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Five indie games that you NEED to try before you die

January 23, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve played a lot of independent games over the relatively small amount of years I’ve been alive compared to most people. Some of them stank, others were totally awesome. This here list isn’t a list of my favorites; that comes another day. This list is for the five indie games that you need to play before you die, whether they were my favorite or not. These games are notable for being extremely unique, fun, or just plain… um… awesomesauce. Whatever.

1. Touhou (preferably 7, Perfect Cherry Blossom)

[Touhou 7 Perfect Cherry Blossom image]

THIS GAME RULES!!!

This is one of those games that, when you see it the first time, you wonder if the people who play it need some sunlight. Basically, Touhou games (made by an individual identified as ZUN) are “bullet hell”, top-down shooters. Currently there’s about 18 in the series, with the first five being released for the PC-98, and the other 13 being for Microsoft Windows (eww… Thank God that they work in Wine!). Each game in the series has slightly different rules; for example, Touhou 7, pictured above, has a temporary shield you can activate by getting enough “Cherry Points”. You, that tiny thing at the bottom of the picture, have to evade any and all things shot at you while you fire back. Sometimes the enemies fire slow, sometimes fast, sometimes in pretty and hard-to-dodge patterns, and sometimes semi-randomly. The trick is to memorize them and figure out ways to get the highest score you can.

Of all of the indie games I’ve played, this one is definitely a favorite for so many reasons. First, it’s EXTREMELY FUN! I used to play this all the time, just because I’ve never played anything like it before. For example, one of the many ways you get points is by “grazing” bullets; that means that you go really close to them without them touching you. This makes the game less of an “evade and shoot” game, and more of a “carefully plan your positioning for maximum points” game. Here’s a clip of the game in action:

2. NetHack

[NetHack Image]

Wow... Look at those graphics!

Ahh, NetHack! What game says you’re geeky more than this one? NetHack is a “Rogue-like” RPG originally made to be played in text-only mode (as shown), but there are several versions with better graphics. It’s been ported to lots of different operating systems, including the Nintendo DS (which I have; yay homebrew!), Sony PSP, Windows Mobile, Android, iPhone, and many others (not to forget UNIX-like OSes and Windows, of course).

The goal of the game in general is to go as far as you can into a 50-ish-floor, randomly generated dungeon to get the Amulet of Yendor. You can pick your race, role, gender, alignment, or allow the game to select them for you so you can create a unique playing experience. I’ve never gotten very far to be honest, but it was still fun to play. The game’s noteworthy for it’s rather steep learning-curve (I still haven’t gotten the hang of it fully and I’ve played for months!), including a confusing-yet-efficient control scheme, randomly generated levels, permanent death (die once and you start the whole game over), and a tons and tons and tons of information not included in the manual that you’re supposed to figure out on your own. While it’s extremely hard, it’s fun for those very reasons.

3. World of Goo

[World of Goo Image]

Gooz!

World of Goo is a very popular indie game made by Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel in 2008 using only $10,000 of spare cash as a budget that went on to sell millions. The game’s available for PC, Mac, Linux (yay!), WiiWare, and the iPad. Notable is this game being present in a few “pay what you want” sales; the first was on it’s birthday, the second was in the “Humble Indie Bundle”, an awesome collection of indie games, and the third was as a bonus game in the “Humble Indie Bundle 2”, which was even better than the first. Fans of the game make their own levels using custom modding tools; some are even making an unofficial sequel!

Basically, the game’s a puzzle game where you drag and drop balls of goo to make a structure. The goal of every level is to get a certain number of goo balls to the exit, a pipe (as shown in the picture). The tricky part is figuring out how to balance your goo balls right to get there, going past traps and solving puzzles. The game gets extremely inventive at times, such as lots of different types of goo balls (green can be detached, red balloons, yellow sticky goo, translucent goo that can only connect to one other goo, etc.). For example, one level has you using balloons to lift a long chain of your goo balls over a windmill (called by many reviewers as one of the best levels in the game). The music and graphics are also fantastic (and the soundtrack is even available for free online), especially for a two-man game! This game is a wonderful example that you don’t need a lot of money, a huge development team, or even super-realistic graphics to make an awesome game. If you don’t have it, get it NOW!

4. Stepmania

[stepmania image]

(insert fast japanese electro-pop here)

You’ve played DDR or something, right? Right? Well, Dance Dance Revolution was one of the most popular music games for a while. The game has you hit arrows that come up from the bottom of the screen to the beat/melody of the song playing. Stepmania is an open-source clone of it made to be extensible; you can make your own “stepfiles” (files containing the location of arrows to hit), themes, set your own options to change the game however you want, and even modify the freaking source-code! No music game has wasted more of my time than this; I have over 1000 songs on mine, mostly from the Mungyodance song packs (Mungyodance is a proprietary version of Stepmania by awesome indie musician Renard). You can either buy a USB dance pad for your feet or just use your keyboard. In fact, most songs made for the game are specifically made to use the keyboard and would be rather hard, if not impossible, to do on a dance pad. Me, I just use a keyboard. As I said, this game is addictive and, if you can find the right songs, extremely fun! Here’s a video of me playing Helena by My Chemical Romance from one of the Mungyodance song packs:

5. Battle for Wesnoth

[Battle for Wesnoth image]

Pillage the Village!!!

I’ve never had so much fun playing a strategy game than in Civilization 4. A close second, however, would be Battle for Wesnoth, an open-source turn-based fantasy strategy game for Windows, Max, Linux, and iOS as well. The game receives lots of updates that add to the game, and it has such an impressive musical score, graphics style, and overall gameplay that it could pass for a $20-30 retail game (and I’d buy it too, if was DRM-free). The game contains a basic campaign, and lets you add on to that and even make your own campaigns. The game has a built-in add-on manager that lets you download and install content made by users like characters, maps, campaigns, and more!

The game plays on a hexagonal grid, unlike most square grids you find in strategy games. The object of each round is (usually) to defeat the opposing force by vanquishing their leader. Capture towns and get a certain amount of gold per turn, and then spend that on units you can use to attack and defend. There’s a wide variety of teams and units that balance each other out. For example, mages and ranged fighters can attack melee-only fighters without getting scratched, but get mortally wounded when attacked head-on. The game also has an alignment system, where units get more powerful in the daytime or nighttime and less powerful in the opposite; the time of day changes every few turns. I’ve played this game on LAN with my brother a lot of times before, and we still play it occasionally! You can even host your own server and play people over the internet! Here’s a trailer for the game, and after it, a video of the game on the iPhone:

So, there’s five indie games in no particular order that are truly worth some of your time. I love them all, though not the same, and they’re all not necessarily my favorite games ever. All of these games are open-source and/or DRM-free, so try to find/buy them! See you next post!

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