Independent Games!

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WADE MANNS – The Corsair

Independent games, made by small development houses and usually only distributed online on platforms such as Steam, or even from the developer’s website, may have a singular focus, or appeal to a broad range of interests at once. With the lack of external quality control, you would think bugs may be a greater problem than the more prominent mainstream titles; but usually, the programmers are careful enough to avoid such pitfalls.

I’ll go over a few independent games I’ve discovered and enjoy, and by such a sampling hope to encourage you to check them out yourself.

The first I’ll examine is a Japanese title, the first such independent title to be released on Steam, called Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale. Expertly translated with full explanations for its somewhat unique game-play style, you won’t have difficulty getting into it. The story is surprisingly robust for an indie game: just as its title implies, you are the owner of an item shop which sells various sundries and more unique items (which you procure either by buying them yourself, being sold them by customers, or finding them in dungeons) to the various people who come into your shop. This is all so that your character and the owner of the shop, the excitable and bubbly Recette, may pay a debt owed by her missing father to the ever-present yet cheerful loan-shark fairy, Tear, before her house is foreclosed on. If you can wrap your head around this adorable yet very deep game, you won’t be sorry!

The next two sort of go together in my mind as they’re both driven by music: AudioSurf and Beat Hazard. Both allow you to select your own tunes to use as the levels you play, and both require swift reflexes to succeed. In AudioSurf (in the simplest mode) you maneuver a ship to collect colored blocks (“cars”) and avoid gray ones as they move along several lanes of a dynamically-generated “highway” of sound. Beat Hazard turns the rhythm and other features of your music into a full shoot-em-up reminiscent of the classic Asteroids. At their peak extremely tough but extremely rewarding, these two music games will keep you jumping all night long.

A favorite genre of mine since I was very young, the graphical adventure hasn’t gotten much mainstream love as late save for Telltale Games’ remakes of the classic franchises Monkey Island and Sam & Max; leave it to independent developers to pick up the slack and give us a funny, enjoyable, fully-voiced endeavor in the style of those classics – only entirely populated by dogs! That’s right, Jolly Rover is a tale of a young pup, Gaius James Rover, aspiring to become a mighty pirate similar to his human counterpart of Monkey Island fame, Guybrush Threepwood. If you liked adventure games as I did and still do, prepare for a blast from the past!

Finally, there are the puzzlers. These don’t have any story, but they surprisingly have a lot of polish as they usually have a single, focused goal. Shatter is a modern, rocking remake of the classic Breakout with moving enemies and bosses a la Arkanoid, with additions to gameplay allowing you to collect shards of destroyed blocks or redirect your ‘ball’ to get more points. Droplitz is more or less a remake of Pipe Dream, requiring you to redirect the flow of the titular droplitz through twisty pipes to a collector. Cogs is a takeoff of this, in most cases entailing interlocking of the eponymous cogs to make a golden one turn. And Tidalis involves getting rid of blocks using a directional beam controlled by arrows on the blocks themselves. Pretty odd concepts, but they work in the puzzle context.

So, if you’re looking for something cool to pass the time, or want to get involved in an awesome story, check out these and other great independent games on the Steam platform. You’ll also get a warm, fuzzy feeling for knowing you’re supporting these unattached developers, who make these offerings for the love of the craft and ask only a pittance for their trouble (and for Steam’s costs).