goodbye to your friends and family, Stardew Valley is the game for you.
Devotion was a first-person horror game that I’d kept my eye on ever since Taiwanese indie dev team Red Candle released their first game Detention back in 2017. I figured if it were anything like their first game, Devotion was set to spook the pants off me. And upon its eventual release, oh boy did it! Not only was it a gigantic leap for the dev team in terms of both game design and graphical fidelity, but Devotion also quickly became my premiere horror experience of the last few years. Like across all mediums, it was that spooky! As Devotion explores the dangers of cults and faith healers, unpacking the damage it can do on the people (and subsequently, the families) that find themselves in too deep to leave them. The story details a failing scriptwriter’s desperation to try and cure his daughter’s mysterious illness. Unable to receive regular treatment, he becomes mixed up with a woman from down the hall, who informs him that there is a God who can heal her. For a small fee, of course.
While the game is downright terrifying in places, I also wanted to highlight Devotion was because it’s a game that had somewhat troubled release. A few days after going live on Steam, it was taken down. This came after a wave of pressure from Chinese users, who had review-bombed the game upon discovering it contained choice words towards current Chinese president Xi Jinping. It remained in limbo for months before finally returning via GOG a few months ago. However, within 24 hours, Devotion was again met with the same fate. Finally, as of a few weeks ago, Devotion is now available for purchase directly from Red Candle’s website. So, if you’re up for a horror experience unlike anything you’ve ever played before (and would like to support a struggling, genuinely talented team while you’re at it) please do take the time to check out Devotion.
Kitty. Mech suit. Outer space. Need I say more?
This adorable little Metroidvania (I can’t believe we all just agreed on that name for the genre) surrounds a cat’s quest to escape a mysterious and desolate planet after crashing there with his owner. So, it’s up to the cat to roam the planet in a mech suit in search of an escape. Game play takes the form of crashing and bashing your way through the often-eerie planet, defeating enemies, mapping its layout and finding upgrades along the way in an experience that’s a complete power fantasy. Exploring this world is a total joy. While you’ll lose your bearings on more than a few occasions, navigation is never morale crushingly difficult. This means figuring out where to now go after finding this nifty new mech upgrade is part of the fun. You will find that sometimes your mech suit can’t fit in between those pesky nooks and crannies though. But fear not old chum! For kitty can exit the mech suit to scurry around. Doing so does leave him completely vulnerable to your enemies attacks though.
Now you might’ve noticed how Gato Roboto takes obvious inspiration from classic Metroid. To the point where I’d argue it doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the genre’s table. However, what it does do is executed so well that I cannot fault it. From writing to game play to level design to music, Gato Roboto is a flawless few hours of fun. It remains consistently engaging, before wrapping itself up nicely with a neat and wholesome bow. So, if you’re looking for the perfect game to play over a quiet and lazy weekend, immediately book yourself a date with Gato Roboto. Me-ow!
So that’s my list of 5 indie games that you must buy on PC right now! (Or else)
What did you think? Are there other must buy indie games I missed? Let me know in the comment section below!